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We Are Never Ever Getting Back Together - Taylor Swift
We Have Never Been Modern by
Of Course Some People Wouldn't Like This Book
With the rise of science, we moderns believe, the world changed
irrevocably, separating us forever from our primitive, premodern ancestors.
But if we were to let go of this fond conviction, Bruno Latour asks, what
would the world look like? His book, an anthropology of science, shows us
how much of modernity is actually a matter of faith.
What does it mean to be modern? What difference does the scientific
method make? The difference, Latour explains, is in our careful distinctions
between nature and society, between human and thing, distinctions that
our benighted ancestors, in their world of alchemy, astrology, and
phrenology, never made. But alongside this purifying practice that defines
modernity, there exists another seemingly contrary one: the construction of
systems that mix politics, science, technology, and nature. The ozone
debate is such a hybrid, in Latours analysis, as are global warming,
deforestation, even the idea of black holes. As these hybrids proliferate,
the prospect of keeping nature and culture in their separate mental
chambers becomes overwhelming--and rather than try, Latour suggests,
we should rethink our distinctions, rethink the definition and constitution of
modernity itself. His book offers a new explanation of science that finally
recognizes the connections between nature and culture--and so, between
our culture and others, past and present.
Nothing short of a reworking of our mental landscape. We Have Never
Been Modern blurs the boundaries among science, the humanities, and
the social sciences to enhance understanding on all sides. A summation of
the work of one of the most influential and provocative interpreters of
science, it aims at saving what is good and valuable in modernity and
replacing the rest with a broader, fairer, and finer sense of possibility.
Personal Review: We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour
"We Have Never Been Modern" by Bruno Latour is a brilliant
interdisciplinary work that profoundly challenges our assumptions about
the world we live in. Mr. Latour views the Enlightenment from an
anthropological perspective to reveal how its multiple and contradictory
ideals have conspired to lead humanity towards ever greater social and
environmental crises. Mr. Latour's breakthrough analysis provides a
philosophical road map towards a sustainable 'nonmodern' world wherein
nature and society are more harmoniously joined together for the greater
Mr. Latour traces our modern confusion to a series of debates between
Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle in the seventeenth century which led to
divergences in the study of nature or ideologies on the one hand and
science or facts on the other; modernity became defined by the knowing of
what was previously unknown. Mr. Latour contends that the 'purification' or
incontestability of scientific facts and ideologies has failed to account for
the 'hybrid' ways in which society and nature actually respond to change.
Indeed, the interjection of science into the real world has created a
multiplicity of what Mr. Latour calls 'quasi-objects', or phenomena that are
located in the midpoint between science and nature; examples of quasi-
objects include global warming, genetic engineering, the AIDS epidemic,
and so on. Mr. Latour believes that we are ill-equipped to address these
problems inasmuch as the institutions built around Enlightenment ideals
have failed to account for the nonseparation of social practices from
In this light, Mr. Latour rejects the idea that humanity has ever really
broken away from its premodern past. To begin with, Mr. Latour suggests
that the premoderns' assignment of transcendence to inanimate objects is
similar in kind to the transcendent powers assigned by moderns to
sciences and ideologies. Mr. Latour goes on to contend that the modern
experience is simply larger in scale than the premodern, with ever-more
sophisticated but conflicting explanations about the meaning of the
extended networks that bind our lived experiences undergoing constant
flux. Mr. Latour states that 'morphism' better explains the nonmodern world
we inhabit in which humans must continuously adapt themselves to
changing sociological and natural conditions.
Mr. Latour argues that once we refute the idea that we have ever been
modern, we can reclaim our sense of being ordinary and thereby express
our solidarity with all peoples and the planet; at that point, we will be able
to focus on the collective challenge of addressing the critical problems that
confront us. Crucially, this task requires that our conception of politics
enlarges; the discourse must encompass the multitude of human and non-
human subjects or 'things' alike if we wish to solve the problems that the
quasi-objects present to us. For example, Mr. Latour suggests that in the
case of ozone depletion such a debate might be enjoined by
representatives speaking on behalf of chemical companies, workers, the
ozone hole itself, Antarctica, and so on.
Originally written in 1991, Mr. Latour's pathbreaking thought has proven to
be highly influential, with many of his arguments in essence being echoed
and enlarged by more and more similarly-minded progressive writers. To
cite just a few: Robyn Eckersley's The Green State: Rethinking Democracy
and Sovereignty articulates the juridical basis for the representation of non-
human life forms in our democracy; Vandana Shiva's Earth Democracy:
Justice, Sustainability, and Peace provides a moral argument for human
rights and environmentally justice; and Steven Wise' Drawing the Line
makes a compelling case for animal rights. Together, works such as these
suggest that a new kind of Enlightenment may be forming: a philosophy
that recognizes the future of humanity is dependent upon, and not
estranged from, the other life forms that coexist with us on planet earth.
This challenging but deeply rewarding book is highly recommended for all
philosophically-minded and hopeful readers.
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