The good and Bad of Latour


“We have never been modern” is both a simple work and a complicated ensemble – Latour begins and ends with the a basic examination of ontological thought based on the place of nature and culture – but fills in the gaps with intellectual gymnastics that make the relatively thin book a real challenge. Rather than attempt to digest and disgorge this piece in such a short posting – let me focus on a couple of points that interested me.
I found his discussion of relativism and universalism one of the least productive when I first read it – so I went and looked at it again. After reading it again and reflecting I think that I found this section flat largely because it attempted to essentialize differences between groups as being variations in scale. His argument that modern vs. premodern was simply a variation in the quantity and place of hybrid quasi-objects within the intellectual framework of those groups appeared to be a relatively weak portion of his argument. For me, a person who is deeply interested in the manner in which people identify themselves as belonging to larger “collectives”, I found this section a disappointment. Where is the internal differentiation within collectives when they are essentially defined through a single measurement – that of the place of quasi-objects? I understand that Latour’s project is grand in scheme, and that identity creation and maintenance on the small scale is outside his realm of consideration, but his project seems to make that creation and maintenance impossible.
On a more positive note – I found Latour’s project to be remarkably grounded in a method that I found immediately comprehensible and compelling. His stress on the need not to take a handful of Nature and one of Culture to describe events/processes/trajectories and instead to take those actions in the middle and bring them out to nature and culture – and the construction of those poles – in conjunction with his third dimension of existence/essence – was one of the more rewarding sections of the book. As opposed to some of the other reading of the class in which the underlying philosophy was compelling, but the application appeared impossible, Latour’s project appeared immediately applicable.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: