Now that I am officially ‘a professor’ and have graduate students to advise, one of the things I’ve been thinking about a lot is the difference between the literature that _you_ think is important and insightful, and what the field as a whole considers important and insightful. Everyone has articles and inspirations which are uniquely their own and which no one else ‘gets’. Reading Maia’s great post on _Reassembling the Social_ has made me rethink (again) my position on Latour, an author with whom I have a love-hate relationship. Independently of this and for rather obscure reasons, I have been reading around in the ‘social problems’ literature that bloomed in Sociology in, as far as I can tell, the mid-seventies and early eighties. As I was reading through it it struck me — here is Latour’s genealogy!
Perhaps this is obvious to Latourophiles, but in my experience it is quite difficult to decipher Latour’s intellectual origins. There are many reasons: Latour is fond of over-simplistic, potted histories of philosophy and sociology; he is removed from the usual institutional structures of the French system; his work is anglo-french in an unusual way; he draws on many sources; and finally, we often teach people as parts of genealogies that they might not consider themselves part of.
There are many ways to read Latour — a Deleuze knock-off, a student of Serres, the bridge between French philosophy of science and a ‘constructivist’ approach to social studies of science, a scion of ethnomethodology (or perhaps just Aaron Cicourel). And then I was looking at Cicourel’s webpage at UCSD, and then I see that Joseph Gusfield is in the sociology department there as well. And didn’t I read somewhere that Latour spent a year at San Diego at some point…?
So the next time you assign _Pasteurization of France_ in class, why not try starting off with an apperitif of Gusfield’s _The Culture of Public Problems: Drink-Driving and the Symbolic Order_ of Blumer’s “Social Problems of Public Problems” or Spector and Kitsuse’s “Social Problems: A Reformulation”?