Has Latour Real-ly Unravelled the Real: The Journey from Laboratory Life to Down to Earth?
This article traces Bruno Latour’s answer to the question ‘what is real?’ from Latour and Steve Woolgar in Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts (1979) through to Latour in Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climate Change (2018). This intriguing question arises because Latour’s hypothesis in Down to Earth presumes that climate change is ‘real’, while in Laboratory Life, hard facts were considered constructions. The journey reveals Latour’s own ‘real’ lies between the extreme science realists (facts are either true or false) and extreme social relativists (facts are a social construction), although favouring the relativists. A closer analysis, however, shows that Latour’s project is really about truth claims and that the real question is couched in terms rejecting the modernist settlement of ontological assumptions and basing truth on credibility determined by the strength of associations; the more associations, the more ‘real’ the truth claim. Ultimately, Latour elegantly sidesteps the real question and how he does this is real-ly unrivalled.