The image for this Call for Comments

In conclusion of this Call for Comments

( 20 December 2003 )
( posted by Massimiano Bucchi )

Thanks to all of those who have posted their comments.

I think many of the points which have been raised are central both to FGB's core mission and to Latour's reflection as it was also presented during the Milan lecture.
To conclude, let me emphasize that the concept of representation bears close links not only to the concept of innovation, but also to the concept of responsibility, to the point that one could further rephrase Latour's pledge as "No responsibility without representation"!
Due also to that "humiliation of politics" which Latour regrets, today we find ourselves dealing with procedures and concepts of political representation which have remained the same for centuries, while technoscience has dramatically changed our world at an increasingly faster pace. I am here referring not to the content of technoscience, like discoveries, but also to the forms of technoscience in which we are embedded. If - as scholars like Walter J. Ong have shown - the development of communication technologies such as writing are coupled with the development of centralized political powers, what could be, for instance the political frameworks to understand and steer our new technoscientific societies, innerved with blog writing and scientific inscription techniques?
Do we have to rethink the very concept of democracy?
For those who are interested - and can read Italian - these and other related issues are discussed also in an article I have recently published in journal "Il Mulino" 6/2003, "La democrazia alla prova della scienza" ('Science puts democracy on trial' (pp.1050-1058).

Presentation of this Call for Comments

( 27 October 2003 )
( posted by Massimiano Bucchi )
(to read them 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
Universitą 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

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