Presentation of this Call for Comments

( 27 October 2003 )
( posted by Massimiano Bucchi )
(both to read and to write click the link above)

In preparation of the lecture that Bruno Latour will deliver on November, 17th, at the Milan Politecnico upon invitation from the Fondazione Giannino Bassetti on "Assembly or assemblage? Politics and polytechnics", we would like to propose a web forum based on excerpts from one of his papers.

The paper touches many themes that are central to Latour's reflection: the increasing involvement of non experts in science practice, the blurring of distinctions between science and politics, the emergence of 'hybrid forums' that should lead us to devise new political arrangements and new forms of representation to deal with technoscientific innovation.

These are key issues also for FGB, which is developing a wide range of activities concerned with the political dimensions of innovation, the role of risk decisions, the transformation of the relationships between technical experts, citizens, and policy makers [for the more recent, see the Call for Comments, conducted by Giuseppe Pellegrini, on the Project "Partecipazione pubblica e governance dell'innovazione" (Una proposta di sperimentazione istituzionale sul tema delle biotecnologie) and the Call for Comments conducted by Daniele Navarra, on "Innovation, social risk and political responsibility" (subject of the lecture presented by Piero Bassetti at the London School of Economics in May 2003)].

We thereby invite your comments and contributions, that are welcome both in English and in Italian.

The forum will be active until 19 December 2003.
[ on 12 December 2003].

Massimiano Bucchi
Università di Trento


In the time past, when a scientist or a philosopher of science was thinking of writing down rules of method, he (more rarely she) was thinking of a closed site, the laboratory, where a small group of specialised experts where scaling down (or scaling up) phenomena which they could repeat at will through simulations or modelling, before presenting, much later, their results, which could then, and only then, be scaled up, diffused, applied, or tried out. We recognise here the 'trickling down' theory of scientific influence : from a confined centre of rational enlightenment, knowledge would emerge and then slowly diffuse out to the rest of society. The public could chose to learn the results of the laboratory sciences or remain indifferent to them, but it could certainly not add to them, dispute them, and even less contribute to their elaboration. Science was what was made inside the walls where white coats were at work. Experiments were undergone by animals, materials, figures and softwares. Outside the laboratory borders began the realm of mere experience -not experiment. It would be an understatement to say that nothing, absolutely nothing, has been left of this picture, of this trickling down model of scientific production. First, the laboratory has extended its walls to the whole planet. Instruments are everywhere. Houses, factories, hospitals have become the subsidiaries of the labs. Think, for instance, of global positioning system : thanks to this satellite network geologists, naturalists, can now take measurements with the same range of precision outside and inside their laboratories. Think of the new requirements for traceability which are as stringent outside as those for inside the production sites. The difference between natural history -outdoor science- and lab science, has slowly been eroded. Second, it is well known from the development, for example, of patient organisations that many more people are formulating research questions, insisting on research agendas, than those who hold a PhD or wear a white coat. My colleague, Michel Callon, has been following for several years now a patient organisation in France, the AFM, which fights against orphan genetic diseases : they have not waited for results of molecular biology to trickle down to patients in wheel chairs : they have raised the money, hired the researchers, pushed for controversial avenues like genetic therapy, fired researchers, built an industry and in so doing they have been producing at once a new social identity and a new research agenda. The same can be said of many other groups, the best example being provided by the AIDS activists.And you would find the same situation throughout the whole ecological activism : if a crucial part of doing science is formulating the questions to be solved, it is clear that scientists are not alone in this. If in doubt on this point, ask the anti-nuclear militants about what type of research on energy they think laboratory scientists should be doing. Third, the question of scale. Experiments are now happening at scale one and in real time, as it has become clear with the key question of global warming. To be sure, many simulations are being run ; complex models are being tried out on huge computers, but the real experiment is happening on us, with us, through the action of each of us, on all of us, with all the oceans, high atmosphere and even the Gulf Stream -as some oceanographers argue participating in it. The only way to know if global warming is indeed due to anthropic activity is to try out and stop our noxious emissions to see then later, and collectively, what has happened. This is indeed an experiment but at scale one in which we are all embarked.

But then, what is now the difference with what used to be called a political situation : namely, what interests everyone and concerns everyone ? None. That's precisely the point. The sharp distinction between scientific laboratories experimenting on theories and phenomena inside, and a political outside where non-experts were getting by with human values, opinions and passions, is simply evaporating under our eyes. We are now all embarked in the same collective experiments mixing humans and non-humans together -and no one is in charge. Those experiments made on us, by us, for us have no protocol. No one is given explicitly the responsibility of monitoring them. This is why a new definition of sovereignty is being called for.
When I am saying that the distinction between the inside and the outside of the laboratory has disappeared, I am not saying that from now on 'all is political'. I am simply reminding you that contemporary scientific controversies are designing what Arie Rip and Michel Callon have called 'hybrid forums'. We used to have two types of representations and two types of forums : one that was in charge of representing things of nature -and here the word 'representation' means accuracy, precision and reference- and another one which was in charge of representing people in society -and here the word 'representation' meant faithfulness, election, obedience. One simple way to characterise our times is to say that the two meanings of representation have now merged into one around the key notion of spokesperson.
For instance, the global warming controversy is just one of those many new hybrid forums : some of those spokespersons represents the high atmosphere, others the lobbies of oil and gas, still others non-governmental organisations, still others represents, in the classical sense, their electors (with President Bush able to represent simultaneously his electors and the energy lobbies who have bought him up !). The sharp difference that seemed so important between those who represented things and those who represented people has simply vanished. What counts is that all those spokesperson are in the same room, engaged in the same collective experiment, talking at once about imbroglios of people and things. It does not mean that everything is political, but that a new politics certainly has to be devised.Hence the expression I have chosen for this new politic : how to assemble the Parliament of Things. Rules of method have become now rules, not to manage the Human Park, but to elaborate together the protocol of those collective experiments.

Let us pause a moment.on this major transformation : it is for me one of the most tragic intellectual concern of our age that the best minds, the highest moral authorities we possess, dream only of one thing : « If only, they say, we could control science, separate it entirely from the realm of human values, keep humanity safely protected from the encroachment of instrumental rationality, then, and only then we would live a better life ». They want to keep science and technology as distinct as possible from the search for values, meaning and ultimate goals. Is this not a tragedy if, as I have argued, the present trend leads precisely in the opposite direction and that the most urgent concern for us today is to see how to fuse together humans and non-humans in the same hybrid forums and open, as fast as possible, this Parliament of things ? When all our energy should be directed to this task, our best minds are dreaming, on the contrary, of an even sharper cut that would render us, if they could succeed, inhuman, deprived of our very conditions of humanness : the things, the controversial states of affairs to which we are attached and without whom we would die on the spot. Humanists are marking against their own team, shooting themselves in the foot, expecting as a wish what would be, if realised, the darkest of all nightmares.

What is a cosmos ? As we know from the Greek and from the word 'cosmetic' it means a beautiful arrangement, the opposite of which being a kakosmos, a horrible shamble. Politics, if I am right in my interpretation of the present, is not in defining what humans values should be, given that there exist only one cosmos known by a unified science and simplified as one nature. but in drawing, deciding, proposing a cosmogram, a certain distribution of roles, functions, agencies to humans and non-humans.
There is however a huge difference in the way political claims can now be articulated around cosmograms and the way they were authorised before : nature has disappeared, « the Great Pan is dead », and so have the 'experts' mediating between the production of science and the desire or wishes of society. By nature I mean this unified cosmos which could shortcut political due process by defining once and for all which world we all have to live in. Nature, contrary to the appearance, is a political animal : it is what used to define the world we have in common, the obvious existence we share, the sphere to which we all pertain equally. And then, in addition, there is what divides us, what makes us enemy of one another, what scatters us around in a maelstrom of controversies : namely passions, subjectivities, cultures, religions, tastes. Nature unifies in advance and without any discussion nor negotiations ; cultures divides. « If only, if only, so the modernist dreams, we could all be children of nature, forget about our cultural, subjective, ideological, religion divisions, we will all be unified again, we would all zoom on the one same solution. » More nature, hence more unity. More cultures, hence more divisions.

The sovereignty over research agendas is much too important to be left to the specialists -especially when it is not in the hands of the scientists either, but in those of industry that no one has elected and that no one controls. Yes, we might be willing to participate in the collective experiments, but on the condition that we give our informed consent. Don't play on us any more the dirty tricks of considering all of us as the mere domain of applications of innovations concocted elsewhere. Look at what happened to those who believed genetically modified organisms could be made to 'impact' European countryside. It does not mean people believe it is dangerous, nor it means that GMO are not safe -they might, as far as I am concerned, be totally safe and even indispensable for third world countries. But the question is not there anymore, as if we should accept anything as long as it is innocuous : the question has become again that of will and sovereignty : do we wish to live in this world ? do we wish to draw that cosmogram ? And if experts and modernists replies that there is one world only and that we have no choice to live in it or not, then let them say as well that there is no politics any more. When there is no choice of alternative, there is no Sovereign. What was true of the nation states, is becoming truer every day, under our very eyes, of our conflicting cosmos.

.all of the rules of method for the collective experiment can be summarised by taking up again this magnificent slogan that our forefathers have chanted, and chanted again, in building, through so many revolutions, their representative democracy : « No taxation without representation ». Except that now, for the new technical democracies to be invented, it should read : « No innovation without representation ». In the same way as the benevolent monarchies of the past imagined that they could tax us for our own good without us having a say on their budget because they alone were enlightened enough, in the same way, the new enlightened elite have been telling us for too long that there is only one best way for the innovation they have devised, and that we should simply follow them for our own good. Well, we might not be as enlightened as they are, but if the first Parliaments of the emerging nation-states were built to vote on budgets, the new Parliament of things have to be constructed to represent us so that we have a say on the innovations and decide for ourselves what is good for us. « No innovation, without representation ».

The complete text was delivered at the Darmstadt Colloquium, 30 april 2001, under the title of "What rules of method for the new socio-scientific experiments?" and can be found at



Comment by Fabian Muniesa, posted on Tuesday 28 October 2003 at 03:44 PM

Real scale "collective experiments" are becoming more and more central in contemporary forms of constructing "the common world" - those are, of course, varied and controversial. Daniele Navarra has invited me to comment here on this issue, since he knows I've been involved for years, as a PhD student, in Bruno Latour's "laboratory". The "laboratory" is the Center for the Sociology of Innovation (CSI) at Paris School of Mines, and, more precisely, the "PhD writing seminar" (which is not far from being a replicating "collective experiment" by itself).

Many empirical investigations that have been recently conducted at the CSI are indeed inquiries into real scale collective experiments. I am thinking, among others, of Jim Dratwa's thesis on the "precautionary principle": he traced the elaboration of EU official statements on the precautionary principle as a collective experiment on the construction of Europe. But there are many others: Emmanuel Didier's history of statistical sampling (the extension of the statistical laboratory to all "society"), Emilie Gomart's study on experiments with methadone, Vincent Lépinay's thesis on the circulation of financial formulas in markets, Dominique Linhardt's work on 1970's leftwing terrorism as a collective experiment on the strength of the State, Yannick Barthe's thesis on the politics of nuclear waste, or my own work on electronic trading in financial markets, etc. (see for other projects). I am focusing here explicitly on PhD works (putting aside the research of "senior" researchers from the lab) because it is in doctoral work where the problems on how to write about collective experiments (how to account for them) are the more visible.

Let me just focus on one single (indeed political) problem of the like: the obligation to avoid clear-cut keywords. "Precautionary principle" is one widespread keyword. "Risk" is another one. "Transparency", another. What happens with collective experiments is that they are more demanding that mere mobilizations around a keyword. Take a claim for "transparency", for example. It can be used as (and studied as) a straightforward claim. But as soon as we deal with it in a real controversy, a real collective experiment, the notion of transparency becomes... experimental: it explodes into a myriad of concerns that can indeed, in the end, take some shape that would be against the very idea of transparency. In a collective (real scale) market experiment, for instance, the claim for transparency can easily be translated into a debate between two positions: "by transparency we mean less anonymity and more identification of counterparties" against "no, we mean precisely more anonymity so that deals cannot be arranged below the public marketplace" (this debate is open in financial markets, actually). In a totally different setting, an activist will use the term "transparency" in a claim regarding nuclear security and suddenly (because of the flow of data he or she is provided with) will need to admit that in order to get "transparency" he or she needs information to be... filtered.

You cannot use these keywords as "analytical tools" or as "lenses" to tackle a specific issue: these are the very matters which their definition is precisely at stake "in the field". Which does not mean that you cannot deal with them!

Comment by Sergio Roic, posted on Friday 7 November 2003 at 03:37 PM

Le soluzioni all'impasse tra politica e natura che Latour propone ne "Politiche della natura" sono le seguenti:
- "poiché la politica è sempre stata fatta sotto gli auspici della natura, non si è mai usciti dallo stato di natura e il Leviatano resta da costruire"
- "l'ecologia politica prima maniera ha creduto di innovare mettendo la natura in politica, mentre ha finito coll'aggravare la paralisi della politica causata dalla vecchia natura"
- "per ridare senso all'ecologia politica, occorre abbandonare la Scienza per le scienze, concepite come socializzazione dei non umani"
- "le istituzioni che permettono questa ecologia politica esistono già tutte in filigrana nella realtà presente, anche se si dovrà ridefinire le posizioni della sinistra e della destra"
- "alla domanda 'Che fare?' si può dare un'unica risposta: 'Ecologia politica!'"

Ora, io mi chiedo:
Il superamento della modernità, come lo concepisce Latour in "Non siamo mai stati moderni", si ha nel e col glocal?
È possibile applicare i dettami del glocal (decentramento, reti, pari opportunità), che indicano in una governance decentralizzata il superamento di politiche (anche scientifiche) centralistiche e "senza volto" o senza responsabilità, a quel delicatissimo contesto in cui gli attori della scienza incontrano quelli della politica?
Il pensiero glocal è, nei suoi fondamenti, un pensiero che privilegia un'ecologia politica o una politica dell'ecologia?
La mia risposta a queste tre domande è sì.
La mia domanda ulteriore è: come (concretamente) fare?

Comment by Alberto Schena, posted on Wednesday 12 November 2003 at 09:39 AM

No Innovation without Representation: Introducing a basic principle of democracy in scientific research and in innovation policy recalls somehow Churchill's famous dictum about "the worst form of government, except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time." The poor results of the opposite principle, the "illuministic" or modern one, in governing science are a good argument in favour of your proposition, but may I suggest that the democratic / representative principle is only the (least bad) surrogate of a "Darwinian Principle", ruling in fact science and innovation? I consider the new revival of Darwinian models not only in neuro-sciences, but also in more prosaic domains as market analysis. Of course "natural" evolution takes a very long time, and we all are fascinated by the illusion to be able to direct or to accelerate the "natural" process.

Comment by Bruna De Marchi, posted on Wednesday 12 November 2003 at 07:29 PM

Repeateedly, research findings in the areas of the environment, technological inovation and health, show that - faced with great uncertainty (and high decisoin stakes)- "the public" frame issues in terms of trust and responsibility.

The risk governance debate needs to be open to multiple perspectives and acknowledge the presence of conflicting interests.

The (re)construction of trust implies its redefinition in conceptual and operatonal terms , while no romantic phantasy will apply.

Comment by Barbara Conrad, posted on Thursday 13 November 2003 at 07:39 PM

On notions such as "stop(ping) our noxious emissions" - How do WE do this in a world where everybody wants to - and sees few immediate reasons not to - be a "free rider"? Where are the communication policies? Why is there a trickling down of science but not, or way not enough, of conscience?

The sustainable development actions and strategies call for "trickling up" processes, but how do we start such a mechanism after decades of letting the individuals getting the impression that whatever they do or don't doesn't really matter, since nobody listens to them, and that decisions will anyway be taken with little or no regard to their daily preoccupations?

True, there is always a fringe of population that believes it can and has an obligation to act on behalf of their, say, country, or social class, or generation. But the risk with fringes is that they usually have to shout louder, to be extreme to some extent, to make themselves heard. They're commonly referred to as "activists" and the word does not carry very positive images (just think of how for example Greenpeace activists or José Bové's followers are considered).

Is it more worrying that no one is in charge, or that no one actually wants to take responsibility?
Though it is interesting to note that spokespersons of all horizons nowadays sit around the same tables and are able to confront their points of view, making it seem that fault lines could be bridged, wouldn't it be naive to think that their respective interests are going to converge at some point in the discussion?
Aren't those interests more likely to get exacerbated, thus reacting to a risk of getting dissolved in the melting pot of a society where the barrier between "the scientists" and "the people" is not clear any more?

The unifying "power"of common human nature - We tend to focus on differences instead of focusing on least common factors. Why is that? And, in the end, whom does it - whom did it ever - benefit?
The putting in evidence of differences is the first step towards a judgemental attitude and, eventually, arbitrary and unjustifiable classification.
Let us try and imagine a global juxtaposition of groups, living side by side in mutual respect and conscience of the identical basic needs of their human nature. Respect does not mean understanding. Even if understanding should be sought, it is not necessarily needed. Respect and acceptance are more essential to peace and good functioning. (Arms cannot understand the usefulness of legs. It is the body as a whole that "understands" and has an equal need of both.)
Those juxtaposed groups will then be able to unite, or at least to connect, on the basis of their common needs, to defend and promote their common interests. To quote Latour, "there is no "them" left". Nature divides but human nature unites. The problem lies with the rivalry in the satisfaction of the natural needs.
The more we look at the differences, the more we climb up the "peculiarities' ladder" of each group, the more divergence and hostility we find. Can we stand this hostility in our global village? I don't think so. Don't we rather have to climb down our ladders of so called evolution, to get in touch with our global common human nature again? Or, if speaking in terms of multinaturalism, to at least get to the same parallel levels of different competing natures?

As Mr Latour writes at the end of the complete version of this text, Europe, as a huge multicultural experimental field, now growingly united - not forgetting about its obvious growing pains - could be, if it wanted, the start of a new vision for global responsibility. Does is want it? Do we want it? And if we do want it, what do we do to design it? When do we take our chance?

Comment by Paolo Landoni, posted on Monday 17 November 2003 at 03:08 AM

How could we not agree with Latour that a "parliament of thing" or an "hybrid forum" is needed ?
How could we deny that science and technology "interest everyone and concern everyone" ? that science and technology are increasingly involving political decisions ? As Latour underline "the laboratory has extended its walls to the whole planet" and "many more people are formulating research questions, insisting on research agendas" on themes like orphan diseases and global warming. The interesting point is: researchers shouldn't be left alone. As stated by Latour in his lecture "we are all engaged, at one title or another, into the collective experiments on matters as different as climate, food, landscape, health, urban design, technical communication and so on. As consumers, militants, citizens, we are all now co-researchers". A new sovereignty, a new politics, a new democracy are needed.
But Latour goes further with his analysis and instead of explaining how to build this "parliament of thing" or "hybrid forum" and how this assembly should work argues that "nature has ended", that "nature has disappeared", that "the Great Pan is dead ". He talks about the fall of a second tower of Babel: "nature Herself, as a united tower [...] has been destroyed under the weight of its own ambition and lie everywhere in ruins" and thus "to multiculturalism born on the ruins of the first Babel, one should now add the many tribes of multinaturalism born in the wreck of the second Babel". Latour has claimed a new role for sociologists, politicians and also "ordinary humans", he has rightfully asserted that researchers shouldn't be left alone or in the hands of powerful lobbies, but then, instead of recognising the centrality of science and technology, the need of a better and a wider comprehension of research questions, methodologies and risks, he fall in a sort of relativism à la Feyerabend. The fascinating post-modern or anarchist theories in my opinion go in the opposite direction of the "parliament of things" or "hybrid forums": the challenge is to involve and make more conscious the "ordinary humans" about the science and the technologies of the present paradigm. "No innovation without representation" should be changed in "Innovation with representation". The objective should be to guide science and technology development in the more interesting directions not in denying is objectivity and value or, even worst, in trying to convince that science and nature could be shaped on our will: what can be shaped is our world accordingly to the use we make of our knowledge and means. Nature and science exist independently of our "use" of them. As stated by Sokal in his answer to Latour on Le Monde "every scientist knows perfectly well that our knowledge is always partial and subject to revision -- which does not make it any less objective". I believe with Latour that "if yesterday things were a bit confused and entangled, tomorrow facts and values, humans and non-humans, will be even more entangled than yesterday" but I don't feel postmodernist because this entanglement is about decision and actions, it's about politics and not nature. In his 1998 article on the journal "Science" Latour states: "science might be dead, but then long live research!". I can't imagine research without science.

Comment by marlene di costanzo, posted on Tuesday 18 November 2003 at 12:44 AM

Ho letto con molta attenzione l'articolo di Latour apparso su il Sole del 16 novembre riguardo agli esperimenti socio-scientifici. Quello che spaventa in questi esperimenti è la loro irreversibilità. Per esempio un esperimento sugli ogm in campo aperto può portare, anche se in misura limitata, a conseguenze irreversibili sull'ambiente circostante e sulla biodiversità. D'altra parte abbiamo moltissimi altri esempi di irreversibilità ogni volta che un qualcosa viene
provato in campo sociale. Popper ha parlato di ingegneria sociale a spizzichi, nel senso di realizzare esperimenti le cui conseguenze siano molto limitate e perciò controllabili. Se la scelta di non vaccinare gli ovini, come descritto nell'articolo di Latour, fosse stata circoscritta a zone limitate, la validità dell'esperimento probabilmente sarebbe stata la stessa, ma con conseguenze meno disastrose.

Comment by vittorio bertolini, posted on Tuesday 18 November 2003 at 05:48 PM

Una breve osservazione sull'intervento di Roic. In molti ambiti il glocal può essere la risposta.
Ma quando arriviamo ad alcune, direi molte, dell'impatto dei prodotti della tecnoscienza, nascono i problemi. Fino a che punto il locale è in grado di pensare globalmente. In questi giorni abbiamo il caso delle scorie radioattive di Scanzano. Il pensiero globale ci dice che il sito è scevro da rischi, che i controlli saranno accurati ecc. Il pensiero locale, al di là degli slogan catastrofisti pone problemi di per sè legittimi come la perdita di competitività dei prodotti agricoli. Il concetto di ecologia rimanda, almeno nell'immaginario collettivo (e ci piaccia o non piaccia si tratta di un immaginario che non possiamo trascurare se pensiamo di essere in uno stato democratico e non tecnocratico) a un concetto di natura estraneo alla costruzione sociale. Ma la natura è un costrutto sociale come lo può essere un parlamento, un sindacato.
Il che fare è perciò un problema culturale. Il motto del glocal è agire localmente ma pensare globalmente, ma molte volte ho l'impressione che si voglia agire globalmente pensando localmente. Come nel caso di quando vogliamo esportare verso i paesi subsahriani le nostre diffidenze verso il transgenico.

Comment by Nicola Colotti, posted on Tuesday 25 November 2003 at 08:31 PM

Diversi sono i piani di lettura del problema, posto da Latour: vi è quello sociologico, quello politco-economico, quello scientifico-ecologico. Tutti e tre possono concorrere, quali strumenti di analisi separati o congiunti, all'elaborazione di nuove strategie per affrontare il futuro incerto delle risorse terrestri di cui vive l'intera Umanità.
L'ambito politico-economico è certamente quello più "sensibile" alle tensioni e alle lotte per il possesso delle risorse. In esso gli interessi privati, corporatisti e brutalmente finanziari tendono a sommergere e persino a cancellare, le rivendicazioni di chi (e sono molti !) teme che la globalizzazione pregiudichi il nostro futuro e quello del nostro pianeta.
La dimensione scientifico-ecologica è invece un terreno di scontro nuovo nel quale alla lotta degli attori sociali per la conquista di posizioni dominanti, si aggiunge quella per la definizione di nuove regole e strategie discorsive da imporre come "obbiettive".
Ha ragione Bruno Latour quando ci ricorda che la scienza non è più solo un affare di scienziati e laboratori. Il mondo intero, l'intero ecosistema del globo, oggi è sempre più un "laboratorio" nel quale tutta l'umanità rischia di trasformarsi nella grande cavia della tecno-scienza del terzo millennio, se già non lo è diventata.
Diventa fondamentale a questo punto, il ruolo (la mediazione, vorrei dire) degli antropologi, dei sociologi e dei politologi che possono (devono ?) proporre nuove strade da seguire, nuove vie di comunicazione e dialogo tra le altre due componenti identificate all'inizio: quella politico-economica e quella scientifico-ecologica. Questa "mediazione" -che deve essere anche un incitamento- diventa tanto più necessaria quanto più le sfere della politica e dell'ecologia si vanno polarizzando nei loro moventi ideologici.
Spesso sono i più biechi interessi dell'economia e della finanza che ostacolano la messa in atto di nuove regole per la salvaguardia delle risorse naturali della Terra. Tali interessi si contrappongono sempre più marcatamente con le pretese "difensive" (ritenute troppo dirigiste) degli ecologisti. Ne nasce così un conflitto ideologico (e non solo !) che chiama in causa il discorso scientifico quale arbitro incontestabile della contesa.

Se ci situiamo su un piano di interpretazione sociologica e antropologica, che potremmo immaginare ispirata da un nuovo "umanesimo", riusciamo forse ad identificare e a comprendere meglio le nuove dinamiche politico-economiche e scientifico-ecologiche. La società civile e il nostro agire in essa sono sempre più profondamente condizionati da queste dinamiche, sia in maniera latente che in maniera palese.
Quando l'economia si afferma come unico paradigma della politica e l'ecologia si trasforma in una lotta ideologica che brandisce la spada del discorso scientifico come fosse una mannaia, rimane un solo strumento dissuasivo. Uno strumento che permetta di fare chiarezza e sia utile a proporre strade alternative da percorrere per evitare il baratro della totale distruzione delle risorse naturali terrestri. Ci vuole dunque una nuova "arma", Quella di un nuovo Umanesimo. Si tratta in sostanza, di affermare una nuova cultura dell'umanità.

Se la politica diventa semplice gestione degli affari correnti... e si preoccupa solo di ascoltare le "sirene" dell'economia e della finanza, essa viene meno al suo ruolo di motore ideale della società civile, dalla quale emergono le aspirazioni e i progetti per il nostro futuro di Umanità. Se la scienza diventa soprattutto "tecno-scienza" che risponde prevalentemente alla esigenze del mercato, essa perde la sua funzione di strumento utile al bene di tutti per diventare un'arma al servizio di pochi. E non si può immaginare che il progresso delle conoscenze scientifiche sia soltanto terreno per nuovi e più aspri scontri sull'interpretazione dei dati relativi allo stato di salute del nostro pianeta.

Serve dunque una nuova vigilanza umanistica sulle tecno-scienze e sulla politica degli affari di matrice neo-liberista. Le scienze umane possono e devono tornare ad essere il luogo di elaborazione delle nuove proposte ideali e dell'affermazione della nuova cultura ecologica..
Può sembrare questa, una visione fin troppo platonica. Ma quando Bruno Latour parla di luoghi di discussione in cui ideare nuove regole per il controllo dell'operato della scienza, non richiama forse il concetto dell'Agorà della Polis greca in cui tutti i cittadini prendono parte alle sorti della comunità ? Certo, Platone immaginava in maniera autoritaria, i filosofi a capo della repubblica. Qui si tratta più modestamente, di sottoporre l'operato della sfera politico-economica e di quella scientifico-ecologica ad una efficace vigilanza da parte delle scienze socio-antropologiche. E dunque più in generale delle scienze umane.
Si tratta in sostanza -ed è la stessa conclusione alla quale giunge Latour- di garantire un maggiore controllo democratico sulle scelte della politica e della scienza, (dell'economia e dell'ecologia) che in definitiva riguardano il futuro di tutto il nostro pianeta e di tutta l'Umanità.

Comment by Andrea Pozzali, posted on Wednesday 26 November 2003 at 01:12 PM

"No Innovation without Representation" sounds like an appealing slogan for "the new technical democracies to be invented" that Latour is talking about. But in my opinion the problem lies in defining exactly the type of Representation we would like to introduce when deciding in matter of science and technology.
There is no doubt that nowadays science and technology "interest everyone and concern everyone" and that decisions concerning science and technology are increasingly entering into the political agendas. I have some doubt, anyway, that problems of "science governance" can be solved by simply invoking "un maggiore controllo democratico sulle scelte della politica e della scienza", as Colotti pointed out. The question is precisely how to achieve this democratic control: How can the new "Parliament of things" be formed? Do we intend to submit any kind of decision on science and technology to a majority vote in these new "hybrid forums"? Do we believe that lay people would be able to manage difficult scientific and technological problems? Could it realistically be possible, given the increasing complexity of the decisions at stake? The answers are not easy, as Bertolini comment on impasses in the decision-making arising from "glocal thinking", showed. But the problem does not only lie within the glocal/global dichotomy. It is the entire system of norms, procedures and bodies of control and of advice of modern democracies that is facing more and more difficulties in managing the new risks linked to developments in science and technology.
On the other side I think that we can not rely on the belief that "nature and science exist independently of our "use" of them", as Landoni pointed out, reducing problems of science governance to a simple matter of information of "ordinary humans". Plenty of studies on the public perception of science and on the cognitive mechanisms for the elaboration of information have showed that is not enough to provide more information to produce a more informed choice. Additional information can be ignored or even badly interpreted, depending on the attitudes, moods and values of the subjects.
Indeed, we must be aware that our choices and our use of science and technology can produce very different worlds. When talking about science and technology it's quite easy to think about risks, but we must also try to conceive of the possible benefits that can be linked to scientific and technological developments. We are in fact creating a new "nature" and a new "science" any time we take an important decision on the present development of science and technology. Moreover, the consequences of our choices can be largely unintended and difficult to foresight.
I think that the solution to these complicated problems can not be easily found by searching for straightforward principles or formulas. What is needed is to develop a wide reflection and debate on how can we devise new systems for the governance of science that can at the same time guarantee a democratisation of the decision making process while at the same time avoiding the risk to end in technological and scientific paralysis. Recent contribution by Collins and Evans on "Social Studies of Science" can be taken as an interesting departure point.
Science and technology are not by themselves " a risk" nor "an opportunity". It's our way of handling them that can lead to different types of consequences.

Comment by Marcello Cini, posted on Wednesday 17 December 2003 at 07:09 PM

Nel mio ultimo libro, Dialoghi di un cattivo maestro (Bollati Boringhieri 2001) parlando di Latour, scrivevo:
Anche Bruno Latour, un autore molto brillante e originale aderisce in senso lato a questo "programma forte", che in sostanza si può riassumere nella tesi che la scienza è una costruzione sociale. Questo processo di costruzione si svolge attraverso un confronto definito come "agonistico". Attraverso una continua negoziazione dei conflitti fra attori sociali diversi, nel corso della quale gli scienziati hanno solo un ruolo al pari di tanti altri, si formano e si consolidano nuovi rapporti di potere e al tempo stesso emerge un insieme di "fatti", "prove" e "giudizi di validità" che diventano la "natura".
Il suo discorso è acuto, e, dal punto di vista empirico, ben fondato. I suoi libri sono una miniera di esempi suggestivi e di annotazioni intelligenti. C'è tuttavia una differenza sostanziale fra il suo discorso e il mio. Per me il processo di produzione di scienza è un processo di apprendimento mediante il quale gli uomini di una società storicamente data si costruiscono gli strumenti per intervenire sulla realtà esterna in vista di obiettivi socialmente condivisi. Per me, dunque, questo processo è rappresentato dalla continua verifica dell'efficacia di quegli strumenti nell'affrontare i vincoli e le resistenze che la realtà oppone alla realizzazione di quegli obiettivi. Nell'ottica di Latour, invece, il referente esterno è del tutto assente, e gli strumenti si confondono con la realtà, in quanto "ciò che è" non è altro che il residuo cristallizzato dell'attività sociale passata, finalizzata alla creazione di ordine dal disordine.
Anche in questo ultimo contributo di Latour mi sembra che la sua acuta e brillante analisi della dissoluzione delle tradizionali barriere che da un lato separavano l'ambito dell'acquisizione di conoscenze da quello della loro utilizzazione al fine di produrre beni utili, e dall'altro isolavano nettamente queste attività dalla sfera della politica e della morale (fini sociali e valori), non arrivi a cogliere il nocciolo duro della realtà, al tempo stesso naturale e sociale, che di questa dissoluzione sta alla base.
Il vero problema è che nella società contemporanea tutto è ormai ridotto a merce, e dunque che non si può capire il mondo senza andare al supermercato. Da questo punto di vista diventa "naturale" attribuire le fattezze di merce a ogni componente - dal singolo gene al'intero organismo - della straordinaria varietà di forme viventi e a ogni manifestazione - dal singolo bit all'opera più monumentale - delle infinite possibili espressioni del pensiero umano.
Nel XX secolo il meccanismo di accumulazione del capitale si è fondato sulla formazione del profitto nel processo di produzione delle merci materiali (molecole) e sull'espansione del loro consumo da parte dei lavoratori stessi (fordismo). Nel XXI secolo il meccanismo di accumulazione del capitale sempre più si fonderà sulla formazione del profitto nella produzione di merci immateriali (bit) ("informazione", "conoscenza", "comunicazione"). Più propriamente la formazione del profitto si sgancia dal "tempo di lavoro", perché le merci immateriali possono essere moltiplicate all'infinito senza costo, e dunque il profitto, una volta fatto il prototipo, può crescere illimitatamente al crescere del consumo.
La proprietà fondamentale dei beni immateriali è infatti che, a differenza di quelli materiali, la fruizione da parte di un "consumatore" non ne impedisce la fruizione da parte di altri. Le merci immateriali, in realtà non si "consumano". In un disco non è la plastica che conta, è la canzone che c'è incisa. Ma la canzone non si consuma se io l'ascolto: la possono ascoltare altre milioni di persone. Il trucco del capitale sta nel far credere che la merce venduta è indissociabile dal suo supporto materiale, e giustifica in tal modo le leggi che vietano la riproduzione libera del contenuto. Ma se anche il supporto diventa immateriale, il trucco si scopre (mi dicono che è facile scaricare canzoni da Internet senza pagare una lira, anche se le case discografiche fanno il diavolo a quattro per impedirlo).
La riduzione di questi beni immateriali a merce, destinata ad essere acquistata e fruita individualmente in esclusiva, è dunque una violenta e abusiva reificazione entro un supporto materiale privo di valore di nuova informazione creata al fine di essere socializzata, da parte di una mente individuale, che a sua volta trae dalle conoscenze socializzate la sua ispirazione. Questa reificazione ha un duplice effetto. Da un lato permette una illimitata moltiplicazione a costo praticamente nullo del profitto del capitale investito, ma dall'altro distorce il processo di produzione di nuova conoscenza favorendo l'innovazione che promette di dare maggiori profitti a scapito di quella che, pur potenzialmente utile o addirittura indispensabile per la soluzione dei problemi sociali più urgenti, non ha mercato immediato. Tutta la problematica che deriva dalla brevettazione della materia vivente - dal singolo gene all'organismo più complesso - e della mente umana - dal singolo bit all'opera più monumentale - ha la sua radice in questo meccanismo perverso.
La contraddizione fondamentale della società del capitale globale sta dunque nella spinta a ridurre tutto all'omogeneità indifferenziata della forma di merce, da un lato, e nella necessità di soddisfare attraverso il mercato bisogni individuali e collettivi che investono tutto l'arco infinito delle esperienze umane, dall'altro. Tanto per fare un esempio, deve ridurre a merce sentimenti ed emozioni, gioie e dolori, bellezza e sacralità, e al tempo stesso deve convincere i consumatori che queste merci sono esperienze "vere" che possono essere comprate senza fatica invece che conquistate impegnandosi giorno per giorno nella difficile arte del vivere. Soltanto smascherando questa patacca si potrà realizzare lo slogan, peraltro efficace, "No innovation without representation".

Comment by marlene di costanzo, posted on Friday 19 December 2003 at 03:47 PM

L'intervento del prof. Cini pone una questione fondamentale: se tutto ciò che ha "valore" sia riducibile a merce o se esistono valori che non possono essere reificati. “No innovation without representation”, ci riporta ai prodromi della rivoluzione americana, e se esistono pochi dubbi che i primi rivoluzionari americani che gettarono le balle di tè nel porto di Boston erano motivati essenzialmente da ragioni economiche (non pagare i dazi doganali alla corona inglese) possiamo dire la stessa cosa degli Washington, degli Hamilton, dei Franklin? Libertà, federalismo, diritti dell'uomo ecc. erano solo concetti sotto cui i reificavano gli interessi della classe proprietaria di quel tempo? Indubbiamente nella società contemporanea i gruppi economici tendono a trasformare tutto in merce. Galbraith ne "Il nuovo stato industriale", se ho ben capito, ha posto alla base della "società affluente" due fattori tra loro interconnessi, la spesa pubblica in R&S (militare o no) e la crescita dei consumi attraverso la crescita degli investimenti in pubblicità. Il suo libro è degli anni '60 ma può essere valido ancora oggi, e forse lo era anche per la Germania di Bismarck. Nel frattempo abbiamo però avuto la maggior richiesta di partecipazione iniziata nel '68. Possiamo essere o no d'accordo con alcune delle istanze del movimento no global, ma non credo che esse siano riducibili allo schema galbrahitiano. Se tutto viene ridotto a merce ce lo può dire solo l'antropologia, ma se la scienza è una costruzione sociale, intendendo con questo che riflette il risultato degli interessi dei gruppi dominanti la risposta è scontata. Credo che il discorso di Latour fra "assemblaggio" e "assemblee" riporti al centro discorso il libero arbitrio dell'uomo, che è sì essere sociale ma non in tutto un prodotto della società. D'altra parte, senza questa opzione, tutta l'opera di Cini verrebbe a perdere di senso.
Al contrario essa, rappresentando una alternatività, contribuisce a quel processo dialettico attraverso cui vengono "assemblati" nuovi valori non sempre riconducibili a merce.