a convincing argument to stop savoring the margins


Latour’s critique of “modern exoticism” seems to have wide reaching implications for developing a more comprehensive approaches to contemporary “problems” such as environmental degradation, increasing economic inequality, and even disease epidemics. On page 122, in the section “A Perverse Taste for the Margins,” he states:

“We know nothing about the social that is not defined by what we think we know about the natural, and vise versa. Similarly, we define the local only by contrast with what we think we have to attribute to the global and vice versa. So the strength of the error that the modern world makes about itself is now understandable, when the two couples of opposition are paired: in the middle there is nothing thinkable – no collective, no network, no mediation; all conceptual resources are accumulated at the four extremes. We poor subject-objects, we humble societies-natures, we modest locals-globals, are literally quartered among ontological regions that define each other mutually but no longer resemble our practices.”

Our “perverse taste for the margins” is due perhaps that the margins are always the most visible and easy to blame. I thought immediately of our responses to the economic crisis (my own included). Blaming first the bank CEOs, George Bush, and the subject-object we call “Wall Street”. In fact by doing this, we do erase the networks and mediations that create Wall Street, the assemblages of a contemporary market inspired by neoliberalism and hyper consumerism of which we all are a part (including of course our objects so crucial to our identities). Clear oppositions are easier to understand. Having a clear face for a terrorist and enemy is much easier to lobby political support around. People like clear answers and recognizing that there is no divide becomes incredibly messy for politicians and activists because all of the sudden, we are all literally part of the problem. Yet I admit, I am still struggling with exactly how one can mobilize around a network or assemblage — however is this even the point? 

For some reason, airport security checkpoints seem like an interesting unit of analysis here in terms of interactions with humans and non-humans and an intense meeting of networks of technology, humans, material objects, and ideology. In looking for an image to spice up my post, I ran across this link about the dangers of taking off your shoes at airports, as it exposes you to germs from others and possible disease. The site even requests that you send a letter to the president — not of course about the larger reasons as to why such airport security mechanisms even exist, but rather, to install a special floor unit to kill the germs. Therefore, to protect us from technocrats, we must install new machines. Making new things (especially if they can be sold for high prices) seems to be the “American Way” of solving our “modern” dilemmas. As LaTour states, “Protecting human beings from the domination of machines and technocrats is a laudable enterprise, but if the machines are full of human beings who find their salvation there, such a protection is merely absurd” (124 – also citing Ellul, 1967). 



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