Monday, July 6, 2015

CfP special issue in S&TS on Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance

Call for papers for a Special Issue in Science & Technology Studies on


Bruno Latour and Environmental Governance

Since the 1980s, Bruno Latour has attempted to supplant the prevailing image of science by proposing a pragmatic and anthropological perspective (e.g. Latour & Woolgar, 1986; Latour, 1987). According to Latour, scientific practices forge 'objective' and 'accurate' knowledge that speaks on behalf of the world. Rather than taking the objectivity, accuracy, reliability and truth attributed to scientific knowledge for granted, studies of the structure and status of scientific knowledge can explain how scientists attribute such characteristics to scientific knowledge. The scientific enterprise involves work and maintenance that Latour explains through an analysis of the human and non-human actors involved, and how these are brought together in a process called 'translation'. The outcome of processes of translation is subsequently hidden from view through 'purification': rather than speaking of the construction of scientific facts, scientists claim to have discovered 'nature'. Scientific theories are thus detached from their history and obtain the status of representation of nature.
The image of science proposed by Latour has ontological repercussions, explored by Latour himself (Latour & Porter, 1993; Latour, 2011, 2013), and more recently by Graham Harman (Harman, 2009). Harman, like Latour, heavily criticises 'correlationism' – the idea that humans cannot exist without the world and vice versa (Meillassoux & Brassier, 2008). However, Latour and Harman differ greatly in their ontological agendas. Whereas Harman aims to produce exhaustive descriptions of the world, seen as constellations of real and sensual objects, Latour takes a great deal of concern with the production of descriptions of the ontological repertoire of a postulated world 'out there': "if we have to begin to agree on the basic furniture of the world … then politics is certainly finished, because there is actually no way we will settle these questions." (Latour, Harman, & Erdélyi, 2011, p. 46) Thus, Latour weds metaphysics to its political repercussions, and stresses the value of 'cosmopolitics' rather than 'cosmology'. In this sense, Latour's work can be aligned with that of Isabelle Stengers (e.g. Stengers, 2005).
Latour's latest book (Latour, 2013) intertwines the aforementioned anthropological approach to processes of knowledge production with Latour's cosmopolitical interests. Here, Latour deploys metaphysics 'diplomatically':

"[i]t is used to negotiate encounters and confusions of ontologies in the plural. This metaphysics is thus thoroughly anthropological, if we do define anthropology as the science that uses only the clashes experienced between our most deeply-rooted beliefs to produce not a body of knowledge … about something, but a redescription of ourselves in the light of alterity." (Maniglier, 2014, p. 41, original emphasis)

Diplomacy implies taking stock of the different ways in which different domains (e.g. science, law, economics) imply different ontologies, or 'modes of existence'. The metaphysician should not so much be involved with "speculative anticipation", but with "contrastive recategorization" were "[t]he point is to learn not to confuse two different modes of existence, so that we can refine our categorical understanding of ourselves. The method … is anthropological, it sets out from misunderstandings, like any anthropologist interested in those equivocations without which 'intercultural' communication would not even be possible." (Maniglier, 2014, p. 43, original emphasis) Thus, the metaphysician is involved with diplomatic work across modes of existence, effectively furnishing intercultural work through which confused ontologies can be untangled and understanding between various social groups can be reached.
Latour himself has written extensively on climate change and ecological politics, and on the challenges posed by the figure of Gaia for thought and for scientific and political practice. In recent years, he has more explicitly repudiated sceptical and anti-realist readings of his own earlier work, a shift which he suggests (Latour 2004) was partly prompted by the politics of climate. However, he has made limited reference to the specifics of the work carried out by the IPCC and similar institutions involved in mobilising knowledge for (global) environmental governance. Conversely, STS and social-scientific scholarship on the IPCC (reviewed in Hulme and Mahony 2010), while valuable, has not generally taken advantage of the more abstract frameworks discussed above.
The issue of climate change can also be approached as ontologically transformative in its own right, as suggested by Timothy Morton's idea of it as a 'hyperobject' (Morton 2013). The enactment of these emerging ontologies by human and non-human actors requires new forms of translation and generates new spaces of dissensus.

The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC)
The IPCC is the leading international authority for the assessment of climate change. Formed in 1988 by the United Nations Environmental Programme (UNEP) and the World Meteorological Organization (WMO), the IPCC produces reports that assess and summarise scientific literature on the physical science of climate change, adaptation to climate change (dealing with the consequences), and mitigation of climate change (dealing with the causes).
As such, the IPCC operates at the forefront of international climate governance, and (in a Latourian sense) can be seen as an arena where partially compatible interests collide and compromises need to be hammered out, often involving a strenuous process of finalising scientific reports that can (supposedly) be implemented in climate-related policymaking. In practice, the uptake of these reports requires additional work, implying the 'science–policy interface' between the IPCC and its intended audiences could be improved (see Report of UCL STEaPP Workshop on Partnering with the Users of IPCC Products).

Aim of the special issue
This Special Issue of Science & Technology Studies takes as its starting point the idea that Latour's work can be used to explain and understand the workings of environmental governance, taking the IPCC as a prime example (where scientific facts arise as a compromise between various interests, processes of translation and purification, etc.), but also to hint towards ways in which institutions at the environmental science–policy interface (such as the IPCC) can fulfil their much-needed roles as scientific institutions able to interface with the demands of its various audiences, including policymakers and more and less concerned citizens.

In the light of the foregoing, we invite authors to investigate the following questions, which can also be taken as a starting point for other questions:

  • How does the IPCC function and how can Latour's ideas about 'science in the making' provide an understanding of the IPCC's role as a scientific institute involved with climate change?
  • How can Latour's aforementioned concerns about diplomacy be used to consider public and political trust attributed to the IPCC?
  • What do Latour's ideas about science and diplomacy imply for the role of researchers who wish to involve themselves with the IPCC and climate change more generally?
  • How might the framework of the Modes of Existence project, or Latour's other ontological inventions (e.g. the 'quasi-object'), be used to understand the work of the IPCC or other institutions of environmental governance?
  • To what extent does Latour's reading of democracy, and his attempt to bring non-humans into democracy, help us to understand the politics of environmental governance?
  • How do the different actors involved in the work of the IPCC interrelate, and what forms of translation take place between them? How successful are these translations?
  • How does the organisational praxis of the IPCC relate to broader networks and forms of action?
  • How does climate change, or environmental change more generally, unsettle our ontologies and require new forms of thinking?

Those interested are invited to submit their contributions by 28 September 2015. We seek to publish in 2016. However, to speed the review process and to increase your own chances of responding to review comments successfully within the special issue time-frame, we encourage the authors to contact us as soon as possible with expressions of interest or to submit their papers at an earlier date. Manuscripts should be prepared according to the journal guidelines for authors ( When submitting manuscripts, please send them via the journal submission pages ( When submitting, please include the following denominator in front of your manuscript title: SI-BLEK. Furthermore, in order for us to keep track of all papers, please also email your paper as an attachment to the guest editors indicated below. All papers will be double-blind reviewed following the journal's normal review process and criteria. For further information please contact the guest editors for this Special Issue.
The editors of the Special Issue work at the Department of Science, Technology, Engineering and Public Policy (STEaPP), University College London and PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency. They are:
- Arthur Petersen (Professor of Science, Technology and Public Policy, UCL STEaPP)
- Theo Lorenc (Provost Fellow, UCL STEaPP)
- Matthijs Kouw (Researcher, PBL Netherlands Environmental Assessment Agency).

To submit your proposal for consideration or to acquire additional information, please get in touch with Matthijs Kouw at

Harman, G. (2009). Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics. Melbourne:
Hulme, M., & Mahoney, M. (2010). Climate change: What do we know about the IPCC? Progress in Physical Geography 34(5): 705-718.
Latour, B. (1987). Science in Action : How to follow scientists and engineers through society. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B. (2004). Why has critique run out of steam? From matters of fact to matters of concern. Critical Inquiry 30(2): 225-248.
Latour, B. (2011). Reflections on Etienne Souriau's Les differents modes d'existence. In The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism (pp. 304–333). Melbourne:
Latour, B. (2013). An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence: an anthropology of the moderns. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B., Harman, G., & Erdélyi, P. (2011). The Prince and the Wolf: Latour and Harman at the LSE. Winchester: Zero Books.
Latour, B., & Porter, C. (1993). We Have Never Been Modern. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.
Latour, B., & Woolgar, S. (1986). Laboratory life: the construction of scientific facts. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.
Maniglier, P. (2014). A metaphysical turn? Bruno Latour's An Inquiry into Modes of Existence. Radical Philosophy, (187), 37–44.
Meillassoux, Q., & Brassier, R. (2008). After Finitude: An Essay on the Necessity of Contingency. London: Continuum.
Morton, T. (2013). Hyperobjects: Philosophy and Ecology After the End of the World. University of Minnesota Press.
Stengers, I. (2005). The Cosmopolitical Proposal. In B. Latour & P. Weibel (Eds.), Making Things Public: Atmosphere of Democracy (pp. 994–1003). Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

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