LATOUR ON AGENCY (1): EXEGESIS AS THE COMMON MATRIX OF THE SCIENCES

From the preceding video: 2m28 to4m46

“So for the first question I must now define a bizarre term that exists better in English, which is the notion of “agency”, that one often translates in French by “agencement” [assemblage], which doesn’t mean very much, but that I will translate by re-using the old Spinozist term “puissance d’agir” [power to act]. What is common to disciplines as different as chemistry, biology, mathematics, sociology, anthropology, economics or literature. At bottom, it’s exegesis. There is a sort of common matrix, exegesis, which is the mother of all the sciences. Exegesis, in the sense that it is always traces, which are quite heterogeneous, that groups of researchers, called “scholars”, try to put together. Whether it is exegesis in the sense of biblical exegesis, or in the biological sense, that is having in a laboratory traces coming from very different sources that one tries to collate, to evaluate, to group together, and to establish – the difference is not very important, because basically all the sciences are sciences of interpretation. The habitual distinction between the natural sciences, in the jargon “nomothetic”, and the idiographic sciences – when you study scientists it does not mean very much. I have never seen a “nomothetic” scientist. A scientist is first of all someone situated in a laboratory or in an observatory with visual traces coming from very different sources, themselves all needing to be evaluated. There is at bottom no fundamental division from the point of view of cognitive processes between these different scholarly ethnic groups”. Bruno Latour: Contre la Culture Générale.

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