Sunday, July 18, 2021

Short Summary: We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour

We Have Never Been Modern by Bruno Latour is a reflection on the scientific and philosophical method of modernity based in particular on concepts developed within the framework of the actor-network theory .

For Latour, (European) modernity is finished and, with it, the idea of ​​progress which constituted its matrix. The world is made up of hybrid objects constantly proliferating and no longer belonging exclusively to the scientific or technical world . On the contrary, they present themselves as participating in politics , culture or economics at the same time . The same is true of power, which is no longer played only by politicians, but also by industrialists , scientists, technicians, etc.

However, the critical discourse on modernity does not allow us to take into account the hybrid nature of modern objects. Instead of associating these objects with each other, of respecting their complexity and their proliferation by considering them in networks (according to the multiple connections that they establish with other entities), this discourse separates and opposes technique and nature , inhumanity of science and humanity of societies, scholar and politician (this was Max Weber's classic distinction ), human and non-human. This “Great Sharing” which, according to Latour, is at work in this critical discourse is not modern since it does not manage to account for its objects. This is why he must"symmetric" anthropology (concept resulting from the work of David Bloor and the Sociology of scientific knowledge ), capable of treating symmetrically - ie on an equal footing - objects in their constitutive hybridity.

According to Latour, an anthropological discourse is essential since it has above all been reserved for “pre-modern” societies , characterized by the consubstantiality of the natural and the cultural, the technical and the political, or even the mythical and the social. Admittedly, the differences between traditional societies and current societies are considerable and to ignore this would be to confine oneself to the relativist position of postmodernism , a position also rejected by Latour in favor of the concept of "non-modernity".

But as we have never really applied the program of modernity which postulated an independence of knowledge in relation to the social and the political, we can therefore imagine that we have never been modern : the world in which we live is a compound of men and hybrids, of complex socio-technical networks that it is no longer possible to separate or isolate.

According to Latour, innovations offer an ideal field of analysis to apply this new anthropological posture since they produce hybrids and make human and non-human actors coexist, etc. The analyst can no longer afford to cut this object into parts or ignore its process of formation. It is also necessary to take into account the operations of translations (transformations) of the actors who build the innovation, to follow them, to see how they enroll other actors. Networking (actor-network) must be at the center of the analysis; innovation must be understood as it is donethrough its constant transformations as much by the actors who constitute it as by the users or customers. By formulating their expectations, by translating them, the latter in return co-produce innovation and participate in its hybridity.