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We Have Never Been Modern Paperback – November 14, 1993

3.9 out of 5 stars 13 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews


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.' (Richard Rorty Common Knowledge)

[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. (Andrew Pickering Modernism)

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. (Choice)

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. (Robert N. Proctor American Scientist)

Language Notes

Text: English (translation)
Original Language: French --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (October 15, 1993)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674948394
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674948396
  • Product Dimensions: 0.5 x 5.8 x 9 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 7 ounces (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 3.9 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (13 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #82,859 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

Format: Paperback
For this reader, Bruno Latour's book is one of the most ambitious, original, and important reformulations of social theory since 1989. It is getting lots of attention among scholars, and deserves a wider public. The press reviews here don't do this book justice.
Latour, for those of you who don't know him, has been at the forefront of the emerging field of "science studies", the history and sociology of science, for the past 15 years. He's also a rather bizarre fellow. His "Aramis" is a book of real sociology that is told in the form of a novel, in which the metro car of a failed Parisian public transportation project becomes one of a series of narrators. In "We Have Never Been Modern," he conscisely summarizes the theoretical basis of his work, and stakes out ground that is genuinely new. The book should excite humanisitic academics, scientists, and intellectually adventurous people from all walks of life with a taste for theory.
The thesis -- the basis for the "we have never been modern" part -- is that the "great divide" between nature and human, subject and object, science and society, was never real. Instead, he says, this subject/object divide was the great dirty fiction of the "modern" world.
To give you the gist of the argument as briefly as possible: the separation of nature and human, that has marked Western intellectual life since the 17th century, allowed both science and the humanities to make their own claims for absolute truth. This divide was the basis for our image of "modern western man."
But these claims hid the fact that "hybrids" were springing up all the while.
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"We Have Never Been Modern" by Bruno Latour is a brilliant interdisciplinary work that profoundly challenges our assumptions about the world we live in. Mr. Latour views the Enlightenment from an anthropological perspective to reveal how its multiple and contradictory ideals have conspired to lead humanity towards ever greater social and environmental crises. Mr. Latour's breakthrough analysis provides a philosophical road map towards a sustainable 'nonmodern' world wherein nature and society are more harmoniously joined together for the greater good.

Mr. Latour traces our modern confusion to a series of debates between Thomas Hobbes and Robert Boyle in the seventeenth century which led to divergences in the study of nature or ideologies on the one hand and science or facts on the other; modernity became defined by the knowing of what was previously unknown. Mr. Latour contends that the 'purification' or incontestability of scientific facts and ideologies has failed to account for the 'hybrid' ways in which society and nature actually respond to change. Indeed, the interjection of science into the real world has created a multiplicity of what Mr. Latour calls 'quasi-objects', or phenomena that are located in the midpoint between science and nature; examples of quasi-objects include global warming, genetic engineering, the AIDS epidemic, and so on. Mr. Latour believes that we are ill-equipped to address these problems inasmuch as the institutions built around Enlightenment ideals have failed to account for the nonseparation of social practices from nature.

In this light, Mr. Latour rejects the idea that humanity has ever really broken away from its premodern past. To begin with, Mr.
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Format: 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.Read more ›
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