‘Faitiche’-izing the People: What Representative Democracy Might Learn from Science Studies
34 Pages Posted: 13 Aug 2009
Date Written: 2009
In their recent work, Bruno Latour and Isabelle Stengers propose that scientists, like politicians, practice “representation” in what Latour calls the “its ancient political role (Latour 2004, 41, 248; cf. Stengers 2000, 87). To propose this likeness is to utter an absurdity in the terms of the modernist world view (which Latour calls variously the ‘Modern Constitution’ or ‘Modern Settlement’) which cleaves the problem of representation in two - epistemological and political representation. By their insistence that science and politics both represent in the “ancient” political sense, Latour and Stengers mean to counter the governmentalist fiction of facts that speak for themselves and experts who transmit them. They propose a more pragmatic picture of science, one in which scientists design an experimental apparatus to “stage” a phenomenon as a “reliable witness” (Stengers 2000, 84; 1997, 88). This staging, or mediation, is where science and politics, the laboratory and the assembly, connect. This is what makes their argument so captivating: Latour and Stengers unfold a conception of representation that takes its definition from the assembly but its practice from the laboratory. What would it mean for representative democracy to take its model from science? This is a provocative suggestion but is it viable? This essay takes up the challenge that Latour and Stengers’ work poses to theories of representative democracy, first tracing their line of argument, then considering what political theorists might have to learn from their core concepts of “spokespersonship,” “reliable witness,” and experimental risk.
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