Bruno Latour, French philosopher and anthropologist, dies at 75 | France
French thinker Bruno Latour, known for his influential research on the philosophy of science, has died aged 75.
Latour was considered one of France’s most influential and iconoclastic living philosophers, whose work on how humanity perceives the climate emergency has garnered worldwide praise and attention.
He won the Holberg Prize, known as the Nobel Prize in the Humanities, in 2013, hailed for a “creative, imaginative, playful, humorous and – unpredictable” spirit.
Emmanuel Macron tweeted that as a thinker of ecology, modernity or religion, Latour was a humanist spirit recognized around the world before being recognized in France. The French president said Latour’s thoughts and writings will continue to inspire new connections to the world.
Latour dissected society’s different ways of understanding and communicating about the climate emergency. In Face à Gaïa, a series of eight lectures published in 2015, he looked at how the separation between nature and culture allows climate denial.
His vast body of work ranged from philosophy and sociology to anthropology, and he had urged society to learn from the Covid pandemic, “a global catastrophe that did not come from outside like war or an earthquake, but from within”.
He told the Guardian in 2020: “What we need is not just to change the production system, but to get out of it altogether. Let us remember that this idea of framing everything in terms of economics is a novelty in human history. The pandemic has shown us that economics is a very narrow and limited way of organizing life and deciding who is important and who is not.
“If I could change one thing, it would be to get out of the production system and instead build a political ecology.”
A pioneer in scientific and technological studies, Latour argued that facts generally arise from interactions between experts and are therefore socially and technically constructed. While philosophers have historically recognized the separation of facts and values – the difference between knowledge and judgment, for example – Latour believed this separation to be erroneous.
Born in 1947 into a family of winegrowers established in Burgundy, Latour obtained a doctorate in philosophy from the University of Tours, before turning to anthropology, undertaking field studies in Ivory Coast and California.
His groundbreaking books of the 1980s and 1990s, We Have Never Been Modern, Laboratory Life, and Science in Action, offered groundbreaking insight into, as he put it, “both the history of human involvement in fabrication of scientific facts and sciences”. participate in the construction of human history”.
To put this into context, one of his most controversial claims was the claim that Louis Pasteur not only discovered microbes, but collaborated with them.
In the mid-1990s, there were heated debates between “realists,” who believed that facts were completely objective, and “social constructionists,” like Latour, who argued that facts were the creations of scientists.
Physicist Alan Sokal was so enraged by the social constructionist approach that he invited them jump out of the window of his apartment, which was on the 21st floor. He had the impression that they didn’t believe in the laws of physics.
In 2018, Latour said it was actually quite the opposite. “I think we were so happy to develop all of this criticism because we were so sure of the authority of science,” he told the New York Times.
Besides his prominent work in academic spheres, including teaching positions at the Ecole des Mines de Paris, Sciences Po Paris and the London School of Economics, Latour has also been involved in the artistic world. He curated the Iconoclash (2002) and Making Things Public (2005) exhibitions at the Zentrum für Kunst und Medientechnologie in Karlsruhe, Germany.
He has also collaborated with researcher and director Frédérique Aït-Touati on several theatrical projects such as Gaia Global Circus in 2013 and the performance-conference Inside in 2017, using theater to discuss everything from microbiology to democracy.
In February 2020, he staged Moving Earths, another mix of performance and lecture that showed “the social and cosmic order teetering towards a parallel political and ecological collapse”.
Author Richard Powers commented on how Latour encouraged him to “think of all living systems – technological, social and biological – as interdependent, reciprocal and additive processes”.
Powers said, “With vigor, freshness, invention, honesty, expansiveness, artistry and playful humor, it lifts us out of our fantasies of control and mastery into the embrace of an evolving democracy.”
Speaking to the LA Review of Books in 2018Latour said: “Science needs a lot of support to exist and to be objective… [it needs] the support of scientists, institutions, academia, journals, peers, instruments, money – all those real-world ecosystems, so to speak, necessary to produce objective facts.
“Science depends on them, just like you depend on the oxygen in this room. It’s very simple.”