Latour's introduction characterizes Pandora's Hope as the conceptual scenography for the pair human and non-human to be placed in the space left empty by the dichotomy between subject and object. If that opening image leaves some readers a little puzzled, Latour has another avenue in: outraged by the kidnapping of scientific disciplines by science warriors, Latour intends to find the hideout and to release the hostages. The same engaging philosophical and metaphorical flair obtains through the case studies of soil, uranium, microbes, Socrates and Daedalus; what also obtains is the essential thesis of Latour's earlier work, Science in Action. As part of the introduction to Pandora's Hope, Latour makes a point of telling his readers that he "believes" in reality, in scientists' ability to discover new things, and even to accumulate knowledge. But before his opponents can cheer, or his allies feel backwards for the knife, he explains that he believes in knowledge because we must not grant reified inhuman status to either an object or to society. Fans of Latour are on familiar ground.
Through a case study of scientists working on a part of the Amazon, Latour illustrates the way scientists from different disciplines assemble their facts. Is the forest retreating or advancing? By making the forest a laboratory, and testing various ideas, the scientists in Latour's study group agree that they must understand what the earthworms at the edge of the forest are doing: these small indicators may constitute proof. In order to arrive at a potential solution, scientists turn each bit of data into a kind of playing card, to be shuffled, re-ordered, stacked, circulated, placed in a standardized grid. We are reminded of the creation of centers of calculation (Chapter 6 of Science in Action), a process Latour maps onto the expedition he has joined. Power cannot be obtained, unless information can be controlled. Through a second case study on the race to capture nuclear fission, Joliot, politicians, Nazis, and heavy water become a seamless web of science and society. Translation figures as a the means by which one person's goals are meshed with another's: the more the "esoteric" the science, the more people have to be enrolled in order to generate a consensus. Four overlapping ellipses in a cross shape describes the vision of science's "blood" flow -- a set of knots criss-cross where interactions occur. There is no core, no inside and outside, only circulation. Through Pasteur's work on microbes we meet the fabrication of a new hero-actant, yeast ferments. But fabrication and construction are words that carry metaphorical implications, and Latour is ready to reject them. He rather suggests pro-positions and articulations. "Propositions do not have the fixed boundaries of objects. They are the surprising events in the histories of other entities." (142)
Chapters Two through Four constitute the case studies; Chapters Five
through Nine begin with the question Latour had ostensibly answered in
the affirmative at the start: is there a reality? For example,
in the case of Pasteur, did ferments exist before he came along? This time,
he answers in the negative ("no they did not exist before he came along."
145). Instead, Latour proposes that new actants (things) are retrofitted
in time as we move forward inexorably. To borrow a computer metaphor, the
image of a new actant is sent behind the other layers. In these chapters
Daedalus the engineer takes on a life not unlike Janus did in Science in
Action. Latour uses daedalion to travel the labyrinth of narrowing choices,
imbroglios, that flow back and forth between humans and things. All things
are so thoroughly embedded in society that they cannot exist until they
are folded into humans: the famous/infamous NRA gun in the hand of
the human soon-to-be killer. Finally, Latour turns to an explication of
the dialogue Socrates and Callicles in the Gorgias, and although it might
seem odd to find the Gorgias and worms at the fringe of the Amazon considered
together; Socrates, like the Amazon, brings science to politics.
Whose voice will be heard? It is Latour's contention that reason,
as Socrates used it, was simply the other side of the power that Callicles
employed. "Power/Knowledge is not a solution but yet another attempt to
paralyze what is left of the body politic.... There is a Science War, but
it is not one that pits descendants of Socrates against descendents of
Callicles..." (264-65) . The work that Latour and his allies are doing,
by contrast, allows the voice of the people to be heard, breaking up the
old "settlement" so that democracy and demonstration are freed from the
tyranny of excess Reason. These are the hostages that he wants to
free. "Clearly there is a space in which the sciences can unfold
without being kidnapped..." (296) It is a space of the collective
good life, for actors and actants together. Masterless, but for time,
is the universe that Latour finds hope in, or has "had a go at." (300).