13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Engaging discussion of our views of culture and nature,
This review is from: We Have Never Been Modern (Paperback)
For those readers familiar with Science in Action, Bruno Latour may not at first strike one as the ideal candidate to sort out the most pressing philosophical issues about human cultures. But that is exactly what this slim, easy to follow volume does: it sorts them out. Latour posits that our "modern" society (and this is taken as Western and/or industrialized society) is based upon a series of paradoxes whereby both nature and society are "constructed" (by humans) and at the same time "transcendent." This contradiction enables us to, among other things, appropriate huge chunks of the natural into the social without giving it so much as a thought because the "modern constitution" of our thought effectively prevents it. Nature can both intervene in society (e.g. by being transformed into manufactured items) and remain distinct, pristinely "natural." Through a series of carefully argued comparisons and contrasts between the "modern consistution," the "non-modern constitution," and (of course) the "postmodern constitution" Latour offers a way for Western society to achieve a responsible relationship to nature and society through a reconsideration of the affects of, for example, the implementation of a new technology on both the natural and the social. The many graphic illustrations and charts serve to provide visual explanations for his argument. I never would have ventured into this text without them. Regardless of your background or ideological leanings, be prepared to be challenged by We Have Never Been Modern in two areas. First, Latour is not shy about employing specific terms where he deems necessary, and that is absolutely everywhere. Many of the neologisms I have found quite helpful, but the reader's attention must never waver when they are trotted out. Furthermore, you should be prepared to follow Latour wherever he may list, in particular into the history of the vacuum pump. The second major area of challenge is in the nature of his solution to the modern quandary, what he terms "The parliament of things." This arrangement of otherwise distinct and dispersed voices from and about the same "quasi-object" will require major compromises all around. It is hard enough to give a voice to indigenous populations, Latour wishes to enlist others (even scientists!) to speak on behalf of the trees. The price is hefty, but well worth the money, the wait and the effort of what, in the main, is an exhilirating read.