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A painting of the animalcules that live in a drop of water.

nlustration by 'Grandville', in P.-J. Stahl, Sc~nes de /a vie privbe el publique des animau., (Paris, 1842). Reproduction by permission of the British Library

Stud. Hist. Phil. Sci., Vol. 22, No. 1, pp. 174-192, 1991. Printed in Great Britain.

0039 3681/91 $3.00 + 0.00 Pergamon Press plc.



Bruno Latour The Pasteurization of France, translated by Alan Sheridan and John Law (Cambridge, Massachusetts and London: Harvard University Press, 1988), 273 pp. ISBN 0-674-65760-8 Cloth 23.95.

1. Pasteur and Bonaparte

The thunder from the platform, the sheet lightning of the press, the whole of literature, intellectual reputations, all has vanished like a phantasmagoria before the spell of a man whom even his enemies do not make out to be a magician. (Karl Marx, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte (1852), part 1)

EIGHTEEN FORTY-EIGHTwas a good year for Louis Bonaparte, and for his loyal supporter Louis Pasteur. Following the insurrection of February, which finished the Orl6ans monarchy, and the savage repression of Parisian rioters in the June days, which led to the establishment of the Second Republic, the Party of Order triumphed at the polls in December through the election of Bonaparte as president. Within two years, via a bathetic version of the Brumaire coup which had brought his uncle to power half-a-century earlier, Bonaparte had himself proclaimed Emperor. In the empire of the sciences, Pasteur's year was apparently no less dramatic. For in April 1848, while an inactive member of the National Guard and a conscientious postdoctoral assistant in the chemistry laboratories of the Ecole Normale Sup6rieure, Pasteur decisively identified the optical isomerism of a series of tartrate salts, correlating optical activity with crystalline form. In Pastorian hagiography, this 'Eureka' moment has been seen as a result of that mysterious genius which marked the rest of his career. Within months, so Pasteur would later recall, he was able to win endorsement from the leaders of the French scientific establishment: J. B. Blot, last representative of the Laplacian regime, and J. B. Dumas,

*Department of History and Philosophy of Science, Free School Lane, Cambridge, CB2 3RH, U.K. 175


Studies in Histort' and Philosophy q[ Science

doyen of chemists, minister of agriculture, and, after Napoleon's coup, senator under the Second Empire. As Geison and Secord have recently shown us, Pasteur would also carefully efface his considerable practical and conceptual debts to his erstwhile maitre h penser, the embarrassingly radical and republican Auguste Laurent. In his turn, Pasteur reaped rich rewards from the new regime, spending a week at the Imperial palace, getting funding for his new lab, dedicating his books on wine and on silkworm diseases to the Imperial family, and reaching the elevated station of C o m m a n d e r of the Imperial Order of the Legion of H o n o u r in 1868. ~ According to Desmond Bernal, the April 1848 discovery prompted 'years marked by accurate and at the same time brilliant work . . . . It was following this trail of resolution of optically active compounds that he hit on another and purely biological method of separation. This was to turn him away completely from the career of combined physicist, chemist and crystallographer in which he had already made himself the greatest adept, only to embark on another, that of bacteriology with results which eclipsed all his previous work, which in itself would have been sufficient to establish his immortality in science. "-~ 'He made himself the greatest a d e p t ' - - t h i s is the key phrase. Both Bonaparte and Pasteur have been subjected to heroic historiographies, in which their own characters have been interpreted as the sole source of their remarkable power. And both these myths have, in turn, been subjected to strategic critique. Marx's Eighteenth Brumaire is just this. Here he is on Victor Hugo's highly individualist NapolOon le Petit, a 'biting and witty invective against the responsible author of the coup d'~;tat'. Marx reckoned that Hugo's satire was marred by its privileging of Bonaparte's own personality, and therefore subverted the point of its own title: The event itself appears in [Hugo's] work like a bolt from the blue. He sees in it only the violent act of a single individual. He does not notice that he makes this individual great instead of little, by ascribing to him a personal power of initiative such as would be without parallel in world history... I, on the contrary, demonstrate how the class strug,~le in France created circumstances and relationships that made it possible for a grotesque mediocrity to play a hero's part. ' Indeed, The Eighteenth Brumaire ~?[ Louis Bonaparte is preoccupied by the demystification of Bonapartist magic. 4 Bonaparte appears as 'a conjurer under the necessity of keeping the public gaze fixed on himself', performing tricks
~Gerald L. Geison and James A. Secord, 'Pasteur and the Process of Discovery: the Case of Optical Isomerism', Isis 79 (1988), 6-36. -'J. D. Bernal, Science and hulustrv #~ the Nineteenth CentutLv (Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1970), pp. 206-207. 'Karl Marx, 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte', in V. Adoratsky, ed., Karl Marx; Selected Works, 2 vols (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1942), Vol. lI. pp. 311 312 (preface to the second edition: Marx's stress). 4For Marx, Bonaparte and magic see Andrew Bowie, "Marx, Flaubert and 1 8 4 8 - History and Literature : Literature and History', Ideas and Production 2 (1984), 45--62,

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour


whose meaning and power is solely derived from their social place. ' I f any portion of history is painted grey on grey, this is it. People and events appear as reversed Schlemihls, as shadows who have lost their bodies'. 5 Marx gave these shadows substance by the display of the material interests which drove the events of an otherwise incomprehensible transformation. Bruno Latour's Les Microbes: guerre et paix purportedly aims at a similar end and in many ways succeeds brilliantly. He asks 'why should we still do for Pasteur's genius what we no longer do for Napoleon's?' (Though he refers here to Bonaparte's uncle, a minor character in Tolstoy's War and Peace). 6 Pasteur emerges in Latour's story as a skilful engineer of social and scientific relationships, a 'genius' in fact: 'With his capture of interests, on the one hand, and his theater of proof, on the other, it would be unfair not to grant him genius. '7 In the English translation of Les Microbes, Latour adds that he sees no reason to shun this term, since one should admire those who can capture the interests of others, 'locally and for a time'. Citing Tolstoy on Napoleon Bonaparte (though Marx on Louis Bonaparte would do), Latour rightly insists that there is no contradiction in decomposing the powers of 'the great' while highlighting their ingenuity. The apparent contradiction between genius and audience is dissolved when we revise our account of power. Power is not some kind of reservoir which geniuses and heroes deploy, but the result of local associations between many, varied, agents. Latour calls this the 'translation model'. So if Pasteur's actions are powerful, their authority rests on the translations made between many constituents' interests. Marx wrote in similar terms of 'this epoch's heroes, or rather saints, whose greatness consists precisely in the great opinion of them that their party exhibits in its own interests and who shrink to everyday figures as soon as circumstances call on them to perform miracles. Unbelief is, in general, the mortal enemy of these reputed heroes and real saints. '~ As Marx implies, the epoch of 1848 was characterised by its faith in miracleworkers and supermen. Contemporary melodramas, such as Eug6ne Sue's remarkable potboiler Les Mystkres de Paris (1844), told of unlikely aristocratic heroes whose unaided efforts could set the world to rights. It's clear that Bonaparte (who saved us from barbarism) and Pasteur (who saved us from microbes) could be seen this way too. When in Paris in 1845, Marx composed a satire on the absurdity of such heroism. He explicitly compared the errors of 5Marx, 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte', op. cir., note 3, p. 426, p.341. 6Bruno Latour, Les Microbes: Guerre et Paix (Paris: A. M. M6taili& 1984), p. 21, translated in idem, The Pasteurization of France (Cambridge, Mass.: Harvard University Press, 1988), p. 15. 7Latour, Les Microbes, p. 96, translated in Pasteurization of France, p. 87. ~Latour, Pasteurization of France, p. 259, p. 262. For the 'translation model', see Latour, "The Powers of Association', in John Law (ed.), Power, Action and Belief(London: Routledge, 1986), pp. 264-280. For Marx on heroes and saints, see Marx, 'The Eighteenth Brumaire of Louis Bonaparte', op. cit., note 3, p. 380.
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Studies in Histoo' and Philosophy of Science

those who hoped for a miraculous reform with Sue's sensationalist tales of vicious criminals and upper-class saviours. The existence of texts such as Les MystOres poses the central problem for any historical account of power: the cultural resources which compose the success of culture's heroes. Historians must seek to connect the apparent supermen who dominate history with the forces which produce allegiance and dissent. 9 Semioticians reckon they have a solution to this problem: the notion of the 'ideal reader', a figure produced by authors as a role for their audience, whose behaviour the author must seek to control. Sure enough, in Les Microbes this other individual makes its appearance alongside Pasteur and Latour. Here the 'ideal reader' stands for the audience at whom we should imagine late nineteenth-century French medical literature being directed. Latour states that 'if our ideal reader begins to read the Revue Scientifique after the defeat of 1870, he is surprised to find that Pasteur is very little spoken of there.' This is the French original: presumably it is not believed that Anglophones could put up with such a monster. So the English version, by contrast, reads as follows: 'When I began to read the Revue Scient(/ique after the defeat of 1870, I was surprised to observe that little is said of Pasteur." Are we to identify the 'ideal reader' with the nineteenth-century public, or with the author of The Pasteurization o/'France? This shift between 'ideal reader' and first person is certainly consequential. Latour's readers will be used to his cunning shifts with authorial voice: in Laboratoo' Life, an earlier exploration of biomedical experimental work, much was made of the relation between "the anthropologist in the laboratory' and the innocent reader. The fideal reader" makes its first appearance in Science in Action, where Latour claims that scientific texts build readers by determining the role they must play, This is how the power of scientific argument is made up: by translating the reader's interests into that of the text and thus channelling the ideal reader along prescribed paths. The perfect scientific text would be ~closed'. But here the weakness of the semiotic approach is apparent. Readers' behaviours cannot be governed so easily, nor can they be judged a priori on the basis of a series of magazine articles alone. By making the fideal reader' the protagonist of Les Microbes, Latour weakens the scope of his explanatory account. As we shall see, this weakness has its effects because the category of 'ideal reader" does not successfully translate the culture in which Pasteur plied his trade.

~For the importance of Les MystOres de Pari~ in the events of 1848, see Umberto Eco, 'Rhetoric and Ideology in Sue's Les Myst~"res de Paris', in Eco, The Role ~! the Reader (London: Hutchinson, 1981), pp. 125-143. Eco shows how plebeian readers of Les MystOres could make its hero a model and resource in the Revolution. For Marx's comparison between Sue and the reformists, see Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels, The Holy Family (London: Lawrence and Wishart, 1956), chapter 8, pp. 217 275. As for Bonaparte, so here: Marx notes that Sue's hero has achieved 'more than all the results that humanity has achieved in the whole of its history" I'p. 275).

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Latour must be read reflexively. He discusses Pasteur's recruitment of unlikely allies, and we should investigate how Latour summons us to his colours. ~ So we may ask: what are the qualifications necessary to read Latour's new book? The 'ideal reader' must under no circumstances be ignorant of the overwhelming status of Pasteur in his native country. Visit the high-tech science shows at the Cit6 des Sciences et de l'Industrie, La Villette, where Pasteur is the sole scientist to benefit from his own monument. Neither Marie Curie, nor Claude Bernard, nor Antoine Lavoisier, gets this treatment. In a series of gaudily decorated booths, strangely contrasted with the highly impersonal equipment of French information culture, labelled 'Rabies before Pasteur', 'Rabies after Pasteur', 'Pasteur vaccinates men', 'Pasteur, national hero, illuminates the world', and so on, the visitor learns of 'one thousand billion microbes', tamed by Pastorian skill. 'Before Pasteur, rabies spread terror. Faced with this evil of which nothing was known, anything could be tried.' Then a display of the life of St Augustine, to whom the afflicted would pray. In contrast, Pasteur's genius. The panel which treats Pasteur's vaccination of humans tells a simple tale: 'In 1884, Pasteur succeeded in vaccinating dogs against rabies;' a letter from Pasteur asking the Emperor of Brazil for permission to vaccinate condemned criminals under controlled conditions ('one must know that in those days medical experimentation on prisoners was common'). 'Pasteur now wanted to pass to men, but judgement was difficult: the vaccine was perhaps inefficacious, it could also be toxic;' finally, 'little J. Meister', bitten by a rabid dog, 'entered history in 1885'. So 'the Pasteur Institute, transformed to a hospital, received from all countries thousands of people bitten by rabid dogs,' and at Pasteur's death his immortality was guaranteed by his own disciples. Faced with this narrative, which is by no means limited to the more popular public museums, Latour's self-appointed task is to restore 'freedom of action to all the agents of French society in order to decompose Pasteur's efficacy'. ~ This task, he asserts, is hard because 'Pasteurian victory has been so complete that it is difficult to recapture the requirements that Pasteurians had to meet in order to be believed at all. '~2 The comparison between Les Microbes and The Eighteenth Brumaire is close. Marx decomposed Bonaparte's efficacy through an intelligent redistribution of the chronology of the Second Republic. His periods are not of equal duration, but they are dramatically arranged so as to highlight the partition of
'Latour, Les Microbes, p. 22, translated in Pasteurization of France, p. 16. For the textual production of 'ideal reader', see Latour, Science in Action (Milton Keynes: Open University Press, 1987), p. 38. Semiotic sources include Urnberto Eco's 'model reader', in Eco, Role of the Reader. op. cit., note 9, pp. 7-8. Reception theoretic sources include Wolfgang Iser, The Implied Reader (Baltimore: John Hopkins University Press, 1974), p. 34. HLatour, Les Microbes, p. 22, translated in Pasteurization of France, p. 16. Compare Piers Compton, The Genius of Louis Pasteur (Manchester: Withy Grove Press, 1948), p. 255: 'some years after his death it was decided, by a popular vote conducted in his country, that Louis Pasteur was the greatest Frenchman of all time.' ~2Latour, Pasteurization of France. p. 255.


Studies in Histo O, and Philosophy o f Science

forces in conflict and alliance. Furthermore, Marx spotlights the production of significant actors by these forces, and the attribution of strength to these actors in the course of conflict. 'Significance', on Marx's showing, becomes the result, rather than the cause, of historical process. Latour does the same. His analytic principles are clearly outlined in several places. Two texts are outstanding: an appendix to Les Microbes ('Irr6ductions'), which can be compared with Marx's 1845 'Theses on Feurbach', though perhaps Spinoza or Nietzsche would be a more comfortable precedent; and Science in Action, a Critique of Political Economy, though again Machiavelli or Hobbes might be the more proximate inspiration. 'The materialist doctrine that men are products of circumstances and upbringing and that, therefore, changed men are products of other circumstances and changed upbringing, forgets that circumstances are changed precisely by men and that the educator himself must be educated. "~ Latour's principles, once again, differ little. In his picture of the transformation of the worlds social and natural by scientific action, he never forgets that ~circumstances are changed by men'. He pictures the laboratory as a fulcrum which can be used to master and transform nature and culture simultaneously. He urges two admirable rules of method: first, study systems in the course of controversy, when all is unstable and up for grabs, since closure effaces the memory of the work through which the taken-for-granted is established; second, do not accept the rigid boundary between the scientific-technical and the social-contextual which is often a result of these passages of action, and so cannot be used to explain them. ~4 Latour's Anglophonic reader, if moved by an irenic spirit, need not reach far for comparable principles. They can be found in the work of contemporary sociology of scientific knowledge. H. M. Collins, for example, recommends controversy as a site of study. He represents facts after closure as ships in bottles. The point of sociological analysis is to see how facts achieve this fixed status. The best way to do this is to explore negotiations about closure in the agonistic field, after which contingency is effaced and reality is treated as the cause of its own representations. ~5 Similarly, Barry Barnes refuses the a priori discrimination of 'internal' and 'external', technical and cultural interests. He argues that 'to understand judgements in a specific community one must address its activity, the resources available for that activity, and the communal goals towards the attainment of which activity is directed.' No general judgement is to be made about the source or site of these purposes, and it is for the analyst empirically to understand how boundaries and discriminations are produced in the course of action: 'in many cases it is irresistibly convenient to talk of the boundaries of a scientific field; but such talk is of a pattern people
~Karl Marx, ~Theses on Feurbach' (1845), in Selected Works, op. cir., note 3, Vol. I, p. 472. ~4Latour, Science #i Action. op. cir., note 10, pp. 99 100, pp. 143-144. r~H. M. Collins, Changing Order (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1985), p. 6.

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have managed to generate in their activity, not of something which determines their activity, still less of a great divide between good and evil. '~6 Thus far, we have represented Latour's project as precedented, familiar and part of a strategy shared with historical materialism and with sociology of scientific knowledge. In Latour's own terms, we can say that his strategies successfully translate the interests of sociology. There would be little problem in interpreting Les Microbes as a case study in the sociological analysis of the formation of microbiology and of its milieux, its practices, goals and objects. Indeed, in the English-language version of Les Microbes, Latour takes the opportunity to identify amongst this literature the exemplary resources which he finds useful: William Coleman's sociohistorical analysis of Louis Villerm6's career and the structure of nineteenth-century French hygienism, that potent but fragile alliance of urban control and moral therapy amongst which Pastorians found such valuable friends; Martin Rudwick's important study of Victorian geological controversy, which rules strictly against retrospection in scientific historiography; Jewson's superb analysis of the role of the patient in the emergence of professional medicine and the consequent formation of vested interests amongst that community; or the study by Shapin and Schaffer of the Hobbes-Boyle controversy, which argued for a historical and sociological exploration of the production of the divisions between internal and external forces in the experimental setting. These references, it should be noted, were all absent from Les Microbes. 17 However, and notoriously, Latour does not present his story about Pasteur and the microbes as an endorsement and continuation of this tradition of study. On the contrary, both Les Microbes and Science in Action pose as searing critiques of existing sociology of scientific knowledge. Enough has been suggested here to indicate that this is by no means the only way of reading this work. In order to understand the difference between the author's voice and his text's uses, it is necessary to outline the narrative of the work. Latour compellingly explains in Science in Action that 'the fate of what we say and make is in later users" hands. '~8 He would therefore be unsurprised by this puzzle. 'No text can defend itself against its' readers interpretations. '~9 It will be argued in what follows that this narrative reveals the grounds of the contrast between Latour's own attack on sociology of scientific knowledge and the compatability of his work with this very project. Thus Marx argued that
~Barry Barnes~ T. S. Kuhn and Social Science (London: Macmillan, 1982), pp. l l4-117. ~TThe sources are William Coleman, Death is a Social Disease: Public Health and Political Economy in Earl)' Industrial France (Madison: Wisconsin University Press, 1982); Martin Rudwick, The Great Devonian Controversy (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1985); N. D. Jewson, 'The Disappearance of the Sick-man from Medical Cosmology', Sociology 10 (1976), 225244; Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, Leviathan and the Air Pump (Princeton: Princeton University Press, 1985). These are cited in Latour, Pasteurization of France, p. 229, pp. 254-255, pp. 262-263. ~Latour, Science in Action, op. cir., note 10, p. 29. ~"Latour, Pasteurization of France, p. 252.


Studies in History and Philosophy q[ Science

even though Victor Hugo reckoned he had pulled off the trick of transforming 'Bonaparte' from a great to a little man, he had simply reaffirmed the villain's omnipotence. Even though Latour reckons he has pulled off the trick of decomposing 'Pasteur' into the constituents which made him possible (hygienists, farmers, army doctors, the Imperial regime, statisticians, and microbes), he has in fact restored the great microbiologist to the status of a miracleworker. We have seen him deny a contradiction between decomposition and individualism. So be it. No sociologist of scientific knowledge would blanch at a tale of cunning and ingenuity, and many would build those virtues into the basis of their tale: Collins' Weber, Galison's Glaser, Rudwick's Murchison and, notably, Geison~s Pasteur, display such admirable qualities. 2 But in order to succeed, Latour's Pasteur needs much more than ingenuity. Like the imaginary Bonaparte of Marx's fairy-story, this Pasteur would need to be a conjurer. Latour systematically understates the work of experiment. Experimental labour is neglected in Les Microbes because the book's narrative is marked by the heresy of hylozoism, an attribution of purpose, will and life to inanimate matter, and of human interests to the nonhuman.

2. The Ideal Reader and the Hylozoist

The hypothesis of Hylozoism is the death of all rational physiology, and indeed of all physical science. Besides, it answers no purpose... There is a sediment indeed at the bottom of the vessel, but all the water above it is clear and transparent. The Hylozoist only shakes it up, and renders the whole turbid. (Samuel Taylor Coleridge, Biographia Literaria (1817), chapter 8)
Les Microbes outlines an interesting story. Latour, we've seen, constructs an 'ideal reader', a fictional person who is supposed to have access to the common discourse of later nineteenth-century medical, scientific and juridical literature. The literature is constituted by selections from three journals: the Revue Scientifique (readings from the period 1870-1919), a jounal of haute vulgarisation: the Annales de l'Institut Pasteur (1887-1919), house journal of the Pastorians: and the Concours Mkdical (1885-1905), journal of the French medical association. The contrast between the presentations of Les Microbes and of The Pasteurization q/" France is instructive:

The Revue Scient(f4que, a general review written by scientists themselves for the general public. I have been through the whole of it for 50 years without limiting myself to a particular science and noting all the possible positions of authors with
ZFor the use of individualism see Collins, Changing Order. op. tit., note 15, p. 83; Peter Galison, "Bubble Chambers and the Experimental Workplace', in Peter Achinstein and Owen Hannaway (eds), Observation, Experiment and Itypothesis in Modern Physical Science (Cambridge, Mass.: MIT Press, 1987): Rudwick, Great Devonian Controvero'. op. cit.. note 17, pp. 438-240; Geison and Secord, "Pasteur and the Process of Discovery',op. tit., note l, p. 36.

The Eighteenth Brurnaire of Bruno Latour


respect to diseases, health, Pasteur, microbes, doctors, hygiene, without making a trick or limiting a priori how the actors were made up...Supposing an ideal reader who had read nothing but this Revue during fifty years, I know with sufficient certainty how he would construct pastorism...This undertaking does not pretend to add anything to the history of the sciences and still less to that of the nineteenth century. One last limitation of the study which is about to be read bears on the scale of the phenomena analysed. It is a matter of running through half-a-century. So the same fine grain cannot be demanded from the analysis as one demands from studies in microsociology of science. In another study, at the scale of a laboratory and some scientific facts, I obtained comparable results to those which I obtain here (Laboratory Life). As I vary the relative scale of the facts to be studied, the reader must make do with fewer details in this study than in the previous one. 2t The Revue Scientifique, a general weekly review founded in the mid-nineteenth century and written by scientists themselves for a wider educated public, falls somewhere between Scientific American and the general-interest pages of Science. I read through the whole of the journal from 1870, the year of France's defeat, to 1919, the date of the revenge but also of a terrible defeat at the hands of influenza. I did not confine myself to a particular science but recorded all the references made by the authors to diseases, biology, health, Pasteur, microbes, doctors, and hygiene. For each of the relevant articles I sketched the interdefinition of the actors and the translation chains, without trying to define a priori how the actors were made up and ranked...This undertaking does not purport to add anything to the history of science, still less to the history of the nineteenth century. I use history as a brain scientist uses a rat, cutting through it in order to follow the mechanisms that allow me to understand at once the content of a science and its context. For this reason the presentation of the documentary materials does not follow the historical path but rather the network of associations that slowly make up the Pasteurian world. Fortunately, the period offers us a great many control groups that react differently to Pasteur's enterprise...Here 1 contrast the different control groups with one another, so that each argument about context or content can be replaced by a new linkage between society and its sciences?2 W h a t ' t r a n s l a t i o n ' has t a k e n place here? L a t o u r shifts his allies. In Les Microbes, we are told t h a t 'all the possible p o s i t i o n s ' o f the Revue's a u t h o r s have been studied. W e are told t h a t this lets L a t o u r define his 'ideal reader'. A n d we are told t h a t this text should be c o m p a r e d with o t h e r sociological studies. So to read the earlier version, the reader should use the codes o f social science. In The Pasteurization o f France, however, s o m e t h i n g r a t h e r m o r e like a l a b o r a t o r y exercise is suggested: n o t 'all possible' b u t simply 'all' p o s i t i o n s are d o c u m e n t e d (the f o r m e r p h r a s e n o w seems t o o ambitious); the historical r e c o r d provides c o n t r o l samples; there is m u c h talk o f ' a c t o r s ' a n d ' t r a n s l a t i o n chains', a n d n o n e o f ' m i c r o s o c i o l o g y ' a n d its large-scale versions. T h e following lesson should be drawn: L a t o u r has shifted from his p o s i t i o n as m o d e s t scientist, p l a y i n g the stranger, to aggressive l a b o r a t o r y scientist p l a y i n g 2~Latour, Les Microbes, pp. 16-17. -'2Latour, Pasteurization o["France, pp. 11-12.


Studies in Histoo' and Philosophy ~[ Science

the insider. The proportion between Pasteur and the medics is the same as that between Latour and the historians. The Pasteurization o f France is a Pastorian work. The moral is sustained by the book which follows. In swift strokes Latour outlines the hygienist 'style' of the mid-century, using Coleman's analysis to map the purposes of the activists of public health: contagionism was an impotent programme because it ruled no factor out of consideration. Its field was too large, and too porous. The Pastorians succesfully made their work indispensable to the hygienists, because the 'microbe' (mastered by the Pastorians) gave the hygienists a means to satisfy their interest in control. A brief excursus follows 'on a few dissenters', in which Robert Koch's anti-Pastorian campaign is used to show how the Frenchman successfully translated the interests of the hygienists, and the German failed, because Koch's Berlin lab would have disrupted the interests of the public health movement in France. The rest of the experiment falls into place: a story about the Pastorian laboratory, and a story about that lab's constituencies. Labs are where Pastorians are stronger than microbes, because there the scale of the actors is changed. 23 Most important, apparently, the microbes obey the Pastorians because the experimenters are nice to them: "for the first time in the history of the world, the researchers were to offer these ill-defined agents an environment entirely adapted to their [the microbes] wishes.' The key accompaniment of this ideal home is what Latour calls the "theatre of proof'. :~ In an earlier paper, he sketched the process by which Pasteur transformed the farm at Pouilly-le-Fort into a setting sufficiently like a lab. to guarantee experimental mastery, and yet still sufficiently like a farm to capture the interests of his potential allies. The image of the 'theatre' is to be combined with that of the lever. The field station is an Archimedean point, where an inversion of scale allows the experimenter to move forces apparently more powerful than he. The model of the lever plays a fundamental role throughout Latour's oeuvre: scientists achieve astonishing reversals of force by rendering lab objects commensurable with the forces of the world, then manipulating the former to shift the latter. 'The whole p o i n t - - t h e Archimedean p o i n t - - i s missing if it can be proved that the scientists have only other humans behind them rather than the non-humans they claim to reveal. '25 Social constructivists understand this point, and have documented the ways in which the interests invested in scientific claims are effaced at the closure of these fights. Thus Latour's story about Pasteur closes with a traditional account of the recruitment of other humans to this project:
"~Ibid., p. 30, p. 74. Z4Latour, Les Microbes, p. 91, p. 95, translated in Pasteurization ~)/France, p. 82, p. 86.
~Bruno Latour, "Give Me a Laboratory and I Will Raise the World', in Karin Knorr-Cetina and Michael Mulkay (eds), Science Observed (Beverly Hills: Sage, 1983), pp. 141 170. The "Archimedean point" is developed in Latour, ~The Force and the Reason of Experiment', in Homer E. Le Grand (ed.), Expermzental blquiries (Dordrecht: Kluwer, 1990), pp. 49-80, p. 76.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour


because they reckon that microbes kill soldiers en masse, army doctors find Pastorism useful; because the lab. challenges the vested interests of the medical profession, civil doctors don't. Or rather, they are late, only joining in when Pasteur's celebrity itself becomes useful for their own purposes. 26 The lessthan-ideal reader might treat all this as an exemplary interest story. But Latour doesn't. '1 have spoken of the Pasteurians as they spoke of their microbes. '27 If we take this claim seriously, then we are immediately provided with a set of tools for analysis of Latour's story. Sociologists of scientific knowledge have developed means of analysing scientists' claims. Some of these were outlined above: look at knowledge-in-the-making, privilege controversy, treat contestants symmetrically. Latour adds to his text the following note. 'The losers and the winners must be studied in the same way and explained with the same set of notions. If the evolution of our field has made the notion of a "social explanation" obsolete, the principle of symmetry remains the basis of most work in the area. '2~ But "symmetry', like all analytic concepts, has no essential meaning. It can only be judged in application. Latour is profoundly asym~ metric as between the Pastorians and their opponents: Koch, Pouchet and the rest. Pouchet, of course is absent from Les Microbes, and appears solely in The Pasteurization of France under the guise of his historians, John Farley and Gerry Geison. > Koch appears, we've seen, as the failed apostle of revamped state hygiene) 'Historians of Pasteurism,' Latour points out, ~naturally describe more opponents, many of whom were actually provoked by Pasteur's sometimes abrupt r e m a r k s . . . I should remind the reader again at this point that I am limiting my sources to what an "ideal" reader would know of Pasteur and his alliances, were he or she to read only the Revue Scient([ique. TM We now understand the significance of the "ideal' reader: this figure guarantees the strange asymmetry of Latour's tale. By excluding from the list of forces all other laboratory workers, all other members of the experimental community, Latour's Pastorians become the sole experimentalists. It is not hard to treat Pasteur, the hygienists, the doctors and the farmers even-handedly when Pasteur's critics are simply silenced, and only one group of Frenchmen has a Petri dish, a swan-necked flask or a microscope. If these other voices were allowed to speak, then Latour could not so easily claim that the microbes
26The disappearance of interests after closure is discussed in Steven Shapin, "The Politics of Observation: Cerebral Anatomy and Social Interests in the Edinburgh Phrenology Disputes', in Roy Wallis (ed,), On the Margins o['Science (London: Routledge, 1979), pp. 139 178. For army and civil doctors, see Latour, Les Microbes, pp. 127 130, translated in Pasteurization o1' France, pp. 114 117. 27Latour, Les Microbes, p. 165, translated in Pasteurization 0[" France, p. 148. -~SLatour, Pasteurization q[' France, p. 256. 29John Farley and Gerald L. Geison, 'Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation in Nineteenth Century France: the Pasteur-Pouchet Debate', Bulletin qf the Histoo" of Medicine 48 (1974), 161-198; see Latour, Pasteurization qfFrance, p. 256, p. 258. ~'Latour, Les Microbes, pp. 36-37, translated in Pasteurization o[ France, pp. 30 31. ~'Latour, Pasteurization qf France, p. 256.


Studies & H&tor), and Philosophy q[ Seienee

obeyed Pasteur because he uniquely provided them with a good home. By suppressing the controversies which surrounded Pastorism, Latour is able to use "the microbes' as wilful actors. Instead of symmetry, he tries hylozoism. This hylozoism needs some exposition. Latour states that his protagonist is the 'ideal' reader. No such reader could get inside Pasteur's lab. The point of the texts which this person reads is just to keep the public out and then control their responses. Latour himself has told us that the scientific text "is designed to force out most people in the first place." So how does Latour behave when his story takes him into that space? At one point, when describing how the Pastorians flattered and starved the microbes, he is forced to cite a very few passages from Pasteur's esoteric notes on lab protocols. At first glance, this might seem to violate the self-imposed limitation of his narrative to the responses of the ~ideal reader'. But it turns out that after all the notebook passages are only there to celebrate the microbes' culture, not that of the lab workers. ~2 Latour knows that 'the laboratory also has a history,' but, as a hylozoist, he cannot provide it. This is because, as sociology of scientific knowledge understands very well, the translation of private lab. work to a public domain is just what happens in controversy, and these controversies are deliberately omitted from Latour's story. Ever since Gerald Holton showed how Robert Millikan's work with oil-drops won assent because of the careful management of the publication of his private experiments, sociologists of scientific knowledge have worked hard to understand the complex transitions between the privacy of the laboratory and the publicity of the agonistic field. Steven Shapin and Owen Hannaway have painstakingly documented the history of this great spatial division and its epistemic consequences/3 Collins tells us that "distance lends enchantment: the more distant in social space or time is the locus of creation of knowledge, the more certain it is. '~a The point was already very familiar to nineteenth-century laboratory scientists, and was often represented in explicitly spatial terms; hence Claude Bernard's celebrated statement that "the science of life is a brilliant drawing room, shining with light, which one cannot reach save by passing through a long and terrifying kitchen. '~ Latour's 'ideal' reader cannot travel this route, because only in controversies in science do these boundaries get severely breached, and only through hylozoism can he speak of the events within Pasteur's lab's walls.

"Ibid., pp. 82-85. For the exclusiveness of the scientific text see Latour, Science in Action. vp. cir., note 10, p. 52. ~Gerald Holton. "Subelectrons, Presuppositions and the Millikan-Ehrenhaft Dispute', in Holton. The Scient(/ic lmag#tation (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1978), pp. 25-83; Owen Hannaway, 'Laboratory Design and the Aim of Science', Isis 77 (1986), pp. 585 610: Steven Shapin, 'The House of Experiment in Seventeenth Century England', Isis 79 (1988), pp. 373~,04. ~Collins, Changing Order, op. cir., note 15, p. 145. ~Claude Bernard, bztroduction ~ I'~;tude de la mOdecine exp~rimentale, ed. Franois Dagognct (Paris, 1966), pp. 30-31.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour


Here are a couple of points where this self-imposed problem works its effect. In his discussion of Pasteur's work on anthrax, Latour brilliantly gestures at the skills which were needed to make the candidate Bacillus anthracis count as the cause of the disease anthrax, that is, to constitute the microbe. It was necessary to show that the material which lab skills could master was indeed connected aetiologically with the problems farmers f a c e d . 36 But then he stops. Instead of an analysis of the controversies through which these skills were forged, he baldly states that the microbes 'enthusiastically' behaved the way Pasteur wanted. Hylozoism stifles an account of laboratory life. A sign of this suppression is the brief reference at this point which Latour makes to Koch: ' F o r the first time these agents were to be separated out from the confusion of competitors, enemies and parasites...This was the decisive advantage of the solid media later invented by Koch.' But let us pause here: how did Koch 'invent' such a medium? Why was this a Berlin, rather than a Parisian, skill? And if a 'decisive advantage', how did it figure in the long drawn-out controversy between Koch and Pasteur, which was inaugurated in 1876 with Koch's 'Aetiologie der Milzbrandkrankheit'? Latour knows that 'the G e r m a n Koch' has ~a role which is enormous in all the non-French histories of bacteriology. '37 Why? In 1876, Koch alleged, he had traced the life-cycle of the bacillus, established that the bacilli provided a necessary condition for the appearance of anthrax, and, indeed, 'removed all doubt that Bacillus anthracis is the actual cause of anthrax. '3s From the following year, for more than a decade, a contest then raged between the Paris and Berlin labs about these claims. Pasteur and his allies argued that Koch had not shown causation, but that the Parisians had. With Latour, we could say that this p r o o f race hinged on rival translations: could Paris or Berlin successfully translate (and hence command) the milieu of the farmyard into their rival laboratory skills and routines? The microbes by no means 'enthusiastically' obeyed the Pastorians in preference to Koch. Indeed, we have no basis for speaking of their wishes if we are to obey the dictates of symmetry: their reported behaviours varied between the two places, in a manner quite familiar to sociologists of scientific controversy. Koch and Pasteur worked hard to make the phenomena robust, capable of appearing in a sufficiently similar manner outwith their labs' confines. Closure was not reached in Pasteur's lifetime. Instead, Koch used his work with TB bacilli to win credit for his lab. protocols. And chief amongst these protocols was his invention of solid culture media. With such media, he now (1882) stated, it was possible to 'isolate the bacilli from the body, to grow them in pure culture until they are freed from every disease product of the animal organism.' So solid media reinforced the credit of his local strategies for the
~6Latour, Pasteurization ~f France, pp. 80-82. 371bid, p. 109. ~K. Codell Carter, ~The Koch-Pasteur Dispute on Establishing the Cause of Anthrax', Bulletin of the Histoo' Of Medicine 62 (1988), 42-5% p. 48.


Studies in History and Philosophy qf Science

establishment of causality. To use solid media meant using what were soon baptised 'Koch's postulates'. 39 The case shows rather well that local laboratory techniques are developed as part of the work of settling controversy. It shows that lab. work must change to make its techniques capable of being put to work anywhere else. Last, it shows that hylozoism is an unnecessary and asymmetric means of representing these transformations. 'Solid media' were indeed decisive, but their use was not self-evidently good news for Pasteur's friendly microbes; rather was it good news for Robert Koch. Latour, in striking contrast, asks only what shifted the views of the 'ideal' readers of the Revue Scient(17"que. Unsurprisingly, he can explain this shift in loyalty by reference to Pasteur's experiments alone, and the good behaviour of the microbes, because he deliberately omits their most potent enemies. Sociologists of scientific knowledge explore the ways in which these techniques are made robust, and they use a symmetric strategy which privileges neither protagonist. As Collins and Yearley have argued against Michel Callon's stories about scallops, it is asymmetric to credit just one scientist's story about the world, wilfully to suppress all others, and then to claim that the analyst has simply 'followed the scientist through society'. Collins and Yearley agree in rejecting an analysis which is handicapped by faith in the 'ideal reader' and in the vital enthusiasms of shellfish and microbes. 4 Similar lessons are to be derived from Pasteur's fight with Pouchet. As Farley and Geison show, the episode provides a fine case of the troubles of replication in controversy. They use the testimony of the hagiographer Emile Duclaux, who is also a prime source in Latour's tale. Duclaux pointed out that if Pasteur had repeated Pouchet's experiments on heterogenesis, then the debate between the two might well have ended differently. In these disputes, Pouchet's group had performed a series of trials in the Pyr6n6es to show that eight flasks of hay infusions exposed at high altitudes all began to putrefy. Both parties agreed that at such heights Pasteur's alleged micro-organisms would be absent or inactive. So the Pouchet group reckoned that their trials showed that only oxygen was necessary to start living processes in organic matter. The crucial point, however, is that the mountain trials were never replicated by Pasteur; instead he stated in 1863 that his antagonists had used too few flasks, and had used the wrong tool to break these flasks. 4t Here is a
'~lbid., p. 53. 'Latour, Les Microbes, p. 72, translated in Pasteuri:ation o/" France. p. 64. For the critique of hylozoism and its asymmetries, see H. M. Collins and S. Yearley, 'Epistemological Chicken', in Andrew Pickering (ed.), Science as Practice and Culture (Chicago: Chicago University Press, 1991 ). Harry Collins generously allowed me to see an advance copy of this paper. ~Farley and Geison, "Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation', op. cir., note 29, p. 180, p. 192. For a critique of this account of Pouchet, see Nils Roll-Hansen, "Experimental Method and Spontaneous Generation: the Controversy between Pasteur and Pouchet, 1859-1864', Journal ~?/" the History q f Medic#1e 34 (1979), 272-292.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour

! 89

fine case of what Collins calls 'experimenters' regress': the criterion of a competent performance varies with the preferred outcome, and in open settings, like this, there is no unchallengeable means of judging competence. 42 Pasteur predictably cited features and protocols which were not stipulated in advance of trial. The analyst cannot here talk of the 'enthusiasm' or the 'wishes' of the Bacillus subtilis in hay infusions. They collaborated with Pouchet atop the Pyr6n6es, but this collaboration did not count in Paris, where Pasteur's command of the committees of the Acad6mie des Sciences was enough to discount these reports of experimental triumphs. Hylozoism directs our attention towards the items whose action is in dispute. It directs our attention away from the forces which help close that dispute. It therefore disables understanding. Duclaux was the first to point out that after 1876 experimenters began to agree that the hay bacillus could indeed survive at great heights, and so, as Farley and Geison put it, 'Pouchet's flasks of boiled hay infusions might well have produced life even in Pasteur's hands. '43 It was not the bacilli which decided to back Pasteur, because he never staged trials where they were given that chance, and they would likely have betrayed him if he had. Yet he won, and it was, as ever, his human colleagues who were crucial. Latour dismisses this Pouchet story, because he reckons that 'the explanation has to be at least as rich as the content,' and here the content must include 'all the scientific work'. 44 So it must. But a hylozoist has no chance of explaining this work, since he will ignore the troubles of replication, and will always credit what the actors worked hard to discredit (in this case, successfully). This is what Latour does in an article published after Les Microbes. In this new story about Pouchet and Pasteur, Latour now insists, rightly, that the two men be treated symmetrically. He adds that the microbes must be included amongst the allies the parties sought to enlist. But there are two significant oddities in this tale. First, look how Latour describes Pasteur's response to Pouchet's initial experiments. 'Pouchet is able to use Pasteur's own protocols and to display microbes doing all sorts of tricks...Pasteur has now to bring his own microbes into the dispute to counterbalance his opponents' flasks. He has to modify his experimental protocol.' What is the force which makes Pasteur do some more experiments? It cannot be the microbes' tricks, since on other occasions, as we have just seen, Pasteur did not bother to replicate Pouchet's trials. And why does he have to change his protocols? Once again, the microbes cannot play a role here; because of the experimenters' regress, it could be said that Pouchet had not used Pasteur's own protocols, since his results were so diferent. It is just the character of Pouchet's flasks which is in
42Collins, Changing Order, op. cit., note 15, p. 100. 43Farley and Geison, 'Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation', op. tit., note 29, p. 193. ~Latour, Pasteurization of France, p. 258.


Studies in History and Philosoph)' (~f Science

question. Protagonists in dispute must win assent for these material technologies. Hylozoism suggests that the microbes' antics can explain these decisions. Sociology of knowledge reckons that it is the combination of practices and conventions which prompt them, and these strategies get credit through culture. Only when credibility is established will any story about the microbes make sense. Second, consider Latour's account of Pasteur's development of the swan-necked flask. 'Without Pouchet's challenge, Pasteur would not have needed to devise this elegant experiment. Thus Pouchet constitutes part of the swan-necked flask...But what about the ferments? You can't imagine ferments independently of the swan-necked flasks." Once again, the basis of this need remains occult. It does not derive from the ferments, for, as Pouchet's behaviour shows, they c a n be imagined independently of Pasteur and his trials. Instruments become reliable as a result of the closure of trials like these. After closure, and only then, the flasks will be seen as the inevitable and proper accompaniments of these ferments. What can be realised (rather than imagined) whether it be vital ferments or reliable flasks, is therefore a consequence, not a cause, of conflict resolution. The social historians who have studied this episode help themselves to the forces of the social order of French culture and to the social order of the rival labs. They do not, as Latour alleges, rely on a feeble list of extrinsic "social factors'. It is they, not the analyst who anthropomorphises nonhuman actors, who successfully "follow scientists through society'. 4~ Many of Latour's techniques are indispensable tools for the sociology of scientific knowledge. That sociology has often been attacked because of its localist focus, its insistence on the situated character of work. Latour's account of 'translation', of the construction of 'landing strips' which allow practices to work outwith their original setting of production, helps extend the sociological understanding from the lab. to other sites of knowledge and power. His account of metrology, the work invested in maintenance of standards and values which let facts travel, is equally significant. 'Scientists" achievements circulate in frail, recent, costly and rare galleries. '46 Latour helps us to see that we should speak of interests in their proper eighteenth-century, Namierite sense. They are constructs, hinging for their efficacy on the alliances which rally round them. We should then distinguish between the process of qocalisation', through which local techniques get to work at sites like labs via the concentration of widely distributed resources, and 'spatialisation', through which techniques which are efficacious within the lab. manage to travel beyond it.
~'Bruno Latour, 'Clothing lhe Naked Truth', in Hilary Lawson and Lisa Appignanesi (eds),

Dismantling Truth." Reality in the Posmtodern Worm (London: Weidenfeld and Nicolson, [989),
pp. 101-126, pp. I07 108. p. 118. ~Latour, Science in Action, op. cit., note 10, p. 252.

The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour


Koch's career provides a good example of these alliances. His identification of the comma bacillus as the cause of cholera in the heroic competition with the French in Alexandria and Calcutta in 1883, his efforts to link industrial pharmaceuticals with lab. techniques after the introduction of compulsory health insurance in the same year, and his contests with Max von Pettenkofer and the Hamburg patricians in the early 1890s, might all be interpreted as the results of inspired genius, or of the triumph of Prussian state-centralism, or as the progressive revelation of the truth about bacteria. A highly localist strategy could do justice to the means through which Koch and his co-workers made the character of bacilli robust and reliable within-their Bacteriology Laboratory at the Imperial Health Office. But in order to explicate the power invested in that work, and the limits of that power, it would be necessary to deploy Latourian accounts of the multiplication of the contexts in which this bacteriological regime could be made to work. Koch's strategies matched the interests of large constituencies in the Kaiserreich. Just as nineteenth-century miasmatism privileged social hygiene and fitted well with the culture of liberal economy, so Koch's bacteriology was able to dispossess these hygienists and statisticians and make the new bacteriology lab the obligatory passage point for medical management. 4v Now Latour has provided a good account of ways in which these strategies failed in the Third Republic. The scope and limits of rival strategies can only be accounted in terms of the distribution of techniques through fragile networks of interest and skill. A sociology of scientific knowledge must account for the ways the world must be changed to allow facts to travel. But this programme would require an even-handed treatment of Koch and Pasteur, of bacteriology and microbiology, of republican and imperial regimes, of many different 'centres of calculation'. Koch's almost complete absence from Les Microbes is therefore highly significant. The programme of localisation and spatialisation would be a plausible translation of Latour's own project. But he seeks counter-enrollment, into a project with deeply disabling implications. Pasteur tried the same trick. Geison and Farley show how Pasteur maintained a private interest in the attribution of purpose and life to the inorganic realm, right through the period when he fought Pouchet as an alleged materialist. Specifically, he reckoned that physical techniques might well help him make asymmetries artificially in mere matter, but that biochemical techniques could not. Pasteur reckoned life was marked by the principle of asymmetry, and he tried using big magnets to make asymmetries appear. 4s Is it fanciful to find the same features in Latour's campaigns? At the very moment when he condemns sociologists of science for
"Tot Koch's regime see Richard J. Evans, Death in Hamburg (Harmondsworth: Penguin Books, 1990), pp. 264-277; for the 'proof race' see William Coleman, 'Koch's Comma Bacillus: the First Year', Bulletin of the History of Medicine 61 (1987), pp. 315-342; for the linkage with industry, see Tim Lenoir, ~A Magic Bullet', Minerva 26 (1988), pp. 66-88. 48Farley and Geison, 'Science, Politics and Spontaneous Generation', op. tit., note 29, p. 176.


Studies in History and Philosophy 0[ Science

reductionism, for failing to provide explanations as rich as their explananda, and for criminal asymmetry, he himself is promoting just these errors. He attributes life to the inanimate, silences controversy, and asymmetrically credits his hero's stories while ignoring those of his hero's powerful rivals. Latour's deliberate comparison of himself with Pasteur might license this comparison. Following this scientist so slavishly is not a good way of understanding him. In Eighteenth Brumaire, Marx explains how these exploitations of the past do their work. "Just when men seem engaged in revolutionising themselves and things, in creating something entirely new, precisely in such epochs of revolutionary crisis they anxiously conjure up the spirits of the past to their service and borrow from them names, battle slogans and costumes in order to present the new scene in this time-honoured disguise and this borrowed language. '49 We've been here before.

Acknowledgements This essay owes much to discussions with Andrew Bowie, Harry Collins, Nick Jardme, Bruno Latour. Steven Shapin and Adrian Wilson.

~'Marx, "The Eighleenth Brumaire'. op. cir.. note 3, p. 315.