Read We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour Catherine Porter Online


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? 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 Latour's 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. ...

Title : We Have Never Been Modern
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ISBN : 9780674948396
Format Type : Paperback
Number of Pages : 168 Pages
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We Have Never Been Modern Reviews

  • Boria Sax
    2019-04-24 23:32

    It seems evasive, and even a bit comic, how thinkers in the past century or so, increasingly designate eras with the prefix "post": "post-Christian," "post-Holocaust," "post-industrial," "post-structuralist,"post-modern," "post-humanist," and so on. . . These labels define a period by what it follows rather than what it is, so they do not really describe it at all. According to Latour in We Have Never Been Modern, this is because the fundamental characteristic of modernism has been the a strictly linear conception of time, which is divided up according to revolutionary events and ideas, by which everything is irrevocably changed. Those ruptures between the past and present, in turn, are projections of a similarly abrupt division of the world between the realms of nature, ruled by inexorable laws, and of civilization, determined by human freedom. The breaks with the past are, however, an illusion, since "we have never been modern," and historical changes are neither progressive not irreversible. By drawing on the work of historians, such as Furet, and anthropologists, such as Descola, Latour is able to describe intellectual dynamics with remarkable precision. Despite what I think is may at times be unnecessary obscurity, I have rated the book a five, in recognition of the importance of its thesis.

  • Meghan Fidler
    2019-04-26 20:49

    Moving further than the oft quoted introductory Ozone example, the continuity of Latour's analysis is stunning. Positioning the concept of 'modern' against history, progress, and science. Latour demonstrates this by including the agency of material objects alongside the founding formation of Western Science. Modernity becomes a paradox which was imposed upon colonized peoples around the globe:“Whatevery they do, Westerners bring history along with them in the hulls of their caravels and their gunboats, in the cylinders of their telescopes and the pistons of their immunizing syringes… In Westerner’s eyes the West, and the West alone, is not a culture, not merely a culture.”

  • Hadrian
    2019-05-02 20:30

    Compelling. The basic idea could be summarized in perhaps two sentences, but the implications are staggering.

  • Milad Jahani
    2019-05-19 21:54

    نظریه "ما هیچوقت مدرن نبوده‌ایم"( برونو لاتور) بهترین توضیح از شرایط حال حاضر ما انسان‌ها را در بر دارد. این نظریه نشان می‌دهد که دنیا به شکل برگشت ناپذیری تغییر کرده و برای همیشه از مردمان متمدن جدا شده است؛ دنیایی که با پذیرش مفهوم مدرن نتایجی متفاوت از آن را در زیست همگان پدید می آورد. به طور مثال نویسنده در آغاز کتاب با عناوینی که شاید روزانه با آن مواجهیم بحث خود را شروع و از تناقضات زیست مدرن به پیش می راند. عناوینی چون نابودی جنگل‌ها، گرم شدن کره زمین و حتی مباحثاتی چون سیاه چاله که پیوندی نامبارک از نتایج مدرن شدن است.بنا به اعتقاد لاتور، توجه دقیق مدرن‌ها ( اندیشمندان و متفکران) به جهان هستی و تمایز گذاری بین طبیعت و جامعه، ذهنیت و عینیت، مردم و چیزها در سایه سیاست، علم و تکنولوژی در هم می آمیزد و مفهومی ناواضح از مدرن شدن را ارائه می دهد. بنا به پیشنهاد لاتور ما باید دوباره به این تمایزات بیندیشیم و پیوندهای میان طبیعت و فرهنگ و انسان مدرن را باز اندیشیم.میلاد جهانی

  • Michael
    2019-04-27 03:28

    This summary is probably going to be a bit flawed and definitely elides some of Latour's critical moves. I really enjoyed reading this, and thought it was very insightful.Latour starts his book with 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the triumph of capitalism over communism, and conferences on global climate and environment in Paris, London, and Amsterdam showed that our domination of nature was harmful. How do we respond in these times—to, in some ways, the failures of modernism? If liberation from the social (communism's goal) was a failure, and the domination of nature was a failure, to put it simply, how do we respond? Latour articulates three responses: 1) the anti-modern response, which claims we should no longer attempt to end domination of humans and we must no longer try to dominate nature; 2) the postmodern response, which is skeptical of both of these reactions, "suspended between belief and doubt"; and 3) the modernist response, which "decide[s:] to carry on as if nothing has changed"—a response that "seems hesitant, sometimes even outmoded" (9).Latour then moves to rearticulate modernism in order to understand it. Modernism, he argues, works through two practices: purification of nonhuman nature and human culture (these two things are seen as separate) and translation, which "creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture" (10). Modernism works by keeping these two processes separate. Chapter two chronicles part of the development of modernism, Hobbes's invention of politics and Boyle's invention of science ("invention" being my perhaps too simple word to summarize this). Latour argues that these should not be viewed as two separate inventions, but rather as "one, a division of power between the two protagonists, to Hobbes, the politics and to Boyle, the sciences" (25)—the invention of "our modern world" (27).Latour outlines the paradoxical guarantees of modernism:1) "even though we construct Nature, Nature is as if we did not construct it"2) "even though we do not construct Society, Society is as if we did construct it"3) "Nature and Society must remain absolutely distinct: the work of purification must remain absolutely distinct from the work of mediation" (32)4) God does not intervene in Nature or Society, but is nevertheless there, personal, and useful (32-33)Latour concludes that "the modern Constitution allows the expanded proliferation of the hybrids whose existence, whose very possibility, it denies" (34). Thus, modernism and modern critique becomes invincible through its paradoxes (37): it can critique any view and dismiss it as "premodern" by using "the six resources of the modern critique" without admitting that these resources are paradoxical (38).Latour goes on to argue that "No one has ever been modern" (47) and proposes instead a "nonmodern" (not to be mistaken for antimodern) view that "takes simultaneously into account the moderns' Constitution and the populations of hybrids that that Constitution rejects and allows to proliferate" (47).Chapter 3 introduces Latour's concept of "quasi-objects," those "strange new hybrids" that the modern Constitution denies exist (51). To just briefly summarize Latour's arguments in this chapter: we need to stop understanding modernism as some great, revolutionary break from the past; Nature and Society need to be explained together rather than used as explanatory terms (81); we should instead focus on the historicity of quasi-objects (85), which allow us to trace networks (89).Chapter 4 proposes Latour's "principle of symmetry" that argues that both Nature and Society need to be explained, but that this "explanation starts from quasi-objects"—that is, we cannot use Nature and Society to explain things; rather, Nature and Society need to be explained through quasi-objects, through networks (95).In Chapter 5, Latour proposes what we need to keep and what we need to jettison from various thoughts. From modernism, we can keep quite a bit, but we must leave behind the purification of Nature and Society. From "premoderns" we can keep their hybridization and multiplication of nonhumans (132-133). Latour then proposes that we view human as "A weaver of morphisms," a creator of hybrids or quasi-objects (137). Latour's discussion of nonmodern focuses largely on his important point, that we focus on hybrids, replacing the modern "clandestine proliferation of hybrids" and instead focus on regulating and agreeing upon certain productions of these hybrids in democratic ways (142).

  • Neil
    2019-05-22 23:40

    Latour is attempting to radically redefine an approach to inquiry - ALL inquiry - through describing both a model for reality and a way of investigating that model which aims to resolve several unresolved issues in inquiry. These range from the issues with the subject/object divide in examining reality, the apparent distinctions between "social" and "natural" science, the apparent distinction between "modern" and other social forms, and the question of just how "scientific" knowledge comes into being, not least how it comes to be qualified as "scientific" in contrast to other forms.Actor-Network Theory - of which this book is a founding text, although Latour absolutely hated everything about the name - was developed in part in response to the problems that arose when the practice of scientists was first examined from a sociological perspective. The resulting conflict, known informally as the Science Wars, stemmed from the apparent incompatibility between viewing science as a sociological practice just like any other, neither more "true" nor more "false" overall, and the claim of science to be able to provide an understanding of reality superior to any other.In this book, Latour claims that the problem of incompatibility stems not just from epistemological assumptions about what "truth" is, nor from the different practices performed by researchers into "society" and "nature". Instead, it is the very distinction between "society" and "nature" that is the problem. The core of modern thinking stems from this insistence that each of the two realms is completely separate from each other. "Moderns" like ourselves hold ontradictory claims about reality, but the claims are never seen together. Society and the human world is both constructed by people and the product of clear external rules, while nature and the material world is both external and constructd (or manipulated) by humans.Latour describes the world as it should be seen as neither wholly "society" nor wholly "nature": these distinctions are processed into reality through empirical and observable processes of "purification". Additionally, and unseen by moderns, a whole host of "quasi-objects" - objects that do not fit either the category of "social" or "natural" - are brought into being. Somehow, it's the very fact of ignoring the existence of such quasi-objects that leads to their proliferation in modern society.Latour proposes that by paying attention to the "quasi-objects", it becomes possible to collapse all the dualisms that have plagued ontology and epistemology. This is because the creation of objects - whether "social", "natural" or "quasi-object" - can be understood now as the actions not just of purification, but of translation and delegation operating all together across objects. Quasi-objects, previously ignored as mere "intermediaries" circulating meaning without changing it, become understood as "mediators", explicitly implicated in the creation of reality through the operations performed in the circulation of "facts" and meaning. The operation of purification separates objects into categories, while translation creates new objects from the old. Delegation is the ongoing processual act of circulating meaning by which an object remains in existence without an essence. Transcendent meaning circulates among objects, but there is no immanent "essential" meaning created outside of the circulation. What happens instead is that the circulation contingently stabilises, resulting in what appear to be "essential" qualities (like "social" or "natural") of objects, which have the appearance of essences but the capability to modify meaning or be modified in meaning themselves.Inquiry of any kind can now proceed by tracing the circulations of meaning, seeing how they develop and how they stabilise (or don't stabilise). The advantage of this approach is that social and natural inquiry now need not be viewed as separate realms. Since the division between "society" and "nature" is not inherent but contingent, there is no need to keep them divided. Additionally, the existence of "quasi-objects" - neither completely social nor completely natural - can be taken into account and productively utilised. Finally, the distinction between "modern" knowledge and "primitive" knowledge can be described in terms that aren't ethnocentric: according to Latour, the difference between the knowledge of the moderns and the knowledge of "primitives" is merely that the "networks" by which reality is constituted as meaningful is down to nothing more than the large, more extensive networks active in "modern" nature-societies.The disadvantages of this approach, besides being highly counter-intuitive, are that in rendering the practices of inquiry into nature and society as commensurate, it appears to me to have robbed both of them of any justification for actually proceeding, without offering a compensating justification. This is most pronounced in the social side of the question. A vital aspect of Latour's philosophy is that all objects are commensurate, humans no less than any other. What this means is that all objects, human or no, are imbued with human-like properties: "action, will, meaning and even speech" (p136). Does this extend to human values like justice? Ethics? Life? How does one speak of the "right to life" of a non-human object?The natural sciences, as well as those methods of social inquiry that seek to test hypotheses, fair no better. In order to make his framework do its work, Latour denies that that there is any transcendent "truth" outside of its situatedness within the workings of networks of meaning. He claims that "facts" observed in, say, laboratories, have no validity outside of that observation, and it is only through deployment of the equipment by which such observations can be made that such "facts" can be created and accepted as "universal" - by which he means, universal to the extent that they exist within the network deployed to create them.Scientific knowledge is therefore robbed of its claim to predictability. Situating the "fact" as a creation of a network, which must be deployed in order for the "facts" to exist beyond a single point in the network, begs the question of how and why to "deploy the network" in order to propagate different "facts". It also robs scientific knowledge of its special claim to reliability, but Latour is quite okay with this, as his explicit goal is to show that "scientific" and non-scientific knowledge only differ in how their various networks of delegating mediators are deployed.Latour ends with a call to reconsider the divide between "society" and "nature" in a way that is cognisant of the "quasi-objects" that have proliferated, and which accepts the nature/society distinction but gains awareness of its contingent rather than essential nature. An approach to inquiry that doesn't unnecessarily or prematurely reduce the area of study to soley "nature", or solely "society", and which takes into account the possibility of an area of reality that doesn't fall neatly into either category, sounds like a useful thing. But I'm far from convinced that the radically symmetrical approach suggested by Latour's ontology of objects in networks is a good one. True, he's managed to offer a plausible-sounding (once you get past the language) model by which inquiry could proceed. But it seems to me that he's done so at the cost of providing any reason why anyone should. There is no answer to ethical or political questions possible. There isn't even an opportunity to discover anything except a contingent, entirely situational and readily modifiable truth.

  • Данило Судин
    2019-05-15 04:45

    Попри те, що попередню книгу Бруно Латура я прочитав швидко і захоплено (Наука в действии. Следуя за учеными и инженерами внутри общества), цю я читав довго - понад 7 місяців. Звісно, з перервами, але останні 50 сторінок довелося "домучувати". Основна причина: замість говорити про світ, яким він є, автор починає пропонувати реформу - суспільства і науки водночас. Від таких проектів стає трошки нудно, бо це вже інтелектуальні фантазії авторів, які часто є цікавими для самих лише авторів.Втім, книжка цікава і варта уваги: Бруно Латур пояснює особливості модерності як сприйняття природи та суспільства, розмежування їх. Відтак, це пояснює сприйняття Заходом решти світу в ХІХ ст., самих себе (точніше, свого минулого та теперішнього), і науковцями реальності. Фактично, в цій праці Латур просто дає більше узагальнення тих проблем, про які йому йшлося в Наука в действии. Следуя за учеными и инженерами внутри общества: виходить на більш абстрактний рівень. І за це можна навіть йому пробачити французьку пишномовність. Адже, хоч Латур і критикує постмодерністів, в цій книзі він до них уподібнюється багатослів’ям, яке аж ніяк не є доречним.

  • Jesi
    2019-04-30 03:42

    (Fair warning: I'm writing this review in a bad mood.) Here's how I feel about Latour: but, but, but. I want to love Latour, but I just can't. I find his work interesting and super generative, but it brings me almost no joy or pleasure. He's very clear and easy to follow, but he also writes some of the most unlovely prose ever. (Maybe it's just the translation, but still.) I'm excited to use him in my own work, but sometimes the experience of reading him is like being trapped in a room with a guy who is telling me, in painstaking detail, what his dissertation is about and why nobody has ever had this idea before, ever, in the history of always. I have also always imagined Latour as having a foghorn voice, and when I looked him up on Youtube just now I discovered that it's TRUE, IT'S ALL TRUE. Neither WHNBM nor Reassembling the Social seem to be interested in having a conversation. I also hate theorists who have it all figured out. Blah blah blah blah blah science studies. The best parts of this book were the parts that were most reminiscent of Foucault. Blah blah Latour's unshakeable confidence. Jesus, I need a drink.

  • Erdem Tasdelen
    2019-04-26 00:49

    Brilliant stuff. Especially enjoyed the manifesto-like language.Just one thing though - I'm not ENTIRELY convinced that the separation between Nature and Society instituted by modernity is/was so rigid. This is difficult to argue because Latour would actually agree with this point, what with the proliferation of quasi-objects and what not, but what I mean to say is that I think by delineating this separation so persistently he may be PRODUCING the said intention of total separation, which may not have been as strict as he would have us believe (and of course to this he would say I'm falling into the "linguistic trap" of deconstruction, but I'm okay with that much). Or perhaps I think so because since this book was written in 1991 the quasi-objects have proliferated to an unprecented degree, especially with biopolitics and the internet, so maybe I'm taking it for granted that the separation isn't valid.In any case, this made me think in new ways, and it's just excellent when a book can do that.

  • Helena
    2019-04-28 22:36

    eg forstod ikkje heilt denne, men eg kjende igjen ein del av namna

  • Mjhancock
    2019-04-23 04:45

    Latour thoroughly goes over the still-present problems that modernity introduced into Western society, and somewhat less thoroughly proposes a solution. It's a short book, at around 145 p of main text, but it's remarkably dense, and despite the very welcome summaries and charts, will probably require careful reading and perhaps rereading. Latour argues, for example, that modernism depends on dichotomies such as nature and society, subject and object, and the more we insist on the division between them, the more things stuck in the middle--quasi-objects, as he calls them--proliferate. We spend too much time on purifying concepts, and not enough time on mediating their hybrid forms. He spends a particularly long time on comparing social approaches and scientific approaches in the secondary chapter, through a comparison of Boyle and Hobbes, and long discussions on the concept of the air pump. There's also a very in-depth criticism of the humanities' tendency to constantly declare itself in a state of revolution, and in the process attacks some very cherished beliefs of semiotics, deconstruction, and Heideggerian Being. I came to Latour from some readings on Object Oriented Ontology, and in his demolishing of the other methods--on reasonably sound grounds--I can see why they favored him. The difference, however, is that for Latour, the solution to the failures of the previous attempts is to focus more on the networks and connections, a proposition most OOOists reject in favor of considering further the object. My personal problem with the book is that it is guilty of the same fault of many such "theory debunking" books of this type: it spends the majority of its pages on explaining just why the old methods fail, much less time on the details of the new method, and nothing at all demonstrating this new method in action. Too many theory books call for the abandoning of the old without really taking up anything new--Latour's book avoids that pitfall, in that it explicitly addresses what we can take and use from modernism, but I still would have liked to see what a "nonmodern" approach to a subject looked like.

  • Eric Steere
    2019-05-07 01:36

    Bruno Latour has captured my attention with this 1991 release. In a kind of anthropology of science, Latour’s web links “networks” of the social sciences that have been deconstructed, naturalised, and socialised, marking epistemology, the social sciences, and the sciences of texts as being responsible for the compartmentalization of an off kilter intellectual life. It is impossible for an object of study to be understood across these established disciplines which intend to make it simultaneously real (like Nature), narrated (like Discourse), and collective (like Society). It is through Latour’s implementation of a kind of “seamless fabric of…nature-culture” and a problematisation of “modernity” that we can begin to understand it as a tri-partitioned and doubly asymmetrical concept. It is tri-partitioned through ‘translation’ (creating mixtures between entirely new types of hybrids and nature-culture) and ‘purification’ (creating two distinct zones of ‘humans’ and ‘non humans’. “Modernity”, he argues, is doubly asymmetrical in that it designated both a break in time as well as a combat of winners and losers (Ancients and Moderns, and as I extrapolate further, and as I view the world through these binary opposites, I find that the that the former are as victorious as the latter. I look forward to reading more of Latour’s explication of his thesis. I feel that my own critical stance can demonstrate that, for example, in the resurgence of religion (associated with the ‘Ancients’) in the process of the modern and contemporary forces of globalisation (“modern”?), both increased religiosity and fragmentation, both increased secularisation and universality, are observable. It is interesting to see Latour savagely break up post-modern scepticism as well as neo-liberal views of contemporary processes and distinctions in intellectual life.

  • Felix
    2019-05-15 03:47

    Latours Grundanliegen der Wissenschaftskritik und der Dekonstruktion des "Great Divide" teile ich aus ganzem Herzen. Warum aber dieser fürchterliche Stil, der einerseits den Gestus des ganz großen Wurfes inszeniert und sich andererseits einer unangenehmen "meine Freunde und ich" Rhetorik bedient (ganz schlimm auf S. 9-10)? Entweder ich habe Herrn Latour nicht richtig verstanden (was ja durchaus möglich ist) oder aber er plustert sich auf und tut so als würde er etwas völlig Revolutionäres und Neues denken, wenn er die 'Reinheit' und Autonomie der Begriffe "Natur", "Subjekt", "Gesellschaft" etc. als unmögliches Phantasma anprangert und die Anerkennung einer grundsätzlichen Hybridität fordert.Signifikantes Detail dürfte in diesem Zusammenhang sein, dass er zwar von Canguilhem bis Serres keinen großen Namen der französischen Theoriebewegungen auslässt, aber Foucault mit keinem einzigen Sterbenswörtchen erwähnt. Da wundere ich mich als Foucauldianer schon ein wenig. Nun, das an sich ist kein Verbrechen, aber es wirkt doch ein wenig so, als müsse Latour den großen Feind erst selbst aufbauen, um ihn dann vernichtend zu schlagen.Viele seiner Hinweise sind sicher wichtig und richtig, doch werde ich den Eindruck nicht los, dass sich hier hinter einem Feuerwerk großer Worte im Grunde recht einfache und simple Forderungen verstecken; Forderungen, die deswegen nicht weniger wichtig oder gerechtfertigt wären, die aber auch wesentlich bescheidener und weniger umständlich hätten ausgedrückt werden können. Und an dem hasserfüllten bashen und dissen der Postmodernen oder, wie Latour sie nennt, Pomos störe ich mich auch etwas. Vielleicht sind dies aber auch einfach Idiosynkrasien einer französischen Streitkultur...Für mich blieb als Fazit der Wunsch nach mehr Substanz und weniger Show.

  • Justin Abraham
    2019-04-22 04:52

    "Show me an activity that is homogeneous from the point of view of the modern time. Some of my genes are 500 million years old, others 3 million, others 100,000 years, and my habits range from a few days to several thousand years... 'We are exchangers and brewers of time'. It is this exchange that defines us, not the calendar flow that the moderns has constructed for us" (75)."We have never moved either forward or backward. We have always actively sorted out elements belonging to different time. We can still sort. It is the sorting that makes the times, not the times that make the sorting. Modernism.... was only the provisional result of a selection made by a small number of agents... If there are more of us who regain the capacity to do our own sorting of the elements that belong to our time, we will rediscover the freedom of movement that modernism denied us - a freedom that, in fact, we have never really lost. We are not emerging from an obscure past that confused natures and cultures in order to arrive at a future in which the two poles will finally separate cleanly owing to the continual revolution of the present... We can go on to other things - that is, return to the multiple entities that have always passed in a different way" (76)

  • Jeremy Allan
    2019-05-10 23:37

    Bruno is a funny one. Half philosopher, half mischief maker, half radio evangelist. Perhaps that last one isn't fair, but as I read this masterpiece, hearing his funny names for concepts and phenomena echo in my brain, I couldn't help imagining Robert Duvall shouting over the radio in The Apostle, even if part of the whole project is to step away from dogma, however scientific. I can't and don't want to do justice to this book. Instead, I'll put it on record that I will be coming back to these ideas for a long while to come, and I'll probably reread this book on multiple occasions, as I seek that state I can only concur should be ours: that of the non-modern.

  • Daniel Burton-Rose
    2019-05-13 04:32

    A profound effort to dissolve the Us-Other dichotomy at the center of the European intellectual tradition.

  • Dannie
    2019-05-16 00:51

    Slow reading. Needs translation in any language. Worthwhile.

  • Kars
    2019-04-25 00:39

    Challenging and rewarding, Latour entertainingly pulls the rug out from under a lot of the typical ways of thinking about science and society.

  • Jonathan
    2019-05-20 20:48

    In "We Have Never Been Modern," Bruno Latour challenges the dualism between nature and culture (0r nature and society), a core component of modern thought. As he says at the start, if you were to read through a newspaper, you would come across various issues that cannot be neatly categorized into one of these two boxes. Take, for example, the issue of the AIDS virus or global warming. Culture (politics, societal attitudes and beliefs, social relationships, etc., etc.) and nature entwine in various ways and at various scales. Nature and culture are experienced as hybrids, not silos. Modernism, Latour argues, rests on keeping two processes separate: translation (the creation and understanding of hybrids) and purification (the separation into nature and culture). In other words, nature and culture are understood as distinct things that can then be combined. However, as the examples above demonstrate, we don't experience the world as such. And the more we try to keep nature and culture separate, the more they will inevitably become hybrids. Modernism, argues Latour, rests on an assumed simultaneous immanence and transcendence of nature and society: "The critical power of the moderns lies in this double language: they can mobilize Nature at the heart of social relationships, even as they leave Nature infinitely remote from human beings; they are free to make and unmake the society, even as they render its laws ineluctable, necessary and absolute." Modern thought is full of paradoxes that allow them to slide by critique. Latour's rejection of modernism does not lead him to postmodernism or to a premodernism. Postmodernism, he argues, suffers from its implicit acceptance of many of the premises of modernism. And premodernism rejects the social and natural experimentation that is one of the modern era's great accomplishments. Rather, we should be more open about the hybrids that dominate our world so that we can engage with them more critically. "We Have Never Been Modern" is short but very dense. Latour sometimes uses charts or graphs to explain his points, but they don't always work, and some of his argumentation gets bogged down in jargon. Frankly, I think it would have been more digestible if he had included a series of bullet points at the end of each section to outline his key points--i.e., revealing the case he is trying to build with each chapter.

  • Gerardo
    2019-05-07 04:48

    Excusez-moi pour mes fautes : je suis en train d’apprendre le Français et ce livre a été une façon de faire de l’exercice. Le commentaire en français sera après le commentaire en italien. ITALIANO: Il testo è illuminante sulla nostra società, anche se sono passati molti anni dalla sua pubblicazione (e considera la caduta del Muro di Berlino come un evento recente). Spiega che il mondo moderno si fondi su alcuni principi, che egli chiama 'Costituzione dei moderni'. Di base, il mondo moderno divide in maniera netta il mondo della cultura e quello della natura, separa il soggetto dall'oggetto. La natura è qualcosa che si studia attraverso gli esperimenti, situazioni empiriche create ad hoc da un gruppo di scienziati. Dal loro accordo nascono le leggi della natura che spiegano e rappresentano il mondo. Dall'altra parte c'è la società, struttura in cui noi tutti siamo immersi e dalla quale siamo condizionati. Eppure, anche se questa cosa sembra trascendersi, è comunque frutto della mente umana. La natura, anche se considerata universale, viene studiata attraverso esperimenti artificiali e particolare. La società, anche se condiziona le nostra vite, viene considerata come qualcosa che dipende interamente dalle nostra scelte. In sostanza, il mondo moderno si fonda su dei paradossi. Al di là di tutto, il principio più importante è quello che tiene nettamente separati la natura e la società. Il problema è che questo è vero soltanto in teoria, in pratica il mondo moderno ha visto la nascita di numerosi elementi a cavallo tra il naturale e il sociale. Questi ibridi, però, sono sempre stati fortemente criticati, se non addirittura considerati immorali. Poiché il mondo moderno è così legato alla separazione dei due ambiti, ha anche sviluppato una visione del tempo coerente col proprio modo di pensare: infatti, la storia viene vista come una linea dritta disseminata da eventi rivoluzionari che ogni volta attuano una netta scissione col passato. In realtò,L. afferma che una più onesta visione del tempo prevede una forma a spirale dove nella stessa epoca convivono forze ed esperienze appartenenti a varie epoche. In più, ci sono ritorni ciclici che rendono una visione progressiva della storia piuttosto insoddisfacente. A questa visione si aggiunge quella dei premoderni, i quali, invece, non hanno mai distinto la società dalla natura: al mutare di quest'ultima coincideva un cambiamento anche nella prima. La visione degli antichi era unitaria, coerente, coesa. Questo rendeva difficili i cambiamenti, ma rendeva molto più accettabili gli ibridi. Secondo L., ci si è solo illusi di aver abbandonato questo stato, in realtà i moderni hanno sempre vissuto in questo tipo di mondo anche se le loro teorie dicevano altrimenti. I postmoderni, invece, sono una derivazione dei moderni: sono simili ai moderni, ma scettici nei confronti delle forze in campo. Sono un punto di vista ironico, disincantato, che non considera legittima né la posizione soggettiva, né quella oggettiva. Il mondo moderno, secondo L., ha visto varie posizioni di pensiero che in nessun caso sono riuscite a considerate gli ibridi. Alcune correnti si sono concentrate sull'oggetto, altre sul soggetto. La fenomenologia, credendo di attuare una mediazione, in realtà ha creato un terzo polo, il fenomeno, lontano sia dall'oggetto che dal soggetto, come se questi ultimi avessero perso di essenza. Anche lo strutturalismo introduce un terzo polo: il linguaggio, che ancora una volta è un terzo elemento lontano sia dal soggetto che dall'oggetto, che acquista un'importanza sua propria che mette tra parentesi gli altri due elementi. L'esistenzialismo, ancora, crea un ulteriore terzo polo: l'Essere. Ma L. commenta l'esistenzialismo in maniera molto dura, accusandolo di disprezza ogni altro campo del sapere, senza però apportare alcun cambiamento. Accusa Heidegger e i suoi seguaci di essersi rinchiusi a pensare nella loro foresta nera. La proposta di L. è di mantenere i due poli della società e della natura, ma di non ignorare gli ibridi poiché la realtà è una trascendenza in cui naturale e culturale si uniscono, attuando una mediazione. L'essere umano diventa una forza né oggettiva, né soggettiva, ma una forza che trascende entrambe. Ciononostante, l'umano non è un essere metafisico, bensì intrafisico, poiché occupa lo spazio in bianco tra soggetto e oggetto: egli attua la mediazione. Per questo la natura esiste, ma può essere conosciuta solo tramite i suoi mediatori: gli scienziati. Lo stesso vale per la società, conoscibile solo attraverso i suoi mediatori: istituzioni, leggi, strutture, uomini. Il testo risulta accessibile a tutti, poiché scritto in maniera molto chiara. In più, i toni vengono alleggeriti da una felice vena sarcastica. A volte, però, dà l'impressione di semplificare le cose: il testo va preso come un punto di vista brillante e intelligente, ma non come oro colato. FRANÇAIS: C'est livre parle de l'époque moderne. Pour L., les modernes ont constitué un esprit que L. appelle «constitution des modernes». Cette constitution dit que la nature et la société sont séparées. Pour ça, la nature et la société sont dex concepts purs. Mais il y a un paradoxe dans cette constitution: la nature est une construction en laboratoire, mais elle est aussi universelle; les hommes ne construisent pas la société, mais elle est comme si ils la construisaient. Cependant, la réalité n'est pas ainsi séparée: il y a beaucoup de hybrides, d' éléments naturels et culturels. Mais l'esprit moderne ne veut pas les accepter. Selon cette constitution il y a seulement deux éléments: le sujet et l'objet. Les sciences humaines ont étudié seulement le premier, le sciences tout court seulement le second. Enfin, la sémiologie a étudié un treizième élément: la langue, elle aussi pure et séparéu du sujet et de l'objet. En plus, les modernes montrent le temps comme une ligne droite où il y a beaucoup d'éléments révolutionnaires qui cassent avec le passé. En revanche, pour L. le temps est une spirale où ils vivent mélangés beaucoup des éléments archaïques et modernes. Au contraire, les premodernes vivent dans un monde où la culture et la nature ne sont pas séparées. Lorsque les postmodernes n'ont pas la force de croire en la légitimité de la nature ou de la société. Ils sont sceptiques. L. termine son essai en disant que «la transcendance de la nature, son objectivité, ou l'immanence de la société, sa subjectivité, proviennent du travail de médiation sans dependre de leur séparation à ce que pretend» l'esprit moderne. Pour ça, il est important de penser aux hybrides et aux médiateurs parmi la nature et la culture.

  • Antonio Layton
    2019-04-24 00:28

    O começo do livro é bastante interessante, toda a exposição que Latour faz acerca da construção mútua e ambígua entre natureza e sociedade a partir de Boyle e Hobbes. O último capítulo, no entanto, pareceu-me que pôs o projeto do livro a perder. Num tom legislativo e que me soou em vários momentos euro e antropocêntrico, o autor propõe uma "Constituição anti-moderna" que funciona basicamente como um desdobramento da "Constituição moderna" que ele destrincha por mais de metade do livro (neste sentido, talvez eu esteja sendo moderno ao esperar uma ruptura neste ponto). No fim das contas, Latour ainda confia tanto na democracia (representativa, porque ele fala em delegações) quanto no humanismo (ao colocar o homem como produtor das mediações). Eu já não aposto nem neste modo de pensar a democracia, nem no humanismo.

  • Michael
    2019-05-18 04:31

    I approached Latour years ago because of the way his work has begun to influence the discipline of geography. Originally, I was digging into it as an exploration of science studies, but as luck would have it my copy got lost and the project went on hold. Upon finding it again, I dug back in, and I'm very glad I did.My readings in hard philosophy are only a side project, and they generally emerge from engagements I've encountered in other fields (largely geography, but others as well). As such, in any work I'm playing catch-up when it comes to context and some of the deeper terminology. That was particularly true with Latour, as he's clearly grounded in French philosophy, to a point that I got stuck on some of the concepts he clearly wanted to build off of (like what strike me as the more Foucauldian usages of "subject" and "object"). That aside, after a long introductory tour through Boyle and Hobbes, along with a sometimes mystifying outlay of the modernist "Constitution," Latour hits his stride in the "Revolution" section. Modernism, to Latour, is built upon the polarization (he uses "purification") between Nature and Society, and requires its practitioners to focus on one or the other. This framing is a bit puzzling at first (and Latour loses me at several turns in his Constitution discussion), but grows in clarity as he puts it to use in critiques of "moderns" (particularly post-Kantian thought). In particular, Latour is careful at multiple points to not throw the baby out with the bathwater; science, to Latour, is too productive and useful to throw out, but we have to give up the conceit that what scientists are doing is revolutionarily different from what came before just because we've realized that scientists are subject to sociological processes. This is where Latour really leaves behind what up until then might have been mistaken for postmodernism in different clothing. In withering blows on postmodernism, he accuses pomos like Derrida and Leotard of leaving us with nothing but empty discourse, a further overextension of the work of purification. In Latour's preferred way forward ("nonmodernism"), this exploration of discourse is still worthwhile, but not to the extent of neutering the natural or social sciences. From there he rolls on to provide, to my eye, the most clarifying solution to the problem of relativism in the context of multiculturalism; crudely, once you stop placing the West and all of its sciences at the far end of a series of "revolutions" which differentiate it from the premodern world, and insist on a "symmetrical" ethnography (Latour uses "symmetrical," I'd probably prefer "uniformly applied") of both West and non-West, cultures and their philosophical frameworks can be evaluated from a situated but still discerning stance. If I could pick one complaint with the work, it's Latour's ontology -- that is, his insistence on a "Middle Kingdom" between the poles of Nature and Science that depends on "quasi-objects," and his references to a democracy of a "parliament of things." To be clear, I have no problem with his insistence on the middle ground between Nature and Science, but the quasi-object solution smells like an ugly hack to me. Here, Latour stops short of where I want to see ontology go, with a full re-examination of a metaphysics that requires the world to consist of collections of things, rather than recognizing this division as a human-determined lens. While I'm largely out on my own with that one, we still have a bit of an unworkable mess with his quasi-object world. Specifically, he has left little guidance for how natural or social sciences are to effectively continue their work without effectively continuing to pretend that modernism still operates. But to return to the core strength of the book, I find a lot of resonance in his contemporary bestiary of thought. The premoderns could be easily mapped onto the parts of the contemporary non-Western world which have been described as "backwards" or "indigenous" or some such. The moderns, of course, politically encompass the liberals, socialists, and perhaps what used to be conservatism. The anti-moderns are easily recognized politically as the currently extant Conservative Movement and religiously as the fundamentalist/evangelical/pentecostal realm. Against this backdrop, Latour's narrative of modernism -- bereft its drive, riddled with doubt, assailed by anti- and post-moderns -- paints a strikingly familiar picture. His core prescription of admitting that we never actually lived up to the lofty modern ideals, leaving aside the quasi-objects and the Foucauldian stuff, provides the reflective scientist or thinker a preventative from falling into modernisms traps.I'm looking to move on to more recent reactions to Latour and others attempts to build on his work, but I have a feeling Latour's framework is going to stick with me for a good while.

  • Matthew Stanley
    2019-05-13 00:43

    Narratives of modernity give me an acute pleasure. Seeing the various construals that are proposed of how we as a people have arrived at the modern world with all its assumptions, categories, questions, and myths brings me a satisfaction that I can't quite describe. Perhaps the most interesting narrative I have encountered is Latour's work here in 'We Have Never Been Modern.' Ironically, Latour spins a modernity narrative by showing how modernity is really nothing more than a sham and that we've never really been modern at all. Of course, when Latour says that we have never been modern, he means modern in a very specific sense. Latour construes modernity as being composed of a 'constitution' which trades on three paradoxes which play off one another. The ultimate goal of these three paradoxes is to actually create a space where "hybrids" can proliferate. By hybrids, Latour means complex objects which cannot fit neatly into the category either or 'nature' or 'society.' Objects such as glacial melt, the vacuum tube, and even medicine are objects so inextricably implicated in both nature and society that we ultimately cannot peg them as one or the other. Latour contends that modernity actually creates a strange no man's land where these hybrids can proliferate, but it does this by setting up the three paradoxes which deny the exist of these hybrids that it serves to bring about. The first two paradoxes are these. (1a) Nature is not constructed. It transcends us. (1b) Society is constructed by us and is thus immanent to us. (2a) We can construct nature in the laboratory, and is thus immanent to us. (2b) Society is not constructed and transcends us. These two paradoxes allow the two realms of nature and society to remain hermetically sealed from one another, and yet, the unspoken and unacknowledged nature of these two sets of paradoxes allow society and nature to intermingle infinitely. They simply interact underneath our radar. The slippery nature of this constitution makes the modern able to skillfully parry the blows of any opposition or critique. The anthropologist may simultaneously contend that society maps on to us and attributes meaning to us, and then, out of the other side of her mouth, she may say that we construct and create these attributed meanings. Which is it? Both and neither. The complex ruse of modernity allows these hybrids or "quasi-objects" to proliferate in the shadows of the pure categories of nature and society. Modernity is obsessed with the continual purification of these two categories whereby they are constantly being stripped of any connection or objects that might attempt to straddle them. It is this process, Latour contends, which creates the hybrids which constitute and dominate our lives today. This book is rich. Unfortunately, I do not believe that I have the full expertise to truly be able to plumb its depths. This work is intellectually challenging, although lucidly written. I would highly recommend this work for those interested in society, nature, anthropology, modernity narratives, and the modern social sciences.

  • Cărăşălu
    2019-05-04 23:42

    It begins interestingly and then somewaht slumps into philosophico-historical details (meaning philosophical history and not a history of philosophy, if you get the difference). Then, I think in the fourth part, I enjoyed it more as it tackles on anthropology, a field more familiar to me. In short, Latour sketches what he calls a ”Constitution” of the modern world, which he says that stricly separates Nature from Society, object from subject, humans from non-humans. However, he argues, this very separation allowed, through a work of mediation and then purification, the proliferation of hybrids, which cannot be contained in any of the above-mentioned dichotomies. He pleads for a new theoretical paradigm in stuyding our world, bridging the gap between Nature and Society, natural and social sciences, by analyzing both humans and non-humans, subjects and objects as actors in networks. For him, Nature and Society, subjects and objects are theoretical categories that appear the end result of a process of purification, and not the starting point, as is traditionally assumed. He inspired by the way anthropologists have studied foreign cultures and tribes, writing comprehensive ethnographies that deal with everything from cosmogony to medicinal herbs. Why, he then asks, is it impossible to do so with our own culture? It's because of the modern Constitution I've mentioned at the beginning of this review. For Latour, the internal divide established by this Constitution leads to the external Great Divide that magically separates us moderns from pre-moderns, Westerners from non-Westerners. In the end, he argues for rewriting the modern Constitution so as to retain some of its advantages, but also to recognize the work of mediation (as opposed to purification) and of hybrids and to bridge or even eliminate the Great Divides (both internal and external). Overall, I think I should re-read this book later. I couldn't follow some the arguments in their depth and details and although I think I got the main idea, the main theoretical thread, I'm still unable to say whether he convinced me or not. Definitely, at times his argumentation felt really attractive and solid, and sometimes I felt like rolling my eyes or making fun of him ("we're neither premoderns, nor postmoderns, nor antimoderns, but nonmoderns!"). Still, a book worth reading especially for those really interested in both philosophy and social sciences (if you're interested only in one of these, you might not enjoy it as much).

  • James
    2019-05-16 00:42

    This is not the typical book I review, but I found it compelling, so I shall endeavor to put forth some thoughts, but to me, I will say here that this book seemed personal and engaging, but with themes that go beyond and above most fields. That digression being out of the way... As an educator, I often worry about the idea that we have created "silos" within specializations and that, as they further become solidified, the nature of interdisciplinary discourse becomes convoluted, ill advised, and eventually impossible. In discussing this with someone working in anthropology, I was advised that this book danced around some of the same topics and does so with noted skill and concern from a scientific point of view - trying to diffuse the concept, in part, that modern meant specialization and instead arguing that there needed to be the idea of "hybrids" - the "reality" of science blended with the "discourse" of political, social, and anthropological studies. Latour uses the then recent ozone layer studies to setup the fact that our need for hybrid understanding could be seen in the newspaper - politics, science, and society all had an impact, but could we, as "modern" people bear the hybrid nature of such study? He, within six pages of the book, posits a question worth the rest of the book, "Can anyone imagine a study that would treat the ozone hole as simultaneously naturalized, sociologized, and deconstructed?"For anyone who studies any field in detail, this work just seems immensely readable - it appealed to my academic interests in education as both my passion and my field, but also left me sometimes wondering if my own ideas of specialization and expertise were blocking further understandings and expansion of my own learning. Some would accuse this book of being an academic experiment, but if it is, it is a great one - causing us to question how we view our work and our world. Just immensely compelling to me as a reader to see arguments for what is modern, but also the difficulty of considering the need for "purity" and also "contamination" between fields. While not a breezy Sunday evenings read, nonetheless, a compelling one for anyone trying to debate where we are and how we got here within fields of study and the intersectionality of ideas.

  • Mary
    2019-05-12 00:36

    Don't get me wrong: I have nothing against Latour. He may even be right. I just don't think he's the French sociologist-philosopher for me. A large part of this is his obnoxious writing style: florid, even literary in places, then, suddenly, needlessly obfuscating. And then he (I can only charitably assume) tries to clear things up with diagrams that, I'm afraid, catch us up in their symmetry and balance rather than encourage critical exploration. In the end, I think this idea that Western, science-based "modernism" isn't so removed from other socially and discoursially (?)constructed groups is important, but he hasn't given us here a sense of its limitations, its implications or its practical application to science, rhetoric, or even, sociology.I do foresee Latour as being hugely influential, and perhaps the greatest word to be done in the next 20-30 years since notice has been given of this work will be to elucidate the pieces Latour has given us.A few notable quotes:Is it our fault if the networks are simultaneously real, like nature narrated, like discourse and collective, like society? (6). Because we are modern. Our fabric is no longer seamless. Analytic continuity has become impossible… the very definition of modern has to be altered (7).Translation “creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybredas of nature and culture.” And purisifation “two entirely distinct ontological zones” : human & non human (10-11)“Accelerated socialization of nonhumans” (42)nonmodern, not postmodern “no one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun. There has bever been a modern world “ (47).Unifying nature, discourse, community“we are still postmodern when we attept to rise above this disappointment by juxtaposing in a collage elements from all times” (69)

  • Karel Alleene
    2019-05-21 21:35

    Harde noot om kraken, hoewel ik vermoed dat waarschijnlijk iets te maken heeft met de vertaling. Misschien kan je dit boek het best omschrijven als een theoretische ontleding van het begrip postmodern en waarom dat begrip (volgens Latour) een louter denkbeeldige constructie is. Hoewel dit boek uit '94 dateert, slaat hij driekwart ver in het boek (naar mijn gevoel) spijkers met koppen wanneer hij het heeft over netwerken ('Ze hebben niets omvattends, niets globaals en niets systematisch ... Het is mogelijk zich overal uit te strekken en zich zowel in ruimte als in tijd uit te breiden, zonder die tijd en die ruimte te vullen') of robotica ('Hoe kunnen wij nu slachtoffers zijn van een technisch totaalsysteem, als machines uit subjecten zijn gemaakt en als die machines er nooit in slagen gesloten en stabiele systemen te worden?').In het hoofdstuk 'De coup van Archimedes' toont hij aan wat voor politieke implicaties nieuwe technologieën kunnen hebben. Wanneer Archimedes - in opdracht van koning Hiëro - een katrol i.p.v. mankracht hanteert om een driemaster aan land te trekken gooit hij zowel krachtverhoudingen als politieke verhoudingen overhoop. Tot dan toe vertegenwoordigde de soeverein weliswaar de massa (als woordvoerder), maar hierdoor werd hij niet sterker. De katrol van Archimedes zorgde er evenwel voor dat hij sterker werd dan de menigte: politieke macht manifesteerde zich in dit geval in de vorm van een katrol.Hij trapt nogal stevig tegen de enkels van figuren als Lyotard: 'Ik kan geen woord bedenken dat lelijk genoeg is voor deze intellectuele beweging, of liever deze intellectuele onbeweeglijkheid, die mensen en niet-mensen aan hun lot overlaat.' Maar doet dat niet gratuit, omdat Latour pleit voor een niet-zuivere benadering van taal. De stoffelijke en technologische wereld zijn volgens hem niet te scheiden van elkaar.

  • Melissa
    2019-05-22 00:50

    Apparently, we have never been modern ... but how we're different from Middle Ages European society, or anything else for that matter, is unclear. Latour never offers alternative categories. It feels more like he goes back and forth on the matter: we're somewhat modern, we think we're modern, we're not modern, but we act modern ... I don't even know how to put it. His writing is very convoluted and he waffles between arguments, even while there are very interesting ideas throughout the book about nature and objects and the relationship between people, nature-objects, etc. The book starts out feeling a little indulgent in that it feels like a personal reaction to Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, with Latour setting off to contradict their very useful analysis of the production of knowledge in the debates between Hobbes and Boyle. After spending two or three chapters responding to LEVIATHAN AND THE AIR-PUMP, he goes on to analyze other topics but they are increasingly more confusing and ungrounded. He includes diagrams intended to enlighten readers, but sometimes they are enlightening on their own, other times just as confusing especially in the context in which they are included. I wondered if it was instead worth 1 star, but this book is a bit of a classic of sorts, and Latour's work is valued very much in the social sciences, but I prefer reading his book with Woolgar than this small but confusing text.

  • Andre Simonsen
    2019-05-21 23:33

    As premissas e argumentos que o o autor deste livro utiliza estão tão errados - mas tão errados! - que se ele fosse um astronauta tentando pousar sua nave em Plutão acabaria pousando no Sol e explodindo.O livro é lotado de linguagem obscurantista e pretensiosa, non sequiturs, erros dos mais diversos tipos e conclusões irracionais.Comecei a escrever um review corrigindo todos os erros que eu encontrava enquanto lia o livro, mas a quantidade enorme deles me fez desistir da empreitada na página 30. Felizmente o Sokal já corrigiu a maioria no "Imposturas Intelectuais"*. Quem sabe um dia eu crie a paciência necessária.Este foi um dos primeiros livros que me deixou irritado com o fato de "papel aceitar tudo" e as pessoas simplesmente poderem escrever as besteiras que quiserem**.De qualquer jeito, vale a leitura apenas para saber o que se está criticando em primeira mão.*Que eu preciso tomar vergonha na cara e ler inteiro!**Pelo menos é fácil corrigir e melhor que a alternativa delas não poderem fazer isto (o melhor jeito de corrigir discursos ruins é ter mais discursos, não censura)

  • David Alexander
    2019-05-13 00:42

    Bruno Latour's book was challenging to me. He seems to be goading us to think outside the impasse of modernity and postmodernity and to reorder our self understanding to eliminate self contradictions on which we base our notion of our discontinuity with the past and pre-modern societies, not to devalue our accomplishments, but to see them in a more accurate light and to see their continuity with the past. I found aspect's of John Ashton's critical review of the book compelling: b He may be right to say that the book collapses into what is called "strong social constructivism", though this is not entirely clear to me. Latour's thought has been off my map until now. I may have to turn this over for awhile. He provides helpful fertilizer for thought, whatever the verdict ultimately. I read this book on the recommendation of Peter Leithart here: