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On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods (Science and Cultural Theory) Paperback – December 28, 2010

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Product Details

  • Series: Science and Cultural Theory
  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Duke University Press Books (December 28, 2010)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 082234825X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0822348252
  • Product Dimensions: 9.1 x 6.3 x 0.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 5.6 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (3 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #411,011 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Editorial Reviews


“Latour is the best scholar in the field with a huge range and fine grasp of
the literature. . . . Latour can also be a sparkling writer, exploiting his licence as a foreigner to write English with flair and adventure. . . . I admire [Chapter 3] not only because of its brilliance and fresh insights but also because of the courage it must have taken to write it.” - Harry Collins, Metascience

“. . . [B]oth thought provoking and potentially transformative. Latour lulls the reader into accompanying him on a quest to rethink objects as acting independently of our belief in them, and through this same belief. He also exemplifies this wonderful goal, proper to anthropology at its best: to displace common sense understanding and its objects, not deconstruct them.” - Julie Kleinman, Anthropological Quarterly

“Latour came into view in the 1980s as an uncommonly engaging as well as radical practitioner of the new discipline of science studies.... witty, imaginative, literate and unrelentingly ironic. For some, all this spells something manifestly frivolous and naturally suspect. Others, including many not ordinarily drawn to treatises on science and technology, are attracted by Latour’s style into engaging with ideas they find illuminating and a mode of analysis they can use.” - Barbara Herrnstein Smith, London Review of Books

"Eloquent, amusing and fabulously well-informed, Bruno Latour is one of the superstars of French intellectual life…. His recent book On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods shows that Latour remains a great star." - Jonathan Rée, New Humanist

“Bruno Latour’s is a joyous and generous science, not a warmongering, invidious one. His unique intellectual trajectory beautifully replicates those strange objects he was the first to fully discern. For his work is eminently suitable to an actor-network treatment; it thrives on associations; it deals in mediations; it articulates heterogeneous modes of existence; it modulates its own regime of enunciation as the truth it describes changes its own conditions of production. What started as a ‘social description of scientific practice’ morphed into a radical redescription of the social at least as much as of science itself, and it bloomed as a daring project of a general anthropology of truth, within which facts and fetishes, divine forces and material forms, art and science, religion and law, all are made to inhabit a virtual plane of coexistence, which we are challengingly invited to bring into actuality as our common world.”—Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, Museu Nacional (Rio de Janeiro)

“What immense spiritual and intellectual relaxation! With what vivacity and cunning Bruno Latour gets us out of the cage holding us hostage to the mumbo-jumbo of Subjects and Objects all these long years of Western Civ. Out-fetishizing these fetishes, nudging us toward the mastery of non-mastery, he invites us thereby to the sort of thinking needed to remake a failing world.”—Michael Taussig, Columbia University

About the Author

Bruno Latour is Professor and Dean for Research at Sciences Po in Paris. His many books include Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory; Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy; Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies; Aramis, Or, The Love of Technology; and We Have Never Been Modern.

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Most Helpful Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
[ This review originally appeared in

As a graduate student in philosophy of science over a decade ago, I was deeply moved by the work of Bruno Latour, and particular his work (co-written with Steve Woolgar) Laboratory Life: The Social Construction of Scientific Facts, which is a bold critique that drives at the heart of what science is. Although Latour has, in recent years, grown increasingly skeptical of social criticism, he remains one of the clearest and most sensible social philosophers of our age. Thus, I was intrigued by his newest work, a slim volume of three essays entitled On The Modern Cult of the Factish Gods.

The book opens with the title essay, which is the longest and densest of the offerings here, delving deeply into Latour's work in Actor-Network Theory (ANT). There are some keen insights in this piece, but I want to focus on the book's remaining two essays which I think will be of more relevance to readers of The Englewood Review. Both of the latter essays in the book focus on images and their social role in science, art religion, etc. The first of these essays seeks to provide a robust definition for the term iconoclash, a word of Latour's own creation which refers to situations of image-breaking in which the breaking is such that "there is no way to know, without further inquiry, whether it is destructive or constructive." (68). Latour catalogs five types of approaches to images that span the spectrum from those who are against all images to those who "doubt the idol breakers as much as the icon worshippers" (89). Along this spectrum, Latour argues for the position of those who are against the freeze-framing of images, but not against images.
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3 of 8 people found the following review helpful By Florence of Arabia on January 11, 2012
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a revelation, a joy to read and on every page rich examples of Latour's witty and highly readable style, together with his unique "take" on the Modern Condition.
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64 of 130 people found the following review helpful By a reader in front of the front range on March 8, 2011
Format: Paperback
Less than what the hype claims for him as a thinker or critic. Certainly less than what we should expect from anyone calling himself a social scientist or theorist. What Latour relies upon are a few easy tricks: grand gestures of provocation to the Western Enlightenment, rationality and scientific establishment; rhetorical, at times oracular, flourishes; strained neologisms.

Take a look at what he offers to try to place science on the level of other beliefs and to characterize it as a "modern cult." There's no careful discussion of the long history of scientific method or specific principles of empirically based discoveries, all of which are, of course, extensively written about in the works of scientists and philosophers of science. You must accept his characterizations of science in terms of "divinities," "fears," "transfears," "factishes." You should be impressed with his diagrams, which remind me of Lacan's old tricks of creative geometry. He doesn't stoop to basing his claims on evidence that is objective and tested. There's nothing here that compares to the kind of critique Thomas Kuhn advanced. By Latour's methods, we must be persuaded by faith in him and the persuasiveness of his rhetoric.

The rhetoric can be shockingly simplistic. There's the repeated use of "Whites" v. "Blacks". Rather than rely on empirical studies, he'll tell us "we have known this since Foucault" (p. 37) or "we have known since Deleuze's Anti-Oedipus" (p. 53). This is the logic of following prophets, of "trust me, we know."

Even more shocking are Latour's own reflections: "By reformulating the metamorphosis of these invisible entities in my own inadequate language, I neither claim to have understood ethnopsychiatry, nor to have theorized it.
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