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Laboratory Life – Bruno Latour and Steve Wooglar

Chapter 1 – From Order to Disorder

- Dissatisfaction with the field of studies of science: Relatively few attempts of anthropologists to
penetrate the intimacy of life among tribes nearer to us (scientists). Many studies that focus only in
the large-scale effects of science (external, not internal workings).
- Discussion about the author's access to the lab/scientists, and scientists' perception of a social
scientist investigator.
- Social factors can be recast as integral part of routine scientific procedures, not as extraneous to
science > the distinction between 'social' and 'intellectual' is a resource used by scientists when
characterizing either their own endeavors or those of others.
- Criticisms to the sharp distinction between 'social' and 'technical' by the observer: 1. focusing only on
'social' limits the range of phenomena that can be studied; 2. this division can lead to the
disproportionate selection of events for analysis which are 'wrong' science; 3. Not enough attention is
paid to the technical, it becomes a sociologist of scientists rather than a sociology of science; 4. the
normative structure of science (Merton) has no empirical evidence and ignores the technical
substance of science;
- Criticism of studies that trace connections between the 'social' and 'technical': 1. incorrect balance
between the dimension; 2. problem of the causal relationship;
- Position of the authors: understanding the distinction between 'social' and technical' factors as a
resource drawn upon routinely by working scientists; Their interest in scientific activity cuts across
this dualism.
- Anthropology of science: accumulation of empirical material in a particular setting. > scientists
change the content of their statements when talking to outsider, which means that in situ observation
of the craft character of scientific activity is required. > bracketing of the researcher's familiarity with
the object of study. > not an attack on scientific activity (purely an agnostic position).
- Interest in the construction of scientific order out of chaos: since any alternative interpretation of any
observation can be questioned and justified, it becomes important to understand the methods and
procedures by which observers produce ordered versions of utterances and observations which they
have accumulated. >>> "In sum, then, our discussion is informed by the conviction that a body of
practices widely regarded by outsiders as well organized, logical, and coherent, in fact consists of a
disordered array of observations with which scientists struggle to produce order."
- The authors take seriously the concepts used by members in the laboratory, but they attempt to
explain the participants' use of these concepts as a social phenomenon.
- The authors interests lie in 2 major questions: how are the facts constructed in a laboratory and how
can a sociologist account for this construction.
Chapter 2 – An Anthropologist Visits the Lab
- The observer's organization of questions, observations and notes are inevitably constrained by
cultural affinities (a total newcomer would be unreliable). - observers steer a middle path between
total newcomer and complete participant.
- The chapter follows a fictional character, the observer, in his attempt to use the notion of literary
inscription as a principle for organizing his initial observations of the laboratory.
- 2 areas of the laboratory: section B contains various items of apparatus, and section A contains only
books, dictionaries, and papers. >>> 1. At the end of the day, technicians bring piles of documents
from section B to section A; 2. Secretaries post off papers from the lab at an average rate of ten days.
These papers are the product of this 'unusual factory'.
- The desk is the hub of the productive unite: the place where new drafts are constructed by the
juxtaposition of two sources of literature (one originating outside and another being generated within
the laboratory).
- In the lab, there is a constant transformation on the object of focus: The whole series of
transformations, between the rats from which samples are initially extracted and the curve which
finally appears in publication, involves an enormous quantity of sophisticated apparatus. But the end
product is no more than a curve, a diagram, or a table of figures written on a sheet of paper.
- Inscription devices: any item of apparatus or particular configuration of such items which can
transform a material substance into a figure or diagram which is directly usable by one of the
members of the office space. Inscriptions are regarded as having a direct relationship to the original
substance. >> Thus, the laboratory takes the appearance of a system of literary inscription.
- The author tries to understand the mythology that informs the participants' activities:
neuroendocrinology has the attributes of a mythology (precursors, mythical founders, revolutions...)
>> however, daily concerns focused on a different set of specific cultural values (organized around
one specific material which is deemed especially important).
- 3 main lines of article production (programs, all share 2 sets of inscription devices: assay (recording
device) and purification cycles (isolate entities)): 1. new natural substances in the hypothalamus; 2.
produce artificially reconstructed substances (analogs); 3. understanding the mechanisms by which
different substances interact.
- One important feature of the use of inscription devices in the laboratory is that once the end product,
an inscription, is available, all the intermediary steps which made its production possible are
forgotten. >>> Inscriptions tend to be thought of in terms of confirmation, or evidence for or against,
particular ideas, concepts, or theories.
- The specificity of the laboratory lies in the particular configuration of inscription devices. None of
the phenomena talked about in lab could exist without this material arrangement. >>>> The
phenomena are thoroughly constituted by the material setting of the laboratory (Bachelard's
phenomenotechnique); >>> The material setting (apparatus) represents reified knowledge established
in the literature of another field. >>> Inscripture devices appear to be valued on the basis of the
extent to which they facilitate a swift transition from craft work to ideas.
- Paradox: Without the material environment of the laboratory none of the objects could be said to
exist, and yet the material environment very rarely receives mention.
- The papers produced to be published are extremely costly to produce. >> An increase in output does
not guarantees a higher publication rate. However, items which yield a high return are those with a
high chance of addressing issues of concern outside the laboratory.
- Types of scientific statements: 1. Conjectures and Speculations; 2. Claims (modalities regarding
[lack of] evidence); 3. Statements about other statements (modalities) (review discussions); 4.
Uncontroversial and made explicit (teaching texts); 5. Taken-for-granted facts; >>> It is only by
virtue of the reference that the statement achieves any degree of facticity, however, changes in the
type of statement provide the possibility of change in the fact-like status of statements. >>>
laboratory activity can be portrayed as a constant struggle for the generation and acceptance of
particular types of statements.
- Two operations to change the type of statement: change the existing modality or borrow an existing
statement type (citing).
- In the laboratory, "objects" were accomplished by the superimposition of several documents
obtained from inscription devices within the laboratory or from papers by investigators outside the
- The so-called material elements of the laboratory are based upon the reified outcomes of past
controversies which are available in the published literature. As a result, it is these same material
elements which allow papers to be written and points to be made.
Chapter 3 – The construction of a fact: the case of TRF(H)
- The author attempts to understand the process which operates to remove the social and historical
circumstances on which the construction of a fact depends on.
- A fact only becomes such when it loses all temporal qualification and becomes incorporated into a
large body of knowledge drawn upon by others.
- The facticity of an objective is relative only to a particular network or networks (e.g. TRF can take
on a different meaning and significance depending on the particular network of individuals for which
it has relevance.); >> Insiders and Outsiders.
- The decision, made by Guillemin and Schally, to reshape the field (determining the structure of the
substance) was not logically necessary. >> The epistemological qualities of validity or wrongness
cannot be separated from sociological notions of decision-making. - TRF did not exist prior to the
imposition of limitations, because such limitations preceded the first experiments and defined what
could be accepted in advance. Such criteria were also responsible for the import into the laboratory
of items of equipment necessary for constructing the TRF.
- The object (TRF) was constructed out of the difference between peaks on two curves (in the
bioassay). >> It is not simply that difference between curves indicates the presence of a substance;
rather the substance is identical with perceived difference between curves. >>>> Objects (in this
case, substances) are constituted through the artful creativity of scientists.
- Hard and Soft techniques: Hardness refers to the fact that a particular material layout permits the
advanced elimination of many more alternative explanations.
- The restrictive context of analytic chemistry in which TRF was situated in 1969 radically changed
the network. >>> once one and only one purified structure had been chosen out of all the equally
probable structures, a decisive metamorphosis occurred in the nature of the constructed object.

Chapter 4 – The Microprocessing of facts

- SUMMARY: The work of the laboratory can be understood in terms of the continual generation of a
variety of documents, which are used to effect the transformation of statement types and so enhance
or detract from their fact-like status. >> The context of the laboratory influences the delimiting of the
number of alternative statements which could be made: only by virtue of a crucial shift between one
network and another could a particular statement begin circulation as a fact.
- The chapter focuses on scientific logic and reasoning (the intimate aspects of fact construction) >
even the smallest gestures constitute the social construction of facts - micro processes. - The author
aims to demonstrate the idiosyncratic, local, heterogeneous, contextual, and multifaceted character of
scientific practices (Knorr). >>> A belief in the logical and straightforward character of science itself
arises in the course of practices of interpretation;
- Criticism of using epistemological concepts to portray scientific activity (serves a mere tautological
- Micro processes of fact construction take place continually throughout the laboratory >> In the
course of exchanges between scientists, beliefs are changed, statements are enhanced or discredited,
and reputations and alliances between researchers are modified. >>> These exchanges comprise a
kind of reasoning that isn't markedly different from those characteristic of exchanges in nonscientific
settings. >>> A complex web of evaluations simultaneously enters into any one deduction or
decision. Such web involves the actual material setting which, thus, does not allow the reasoning
procedure to occur in isolation.
- 4 main kinds of conversational exchange: 1. Discussions that featured reference to known facts
(information-spreading, ideas from the past which have become relevant for present concerns); 2.
Exchanges in the course of, or about, a practical activity (verbal component of a largely nonverbal
body exchange, or the evaluation of the reliability of a specific method); 3. Exchanges focused on
theoretical matters; 4. Exchanges featuring discussion about other researchers (who made the claim
was as important as the claim itself).
- Conversation material shows how a myriad of different types of interests and preoccupations are
intermeshed in scientists' discussions; scientists constantly switch between interests within the same
- The authors push the analysis one step further in order to attempt to understand scientific thought. >>
alternative to accounts of 'sudden realization' - multiple progression of accidentally related events.
>> Having an idea represents a summary of a complicated material situation - individual's ideas and
thought processes result from a particular form of presentation and simplification of a whole set of
material and collective circumstances.
- The kind of work done by scientists and frequently depicted as analogical reasoning is not reasoning.
>> The emergence of a new finding entails a two-fold process of transformation: one hand, the
analogical path is often replaced by a logical connection. On the other hand, the complex set of local
circumstances which temporarily makes possible a weak link gives way to flashes of intuition.
- The point at which stabilization occurs depends on prevailing conditions within a particular context.
It is characteristic of the process of fact construction that stabilization entails the escape of a
statement from all reference to the process of construction. >>> "Our argument is not just that facts
are socially constructed. We also wish to show that the process of construction involves the use of
certain devices whereby all traces of production are made extremely difficult to detect." >>> When
the statement begins to stabilize, it becomes a split entity: previously scientists deal with statements,
then there appears to be both objects and statements about these objects. >> More and more reality is
attributed to the objects, and less and less to the statement about the object (an inversion: the object
becomes the reason why the statement was formulated in the first place). >>> "At the onset of
stabilization, the object was the virtual image of the statement; subsequently, the statement becomes
the mirror image of the reality "out there.""
- The strength of correspondence between objects and statements about these objects stems from the
splitting and inversion of a statement within the laboratory context: 1. In the lab, scientists take
different positions of realism, relativism, idealism, among others, during their scientific activity. The
debate about the paradox of the fact, thus, is not the exclusive privilege of the sociologist or
philosopher; 2. a modification in the local context of the laboratory may result in the use of a
modality whereby an accepted statement becomes qualified or doubted - the deconstruction of reality
(The reality "out there" once again melts back into a statement, the conditions of production of which
are again made explicit.) >> statements are constantly manifesting a double potential:
subjectivity/artefact, or objectivity/fact.
- "Reality" cannot be used to explain why a statement becomes a fact, since it is only after it has
become a fact that the effect of reality is obtained. >>> "out-there-ness" is the consequence of
scientific work rather than the cause. >> Once the controversy has settled, reality is taken to be the
cause of this settlement; but while controversy is still raging, reality is the consequence of debate,
following each twist and turn in the controversy as if it were the shadow of scientific endeavor. >>>
it is impossible to prove that a given statement is verified outside the laboratory since the very
existence of the statement depends on the context of the laboratory.

Chapter 5 – Cycles of Credit

- In this chapter the authors discuss the relation between the individual participant and his/her activity.
>> The authors attempt to account for the construction of individual careers without separating the
resulting individual from the activity of fact construction in the course of which he is created.
- Norms do not explain scientists' activities and motivations.
- The concept of "credit" was used in 4 ways: As a commodity which could be (1) exchanged, (2)
shared, (3) stolen, (4) accumulated or wasted. >> all the character of a currency. >>>> However, the
notion of credit as reward is a secondary phenomenon: it would be wrong to regard the receipt of
reward as the ultimate objective of scientific activity. In fact, the receipt of reward is just one small
portion of a large cycle of credibility investment. >> The essential feature of this cycle is the gain of
credibility which enables reinvestment and the further gain of credibility. >>> There is no ultimate
objective to scientific investment other than the continual redeployment of accumulated resources.
- Credit as credibility: concerns the scientists' abilities actually to do science. >> the notion of
credibility can apply to both the facts and to the influence of external factors, such as money and
institutions (it relates external and internal factors). >> Scientists are investors of credibility >>>
cycle of credibility: conversions can be made between different forms of credibility (e.g. money,
data, prestige, papers, credentials...);
- Both reward and credibility originates from peer's comments about other scientists: 1. Evaluative
comments made by scientists make no distinction between scientists as people and their scientific
claims; 2. The main thrust of these comments turn on an assessment of the credibility which can be
invested in an individual's clam. >>> Credit Market: there is a demand from investors for
information which may increase the power of their own inscription devices, and there is a supply of
information from other investors.
- The success of each investment was evaluated in terms of the extent to which it facilitated the rapid
conversion of credibility and the scientist's progression through the cycle. > the objective of the
market activity is to extend and speed up the credibility cycle as a whole.
- A CV is a balance sheet of all investments to date. >> Scientists attempt to occupy the best positions:
academic rank, situation of the field, and geographical location. >>>> Scientific activity in our
laboratory comprised a field of contention in which facts were produced, claims dissolved, artefacts
deconstructed, proofs and arguments disproved, careers ruined, and prestige cut down.
- A position is resultant of participant's career trajectory, the situation in the field, the resources at his
command and the advantages of the invested position. >>> status, rank, awards, past accreditation,
and social situation are merely resources utilized in the struggle for credible information and
increased credibility. >> The better politicians and strategists scientists are, the better the science
they produce.
- Scientists suffer double pressure: they need to reinvest their capital and they are constrained by an
employer >> Scientists are both an independent capitalist and an employee.

Chapter 6 – Creation of Order out of Disorder

- In this chapter, the authors attempt to summarize the findings of the preceding chapters and to link
the concepts used.
- Main concepts used in the argument: 1. Construction: the slow practical craftwork by which
inscriptions are superimposed and accounts backed up or dismissed; 2. Agonistic: the field composed
of the sum of scientific operations on statements >> scientists are not concerned with "nature"
(reality is the consequence rather than the cause of the construction of facts, so scientific activity is
directed towards operations designed to affect the dropping of modalities, not toward reality) - in the
agonistic field there is no difference between politics and truth. It is a field of contestation.; 3.
Materialization (reification): once a statement stabilizes in the agonistic field, it is reified and
becomes part of the tacit skills or material equipment of another laboratory; 4. Credibility: the
various investments made by scientists and the conversion between different aspects of the
laboratory; 5. Circumstances: science is entirely fabricated out of circumstances; 6. Noise:
information is measured against a background of equally probably events.
- "The result of the construction of a fact is that it appears unconstructed by anyone; the result of
rhetorical persuasion in the agnostic field is that participants are convinced that they have not been
convinced; the result of materialization is that people can swear that material considerations are only
minor components of the "thought process"; the result of the investments of credibility, is that
participants can claim that economics and beliefs are in no way related to the solidity of science; as
to the circumstances, they simply vanish from accounts, being better left to political analysis than to
an appreciation of the hard and solid world of facts!"
- >> The set of statements considered too costly to modify constitute what is referred to as reality. >>
Scientific activity is not "about nature," it is a fierce fight to construct reality. The laboratory is the
workplace and the set of productive forces, which makes construction possible. Every time a
statement stabilizes, it is reintroduced into the laboratory (in the guise of a machine, inscription
device, skill, routine, prejudice, deduction, program, and so on), and it is used to increase the
difference between statements. The cost of challenging the reified statement is impossibly high.
Reality is secreted.
- Inscription: writing is not so much a method of transferring information as a material operation of
creating order. - keeping track is the only way of seeing a pattern emerge out of disorder. >> It is part
of our world view that things are ordered, that order is the rule, and that disorder should be
eliminated wherever possible. >> Construction of order relies upon the existence of disorder.
- The authors highlight the reflexivity of their work: The notion of creating order from disorder applies
as much to the construction of our own account as to that of the laboratory scientists.