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Aramis, or the Love of Technology Paperback – May 1, 1996

ISBN-13: 978-0674043237 ISBN-10: 0674043235

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 336 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (May 1, 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674043235
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674043237
  • Product Dimensions: 0.9 x 6 x 9.1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 14.4 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (5 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #668,563 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews

Amazon.com Review

Packet switching works well for moving data -- why not use it for moving humans? In a nutshell, the French Aramis transit project proposed packet switching as a solution to human transport problems (though, so far as I can tell, neither the author nor any reviews I have yet read have made this connection).

With all the brouhaha about moving bytes around on the information superhighways, moving people around real cities has become less glamorous -- after all, the current mythology is that telecommuting will render the automobile obsolete, right? With the prevailing American tendency to think in terms of technological manifest destiny, stories about superior technologies failing miserably are usually glossed over in an obsession with teleology (history is an inevitable march toward greater perfection).

In contrast, this book describes an extraordinarily well-designed and highly superior semi-personal robotic transit system developed by the French government -- and then squashed by the French government. It is written in a style that only a Gallic scientist could conceive (for example, in a passage about project complexity, Latour writes: ...The monkey is readily identified as a creature of desire...). Because of such stylistic excrescences, I personally I found this book somewhat difficult to read at times, but I recommend it very highly to anyone interested in the history of technology, cross-cultural studies, telecommunications -- or the burgeoning application of packet switching principles to mass transit.

Review

It is [the] world of machines that Latour sets out to rehabilitate in his clever new work...an eminently readable book--even on occasions a ripping good yarn. This time round, the author of such seminal sociology of science texts as We Have Never Been Modern has set out to do something daring: create a new genre, what he calls 'scientifiction'...The result is a hypertext, weaving real and fictional characters together against the backdrop of an actual project carried out by RATP, the public transport authority for Paris...[A] feisty sociotechnological whodunit. (Margaret Wertheim New Scientist)

Relationalists have to insist that made-found is as dubious as the value-fact and subject-object distinctions. This claim is not easy to make plausible, but Latour is very good at doing so. He is perhaps the best contemporary exponent of the philosophy of interchanges, of continuous passages across traditional dualisms and traditional disciplinary borders. This is because he combines philosophical sophistication with genuine delight in empirical fieldwork, a fluent and flexible style, an amazingly wide range of reference, and wit. Aramis is often hilarious. In Catherine Porter's splendidly vigorous and idiomatic translation, it is a good read, a well-paced narrative of instructive events. Any policy maker who contemplates spending public money on technological innovation should read it before signing his or her first contractual agreement. It should also be read by anybody looking for some genuinely fresh philosophical ideas. (Richard Rorty Voice Literary Supplement)

Mr. Latour, a French sociologist of science, is quite serious...about what he is creating--a new genre of fiction and reality that tells a larger truth...[The Aramis project] may have been a wild goose chase, but some honkers end up in the oven. Aramis, or the Love of Technology, in this translation by Catherine Porter, comes out the way a game bird should, au point, juicy and delicious. (M. R. Montgomery New York Times Book Review)

Aramis shows with wonderful clarity the many different stories which were told about all aspects of Aramis. (David Edgerton Times Literary Supplement)

On the basis of a detailed empirical study, [Latour] has written three books in one: a detective novel, in which a young sociology professor and a young engineer play the parts of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; a scholarly treatise introducing the modern sociology of technology; and a reproduction of original archival documents...Latour's book...offer[s] important insights into the sociotechnical domain and engineering practices that transcend the Aramis case. It also provides, mainly in the form of methodological discussions, the groundwork for a theory of technology and society...I think [this] is Latour's best book so far. (Wiebe E. Bijker Nature)

Aramis...uncovers the limits of sociology in its failure to recognize our essentially social relationship with technical artifacts. Its critical force comes from using ethnography to enable technology to speak, or rather, by allowing us to hear the voice of technology speaking indirectly through administrative documents, political rhetoric, engineering specifications, business plans, fiction, and philosophy. (Peter Lyman Contemporary Sociology)

Aramis is a case study, a sociological investigation, and, yes, a detective novel unlike any ever written--a carefully constructed, non-fictional narrative of the negotiated fictions that underwrite our mechanical inventions. Latour, one of the most supple and rewarding practitioners of any science, shows that the construction of technological society is at base a human drama and must be told in a commensurate manner. Here at last is science studies that avoids self-exemption and partakes, with humor and emotion, of the very processes it depicts. Aramis is a strange but deep book that comes to counterintuitive, urgent conclusions, pleading for more successful parlay between technology and humanism, animate and inanimate, body and soul. This story has much to say about the world we want to build, the world we think we are building, and the worlds we have failed to pull off. (Richard Powers, author of Galatea 2.2)

Immediately after the project ended, Bruno Latour was asked by the RATP to investigate what went wrong. On the basis of a detailed empirical study, he has written three books in one: a detective novel, in which a sociology professor and a young engineer play the parts of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; a scholarly treatise introducing the modern sociology of technology; and a reproduction of original archival documents. As the book develops, we hear the voice of technology itself, with Frankenstein's "humachine" and Aramis himself as spokespersons…Latour's book does offer important insights into the sociotechnical domain and engineering practices that transcend the Aramis case. It also provides, mainly in the form of methodological discussions, the groundwork for a theory of technology and society. This important asset, of what I think is Latour's best book so far. (Wiebe E. Bijker Nature)

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

30 of 34 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on December 31, 1996
Format: Paperback
This is a very disturbing but at the same time very thought-provoking
book on the adoption of a hypermodern new means of public
transportation.
Aramis was a small car version of the driverless subway which is
now commonly known because of applications in Lille (France)
and Orlando (USA)

Latour disguises as a student of engineering sciences and writes
a kind of whodunnit on the final question: 'who killed Aramis"?
Because he lends his voice to the engineer, to his professor of Sociology,

to the Aramis system itself and to himself as an author, the book
shows different views on the same reality.

Highly documented with texts that would be dynamite if they
had been published during the development of the Aramis train
system itself.

Latour shows why Conservative governments never would adopt really revolutionary
developments in public transportation.

At times a difficult book, but hilarious too, and a reader for
every technology-minded post-structuralist and post-marxist
thinker...

Stefaan Van Ryssen
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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful By Dr. Ronald Fountain on October 4, 2009
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This is an amazing book about the intersection of social and technical systems and how it works, or doesn't. Latour is an outstanding thinker and a writer of equal capability. A glass of brandy and listening to Hayden while reading this work helps to make sense of it.
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0 of 1 people found the following review helpful By Ulas Tuerkmen on May 28, 2013
Format: Paperback
Aramis, or the Love of Technology tells the story of the birth and death of a high-tech public
transportation project. The story is told not only from the viewpoint
of reports on the failure of the project, but also from the viewpoint
of Aramis itself, also mixing in expositions on the nature of
technology, and interviews with the main actors in what appears to be
a really complicated affair. The conundrum the author is after: Why
did such a promising project, into which millions of francs were
invested in 13 years, and positive reports of progress were written in
regular intervals, suddenly get cancelled without getting deployed
anywhere?

The answer lies, according to Latour, in te nature of high-tech
innovation. Before they become "objects" that are out there and used
by people, technological visions are vaguely overlapping fields of
interest through which different groups aim to achieve different
things. As the subject of the project becomes 'objectified' more and
more, these fields converge through compromises and realignments. In
the case of Aramis, the RER, RATP, ministry of transport and the
realizing company each had different interests, but assumed that the
technology created would carry the project forward, giving it a reason
to exist and a momentum. What they forgot, or didn't care about,
according to Latour, was the fact that before becoming objects,
technological entities need love and caring from their
creators. Specifically, they have to be argued for, represented, taken
sides with etc.
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5 of 18 people found the following review helpful By Bungler Jane on August 16, 2006
Format: Paperback
Well, like it or not - you have to read it. Clear books are boring propaganda. Insightful thoughts are never quite clear. For the clear read your bank statement.
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9 of 33 people found the following review helpful By Laura Morgan on October 15, 2002
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
I hated this book for all the same reasons that the previous reviewer loved it. Latour's voice changes add some depth to the story, but are done in a manner so convoluted that much of the substance is lost. Using Aramis itself as the voice of martyred technology just becomes increasingly absurd throughout the book. There are much better books than this out there about man's relationship with technology, do yourself a favor and find one of them.
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