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Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts

3.88  ·  Rating details ·  386 ratings  ·  30 reviews
This highly original work presents laboratory science in a deliberately skeptical way: as an anthropological approach to the culture of the scientist. Drawing on recent work in literary criticism, the authors study how the social world of the laboratory produces papers and other "texts,"' and how the scientific vision of reality becomes that set of statements considered, f ...more
Paperback, 296 pages
Published September 21st 1986 by Princeton University Press (first published June 1st 1979)
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May 21, 2013 rated it it was ok
Laboratory Life is a profoundly annoying book. It gained its status as a classic for being one of the first books to flesh out what an anthropology of science might look like, in which social scientists would follow scientists around their labs to learn about the social construction of facts. Well and good. The problem comes from the authors' obnoxious tone, use of woefully outdated forms of anthropology, and gleeful fact-bashing. Woolgar and Latour expect to be annoying, but not for the reasons ...more
One of the best 'finds' I've lucked into this year. Tremendously fascinating insider-account of the 'culture' going on behind-the-scenes in the life sciences. A 'peek behind the curtain', so-to-speak. As I suspected, eggheads are really just quacks and charlatans! No, I'm just kidding. It's not that extreme. But there is a double-standard going on between what scientists claim their work is about, versus how it really operates. It's just as much a soap-opera as any other big industry. 'Progress' ...more
Apr 25, 2009 rated it it was amazing
If you have ever wondered what scientists really do, this book is for you. An anthropologist goes to the Salk institute and reports on the tribal behaviors he observers.
Sep 15, 2008 rated it really liked it
Shelves: french
This book is not a fast read. It should be, there is in fact no reason it couldn't be more interesting. I say this first because I have read several books on similar subjects that were and second because when I could force myself to stay awake and read it the content was interesting once you could get through the dull writing style. Also I've skimmed some of the author's other work and it is far more interesting.

I was assigned 3 chapters of this book for a class but I instead read the entire bo
Mark Bowles
Aug 30, 2014 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
A. Synopsis: This book is based on Latour’s work as a participant-observer at the Salk Institute from 1975 to 1977. He examines the constitution of a particular fact--TRF (Thyrotropin Releasing Factor). This is an object with a well defined molecular structure which can be purchased and used in research programs that are unrelated to those that gave TRF its existence. The fact became an artifact.
B. Latour and Woolgar develop 6 ‘tools’ to understand scientific activity
1. Construction: This refer
May 06, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: science
This wonderfully readable study of scientific lab culture should be essential reading for science buffs. The authors take a philosophical and sociological approach to scientific inquiry, and that might be tough going for people used to hearing secular myths about how science "discovers the truth" about the world.

I think Latour and Woolgar have done something extraordinary here. They’ve humanized the process of scientific inquiry, and demythologized the notion of scientific “facts.” We can no lon
Sharad Pandian
I've been working backwards through Latour's stuff, so my reading of this is coloured by some familiarity with later works. It's striking how much can be found (retrospectively) in infancy here, while helping make sense of a lot, especially in the immediate works that followed like Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society.

Here are some personal notes for future reference:

-Starts with an interesting foreword by Jonas Salk where he claims "The authors' tools and co
Nov 26, 2017 rated it it was ok
Shelves: didn-t-finish
You know that really boring English teacher on Ferris Bueller? That's what reading this book is like.
Michael Burnam-Fink
Mar 24, 2012 rated it really liked it
Shelves: academic, sts, 2012
Latour manages a book that is both highly theoretical and intensely detailed. Written at one of the high points of the post-modern turn in STS, and deeply involved in the Strong Programme to explain successful and unsuccessful science in the same way, Laboratory Life shows how abstruse theory and ethnography can mutually support each other. Latour spent 21 months as a participant-observer in a neuro-endocrinology lab, and from his time develops a comprehensive picture of the scientific process a ...more
Dec 30, 2007 rated it it was amazing
This book is nothing short of a tour de force, an eye-opening examination of the construction of facts and artifacts at the level of the day-to-day laboratory. Reading this books has crystallized my own previously amoeba-like ideas about how science exists. After reading the book, I wonder at my own employment of inscription devices, trace overlays, and modality changes, even in the simple protocols I produce for fellow scientists in the laboratory. I found especially affirming the theme of orde ...more
Robert Campbell
May 29, 2011 rated it really liked it
Shelves: reviewed
The essential first text for anyone interested in qualitative studies of science and technology.
Feb 23, 2017 rated it it was ok
WARNING! I am writing this directly after reading the book. This is a bad idea. One should cool off for a few days before writing reactions!


Some books are written to piss people off. Mission accomplished! Not so much because it is threatening in its iconoclasm and challenging of a sacred mythology (which, no doubt, is how all critics of this polemic masquerading as research are dismissed by those who swallow this tripe). Rather, I can stick to the pretty standard line that the argument being
Sep 03, 2017 rated it really liked it
Shelves: waiting-on-shelf
I personally enjoyed this book - Bruno Latour definitely provided a fresh perspective by importing an anthropological outlook to the "laboratory environment". This book is based on Latour's 2 year research in one biology laboratory, so it does not necessary apply to all scientific disciplines, nor the entire discipline of science - It is a study of one "tribe" of scientists based on their practices in daily life.

Scientific research is an integral part of our society, yet there is an inevitable
Manuel Romero
Mar 19, 2019 rated it liked it
Shelves: antropología
The description of the normal activities in the laboratory is rich, although biased by their (recognized) ignorance of biology and physics.
When we read the interpretation we can only see an idealist speech that tries to make the TRH a relative fact and totally dependent of social (discursive, above all) circumstances. Although they mention their objective was not to attack the "scientific truth", that is the result. They seem not to realize that the social generation of the TRH does not invalida
Prem Sylvester
Sep 11, 2019 rated it it was amazing
hard to read and trul process, but a wealth of knowledge here on the construction of (scientific) knowledge, focused on its anthropological aspects. found the idea of recording scientific observations and the methods of producing knowledge as literary inscription to be fascinating and useful, enraptured by the overarching theme of science being formulated through the decisions and circumstances of the scientists.
Anderson Ferreira Sepulveda
Como nos outros livros, Latour, à primeira impressão, tem uma forma de escrever que parece não ter muito sentido. Mas avançando um pouco mais, tudo passa a se encaixar. Para quem trabalha no meio científico, você começa a ver que as conclusões de Latour são realmente muito próximas do que é visto, mas ignoramos ou não refletimos.
Amanda Micek
read for anthropology of science
May 13, 2017 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
The author's approach is fresh, quite detailed and a good portrait of the life in a scientific lab. Interesting but didn't manage to deliver the philosophical depth I was looking for.
Russ Lemken
Sep 05, 2019 rated it it was amazing
Seminal book on the philosophy of science and the social influences on what is retained as fact. Fascinating and sobering.
Carlo Gubitosa
Sep 29, 2019 rated it really liked it
Shelves: phd
The social construction of "facts" and the management of scientists credibility capital.
This is a book that's cursed to be loved by nobody: lay-readers will be confused by the scientific terminology, especially in the arcane Chapter 3, and science lovers will be put off by the relativism and irreverence Latour shows towards the laboratory. So this will be another pomo theory book only read by pomo theorists. For all that, it's a decent book, and excels in giving the reader an idea of what life is like inside a cientific laboratory. Latour's theories range from clever insights to wi ...more
Theresa Macphail
Jan 19, 2011 rated it really liked it
A classic in the STS literature, if a bit dated. Worthy of re-reading, especially if you're involved in any type of laboratory study or fieldwork in a lab. This book doesn't really take into account how the lab is itself contained within larger structures (Bourdieu's critique), but it's a nice, detailed reading of lab work.
John Jaksich
Sep 01, 2014 rated it it was amazing
Offers a sociological/anthropological perspective that discloses to the uninitiated an accurate portrayal. Although the account is 30plus years old--its discussion of Maxwell's demon anticipates the large data revolution before its time. Well recommended!
Jan 17, 2017 rated it it was amazing
This should be required reading for any Master's level science student.
Yoon Lai Yee
Dec 16, 2011 rated it it was amazing
I read the book and did my book review on it as my assignment for a paper in my Ph.D in Science Education programme. Eye opening and interesting to read. Gain new insights!
Doru Constantin
May 08, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Very interesting read, but Latour's "naive" approach to scientific research seems a bit ineffective. ...more
Intéressant mais un peu laborieux à lire.
Le chapitre sur la construction des faits m'a particulièrement intéressée.
Kelsey Jackson
It's interesting? But it's also long and confusing and boring
Caroline Pamp
rated it really liked it
Nov 14, 2012
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Is it helpfull to describe the routine of a laboratory? 1 6 Oct 25, 2014 07:18AM  

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Bruno Latour, a philosopher and anthropologist, is the author of Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Our Modern Cult of the Factish Gods, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, and many other books. He curated the ZKM exhibits ICONOCLASH and Making Things Public and coedited the accompanying catalogs, both published by the MIT Press.

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