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Boletín CF+S > 32/33: IAU+S: la Sostenibilidad en el Proyecto Arquitectónico y Urbanístico >   
Which protocol for the new collective experiments? [1]
Bruno Latour
Darmsdadt (Alemania), 30 de marzo de 2001.

Ladies and Gentlemen,
we are all familiar with the notion of rules of methods for scientific experiments. Since the time of Bacon and Descartes, there is hardly a famous scientist who has not written down a set of rules to direct one's mind or, nowadays, to enhance the creativity of one's own laboratory, to organise one's discipline, or promote a new science policy. Even though these rules might not be enough to certify that interesting results will be obtained, they have been found useful nonetheless in establishing the state of the art. Equipped with those rules it is possible, according to their promoters, to say why some argument, behaviour, discipline, or colleague is or is not scientific enough.

Now the question before us tonight is certainly not to propose yet another set of rules to determine what is a scientific experiment or to offer advises on how to become even more scientific. For this task, anyway, I would be wholly incompetent. What I have chosen to explore with you is a rather new question who has only recently come to the foreground of public consciousness: namely, collective experiments. What are those collective or socio-technical experiments? Are they run in a totally wild manner with no rules at all? Would it be desirable to find rules to conduct them? What does it mean for the ancient definition of rationality and rational conduct? And, I will add, what does it mean for a specifically European conception of democracy? Such are the questions that, with your permission, I intend, not to try to solve but to touch upon tonight.

Laboratories inside out

That we are all engaged into a set of collective experiments that have spilled over the strict confines of the laboratories does not need more proof than the reading of the newspapers or the watching of the night TV news. At the time when I speak, thousand of officials, policemen, veterinarians, farmers, custom officers, firemen, are fighting all over Europe? indeed now all over the world? against the foot and mouth virus that is devastating so many countrysides. Nothing new in this, of course, since public health has been invented two centuries ago to prevent the spread of infectious diseases through quarantine and, later, disinfecting and vaccination. What is new, what is troubling, what requires our attention is that the present epizooty is due precisely to the collective decision not to vaccinate the animals. In this crisis, we are not faced, like our predecessors, with a deadly disease that we should fight with the weapons concocted inside the laboratory of Robert Koch or Louis Pasteur and their descendants: we find ourselves entangled in the unwanted --but wholly predictable-- consequences of a decision to experiment, at the scale of Europe, on how long non-vaccinated livestock could survive without a new bout of this deadly disease. A nice case of what Ulrich Beck (1992) has called manufactured risks.

By mentioning this case, I am not trying to make you indignant; I am not claiming that naturally we should have vaccinated livestock; I am not saying it is a scandal because economic interests have taken precedence over public health and the welfare of farmers. There exist, I am well aware, many good reasons for the decision not to vaccinate. My point is different: a collective experiment has been tried out where farmers, consumers, cows, sheep, pigs, veterinarians, virologists have been engaged together. Has it been a well designed or a badly designed experiment? that is the question I want to raise?

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 was undergone by animals, materials, figures and softwares. Outside the laboratory borders began the realm of mere experience --not experiment (Dear, 1990, 1995; Licoppe, 1996).

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 tracability 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 (Callon and Rabeharisoa, 1999). The same can be said of many other groups, the best example being provided by the AIDS activists so well analysed by Steven Epstein (1996). 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 (Broecker, 1997)-- 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 (Callon and Rip, 1991). 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, as Peter Sloterdijk has so forcefully argued in his vertiginous text «Regeln für den Menschenpark» (Sloterdijk, 2000).

As I am sure you all know, the old word for thing does not mean what is outside the human realm, but a case, a controversy, a cause to be collectively decided in the Thing, the ancient word for assembly or forum in Old Icelandic as well as in Old German. Well, one can say, that things have become things again: «ein Ding ist ein Thing» (Thomas, 1980). Have a look at the scientific as well as in the lay press, there is hardly a thing, a state of affair, which is not also, through litigation, protestation, also a case, une affaire as we would say in French, res in Latin, aitia in Greek. Hence the expression I have chosen for this new politic: how to assemble the Parliament of Things (Latour, 1993). Rules of method have become now rules, not to manage the Human Park, but to elaborate together the protocol of those collective experiments.

States of affairs are not matters of fact

Let us pause a moment, ladies and gentlemen, 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.

Alas, the tragedy is compounded, when we see, on the other hand, mad scientists who are still imagining the possibility of naturalising the whole social life, the whole collective existence, by bringing things in, but those things are not, in their hands, those interesting cases, those beautiful controversies in search for a forum, those states of affairs, but the old, boring, cold, matters of fact deprived of every one of the elements that make them scientific: the researchers, instruments and collective experiments in which it has a role.[2] (I want, from now on, to contrast state of affairs, the new controversial things, and the older matters of fact of the modernist tradition.[3])

Take the discourse of gene action, for instance, as Evelyn Fox-Keller calls it: how ridiculous would it be to try to keep a genetic interpretation of human behaviour as far as possible from a moral, symbolic or phenomenological one, since, genetics itself, as a science, is one of those hybrid forums torn apart by many fascinating controversies (Fox-Keller, 2000). The distance between Richard Dawkins's gene and those of Richard Lewontin (2000) (or those of Jean-Jacques Kupiec and Pierre Sonigo, two biologists who have just published in French a fabulous book with the fiery title Neither God nor gene! [Kupiec and Sonigo, 2000]), this distance is much greater than between the whole of genetics and Jurgen Habermas' or Paul Ricoeur's view of humanity. This is what has changed so much: there are still people who oppose the two culture of science and humanity, but the strives have now moved inside the sciences themselves which, in the mean time, have expanded to the whole of culture and politics. The new political, moral, ethical, artistic fault lines are now inside the sciences and technology, but to say inside means nothing any more since it is also everywhere in the collective experiments in which we are all embarked. If nothing is left of the trickling down model of science production, nothing is left of the two-culture argument, even though our best minds still dream of keeping apart scientific facts and human values. I told you, it is a tragedy --or may be a farce.

That we cannot count on the help of moralists, does not mean that we have to shun away from our task or that we have to become immoral or cynical. It just means that there exist also a controversy on the interpretation of the present time --and we know from history how difficult it is for thinkers to interpret what the present signifies. There is no worse intellectual crime than to be mistaken on where and when one is forced to inhabit. This is why we have to be careful here and devise a test to take our bearings for sure. Those who dream of separating facts and values even better are what I called modernists. For them, there exist an arrow of time, a thrust forward, that clearly distinguish the past from the future: «Yesterday, they say, we were still mixing things up, ends and means, science and ideology, things and people, but tomorrow for sure we will separate facts and values even more sharply; we won't confuse any more the way the world is really and the way it should be; others did this confusion in the ancient past, we won't do that in the future». Pass the test, make the experiment, ask yourself, tonight, in this room, if you feel that the arrow of time flows in this way for you. If so, you are a modernist. Nothing wrong with that! You are in good company. But if you hesitate, you are a postmodernist. And if, in the depth of your heart, you are convinced 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, then you have stopped being modern. You have entered a different world or, more exactly, you have stopped believing that you were in a different world from the rest of humanity. You have come full circle at the end of European experience and finally rediscovered that when you were mocking other people because they naively believed that the sky could fall on their head, you are now realising that they meant something else, since you too are convinced that the sky will fall on your head --under the form, for instance, of the controversial global warming. And if it is not a belief for you, it means it was not a belief for them either[4]. Thus, there is no them left. You have changed of anthropology as well as of history.

Yes, ancient people might have been entangled, but we are even more so and on a much wider scale and with many more entities and agencies to take into account. If there is one thing you don't believe in any more it is in the possibility of being emancipated, freed from all attachments, blissfully unaware of the consequences of your actions. End of the modernist parenthesis. Beginning (or return) to what? What would be the word if we have never been modern? Second modernity? reflexive modernisation as Ulrich Beck (1994) has proposed? non modern? Why not ordinary, Terran, mortal, anthropological? Yes, ordinary, that's the word I prefer. By stopping being modern, we have rebecome ordinary humans.

But in what way having stopped being modern could possibly help us in our politics of controversial states of affairs, in this politics of things for which we want to write the rules, to keep the protocol book, to define a new Sovereign?

Let me try out by using a simple amusing example, that of Monsieur Chirac, my President, stating, a few weeks ago, that from now on «herbivores are herbivores». This is not as stupid as it sounds: although, at first sight, it seems a truism, a fact of nature, it is, in effect, a strongly political statement, since it means that Monsieur Chirac takes a stand in the controversial matter of the mad-cow disease and decides, yes decides, about a matter of fact: «herbivores are herbivores and should remain so».

Let us be careful here: when uttering this sentence he is not invoking the wisdom of Mother Nature to forbid man to break Her limits. Our president, believe me, is a fully modernist mind (one of the few left), a famous beef-eater, and I am sure he does not give a hoot for the sacred limits of nature --by the way, on which moral ground could we refuse to the cows the chance of becoming carnivores, like some of us. No, Monsieur Chirac is drawing what I will call, after John Tresch (2001), a «cosmogram»: he is deciding in which world he wishes French to live: after the catastrophic collective experiment of the mad-cow disease, a cosmos is redesigned in which herbivores become, yes become, herbivores again and for good? or, at least as long as another cosmogram has not been redesigned.

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 (I will come back to this in a minute), but in drawing, deciding, proposing a cosmogram, a certain distribution of roles, functions, agencies to humans and non-humans. When uttering his sentence that looks like a factual statement? and a tautological one at that? Monsieur Chirac is defining at once a type of landscape for the Corrèze region in which he lives, a role model for cattle-raisers, a type of industry, an agro industrial model, a pattern of consumer taste, probably also a European subsidy policy.

But you could object, I am sure, that such has always been the way political claims have been formulated? There is nothing new in this since never politics has been about human values only, but always also about infrastructure, city planning, boundaries, landscape, ways of life, industry, economy and so on.

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 divide. «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.

We all know from our reading of the Bible that the tower of Babel has fallen and that people have been scattered around the world, prisoners of their differing dialects and of their incommensurable cultural biases. Yes, but who has told the terrifying story of the second fall of Babel, when nature, yes nature Herself, as a united tower which should have reached to the Heaven and made all of the people of the world agree again, has been destroyed under the weight of its own ambition and lie everywhere in ruins? 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. The whole political energy of nature was depending on its being one and unified, and indisputably so: «herbivores are herbivores». But what can you do with multiple natures? How to defend it, to invoke it? Such is the trap in which political ecology has fallen into: nature cannot be used to renew politics, since it is the oldest mean devised to block politics and to make it impossible to compose the cosmos since you start with an already unified one. The weakness of ecological movements everywhere has no other cause, in my view, than this use of nature that poisons their good will and thwart their activism. It is their mono-naturalism that render them unable to be those who monitors the collective experiments. They might expand to renew the whole of politics, only when they are ready to swallow not only multiculturalism but also multinaturalism.

Here is another test to decide for yourselves if you are modernist, post-modern or ordinary mortals, in case the first trial has remained inconclusive! Do you believe that the second tower of Babel can reach the Heaven and that the whole planet, having been fully naturalised, will then agree rationally on all the important issues? the little divisions that will remain being only due to subjective opinions and leftover passions? A simple, sharp, but, believe me, very discriminating test: do you associate nature with unification or nature with even more divisions?

It is my sentiment that we now live in the ruins of nature --in all the meanings of this expression-- and also more and more in the ruins of those sciences, for which the last century has been so prolific, which dreamed of prematurely unifying the cosmos, without taking the pain of doing what Isabelle Stengers (1996) has called «cosmopolitics». By reusing this venerable word from the Stoics, she does not mean that we should be attuned to the many qualities of multiculturalism and internationalism, but to the many worries of multinaturalism as well. The whole civilisation that has been devised under the heading of cosmopolitism, because it was obvious we all shared one nature, and especially one human nature, has to be reinvented, this time, with the added terrible difficulties that there are many competing natures and that they have to be unified through a slow due process. The common world is not behind us as a solid and indisputable ground for agreement, but before us, as a risky and highly disputable goal, that remains very far in the future.

Some people, especially some scientists and philosophers of science, have of late been terrified when they heard the first crumbling of the second Babel. Irritated by the realisation that nature could no longer unify nor reconcile, that new sciences were not putting down the fires of passion but fuelling them, they turned against other philosophers, postmodern thinkers, science students and other anthropologists of various hues and colours. Such is the meaning, for me, of the Sokal affair, that you might have heard of, and of what has been called by journalists the science wars (Jurdant, 1998). People like me have been accused to be responsible for the breaking of the Second Tower, as if we were strong enough to do like Samson and destroy the pillars of established nature under our own heads! No, no, no, you can be assured: we are not that strong, we don't have this power, and we have no taste for heroic suicide; as to the Tower, never was it that strong either; if it has crumbled it is under its own weight, under its own ambition: by expanding everywhere to cover the whole of human experience it has lost its immunity, its unity, its privilege. It has become the common cause, and thus, entered fully the realm of politics as usual.

When pacing among those ruins, there is nothing to be sad, or nostalgic, since one of the many reasons that made politics so weak in the past --in the European tradition at least-- has been this absolute distinction between, on the one hand, the sovereignty of nature (known by science) and, on the other hand, the pathetic efforts of naked humans to put an end to their passions and divisive opinions. As long as the two Towers had not been smashed to the ground, it remained difficult to begin again and to define politics as what I call the «progressive composition of the common world» (Latour, 1999b). You always had to defend the hybrid forums against those coming from the ranks of the social or natural sciences who claimed that elsewhere, outside, in another place, in their discipline, existed a pure forum where agreement could be obtained by simply behaving rationally and by assembling people around indisputable matters of fact.[5]

Although it sounds like a negative progress only, it is for the monitoring of collective experiment a huge advantage not to be threatened again by the promise of any salvation by any science --neither physics, nor biology, nor sociology, nor economics. Now at least, there is no other alternative. We are embarked. We cannot hope for the transcendence of nature to come and save us. If we don't discover the ways through which the world can be made common, there will be no common world to share, it is as simple as that --and nature will no longer be sufficient to unify us, no matter what, in spite of ourselves. To sum up this part, I could say that when Galileo modified the classical trope of the Book of nature, adding that it was written in mathematical figures, little could he anticipate that now we would have to say that the Book of nature is in fact a protocol book that should be written in a mixture of legal, moral, political and mathematical figures.

But certainly, ladies and gentlemen, this negative progress is not enough. We want to probe further and see through what sort of procedure, what sort of process, the protocol of collective experiment could be written.

From Dewey's public to the precautionary principle

Everything happens as if, on the long run, John Dewey had triumphed over John Locke. Instead of a politics established as far as possible on nature, the matters of fact, it should now be carefully balanced on states of affairs on the perilous notion of what Dewey (1927) has called the public. As you are well aware, I am sure, Dewey's definition of the public is as far as possible from what, in Europe, we call the State, especially the Hegelian State. As long as we see the consequences of our own action, this is what Dewey calls the private, which does not need to be individual or subjective, but is simply made up of what is well known, predictable, routinized, fully internalised. By opposition, the public begins with what we cannot see nor predict, with the unintended, unwanted, invisible consequences of our collective actions. Contrary to all the dreams of rational politics which have devastated this continent over the centuries, Dewey equates the public not with the superior knowledge of the authorities, but with blindness. The public is made when we are entangled without knowing why and by what, when the Sovereign is a blind one. Instead of confiding the fate of the republic to the benevolent oversight of experts who take on themselves everything having to do with the general will, Dewey traces the building of the public when there is no expert able to determine the consequences of collective action. So what defines the elite if it is not their superior knowledge? Only their specialised skills in making sure that the public, what ties all of us together, is being represented and constantly refreshed, through the common blind fumbling of the social and natural sciences, the arts and the wild vigilance of the activists. Representation here does not mean either election nor epistemological accuracy, but the reflexive production of a plausible and revisable version of what risk we take by experimenting collectively. Dewey invented reflexive modernisation before the expression was coined. The elite, the former State, are not defined by knowledge or foresight, but by their abilities to monitor the strive and sorting out of what I have called the competing cosmograms.

Read his book, it is as fresh as in 1927, and the fact that Dewey has lost for seventy years against the appeal to experts made by his opponents, such as Walter Lippman (1922), renders the book even more fascinating (Ryan, 1995).[6] While the second Tower of Babel was being built, he quietly explained why it will never work out, why the State, as he says, «has always to be reinvented» why nature, and especially the so-called natural laws of economics, could not possibly be used to frame collective action. Only us, now, from the vantage point of the end of nature, after the closure of the modernist parenthesis, can read with profit this book written for us.

There is a striking similarity between what Dewey calls the public and this now famous precautionary principle which has become the catch word of the new European politics.[7] At first sight, the precautionary principle (of which there exist as many definitions as there are bureaucrats, eurocrats, lawyers and scientists) seems a poor candidate for our rules of method. This is because, in my view, it is wrongly assumed to be a rule of abstention in situations of uncertainty --or as Pierre Lascoumes (2001) has argued, a rule of prevention in case of ascertained risks. But reading it this way, would be fully to remain in the old mould of science-based rational action, in the trickling down model of science production: action, in this view, follows knowledge without adding much to it, except that it is finally applied and realised. The experts have assembled. They have agreed on one best way. Action is nothing more than the implementation of knowledge into the real world outside. That's the modernist way of imagining rational decision. The unfortunate consequence of which being that when no decisive knowledge is produced, when no consensus of experts is insured, then no action can be taken. Once we know for sure, we act; when we are not sure, we don't act. In both cases, action is thought of being subservient to the acquisition of previous rational knowledge.

That this is a ridiculous and totally implausible model of action was hidden, during the modernist period, by the fiction of agreement between experts and the confined nature of laboratory sciences. The proliferation of public scientific controversies has revealed how bad a model it is: action is never the realisation, nor the implementation of a plan, but the exploration of the unintended consequences of a provisional and revisable version of a project (James, 1907). We have moved from science to research, from objects to projects, from implementation to experimentation. The dream of rational action has become a nightmare now that consensus and certainty is so hard to obtain: everything would be stalled if we had to wait for experts to agree again. Multinaturalism has rendered the division of labour between experts and politics totally moot. If the precautionary principle meant this absurd idea that we should abstain to move until absolute certainty is reached, then that would be the end of European creativity, the end of science and technology, the end of all the collective experiments --and of course, we would not have moved an inch away from the dream of absolute rationality.

But according to me, the precautionary principle means exactly the opposite of this abstention. It is a call for experimentation, invention, exploration, and of course risk taking. More than that, it means that all of the topics dealing with scientific and technical state of affairs (that is, if I am right, literally all of our issues and topics today) are now back into the normal, ordinary model of decisions with which we deal with our daily concerns. Who among you would say: «I apply the precautionary principle on the question of marriage and thus abstain from getting into wedlock until I am absolutely sure there is no risk?». No one of course, and the same for planting trees, giving birth, banking, borrowing, arming against potential enemies, and so on.[8] For all our actions we consider risk taking and precaution taking as synonymous: the more risk we take, the more careful we are. This is what is called an experience and what an experienced man or woman is. Well, what is true of daily experience, becomes now true of the collective experiment as well, thanks to the precautionary principle. Far from waiting for absolute certainly before moving the little finger, we know we have to experiment and distribute equally the audacity and what in German you call, so beautifully, Sorge and what we call in French le souci. Care and caution go together with risk taking.

Nothing surprising in that, nothing out of the ordinary. What is really extraordinary, what is really baffling, is that modernist experts could have imagined for a few centuries the totally implausible idea that once knowledge had determined plans and objects, then realisation would ensue without care and caution being necessary any more --except for mopping out eventual after effects! This is what is odd, not the emergence of the precautionary principle. Fancy that: you could innovate at the scale of the planet, modify all the ecosystems, bring together in huge assemblages masses of humans and non humans, let the human race increase to several billions, and all of that without taking infinite care and caution, without Sorge, without souci? How implausible! How monstrous in retrospect appear this model of action, now that we are slowly extirpating ourselves from the modernist exceptionalism, and are falling back on ordinary humanity.

We can measure up how fast times are changing, if we read, for instance, Hans Jonas's appeal for a heuristic of fear. Although his book is much more recent than John Dewey's argument, it looks much more dated, since he too relied exclusively on experts to oversees the new general will and play the role of the new Sovereign.[9] But the public for Dewey is not in the hands of specialists. In this new configuration I am sketching so clumsily for you tonight, it is actually the expert which is disappearing from view. Never was the expert a coherent figure: neither a researcher, nor a political representative, nor an activist, nor an administrator in charge of the protocol of the experiment, but playing a bit of all those roles at once without being able to fulfil any one satisfactorily. The idea of an expert is a remnant from the tricking down model of scientific production in charge of mediating between the knowledge producers, on the one hand, and the rest of the society in charge of values and goals, on the other. But in the collective experiments in which we are engaged, it is this very division of labour that has disappeared: the position of the expert has been washed out with it.

So what does the new division of labour looks like? If I was not ending this lecture with some indication of the new configuration, you would be entitled, ladies and gentlemen, to say that I remain in the critical mood, unable to produce any positive version adjusted to the new situation.

In their new book soon to appear Michel Callon, Pierre Lascoumes and Yannick Barthe, propose to replace the defunct notion of expert by the wider notion of co-researchers. As I have said at the beginning, 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. There is a difference, to be sure, between all of us, but not the difference between knowledge producers and those who are bombarded by their applications. The idea of an impact of science and technology on society has been shipwrecked exactly as much as the weak notion of a participation of the citizens into technology. Now we have been made (most of the time unwillingly) all co-researchers and we are all led to formulate research problems? those who are confined in their laboratories as well as those that Callon and his colleagues call outdoor researchers, that is all of us. In other words, science policy, which used to be a specialised bureaucratic domain interesting a few hundreds of people, has now become an essential right of the new citizenry. 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.

As I have argued at length in a book soon to appear in German, Politics of nature, 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».

A European task?

Ladies and gentlemen, I want to bring this long and may be too hesitant lecture to a close, by offering a last proposition that has to do, this time, with Europe and its identity. As you are all too painfully aware, there seems no clear idea of what is specific to our sub-continent in those times of so called globalisation. I have always found this uneasiness pretty puzzling, since Europe, it is fair to say, has invented and developed in many ways the modernist regime of scientific and technical innovations --others of course had developed many sciences and techniques but never did they engage in the mad experiment of building their politics with them as well. But Europe is also a real life experiment, at an incredible scale, in multiculturalism, multinationalism, and in spite of that, it is trying to see how a common good can be slowly and carefully built. Nowhere else have so many fighting nation-states existed, so many provinces, regions, dialects, folklores and cultures. Nowhere else have world wars be waged to the bitter and deadly end. And yet, nowhere else have so many people engaged simultaneously into the cosmopolitic task --in the ordinary sense of the word-- of living side by side in the same shared space, with the same Parliament, soon the same currency, and the same sense of democracy.

Now, I am asking you, why what is true of multiculturalism would not be true of multinaturalism as well. After all, if we have invented modernism, who else is better placed to, so to speak, disinvent modernity? No one else would do it, certainly not the United States which are too powerful, too sure of themselves, too deeply steeped in the modernity they have inherited without paying the costs --since others are bearing the cost for them (Todd, 2002). Certainly not the many cultures who dream only, from Africa to the shores of Asia and Latin America, of being at last fully, utterly, and completely modernised --no wonder, alas, they took up at our own words! No, its Europe's chance, Europe's duty, Europe's responsibility to tackle first the perilous project of adding technical democracy to its old and venerable tradition of representative democracy. If we, Europeans, have learned the hard way how difficult it is to build a common good out of so many warring nation-states, we have a unique competence to learn, the hard way also, how to build a common world out of competing cosmos. Ladies and gentlemen, only those who have invented the premature unification of the whole world under the aegis of an imperialist nature, are well placed, now that nature has ended, to finally pay the price of the progressive, precautionous, modest, slow composition of the common world, this new name for politics. Thank you very much for your attention.


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[1]: «Regeln für die neuen wissenschaftlichen und sozialen Experimente» prepared for the Darmsdadt Colloquium plenary lecture, 30th March 2001. Original document avalaible in: The printed version of this article is available in:

Schmindgen, Henning Peter Geimer, and Sven Dierig (eds.)  (2004)   Kultur im Experiment   Kulturverlag Kadmos, Berlin, Juni 

[2]: See Fleck (1935) for a very early example and Rheinberger (1997) for a very recent case. State of affairs are what matters of fact become once you add to factuality all what these authors deem necessary for the existence and sustainance of facts.
[3]: This difference is also a way of reminding us that the question is not to be anti—empiristic but to respect in the empirical setting a much more complex situation that the one staged by the 17th century philosophers (Poovey, 1999).
[4]: The belief in belief has been the object of a systematic inventory in Latour and Weibel, 2002
[5]: This miracoulous recipe was enough to disqualify by contrast all the other attemps to reach an agreement over states of affairs. As long as this phantom forum existed, all the others were deemed inefficient, irrational and impure. See the two chapters on Plato's Gorgias in Latour, 1999a
[6]: I rehearse here arguments learned from the ongoing PhD thesis of Noortje Marres.
[7]: For a full presentation, see Jim Dratwa, Taking Risks with the Precautionary Principle, PhD thesis, xx
[8]: As Jim Datwa has shown, it is amusing to notice that the same people who refuse to apply the precautionary principle against global warming («we should --they say-- be absolutely sure before doing anything»), apply it with any qualms against the Irakian threats («Even though we don't know for sure, we should take action fast»).
[9]: «What we are talking of so far are the governmental advantages of any tyranny, which in our context one must hope to be a well-intentioned, well-informed tyranny possessed of the right insights... If, as we believe, only an elite can assume, ethically and intellectually, responsibility for the future...» (Jonas, 1984).

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