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Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy

2.7 out of 5 stars 6 customer reviews
ISBN-13: 978-0674013476
ISBN-10: 0674013476
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Editorial Reviews


This is much more than a reworking of politics. It is a sketch of a resolution of the perennial questions of what we know and what exists...Latour...can be infuriating. But he is never boring. Politics of Nature must be difficult because it challenges assumptions that are built into our languages, such as the hallowed distinction between 'facts' and 'values'...It is worth reading--twice. (Mike Holderness New Scientist 2004-04-24)

Politics of Nature constitutes a major contribution to contemporary thought and discourse...I anticipate that it will increase recognition that we can make our institutions and policies more responsive to our concerns by taking a deliberative, critical approach to the metaphysical foundations of our attitudes toward nature, science and politics. (Yaron Ezrahi American Scientist 2005-01-01)

Despite all our concern, our pressure groups, non-governmental organisations and ministers for the environment, [Latour] maintains that political ecology is paralysed by established categories of thought. Only a radical rethink will enable us to grasp the import of ecology and launch a new approach to the maintenance of a tolerable life...Through all his work on science, technology and society, Latour has developed a style of writing that is an unusual and often startling combination of remarkably acute observation and analysis of science in action (to quote an earlier title), of metaphorical flights and rhetorical flourishes, of apercus, of exhortations to relinquish familiar concepts, categories and meanings and of what, as a non-philosopher, I take to be breathtaking philosophical presumption...[An] often intriguing and occasionally infuriating book. (Jon Turney Times Higher Education Supplement 2005-04-08)

Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy by French author Bruno Latour, brings a fascinating and bold new twist to contemporary discussions about the nature of "nature." Latour proposes a radical shift in current conceptions of "political ecology," arguing that mainstream environmental movements are doomed to fail so long as they envision political ecology as inextricably tied to the protection and management of nature through political methodologies and policies...Latour does not reject the sciences, only hegemonic science. His book is a warning of sorts, that in our rush to separate human from nonhuman, interests from nature, and politics from ecology, we have jeopardized the foundation of democracy: informed public deliberation about the common good. Nature is not to be conquered, controlled, or even protected. Rather, our conceptions of natural fact and reality must be re-examined in order or make room for other members of the political-ecological collective. Scholars in environmental studies will find this book useful, While Latour's project is far-reaching and admittedly idealistic, it raises interesting questions and seeks to engender public deliberation about ecological issues, including how the environmental movement should proceed in the coming critical decades. Rhetorical scholars interested in linguistic representations of nature, the discursive construction of reality and culture, and the interplay of the technical and public spheres also will find this book useful. It is well-written, extensively researched, positive in tone, and enjoyable to read. (Matthew G. Gerber Argumentation and Advocacy)

Since political ecology does not yet exist conceptually, Latour‘s project is best understood as the act of its production...Multiculturalism and, more recently, multinaturalism make it possible for politics and the sciences to work together today to articulate the common world in radically new ways. His argument is motivated by a concern that humanity might miss the current moment, might refuse to slow down enough to reflect on its possible futures, and might instead rush from twentieth-century totalitarianism to twenty-first-century globalization. According to Latour, both phenomena involve similar processes of exclusion; they create collectives that prematurely juxtapose a universal humanity to an external nature...Latour’s argument is as complex as it is creative. In addition to Plato and Aristotle, he alludes to Hobbes, Rousseau, Kant, Lenin, J Jurgen Habermas, and, among the most intriguing, Charles Fourier. (Nancy S. Love Perspectives on Politics 2006-09-01)

Latour’s politics is procedural and fluid, not driven by a desire to establish domains. If for no other reason than this, Politics of Nature is important for environmental philosophy. Environmentalism is in crisis partly because of its unexamined attachment to a declensionist narrative about humans and nonhumans. Philosophers too often fall into this trap as well. As we struggle with the question, “What is to be done...,” many of us expand this question to include the phrase “...in a world at the tipping point of environmental disaster?” We could do worse than allow Latour to remind us that we need to try to not start with what has been lost, but what can be gained. He urges us to make associations, work toward a more universal collective, create a genuinely progressive future, and build the attendant skills to assemble our demos into something better and more interesting than it is now. Isn’t this what always must be done? (Randall Honold Environmental Philosophy 2007-01-01)

From the Back Cover

From the book: What is to be done with political ecology? Nothing. What is to be done? Political ecology! All those who have hoped that the politics of nature would bring about a renewal of public life have asked the first question, while noting the stagnation of the so-called "green" movements. They would like very much to know why so promising an endeavor has so often come to naught. Appearances notwithstanding, everyone is bound to answer the second question the same way. We have no choice: politics does not fall neatly on one side of a divide and nature on the other. From the time the term "politics" was invented, every type of politics has been defined by its relation to nature, whose every feature, property, and function depends on the polemical will to limit, reform, establish, short-circuit, or enlighten public life. As a result, we cannot choose whether to engage in it surreptitiously, by distinguishing between questions of nature and questions of politics, or explicitly, by treating those two sets of questions as a single issue that arises for all collectives. While the ecology movements tell us that nature is rapidly invading politics, we shall have to imagine - most often aligning ourselves with these movements but sometimes against them - what a politics finally freed from the sword of Damocles we call nature might be like.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 320 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (April 30, 2004)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674013476
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674013476
  • Product Dimensions: 6.1 x 0.8 x 9.2 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 12 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 2.7 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #811,419 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By E. N. Anderson VINE VOICE on May 26, 2005
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This difficult and challenging book provides a vision of a whole new politics, and, more important, a whole new "common world"--the totality, the cosmos, that we humans and nonhumans all share.

The book begins inauspiciously, at least for English-language readers, by misusing the term "political ecology" rather badly, and doing some mild slander in the process. For instance (p. 20): "It [political ecology] claims to defend nature for nature's sake--and not as a substitute for human egotism--but in every instance, the mission it has assigned itself is carried out by humans and is justified bythe well-being, the pleasure, or the good conscience of a small number of carefully selected humans--usually American, male, rich, educated, and white." From this and further points, it becomes obvious that Latour is talking about old-fashioned environmental politics of the 1950s and 1960s, and insultingly mischaracterizing even that. Women and European thinkers and indigenous peoples and others excluded by Latour were actively involved from the beginning. More to the point, "political ecology" has a definite meaning in English: the branch of anthropology (and, now, geography and political science) that studies, generally from a critical point of view, political impacts on indigenous people and their environments, and on the global community. This field arose in the 1970s in reaction against many of the very things Latour denouces. Latour never discusses this field at all.

He also denounces Science, without making clear until later that he means not actual scientific practice, but the sort of dogmatic, ex-cathedra, It's All Facts stuff that the media love and that real scientists often hate.

Finally, he admits to a skeptical position about Facts.
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Format: Paperback
If you're not well disposed towards Latour, it can't be because he didn't go out of his way to win you over. He writes so clearly and is at such pains to help alleviate the gross misunderstandings his work attracts, that it can only be spite that fuels the science warriors. This is another groundbreaking book, and another presentation in some ways of the thought of Michel Serres, in slightly less obtuse prose and with Latour's own marvellous conceptual innovations thrown into the mix. Serres may well one day be recognised as the person who most understood what the world in our times is about, but probably not as a result of his own books, which scare people. Latour's taking up of the baton from Serres into new areas is easily the best entry point to this vital tradition of thought.

The title and cover blurb would have you believe Latour has restricted himself here to a chat about political ecology. In reality that's only a springboard to analysing two much bigger questions: how do we best construct democratic bodies, and then how should we govern them? As in his earlier work, Latour shows that it is the objects and devices we use which are the great black hole in our thought, and when we conceive of democratic bodies it's as a great mass of people, and not much else. Importantly, because Latour has always said, and continues to here, that what does most of the work of holding these bodies together is the objects and machines they create and use, he proffers the word 'collective', a less human-centric term, to designate any 'social' body. This is a term very similar in its meaning to Pierre Levy's usage in 'collective intelligence' - both Levy and Latour draw from Serres here.
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I don't write this as someone critical of Latour and his work, generally speaking. I've read a bit from earlier and later chapters of his career, and for the most part it's smooth sailing. But perhaps this book is "closer to home" (my research involves tracking the discourses surrounding "nature" in the history of European philosophy), I had a lot of trouble figuring out what he was talking about.

No, I'm not talking about style or jargon (or whatever perennial complaint issued by uncharitable, impatient, unfamiliar readers). I mean that I don't know what he's referring to. The book is one long discussion on what political ecology does or doesn't do, what epistemologists claim or deny, et cetera, but I'll be damned if he ever bothers to name names. In a vague way I agree with his conclusions--I'm familiar enough with philosophy of science and I absolutely buy that it's not as politically neutral as it may claim to be, but Latour doesn't really offer the resources with which any of us could take his work and actually intervene into political ecology / epistemology / philosophy of science. The constant appeal to the "Myth of the Cave" becomes a magic word that does most of the heavy lifting, conceptually. I suppose that if a reader weren't acquainted with the history of philosophy, this book would appear much more compelling and provocative than I find it to be.

A concrete example, from the first chapter: "Never, since the Greeks’ earliest discussions on the excellence of public life, have people spoken about
politics without speaking of nature; or rather, never has anyone appealed to nature except to teach a political lesson.
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