We Have Never Been Modern

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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.
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Editorial Reviews

Common Knowledge - Richard Rorty
If you like the kind of antidualist philosophizing that keeps trying to break down the distinctions between subject and object, mind and body, language and fact, and so on, you'll love Latour… He does the best job so far of breaking down the distinctions between making and finding, between nature and history, and between the 'premodern,' 'the modern' and 'the postmodern.'
Modernism - Andrew Pickering
[Latour] stakes out an original and important position in current debates about modernity, antimodernity, postmodernity, and so on. These debates can only be enriched by Latour's attention to the practical coupling of the human and the nonhuman, and they can only be enlivened by the thumbnail critiques offered along the way of thinkers as diverse as Kant, Hegel, Bachelard, Habermas, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Heidegger.
An interesting and deeply thought-out presentation of the large scale problems of our world seen in relation to the idea of 'modernism.' The book focuses on the interrelationships between three large-scale domains: science and technology, politics and government, language and semiotic studies… Latour examines the premodernists, postmodernists, antimodernists, and so-called modernists and concludes that we really never were modern and now need to pursue a form of modernism (which he describes) purged of its counterproductive features.
American Scientist - Robert N. Proctor
The present book is essentially a work of metaphysics, a kind of political ontology. Latour's goal is to break down traditional philosophical categories of nature, power and language… Latour's insights are abundant, from his advocacy of multinaturalism (versus multiculturalism) to his call for social theorists to recognize the historicity of objects… This is a wonderful book to disagree with—a refreshing break from the straight-jacketed sycophancy that defines so much of the history and philosophy of science. It is not an easy book, but the reward for the philosophically minded is well worth the wrestle.
All that separates us from our premodern ancestors, says Latour (sociology, U. of San Diego and the Ecole Nationale Superieure des Mines, Paris) is separation itself: our separation of society from nature, of human from thing, of science from culture. These distinctions, he says, are becoming increasingly harder to maintain, especially on ecological issues. Instead of trying, we should give it up. He suggests new ways to think about modernity, and offers an explanation of science that recognizes the connection between nature and culture. First published in French, 1991. Paper edition (unseen), $12.95. Annotation c. Book News, Inc., Portland, OR (booknews.com)
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780674948396
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press
  • Publication date: 7/4/2008
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Pages: 168
  • Sales rank: 345,814
  • Product dimensions: 6.03 (w) x 8.96 (h) x 0.45 (d)

Meet the Author

Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po, Paris and the 2013 winner of the Ludvig Holberg International Memorial Prize.
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Table of Contents

1 Crisis 1
1.1 The Proliferation of Hybrids 1
1.2 Retying the Gordian Knot 3
1.3 The Crisis of the Critical Stance 5
1.4 1989: The Year of Miracles 8
1.5 What Does It Mean To Be A Modern? 10
2 Constitution 13
2.1 The Modern Constitution 13
2.2 Boyle and His Objects 15
2.3 Hobbes and His Subjects 18
2.4 The Mediation of the Laboratory 20
2.5 The Testimony of Nonhumans 22
2.6 The Double Artifact of the Laboratory and the Leviathan 24
2.7 Scientific Representation and Political Representation 27
2.8 The Constitutional Guarantees of the Modern 29
2.9 The Fourth Guarantee: The Crossed-out God 32
2.10 The Power of the Modern Critique 35
2.11 The Invincibility of the Moderns 37
2.12 What the Constitution Clarifies and What It Obscures 39
2.13 The End of Denunciation 43
2.14 We Have Never Been Modern 46
3 Revolution 49
3.1 The Moderns, Victims of Their Own Success 49
3.2 What Is a Quasi-Object? 51
3.3 Philosophies Stretched Over the Yawning Gap 55
3.4 The End of Ends 59
3.5 Semiotic Turns 62
3.6 Who Has Forgotten Being? 65
3.7 The Beginning of the Past 67
3.8 The Revolutionary Miracle 70
3.9 The End of the Passing Past 72
3.10 Triage and Multiple Times 74
3.11 A Copernican Counter-revolution 76
3.12 From Intermediaries to Mediators 79
3.13 Accusation, Causation 82
3.14 Variable Ontologies 85
3.15 Connecting the Four Modern Repertoires 88
4 Relativism 91
4.1 How to End the Asymmetry 91
4.2 The Principle of Symmetry Generalized 94
4.3 The Import-Export System of the Two Great Divides 97
4.4 Anthropology Comes Home from the Tropics 100
4.5 There Are No Cultures 103
4.6 Sizeable Differences 106
4.7 Archimedes' coup d'etat 109
4.8 Absolute Relativisim and Relativist Relativism 111
4.9 Small Mistakes Concerning the Disenchantment of the World 114
4.10 Even a Longer Network Remains Local at All Points 117
4.11 The Leviathan is a Skein of Networks 120
4.12 A Perverse Taste for the Margins 122
4.13 Avoid Adding New Crimes to Old 125
4.14 Transcendences Abound 127
5 Redistribution 130
5.1 The Impossible Modernization 130
5.2 Final Examinations 132
5.3 Humanism Redistributed 136
5.4 The Nonmodern Constitution 138
5.5 The Parliament of Things 142
Bibliography 146
Index 154
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