Arquivo da tag: Latour

Adam Tooze: Bruno Latour and the philosophy of life (New Statesman)

For the late French intellectual in an age of ecological crisis it was crucial to understand ourselves as rooted beings.

Adam Tooze

17 October 2022

As Bruno Latour confided to Le Monde earlier this year in one of his final interviews, philosophy was his great intellectual love. But across his long and immensely fertile intellectual life, Latour pursued that love by way of practically every other form of knowledge and pursuit – sociology, anthropology, science, history, environmentalism, political theory, the visual arts, theatre and fiction. In this way he was, above all, a philosopher of life in the comprehensive German sense of Lebensphilosophie.

Lebensphilosophie, whose leading exponents included figures such as Friedrich Nietzsche and Martin Heidegger, enjoyed its intellectual heyday between the 1870s and the 1930s. It was a project that sought to make sense of the dramatic development of modern science and the way it invaded every facet of life. In the process, it relentlessly questioned distinctions between the subject and knowledge and the foundations of metaphysics. It spilled over into the sociology of a Max Weber or the Marxism of a György Lukács. In France, writer-thinkers such as Charles Péguy or Henri Bergson might be counted as advocates of the new philosophy. Their heirs were the existentialists of the 1940s and 1950s. In the Anglophone world, one might think of the American pragmatists, William James and John Dewey, the Bloomsbury group and John Maynard Keynes.

A century later, the project of a “philosophy of life” acquired new urgency for Latour in an age of ecological crisis when it became crucial to understand ourselves not as free-floating knowing and producing subjects, but as rooted, or “landed”, beings living alongside others with all the limits, entanglements and potentials that entailed.

The heretical positions on the status of scientific knowledge for which Latour became notorious for some, are best understood as attempts to place knowledge and truth claims back in the midst of life. In a 2004 essay entitled “How to Talk About the Body?” he imagined a dialogue between a knowing subject as imagined by a naive epistemology and a Latourian subject:

“‘Ah’, sighs the traditional subject [as imagined by simplistic epistemologies], ‘if only I could extract myself from this narrow-minded body and roam through the cosmos, unfettered by any instrument, I would see the world as it is, without words, without models, without controversies, silent and contemplative’; ‘Really?’ replies the articulated body [the Latourian body which recognises its relationship to the world and knowledge about it as active and relational?] with some benign surprise, ‘why do you wish to be dead? For myself, I want to be alive and thus I want more words, more controversies, more artificial settings, more instruments, so as to become sensitive to even more differences. My kingdom for a more embodied body!’”

The classical subject-object distinction traps the knowing subject in a disembodied, unworldly position that is, in fact, tantamount to death. As Latour wrote in a brilliant passage in the same essay on the training of noses, the expert smell-testers who gauge perfume, or tea or wine: “A direct and unmediated access to the primary qualities of odours could only be detected by a bodiless nose.” But what kind of image of knowledge is this? “[T]he opposite of embodied is dead, not omniscient.”

For a Burgundian – Latour was born in 1947 into a storied family of wine négociant in Beaune – this was an obvious but profound truth. To really know something, the way a good Burgundian knows wine, means not to float above the world, but to be a porous part of it, inhaling, ingesting fermentation and the chemical elements of the terroir, the irreducibly specific terrain.

For Latour, claims to meaningful knowledge, including scientific knowledge, were generated not by simple rules and procedures that could be endlessly repeated with guaranteed results, but through immersion in the world and its particularities. This implied an existential engagement: “Knowing interestingly is always a risky business,” he wrote, “which has to be started from scratch for any new proposition at hand.” What made for generative scientific discovery was not the tautological reproduction of a state of affairs by a “true” statement, but the “fecundity, productivity, richness, originality” of good articulations. Distinctions between true and false were, more often than not, banal. Only anxious epistemologists and methodologists of science worried about those. What mattered to actual scientific practice was whether a claim was “boring”, “repetitive”, “redundant”, “inelegant”, “simply accurate”, “sterile”.

If Latour was a sceptic when it came to naive claims of “detached” scientific knowledge, this also applied doubly to naive sociologies of knowledge. Critical analyses of power, whether anti-capitalist, feminist or postcolonial, were productive and inspiring. But unless it was subject symmetrically to the same critique to which Latour subjected naive claims to scientific knowledge, social theory, even that which proclaimed itself to be critical theory, could all too easily become a snare. If the relationship of life and knowledge was the problem, then, you could not cut through that Gordian knot by invoking sociology to explain physics. What was sociology, after all, but a form of organised social knowledge? For better or for worse, all you were doing in such an exercise was multiplying the articulations from one scientific discipline to another and not necessarily in a helpful or illuminating direction.

In refusing the inherited authority of the 19th and early 20th-century canon of critical social science, Latour sought to create a form of knowledge more adequate to the late 20th and early 21st centuries. Latour thus belongs alongside Michel Foucault and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari as one of the French thinkers who sought to escape the long shadow of Marxism, whether in its Hegelian (Sartre) or its anti-Hegelian (Althusser) varieties.

In place of an overly substantive notion of “the economy” or “society”, Latour proposed the looser conception of actor-networks. These are assemblages of tools, resources, researchers, means of registering concepts, and doing things that are not a priori defined in terms of a “mode of production” or a particular social order. Think of the lists of interconnected objects, systems and agents that have held our attention in the past few years: shipping containers, the flow of rainwater in Taiwan, giant freighters stuck sideways in the Suez Canal driven off course by unpredictable currents and side winds. Each of these supply chain crises has exposed actor-networks, of which we were previously oblivious. During such moments we are forced to ask: what is macro and what is micro? What is base and what is superstructure? These are Latourian questions.

One of the productive effects of seeing the world this way is that it becomes irresistibly obvious that all sorts of things have agency. This realisation is disturbing because it seems to downgrade the privilege of actual human existence and the social relations between people. But Latour’s point was never to diminish the human, but instead to emphasise the complex array of forces and agencies that are entailed in our modern lives. Our existence, Latour tried to show, depends not on the simple structures that we imagined modernity to consist of – markets, states and so on – but on the multiplication of what he calls hybrids, “supply chains” in the widest sense of the word.

Latour was not a class militant. But that does not mean that he did not have a cause. His lifelong campaign was for modernity to come to consciousness of itself, to stop taking its own simplifications at face value, to recognise the confusions and hybridity that it creates and endlessly feeds off. His mission was to persuade us, as the title of his most widely read book has it, that We Have Never Been Modern (1991). The confusion of a world in which lipid bubbles, aerosols and face masks have occupied our minds for years is what Latour wanted to prepare us for.

What Latour sought to expose was the pervasive animism that surrounds us in the form of hybrid actor-networks, whose force and significance we consistently deny. “Hybrids are everywhere,” he said, “but the question is how do you tame them, or do you explicitly recognise their strengths, which is part of the animist power of objects?” What Latour diagnosed is that modernity, as part of its productive logic, systematically denies this animation of the material world. “Modernism is the mode of life that finds the soul with which matter would be endowed, the animation, shocking.”

This repression of hybrid, animated material reality, is exposed in the often-racialised embarrassment of those who believe themselves modern when they encounter human civilisations that make no secret of their animist beliefs. It also accounts for the embarrassment triggered among true believers in modern science and its ideology by the revelations of the best histories of science, such as those by Simon Schaffer, to whom Latour owed a great debt. To Latour’s delight Schaffer showed how Isaac Newton, in the first instance, saw in gravity the manifestation of the power of angels.

The modernist impulse is to dismiss such ideas as hangovers of an earlier religious world-view and to relegate African art to the anthropology museum. But at the risk of provocation and scandal, Latour’s response was the opposite. Rather than finishing the purification of modernity and expunging angels and animism from our view of the forces that move the world, he urged that we should open our ontology to encompass the giant dark matter of hybrid concepts and real networks that actually sustain modern life.

From the 1990s onwards this made Latour one of the foremost thinkers in the ecological movement. And once again he reached for the most radical and encompassing animist notion with which to frame that commitment – the Gaia concept, which postulates the existence of a single overarching living being, encompassing global ecology. This is an eerie, supernatural, non-modern idea. But for Latour, if we settle for any more mundane description of the ecological crisis – if we fit the environment into pre-existing cost-benefit models as economists often do – we fail to recognise the radicalism of the forces that we have unleashed. We fail to understand the peril that we are in: that Gaia will lose patience and toss us, snarling, off her back.

Latour’s emphatic embrace of life, plenitude and articulation did not mean that he shrank from finitude or death. Rather the opposite. It is only from a thoroughly immanent view that you truly feel the weight of life lived towards its end, and the mysterious and awesome finality that is death. It is only from an embrace of life as emphatic as Latour’s, that you truly register the encroachment of deadening forces of the mind and the body. For Latour, life and death were intertwined by the effort of those left behind to make sense of death, by every means at their disposal, sometimes at very long distance.

In September 1976 the body of Ramesses II, the third pharaoh of the 19th Dynasty of Egypt, was flown to Paris. He was welcomed with the full military honours appropriate for a great ruler, and then his body was whisked to the laboratory to be subject to medical-forensic examination. For Latour this fantastic juxtaposition of the ancient and the modern was an irresistible provocation. The naive position was that the scientists discovered that Ramesses died of tuberculosis 3,000 years ago. He was also, a racially minded police forensic scientist claimed, most likely a redhead. For Latour, the question was more basic. How can we debate claims made self-confidently about a death that took place thousands of years ago? We were not there. There was no modern medical science then. When Ramesses ceased to live, TB was not even a “thing”. It was not until 1882 that Robert Koch in Berlin identified the bacillus. And even then, no one could have made any sensible claim about Ramesses. Making the naive, apparently matter-of-fact claim – that Ramesses died of TB in 1213 BC – in fact involves giant leaps of the imagination.

What we do know and can debate are what Latour would call “articulations”. We know that as a result of the intervention of the French president Valéry Giscard D’Estaing the Egyptian authorities were prevailed upon to allow the decaying mummy to be flown to Paris for preservation. We know that in Paris, what was left of the body was enrolled in modern technoscientific systems and testing procedures leading us to venture hypotheses about the cause of death in the distant past. Every single one of those “articulations” can be tested, probed and thereby multiplied. Entire bodies of thought can be built on different hypotheses about the corpse. So, Latour maintained, rather than those who assertively claim to know what actually happened 3,000 years ago, the journalist who declared vertiginously that Ramesses had (finally) died of TB in 1976 came closer to the truth in registering both the gulf that separates us from an event millennia in the past and the radical historical immanence of our current diagnosis. In his effort to shake us out of the complacent framework of certainty that modernity had created around us, counter-intuitive provocations of this kind were part of Latour’s method.

Unlike Ramesses’ cause of death, Bruno Latour’s was well mapped. In the 21st century, a cancer diagnosis has immediate and drastic implications. It enrols you as a patient in the machinery of the medical-industrial complex. Among all the hybrids that modern societies have created, the medical apparatus is one of the most complex. It grows ever larger and imposes its urgency in a relentless and merciless fashion. If you take your critical vantage point from an early 20th-century theorist of alienation, like Lukács or Weber for instance, it is tempting to think of this technoscientific medical apparatus as a steel-hard cage that relentlessly objectifies its patients, as bodies and cases. But for Latour, this again falls into a modernist trap. To start from the premise that objectification is actually achieved is to misunderstand and to grant too much. “Reductionism is not a sin for which scientists should make amends, but a dream precisely as unreachable as being alive and having no body. Even the hospital is not able to reduce the patient to a ‘mere object’.”

Rather than reducing us, modern medicalisation multiplies us. “When you enter into contact with hospitals, your ‘rich subjective personality’ is not reduced to a mere package of objective meat: on the contrary, you are now learning to be affected by masses of agencies hitherto unknown not only to you, but also to doctors, nurses, administration, biologists, researchers who add to your poor inarticulate body complete sets of new instruments.” The body becomes a site of a profuse multiplicity: “How can you contain so much diversity, so many cells, so many microbes, so many organs, all folded in such a way that ‘the many act as one’, as [Alfred North] Whitehead said? No subjectivity, no introspection, no native feeling can be any match for the fabulous proliferation of affects and effects that a body learns when being processed by a hospital… Far from being less, you become more.”

It’s a brave image. Perhaps it was one that sustained Latour as the cancer and the agencies deployed to fight it laid waste to his flesh. Not for nothing people describe the illness as a battle. Like a war, it can go on for years.

Latour liked military images. Perhaps because they better captured his vision of history, as mysterious, opaque, complex and contingent. Military history is one area of the modern world in which even the most high-minded analysts end up talking about tanks, bridges, rivers, Himars, Javelins and the fog of war. In the end, it is often for want of nails that battles are lost. The original French title of Latour’s famous book on the 19th-century French microbiologist Louis Pasteur – Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irréductions – paid homage to Tolstoy. In the English translation that reference was lost. The Pasteurization of France (1988) replaces the French’s titles nod to War and Peace with ugly sociologese.

Latour’s own life force was strong. In his apartment on Rue Danton, Paris, with the charred remains of Notre Dames in background, he shared wines with visitors from around the world from vineyards planted in response to climate change. Covid lockdowns left him impatient. As soon as global traffic resumed, in 2021 he was assisting in the curation of the Taipei biennial. Latour’s final book, After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis appeared in English in 2021. It carries his voice into the present inviting us to imagine ourselves in an inversion of Kafka’s fable, as happy termites emerging from the lockdown on six hairy legs. “With your antennae, your articulations, your emanations, your waste matter, your mandibles, your prostheses, you may at last be becoming a human being!” No longer ill at ease, “Nothing is alien to you anymore; you’re no longer alone; you quietly digest a few molecules of whatever reaches your intestines, after having passed through the metabolism of hundreds of millions of relatives, allies, compatriots and competitors.”

As he aged, Latour became more, not less radical. Often dismissed on the left for his scepticism about classical critical social theory, the ecological turn made Latour into nothing less than an eco-warrior. His cause was the overturning of the dream world that systematically failed to recognise or grasp the forces unleashed by the modernist apparatus of production and cognition. We needed to come down to Earth, to land. Only then could we begin the hard work, with other actors, of arriving at a sustainable modus vivendi. The urgency was that of war and his mobilisation was total. The range of projects that he spawned in recent decades – artistic, political, intellectual – was dizzying. All of them aimed to find new political forms, new parliaments, new articulations.

Unlike many commentators and politicians, in response to populism, and specifically the gilet jaunes protests of 2018, Latour did not retreat to higher levels of technocracy, but instigated a collective project to compile cahiers de doléance – books of complaint – like those assembled before the French Revolution of 1789. The aim was to enrol people from all walks of life in defining what they need to live and what threatened their livelihood.

Part of the project involved an interactive theatrical exercise enacted by Latour with the architect and performance-art impresario Soheil Hajmirbaba. In a kind of ritual game, the participants arranged themselves and the forces enabling and threatening their lives – ranging from sea level rise to the increased prices for diesel – on a circular stage marked out with a compass. It was, as Latour described it, “like a children’s game, light-hearted and a lot of fun. And yet, when you get near the middle, everyone gets a bit nervous… The centre of the crucible, where I timidly put my feet, is the exact intersection of a trajectory – and I’m not in the habit of thinking of myself as a vector of a trajectory – which goes from the past, all that I’ve benefited from so as to exist, to grow, sometimes without even realising it, on which I unconsciously count and which may well stop with me, through my fault, which won’t go towards the future anymore, because of all that threatens my conditions of existence, of which I was also unaware.”

“The amazing result of this little enactment,” he continued, “is that you’re soon surrounded by a small assembly, which nonetheless represents your most personal situation, in front of the other participants. The more attachments you list, the more clearly you are defined. The more precise the description, the more the stage fills up!… A woman in the group sums it up in one phrase: ‘I’m repopulated!’”

Thus, Latour reinvented the role of the engaged French intellectual for the 21st century. And in doing so he forced the follow-on question. Was he perhaps the last of his kind? Who comes after him? As far as intellectual standing is concerned, Latour would have been impatient with the question. He was too preoccupied with new problems and projects, too enthused by the networks of collaborators, young and old whose work he drew on and that he helped to energise. But in a more general sense the question of succession haunted him. That, after all, is the most basic issue posed by the ecological crisis. What comes after us? What is our responsibility to the continuity of life?

In his effort to enact the motion of coming down to Earth, Latour faced the question head on. “With my feet on the consortium’s compass, I consult myself: in terms of my minuscule actions, do I enhance or do I stifle the lives of those I’ve benefited from till now?” Asking that question, never content with complacent or self-satisfied answers, during the night of 8-9 October 2022, Bruno Latour died aged 75 in Paris, of pancreatic cancer.

Latour: The pandemic is a warning: we must take care of the earth, our only home (BBC)

Bruno Latour

The climate crisis resembles a huge planetary lockdown, trapping humanity within an ever-deteriorating environment

river bank

‘The shallow layer of earth in which we live … has been transformed into a habitable milieu by the aeons-long labour of evolution.’ Photograph: Jon Helgason/Alamy

Fri 24 Dec 2021 14.00 GMT

There is a moment when a never-ending crisis turns into a way of life. This seems to be the case with the pandemic. If so, it’s wise to explore the permanent condition in which it has left us. One obvious lesson is that societies have to learn once again to live with pathogens, just as they learned to when microbes were first made visible by the discoveries of Louis Pasteur and Robert Koch.

These discoveries were concerned with only one aspect of microbial life. When you also consider the various sciences of the earth system, another aspect of viruses and bacteria comes to the fore. During the long geochemical history of the earth, microbes, together with fungi and plants, have been essential, and are still essential, to the very composition of the environment in which we humans live. The pandemic has shown us that we will never escape the invasive presence of these living beings, entangled as we are with them. They react to our actions; if they mutate, we have to mutate as well.

This is why the many national lockdowns, imposed on citizens to help them survive the virus, are a powerful analogy for the situation in which humanity finds itself detained for good. Lockdown was painful enough, and yet many ways have been found, thanks in part to vaccination, to allow people to resume a semblance of normal life. But there is no possibility of such a resumption if you consider that all living forms are locked down for good inside the limits of the earth. And by “earth” I don’t mean the planet as it can be seen from space, but its very superficial pellicle, the shallow layer of earth in which we live, and which has been transformed into a habitable milieu by the aeons-long labour of evolution.

This thin matrix is what geochemists call the “critical zone”, the only layer of earth where terrestrial life can flourish. It’s in this finite space where everything we care for and everything we have ever encountered exists.There is no way of escaping our earth-bound existence; as young climate activists shout: “There is no planet B.” Here is the connection between the Covid lockdowns we have experienced in the past two years, and the much larger but definitive state of lockdown that we find ourselves in: we are trapped in an environment that we have already altered irreversibly.

If we have been made aware of the agency of viruses in shaping our social relations, we must now reckon with the fact that they will also be moulded for ever by the climate crisis and the quick reactions of ecosystems to our actions. The feeling that we live in a new space appears again at the local as well as the global level. Why would all nations convene in Glasgow to keep global temperature rises below some agreed upon limit, if they did not have the sensation that a huge lid had been put over their territory? When you look up at the blue sky, are you not aware that you are now under some sort of dome inside which you are locked?

Gone is the infinite space; now you are responsible for the safety of this overbearing dome as much as you are for your own health and wealth. It weighs on you, body and soul. To survive under these new conditions we have to undergo a sort of metamorphosis.

This is where politics enters. It is very difficult for most people used to the industrialised way of life, with its dream of infinite space and its insistence on emancipation and relentless growth and development, to suddenly sense that it is instead enveloped, confined, tucked inside a closed space where their concerns have to be shared with new entities: other people of course, but also viruses, soils, coal, oil, water, and, worst of all, this damned, constantly shifting climate.

This disorienting shift is unprecedented, even cosmological, and it is already a source of deep political divisions. Although the sentence “you and I don’t live on the same planet” used to be a joking expression of dissent, it has become true of our present reality. We do live on different planets, with rich people employing private fire fighters and scouting for climate bunkers, while their poorer counterparts are forced to migrate, suffer and die amid the worst consequences of the crisis.

This is why it is important not to misconstrue the political conundrum of our present age. It is of the same magnitude as when, from the 17th century onward, westerners had to shift from the closed cosmos of the past to the infinite space of the modern period. As the cosmos seemed to open, political institutions had to be invented to work through the new and utopian possibilities offered by the Enlightenment. Now, in reverse, the same task falls to present generations: what new political institutions could they invent to cope with people so divided that they belong to different planets?

It would be a mistake to believe that the pandemic is a crisis that will end, instead of the perfect warning for what is coming, what I call the new climatic regime. It appears that all the resources of science, humanities and the arts will have to be mobilised once again to shift attention to our shared terrestrial condition.

  • Bruno Latour is a philosopher and anthropologist, the author of After Lockdown: A Metamorphosis and the winner of the 2013 Holberg prize

A notável atualidade do Animismo (Outras Palavras)

Ele foi visto pela velha antropologia como “forma mais primitiva” de religião. Mas, surpresa: sugere respostas a questões cruciais de hoje: o divórcio entre cultura e natureza e a tendência da ciência a tratar como objeto tudo o que não é “humano”

Publicado 02/09/2021 às 17:46 – Atualizado 02/09/2021 às 18:00

Por Renato Sztutman, na Revista Cult, parceira editorial de Outras Palavras

Muito se tem falado hoje em dia sobre o animismo. E mais, muito se tem falado sobre uma necessidade de retomar o animismo – uma forma de responder ao projeto racionalista da modernidade, que transformou o ambiente em algo inerte, opaco, sinônimo de recurso, mercadoria. Em tempos de pandemia, constatamos que algo muito importante se perdeu na relação entre os sujeitos humanos e o mundo que eles habitam, e isso estaria na origem da profunda crise que vivemos.

Animismo é, em princípio, um conceito antropológico, proposto por Edward Tylor, em Primitive Culture (1871), para se referir à forma mais “primitiva” de religião, aquela que atribui “alma” a todos os habitantes do cosmos e que precederia o politeísmo e o monoteísmo. O termo “alma” provém do latim anima – sopro, princípio vital. Seria a causa mesma da vida, bem como algo capaz de se desprender do corpo, viajar para outros planos e tempos. O raciocínio evolucionista de autores como Tylor foi refutado por diferentes correntes da antropologia ao longo do século 20, embora possamos dizer que ainda seja visto entranhado no senso comum da modernidade. A ideia de uma religião embrionária, fundada em crenças desprovidas de lógica, perdeu lugar no discurso dos antropólogos, que passaram a buscar racionalidades por trás de diferentes práticas mágico-religiosas.

Uma reabilitação importante do conceito antropológico de animismo aparece com Philippe Descola, em sua monografia “La nature domestique” (1986), sobre os Achuar da Amazônia equatoriana. Descola demonstrou que, quando os Achuar dizem que animais e plantas têm wakan (“alma” ou, mais precisamente, intencionalidade, faculdade de comunicação ou inteligência), isso não deve ser interpretado de maneira metafórica ou como simbolismo. Isso quer dizer que o modo de os Achuar descreverem o mundo é diverso do modo como o fazem os naturalistas (baseados nos ditames da Ciência moderna), por não pressuporem uma linha intransponível entre o que costumamos chamar Natureza e Cultura. O animismo não seria mera crença, representação simbólica ou forma primitiva de religião, mas, antes de tudo, uma ontologia, modo de descrever tudo o que existe, associada a práticas. Os Achuar engajam-se em relações efetivas com outras espécies, o que faz com que, por exemplo, mulheres sejam tidas como mães das plantas que cultivam, e homens como cunhados dos animais de caça.

Para Descola, a ontologia naturalista não pode ser tomada como único modo de descrever o mundo, como fonte última de verdade. Outros três regimes ontológicos deveriam ser considerados de maneira simétrica, entre eles o animismo. Esse ponto foi desenvolvido de maneira exaustiva em Par-delà nature et culture (2005), no qual o autor se lança em uma aventura comparatista cruzando etnografias de todo o globo. O animismo inverte o quadro do naturalismo: se neste último caso a identificação entre humanos e não humanos passa pelo plano da fisicalidade (o que chamamos corpo, organismo ou biologia), no animismo essa mesma identificação se dá no plano da interioridade (o que chamamos alma, espírito ou subjetividade). Para os naturalistas, a alma seria privilégio da espécie humana, já para os animistas é uma mesma “alma humana” que se distribui entre todos os seres do cosmos.

A ideia de perspectivismo, que autores como Eduardo Viveiros de Castro e Tânia Stolze Lima atribuem a cosmologias ameríndias, estende e transforma a de animismo. O perspectivismo seria, grosso modo, uma teoria ou metafísica indígena que afirma que (idealmente) diferentes espécies se têm como humanas, mas têm as demais como não humanas. Tudo o que existe no cosmos pode ser sujeito, mas todos não podem ser sujeitos ao mesmo tempo, o que implica uma disputa. Diz-se, por exemplo, que onças veem-se como humanas e veem humanos como presas. O que os humanos veem como sangue é, para elas, cerveja de mandioca, bebida de festa. Onças e outros animais (mas também plantas, astros, fenômenos meteorológicos) são, em suma, humanos “para si mesmos”. Um xamã ameríndio seria capaz de mudar de perspectiva, de se colocar no lugar de outrem e ver como ele o vê, portanto de compreender que a condição humana é partilhada por outras criaturas.

Como insiste Viveiros de Castro em A inconstância da alma selvagem (2002), a perspectiva está nos corpos, conjuntos de afecções mais do que organismos. A mudança de perspectiva seria, assim, uma metamorfose somática e se ancoraria na ideia de um fundo comum de humanidade, numa potencialidade anímica distribuída horizontalmente no cosmos. Se o perspectivismo é o avesso do antropocentrismo, ele não se separa de certo antropomorfismo, fazendo com que prerrogativas humanas deixem de ser exclusividade da espécie humana, assumindo formas as mais diversas.

O livro de Davi Kopenawa e Bruce Albert, A queda do céu (2010), traz exemplos luminosos desses animismos e perspectivismos amazônicos. Toda a narrativa de Kopenawa está baseada em sua formação como xamã yanomami, que se define pelo trato com os espíritos xapiripë, seres antropomórficos que nada mais são que “almas” ou “imagens” (tradução que Albert prefere dar para o termo utupë) dos “ancestrais animais” (yaroripë). Segundo a mitologia yanomami, os animais eram humanos em tempos primordiais, mas se metamorfosearam em seus corpos atuais. O que uniria humanos e animais seria justamente utupë, e é como utupë que seus ancestrais aparecem aos xamãs. Quando os xamãs yanomami inalam a yãkoana (pó psicoativo), seus olhos “morrem” e – mudando de perspectiva – eles acessam a realidade invisível dos xapiripë, que se apresentam em uma grande festa, dançando e cantando, adornados e brilhosos. O xamanismo yanomami – apoiando-se em experiências de transe e sonho – é um modo de conhecer e descrever o mundo. É nesse sentido que Kopenawa diz dos brancos, “povo da mercadoria”, que eles não conhecem a terra-floresta (urihi), pois não sabem ver. Onde eles identificam uma natureza inerte, os Yanomami apreendem um emaranhado de relações. O conhecimento dessa realidade oculta é o que permitiria a esses xamãs impedir a queda do céu, catalisada pela ação destrutiva dos brancos. E assim, insiste Kopenawa, esse conhecimento passa a dizer respeito não apenas aos Yanomami, mas a todos os habitantes do planeta.

Embora distintas, as propostas de Descola e de Ingold buscam na experiência animista um contraponto às visões naturalistas e racionalistas, que impõem uma barreira entre o sujeito (humano) e o mundo. Como propõe Viveiros de Castro, essa crítica consiste na “descolonização do pensamento”, pondo em xeque o excepcionalismo humano e a pretensão de uma ontologia exclusiva detida pelos modernos. Contraponto e descolonização que não desembocam de modo algum na negação das ciências modernas, mas que exigem imaginar que é possível outra ciência ou que é possível reencontrar o animismo nas ciências. Tal tem sido o esforço de autores como Bruno Latour e Isabelle Stengers, expoentes mais expressivos dos science studies: mostrar que a ciência em ação desmente o discurso oficial, para o qual conhecer é desanimar (dessubjetivar) o mundo, reduzi-lo a seu caráter imutável, objetivo.

No livro Sobre o culto moderno dos deuses “fatiches” (1996), Latour aproxima a ideia de fetiche nas religiões africanas à ideia de fato nas ciências modernas. Um fetiche é um objeto de culto (ou mesmo uma divindade) feito por humanos e que, ao mesmo tempo, age sobre eles. Com seu trabalho etnográfico em laboratórios, Latour sugeriu que os fatos científicos não são meramente “dados”, mas dependem de interações e articulações em rede. Num laboratório, moléculas e células não seriam simplesmente objetos, mas actantes imprevisíveis, constantemente interrogados pelo pesquisador. Em seu pioneiro Jamais fomos modernos (1991), Latour assume que fatos científicos são em certo sentido feitos, e só serão aceitos como fatos quando submetidos à prova das controvérsias, isto é, quando conseguirem ser estabilizados como verdades.

Isabelle Stengers vai além da analogia entre fatos (“fatiches”) e fetiches para buscar na história das ciências modernas a tensão constitutiva com as práticas ditas mágicas. Segundo ela, as ciências modernas se estabelecem a partir da desqualificação de outras práticas, acusadas de equívoco ou charlatanismo. Ela acompanha, por exemplo, como a química se divorciou da alquimia, e a psicanálise, do magnetismo e da hipnose. Em suma, as ciências modernas desqualificam aquilo que está na sua origem. E isso, segundo Stengers, não pode ser dissociado do lastro entre a história das ciências e a do capitalismo. Em La sorcellerie capitaliste (A feitiçaria do capitalismo, 2005), no diálogo com a ativista neopagã Starhawk, Stengers e Philippe Pignarre lembram que o advento da ciência moderna e do capitalismo nos séculos 17 e 18 não se separa da perseguição às práticas de bruxaria lideradas por mulheres. Se o capitalismo, ancorado na propriedade privada e no patriarcado, emergia com a política dos cercamentos (expulsão dos camponeses das terras comuns), a revolução científica se fazia às custas da destruição de práticas mágicas. Stengers e Pignarre encontram no ativismo de Starhawk e de seu grupo Reclaim, que despontou na Califórnia no final dos anos 1980, um exemplo de resistência anticapitalista. Para Starhawk, resistir ao capitalismo é justamente retomar (reclaim) práticas – no caso, a tradição wicca, de origem europeia – que foram sacrificadas para que ele florescesse.

Retomar a magia, retomar o animismo seria, para Stengers, uma forma de existência e de resistência. Como escreveu em Cosmopolíticas (1997), quando falamos de práticas desqualificadas pelas ciências modernas, não deveríamos apenas incorrer em um ato de tolerância. Não se trata de considerar a magia uma crença ou “cultura”, como fez-se na antropologia da época de Tylor e até pouco tempo atrás. Ir além da “maldição da tolerância” é levar a sério asserções indígenas, por exemplo, de que uma rocha tem vida ou uma árvore pensa. Stengers não está interessada no animismo como “outra” ontologia: isso o tornaria inteiramente exterior à experiência moderna. Ela tampouco se interessa em tomar o animismo como verdade única, nova ontologia que viria desbancar as demais. Mais importante seria experimentá-lo, seria fazê-lo funcionar no mundo moderno.

Que outra ciência seria capaz de retomar o animismo hoje? Eis uma questão propriamente stengersiana. Hoje vivemos mundialmente uma crise sanitária em proporções jamais vistas, que não pode ser dissociada da devastação ambiental e do compromisso estabelecido entre as ciências e o mercado. A outra ciência, diriam Latour e Stengers, seria a do sistema terra e do clima, que tem como marco a teoria de Gaia, elaborada por James Lovelock e Lynn Margulis nos anos 1970. Gaia é para esses cientistas a Terra como um organismo senciente, a Terra como resultante de um emaranhado de relações entre seres vivos e não vivos. Poderíamos dizer que Gaia é um conceito propriamente animista que irrompe no seio das ciências modernas, causando desconfortos e ceticismos. O que Stengers chama de “intrusão de Gaia”, em sua obra No tempo das catástrofes (2009), é uma reação ou resposta do planeta aos efeitos destruidores do capitalismo, é a ocorrência cada vez mais frequente de catástrofes ambientais e o alerta para um eventual colapso do globo. Mas é também, ou sobretudo, um chamado para a conexão entre práticas não hegemônicas – científicas, artísticas, políticas – e a possibilidade de recriar uma inteligência coletiva e imaginar novos mundos.

O chamado de Stengers nos obriga a pensar a urgência de uma conexão efetiva entre as ciências modernas e as ciências indígenas, uma conexão que retoma o animismo, reconhecendo nele um modo de engajar humanos ao mundo, contribuindo assim para evitar ou adiar a destruição do planeta. Como escreve Ailton Krenak, profeta de nosso tempo, em Ideias para adiar o fim do mundo (2019), “quando despersonalizamos o rio, a montanha, quando tiramos deles os seus sentidos, considerando que isso é atributo exclusivo de humanos, nós liberamos esses lugares para que se tornem resíduos da atividade industrial e extrativista”. Em outras palavras, quando desanimamos o mundo, o deixamos à mercê de um poder mortífero. Retomar o animismo surge como um chamado de sobrevivência, como uma chance para reconstruir a vida e o sentido no tempo pós-pandêmico que há de vir.

The New Climate (Harper’s Magazine)

READINGS — From the May 2017 issue

Lecture: On Latour and Simondon’s Mode of Existence (Digital Milieu)

Posted by Yuk Hui – 2 Feb 2015

On Latour and Simondon’s Mode of Existence

– fragments of a fictional dialogue yet to come

Yuk Hui, intervention given in a Workshop on Latour@ Denkerei, 28 Jan,2013

This intervention from its outset searches a dialogue between Simondon and Latour, a fictional dialogue, that nevertheless exists though it hasn’t happened. It hasn’t happened, or should I say it was once about to happen, when Latour praised Simondon’s Du Mode d’existence des objets techniques, and commented that it is a work that didn’t yet find its successor. But it does exist, this fictional dialogue, or at least we can talk about its mode of existence if you prefer since being fictional is also a mode of existence. We cannot draw a squared circle but we can think of a squared circle, it has meanings, this was an example given by Edmund Husserl as a critique of formal logic. The secrete philosopher of Bruno Latour, Étienne Souriau hold a similar idea in his Les différents Modes d’existence. A fictional object or character doesn’t occur in time and space as a physical object, or a historical event, but it does exists in works, in the socio-psychological life and imaginations of their readers and witness. Modes of existence is always plural, it doesn’t follow the rule of contradiction, it is rather key to what Latour calls ontological pluralism.

The question of the mode of existence departs from the question of Dasein posted by Martin Heidegger, and the meaning of Sein, eliminates the Ontologische Differenz between Sein and Seienden in order to de-prioritize certain mode of existence, with a kind of ontological politeness. Modes of existence is a new organon to the analysis of modern life, and also one that revolt against the 20th century philosophy aiming a unified theory of existence. Now to enter the modes of existence, according to Latour one must employ a new dispostif called diplomatic, meaning one should be aware of oneself, resisting esoteric temptations, while being polite and try to negotiate different terms. Hence Latour proposed to go back to an anthropology that starts with reflection on European modernity instead of starting with dialogues with others.

It is also this word “Mode of existence” on the one hand brings together Latour and Simondon to us since Simondon is a philosopher of the mode of existence instead of existence; on the other hand, it allows us to go beyond the question of network in actor-network theory, as Latour himself said in an interview with la vie des idées “what is complicated to understand, maybe, for those who know the rest of my works, it is that network is no longer the principle mode of driving, of vehicle. The world became a bit populated: there is more vehicles moving in different forms”1.That is to say, network is only one mode of existence out of 15 different modes, among which we also find Reproduction, Metamorphose, Habit, Technics, Fiction, Reference, Politics, Right, Religion, Attachment, Organization, Morality, Preposition and Double Click. Network can no longer alonemonopolize the academic social research (by saying so, network still seems to be the framework of the whole book2). Instead it is necessary to re-articulate this specific mode of existence with other modes of existence. For Latour, new position or preposition on the mode of existence allows us to open up the new field of philosophical investigation of the Moderns. The task is no longer how “we have never been modern”, a project done 20 years ago, but rather according to Latour it is an effort to complete the uniquely negative title – we have never been modern – “with a positive version this time of the same affirmation”3.

Mode of Existences and Ontological Politeness

How could one find an entrance to the question of “mode of existence”? Philosophy starts always with dialogue, the most ancient mode of dialectics, and Socrates has always been the model of such a tradition. Now, we want to ask what could this dialogue between Latour and Simondon be? How could us continue a fiction which was started by Latour? For Latour, the significance of the work of Simondon is that he has moved far beyond subject and object, and more importantly when the like and dislike of Heidegger which still shadows the research in philosophy of technology. Latour wrote: “Simondon has grasped that the ontological question can be extracted from the search of substance, from the fascination for particular knowledge, from the obsession for the bifurcation between subject and object, and be posed rather in terms of vector.” Latour quoted a paragraph from Du Mode d’existence des objets techniques:

This de-phasing of the mediation between figural characters and background characters translates the appearance of a distance between man and the world. And mediation itself, instead of being a simple structuration of the universe, takes on a certain density; it becomes objective in the technical and subjective in religion, making the technical object appear to be the primary object and divinity the primary subject, whereas before there was only the unity of the living thing and its milieu: objectivity and subjectivity appear between the living thing and its milieu, between man and the world, at a moment where the world does not yet have a full status as object, and man a complete status as subject.4

But then he continues abruptly: “yet Simondon remains a classical thinker, obsessed as he is by original unity and future unity, deducing his modes from each other in a manner somewhat reminiscent of Hegel…Multirealism turns out to be nothing more, in the end, than a long detour that brings him back to a philosophy of being, the seventh of the modes he sketched.” Latour copied and pasted these paragraphs in numerous articles, this commentary on Simondon is only a passage to the work of Étienne Souriau’s Les Différents modes d’existence. For Latour, it was Souriau but not Simondon who really showed us how can one affirm an ontological pluralism without falling back to the old and weak anthropological relativism and philosophical monism.

In this passing [passe] in Latour’s own sense, Simondon was portrait as an original thinker who wasn’t able to break away from “classical philosophy”, then unfortunately fell back to the shadow of the “original unity and future unity”. But what does it really mean by this quote from Simondon? What does it mean by “this de-phasing of the mediation between figural characters and background characters translates the appearance of a distance between man and the world” and what would be the context of such a quote? If we allow ourselves a bit of patience, Simondon was referring to the figure and background distinction as explained in Gestalt psychology. The figural reality expresses the possibilities of human action in the world, and the background reality expresses the power of nature. Simondon was trying to explain the relation between technics and religions, that originated from the incomparability between man and the world. A society of magic, sees Simondon as the moment where subject and object, human world and nature, figure and background were not fully distinct. But it is also the result of the resolution of incomparability between human being and its milieu, the unity described by Latour is only the possibility for incompatibility. If it could be counted as the repetition of the gesture of classical philosophy in searching of an unity, then biology, physics and chemistry may also have to bear the same accusation.

What is indeed profound in Simondon’s concept of the mode of existence is that this tension or incompatibility has to be resolved constantly both in the process of individualization of technical objects, and also individuation of living beings. It is also by the notion of incompatibility that one has to affirm the multiplicity of objects and their modes of existence. Indeed, Simondon doesn’t think that one can seize an object by its end, there exists ‘espèce technique’, it is rather more productively to think of analogies between different technical species, for example a pendulum clock and a cable winch5.We must recognize here that Simondon’s didn’t only talk about the mode of existence of technical objects, for Simondon, the theory of ontogenesis and individuation is also an inquiry into how different modes of existence interact with each other and and in constant process of evolution. In other words, there is no peace for us, and there hasn’t been a mode of existence called peace – the goal of some kind of all diplomatic activities. Any pursuit of stability is only an illusion, though lets say such an illusion is also a mode of existence. There is no unity of identity, or recollection, of unity composed of parts and united according to certain method of classification6. For Latour, or his reading of Souriau, the ontological pluralism/multi-realism must affirm the existence of phenomenon, things, soul, fictional beings, god, without recurring to a phenomenological account. It must revolt against the Kantian tradition and move towards a speculative realism without correlationism. Some commentators on Simondon such as Xavier Guchet sees the similarity of the approaches between Simondon and Souriau, especially the common word “modulation” they used to signify the internal transformation in being, which is exactly dephasing in Simondon’s own vocabularies, and quoted by Latour above. As Guchet states for Simondon “unity of existence is not an unity of identity, of recollection from an situation of scattering[éparpillement], an unity obtained by composition of part and according to a method of classification”7. If there is an unity in the thoughts of Simondon, then this unity is nothing other than tension and incompatibility. Simondon didn’t use often the word “realism”, but rather “reality”, and what is human reality is actually always in tension with technical reality, while what signified by technical reality is not a single unity or a single phenomenon, but a reality conditioned by many other factors, such as geographical, industrial, natural, etc. For example, the production of white boots and raincoats is conditioned by limitation of the research in material, the visibility of certain colour in that environment, etc. If we can translate into Latour’s own vocabularies, it is the heterogeneous actors in play with different values.

Latour didn’t elaborate all these, except an abrupt assertion that seems a bit brutal, and lack of ontological politeness – to certain extent. In the book Enquête sur les Modes d’existence, we can find another commentary from Latour on Simondon. The section collected in the book is from his earlier article Prendre le Pli des techniques, in which Latour praised Simondon, but at the same time, proposed to look at the mode of existence of technics instead of the mode of existence of technical objects. Latour and Simondon are just like two acquaintances, you smile and say hi without shaking hand, but he has to node his head anyway since there must be a politeness if one wants to be diplomatic. Latour thinks that it is impossible to find the technical mode of existence in objects themselves but rather technics itself. Since technical objects don’t give us visibility, in fact they make technics opaque to us. One can probably find a similar concern from Heidegger, especially the question of Besorgen. We are concernful beings and we always forget what is in front of us, what we are using, especially Being which we are and in which we dwell: we are far away from what is closest to us.

But this dialectic movement of visible and invisible seems to be a general tendency of all technical objects, and it is the particular mode of existence of technical objects and technics, which has been widely recognized in the study of technologies. Latour was right that technics hides itself deeper than alétheia. The mode of existence of technics is only visible through technical objects, and it is also rendered invisible by technical objects, since on the one hand there is no technics without materialisation, or leaving traces; on the other hand materialisation doesn’t assure visibility, that is to say one cannot find identity or essence from eidos. I would rather say compared to Latour’s proposal of going back to the “transcendence” of technics, Simondon shows a more concrete account of the levels of existence of technical objects: namely usage, historical characters, and the profound structure of technicity. And these modes of existences also account different level of visibility and invisibility. For example, how can we think of the diode in your computer? Or lets take away the subject who speculates, how does the diode in your computer exist by itself, a diode that really exists in a black box even if you open the case of your computer and check every component? How can we think of Mercedes Benz, the different models that nevertheless associate with the brand name Mercedes Benz? When are are visible to us and invisible to us, without being reduced to question of transcendence and immanence?

Be diplomatic without double-clicks

Another Latourian commentary on Simondon comes indirectly from Graham Harman, if we can use Latour’s own vocabulary on the modes of existence, it is the overlap between Reference and Network that bring forth this mode of existence: another fictional dialogue between Latour and Simondon in the regime of enunciation of Harman. Speaking of the relational philosophy of Latour, Harman compared it with kinds of monism that supposes “a single lump universe, a world devoid of any specific realities at all8”. Among these monisms, Harman found one peculiar one, that is one related to Deleuze, and more specifically Simondon, if we now count how much Deleuze has taken from the concept of individuation of Simondon. In contrary to the single lump universe, this monism “try to enjoy the best of both worlds, defining a unified realm beneath experience that is not completely unified. Instead of a total lump-world, it is one animated in advance by different ‘pre-individual’ zones that prevent the world from being purely homogeneous.”

As Alberto Toscano describes Simondon’s position, ‘whilst [preindividual being] is yet to be in- dividuated, [it] can already be regarded as affected by relationality. This preindividual relationality, which takes place between heterogeneous dimensions, forces or energetic tendencies, is nevertheless also a sort of non- relation […]. Being is thus said to be more-than-one to the extent that all of its potentials cannot be actualized at once’. Simondon like DeLanda wants the world to be both heterogeneous and not yet parcelled out into individuals. In this way, specific realities lead a sort of halfhearted existence somewhere between one and many9.

Harman further explained that this is certainly not the case for Latour, since “his actors are fully in- dividual from the start; his philosophy contains no such concept as ‘pre- individual’. His actors are not blended together in a ‘continuous yet heterogeneous’ whole, but are basically cut off from one another. There is no continuum for Latour despite his relationism, and this thankfully entails that his relationism is less radical than it is for philosophies of the virtual (note that Latour’s rare flirtations with monism seem to coincide with his equally rare flirtations with the term ‘virtual’).” In fact, maybe it is because Harman didn’t read Simondon since he relied on Alberto Toscano’s reading, he hence has a rather vague idea of individuation. Here we see another problem of not being diplomatic enough, that is due the disagreement of word without looking into the content. The question for us is how can we negotiate different ontologies, not to generate an unity, but to affirm different realisms without a double click? In other words, how to become a professional diplomate as Latour suggests?

The fact that there are always individuals for Simondon, but individuals didn’t disclose us anything of operation or process, which can only be studied through individuation. Taking individual as isolable individual or as part of collective, according to Simondon is the problem of the substantialism of sociology and psychology. For Simondon, as well as Latour, individuals cannot be reduced; but for Simondon, who sees further than Harman, the individual cannot be reduced to itself. Each individual is not individual in itself, but always accompanied by the pre-individual, which is the potential and energetic that provide the motivation for individuation: it is a transindividual rather than an individual. And if actor-network aims to look into the complexity and the process of social phenomenon, didn’t Simondon and Latour walk in parallel?

Now if Actor-Network theory has to be re-articulated according to the modes of existence of the modern according to Latour, we must pay attention to the translation that is not necessarily diplomatic but sincere. We must also note that this notion of translation is so important in Actor-Network theory, since according to the annotation of Latour’s Ebook, it is called la sociologie de la traduction, sociology of translation. But lets be a bit careful here, with the word traduction, Latour distinguish it from translation. For him, the particular mode of existence he calls “Double Click” is a translation without traduction, meaning without transformation, without process, it is simply a jump from one process to another. But isn’t Latour and Harmon’s reading of Simondon also such a double click?

I am not rejecting Latour and Harman due to their double clicks on a button called “Simondon”, since we have to be diplomatic and polite. But maybe we need to pay attention that, there are different style of being diplomatic, and I feel like a more productive dialogue is possible if we are able to negotiate like diplomates who try to translation different terms and requests into conditions and agreements, as Latour himself suggests. These negotiations may allow us to peek into a more profound investigation on the modes of existence of Moderns. Actor-Network, a concept according to Latour needs to be renewed in the inquiry into the mode of existence, the remaining task is to re-situate network in the broader framework of the modes of existence.

Lets start and conclude with something lighter and more motivated and leave something heavier and more specific behind, so that we can find ways to start a real negotiation – even though you may criticise this is also a double-click of some kind later. Instead of going into every mode of existence, lets me outline a framework for such a dialogue. These are four pairs of beings: 1) Actor – Individual; 2) Network – Milieu; 3)Relations – Affectivo-emotive/Social-psychological; 4) Traduction – Transduction. We wouldn’t be able to go through all these pairs in details, since they deserve a work of its own. Here I can only offer a very brief detour, shows how Latour and Simondon’s interest in describing processes and operations can give us a synthetic reading of both. We will see that how different modes of existences can hardly be classified into 15 categories and simple overlap between these categories could already bring us a lot of headaches. What seems to me problematic is that actors as individuals – according to Harman – are too rigid. Of course, each individual exist, me, I am speaking in front of you as an individual, but I am not an individual to you as a total other, since you are listening to me, and we are thinking together, at least you are thinking according to my voice. You are listening to my demands, my ontologies, with your politeness. And I am observing you, some of you smiling, some of you shaking head, many of you checking Facebook, and I must adjust my speech, my tone, the volume of my voice, my perception of my speech and even myself. There are many possibilities that is totally outside me, but they are the pre-individual for me as a transindividual as Simondon proposed.

Simondon is more persistent with trans-.Note that it is a transindividual but not an individual; a transduction and not only a traduction, transduction is at the same time change and exchange that triggers transformation of structure. Latour, he himself wants to dissolve network into the question of the mode of existence, and here we can see again the possibility of reconstitute it in the concept of milieu. The network of Latour is too much into “international relations” due to its diplomatic nature, and for Simondon the milieu has to be socio-psychological and emo-affective, it is also why Simondon was able to talk about an social-psychology of technicity. This is not a simple defence for Simondon, since it wouldn’t be fruitful to do so, but in order to search the possibility of a dialogue that doesn’t dismiss each other in a double-click. For an inquiry into the modes of existence is possible, it seems that one must not repeat what has happened in the history of the inquiry into existence, like how Jorge Luis Borges made fun of Bishop John Wilkins’ ontology and the funny Chinese encyclopedia; indeed 12+310 categories doesn’t seem to be much different from15 categories except when the “+” counts. If we dare to take it a step further, then it is how a metaphysics departs from its history, not only in terms of content, but also style.

1Le diplomate de la Terre Entretien avec Bruno Latour, par Arnaud Esquerre & Jeanne Lazarus [18-09-2012],

2Thanks to Jeremy James Lecomte and Markus Burkhardt for insisting on this point

3Latour, EMD, 23

4In Latour, « Reflections on Etienne Souriau’s Les Modes d’existence », in (edited by Graham Harman, Levi Bryant and Nick Srnicek The Speculative Turn Continental Materialism and Realism Australi, pp. 304-333, Melbourne, Australie

5Simondon, MEOT (2012), Aubier, p.21

6Guchet, Pour un humanisme technologique. Culture, technique et société dans la philosophie de Gilbert Simondon, PUF,2011, 35

7Ibid, « l’unité de l’existence n’est pas une unité d’identité, de récollection à partir d’une situation d’éparpillement, une unité obtenue par composition de parties et selon une méthode de classification »

8Harman, Prince of Networks: Bruno Latour and Metaphysics, 159


10Latour, EMO, 477

Ulrich Beck obituaries by Lash and Latour (Art Forum)

Ulrich Beck. Photo: Augsburger Allgemeine.

I FIRST ENCOUNTERED Ulrich Beck as a (superannuated) postdoc. I was a Humboldt Stipendiat in Berlin, where in 1987, I heard the sociologist Helmuth Berking give a paper on Beck’s “Reflexive Modernisierung” (Reflexive Modernization) at a Freie Universität colloquium. I had already published a paper called “Postmodernity and Desire” in the journal Theory and Society, and Beck’s notion of reflexive modernization seemed to point to an opening beyond the modern/postmodern impasse. Today, Foucault, Deleuze, and even Lebenssoziologie (Life sociology) are all present in German intellectual life. But in 1987, this kind of stuff was beyond the pale. Habermas and Enlightenment modernism ruled. And rightly so: It is largely thanks to Habermas that Germany now is a land rooted less in fiercely nationalistic Blut und Boden (Blood-and-Soil) than in a more pluralistic Verfassungspatriotismus (Constitutional Patriotism).

Beck’s foundational Risikogesellschaft (Risk Society), however, abandoned the order of Habermas’s “ideal speech situation” for contingency and unintended consequences. This was hardly a celebration of contingency; Beckian contingency was rooted in the Chernobyl disaster; it was literally a poison, or in German a Gift. Hence Beck’s subsequent book was entitled Gegengift, or “Counter-poison.” It was subtitled Die organisierte Unverantwortlichkeit (The Organized Irresponsibility). Beck’s point was that institutions needed to be responsible for a politics of antidote that would address the unintentional generation of environmental crises. This was a critique of systematic institutional irresponsibility—or more literally “un-responsibility”—for ecological disaster. Beck’s thinking became more broadly accepted in Germany over the years. Yet the radically original themes of contingency and unintended consequences remained central to Beck’s own vision of modernity and inspired a generation of scholars.

Beck’s influence has been compared by Joan Subirats, writing in in El País, to that of Zygmunt Baumanand Richard Sennett. Yet there is little in Bauman’s idea of liquidity to match the power of Beck’s understanding of reflexivity. It was based in a sociology of knowledge in which the universal of the concept could never subsume the particular of the empirical. At the same time, Beck’s subject was still knowledge, not the impossibility of knowledge and inevitability of the irrational (not, in other words, the “known unknowns” and the “unknown unknowns” that have proved so damaging to contemporary political thought). Beck’s reflexivity, then, was not just about a Kant’s What can I know?—it was just as much a question of the Kantian What should I do? and especially What can I hope?

For Beck, “un-responsible” institutions were still situated in what he referred to as “simple modernity.” They would need to deal with modernity’s ecological contingency in order to be reflexive. They would need to be aware of unintended consequences, of what environmental economists (and later the theory of cognitive capitalism) would understand as “externalities.” Beck’s reflexivity extended to his later work on cosmopolitanism and Europe. For him, Europe is not an ordering of states as atoms, in which one is very much like the other. It is instead a collection of singularities. Hence his criticism of German Europe’s “Merkiavelli”-ism in treating Greece and the European South as if all were uniform Teutonic entities to be subject to the principle of austerity.

Though Beck has remained highly influential, Bruno Latour’s “actor-network” theory has outstripped his ideas in terms of popularity, establishing a dominant paradigm among sociologists. Yet the instrumentalist assumptions of actor-network theory do not open up the ethical or hopeful dimension of Beck’s work. The latter has been a counter-poison, an antidote to the instrumentalism at the heart of today’s neoliberal politics, in which our singularity has been eroded under the banner of a uniform and possessive individualism. Because of the contingency at its heart, Beck’s work could never become a dominant paradigm.

Beck’s ideas clearly drove the volume Reflexive Modernization, which he, Anthony Giddens, and I published in 1994. There, I developed a notion of “aesthetic reflexivity,” and although in some ways I am more of a Foucault, Deleuze, and perhaps Walter Benjamin guy, Beck’s ideas still drive my own work today. Thus we should extend Beckian reflexivity to speak of a reflexive community, and of a necessary risk-sharing that must be at the heart of any contemporary politics of the commons.

I was offered the post to be Ulrich’s Nachfolger (successor) at University of Bamberg when he moved to Munich in 1992. In the end, I decided to stay in the UK, but we kept in touch. Although to a certain extent I’ve become a cultural theorist, Ulrich always treated me as a sociologist, and he was right: When I attended his seventieth birthday party in April 2014, all of cultural Munich was there, from newspaper editors to museum directors. Every February, when he was based at the London School of Economics, Ulrich and his wife Elisabeth would spend a Sunday afternoon with Celia Lury and me at our house in Finsbury Park/Highbury, enjoying a lunch of Kaffee und Kuchen (coffee and cake) and deli cheeses and hams. No more than a fortnight before his death Ulrich emailed me about February 2015. I replied sadly that I would be in Asia and for the first time would miss this annual Sunday gathering. At his seventieth birthday Ulrich was in rude health. I was honestly looking forward to his eightieth. Now neither the Islington Sundays nor the eightieth birthday will happen. It is sad.

Scott Lash is the Research Director at the Center for Cultural Studies at Goldsmiths, University of London.

*  *  *

Ulrich Beck, 2007.

THE DEATH OF ULRICH BECK is terrible news. It is a tragedy for his family, for his research team, and for his many colleagues and friends, but it is also a tragedy for European thought.

Ulrich was a public intellectual of the infinitely rare kind in Germany, one that was thought only to exist in France. But he had a very individual way—and not at all French—of exercising this authority of thought: There was nothing of the intellectual critic in him. All his energy, his generosity, his infinite kindness, were put in the service of discovering what actors were in the midst of changing about their way of producing the social world. So for him, it was not about discovering the existing laws of such a world or about verifying, under new circumstances, the stability of old conceptions of sociology. No: It was the innovations in ways of being in the world that interested him above all. What’s more, he didn’t burden himself with a unified, seemingly scientific apparatus in order to locate those innovations. Objectivity, in his eyes, was going to come from his ability to modify the explanatory framework of sociology at the same time as actors modified their way of connecting to one another. His engagement consisted of simply prolonging the innovations he observed in them, innovations from which he was able to extricate power.

This ability to modify the explanatory framework was something that Ulrich would first manifest in his invention of the concept of Risikogesellschaft (risk society), which was initially so difficult to comprehend. By the term risk, he didn’t mean that life was more dangerous than before, but that the production of risks was henceforth a constituent part of modern life and that it was foolhardy to pretend that we were going to take control of them. To the contrary, it was necessary to replace the question of the mode of production and of the unequal distribution of wealth with the symmetrical question of the mode of production and the unequal distribution of ills. Coincidentally, the same year that he proposed the term Risikogesellschaft, the catastrophe of Chernobyl lent his diagnostic an indisputable significance—a diagnostic that current ecological transformations have only reinforced.

In turning the uneven division of ills into the common thread of his inquiries, Ulrich would gradually change the vocabulary of the social sciences. And, first and foremost, he changed the understanding of the relationship between societies and their environment. Everything that had seemed to be outside of culture—and outside of sociology—he would gradually reintegrate, because the consequences of industrial, scientific, and military actions were henceforth part of the very definition of communal life. Everything that modernity had decided to put off until later, or simply to deny, needed to become the very content of collective existence. Hence the delicate and intensely discussed expression “reflexive modernity” or “second modernity.”

This attention to risk would, in turn, modify all the usual ingredients of the social sciences: First, politics—its conventional definition gradually being emptied of its content while Ulrich’s notion of “subpolitics” spread everywhere—but also psychology, the elements of which never ceased to change, along with the limits of collectives. Even love, to which he devoted two books with his wife Elisabeth Beck-Gernsheim, who is so grief stricken today. Yes, Ulrich Beck went big. Perhaps this is why, on a visit to Munich, he was keen to take me on a pilgrimage to Max Weber’s house. The magnitude of Beck’s conceptions, the audacity of trying to rethink—with perfect modesty and without any pretension of style, without considering himself to be the great innovator that he was—truly made him a descendant of Weber. Like him, Beck wanted sociology to encompass everything.

What makes Beck’s death all the harder to accept, for everyone following his work, is that for many years he was making the social sciences undergo a kind of de-nationalization of its methods and theoretical frameworks. Like the question of risk, the question of cosmopolitism (or better, of cosmopolitanism) was one of his great concerns. By this venerable term, he was not designating some call for the universal human, but the redefinition of humans belonging to something other than nation-states. Because his investigations constantly butted against the obstacle of collected facts managed, conceived of, and diffused by and for states—which clearly made impossible any objective approach toward the new kinds of associations for which the empty term globalization did not allow—the methods of examination themselves had to be radically modified. In this, he was succeeding, as can be seen in the impressive expansion of his now leaderless research group.

Beck manifested this mistrust of the nation-state framework in a series of books, articles, and even pamphlets on the incredible experience of the construction of Europe, a phenomenon so admirable and yet so constantly disdained. He imagined a Europe of new affiliations, as opposed to a Europe of nation-states (and, in particular, in contrast to a uniquely Germanic or French conception of the state). How sad it is to think that such an essential question, yet one that is of interest to so few thinkers, can no longer be discussed with him.

I cannot imagine a sadder way to greet the new year, especially considering that Beck’s many research projects (we were just talking about them again in Paris a few weeks ago) addressed the most urgent questions of 2015: How to react to the world’s impotence on the question of climate change? How to find an adequate response to the resurgences of nationalisms? How to reconsider Europe through conceptions of territory and identity that are not a crude and completely obsolete reprise of sovereignty? That European thought has lost at this precise moment such a source of intelligence, innovation, and method is a true tragedy. When Beck asked, in a recent interview, “How does the transformative power of global risk (Weltrisikogesellschaft) transform politics?” no one could have suspected that he was going to leave us with the anxiety of finding the answer alone.

Bruno Latour is professor at Sciences Po Paris and Centennial Professor at the London School of Economics.

Translated from French by Molly Stevens.

A version of this text was published in German on January 5 in the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung.

Latour on digital methods (Installing [social] order)


In a fascinating, apparently not-peer-reviewed non-article available free online here, Tommaso Venturini and Bruno Latour discuss the potential of “digital methods” for the contemporary social sciences.

The paper summarizes, and quite nicely, the split of sociological methods to the statistical aggregate using quantitative methods (capturing supposedly macro-phenomenon) and irreducibly basic interactions using qualitative methods (capturing supposedly micro-phenomenon). The problem is that neither of which aided the sociologist in capture emergent phenomenon, that is, capturing controversies and events as they happen rather than estimate them after they have emerged (quantitative macro structures) or capture them divorced from non-local influences (qualitative micro phenomenon).

The solution, they claim, is to adopt digital methods in the social sciences. The paper is not exactly a methodological outline of how to accomplish these methods, but there is something of a justification available for it, and it sounds something like this:

Thanks to digital traceability, researchers no longer need to choose between precision and scope in their observations: it is now possible to follow a multitude of interactions and, simultaneously, to distinguish the specific contribution that each one makes to the construction of social phenomena. Born in an era of scarcity, the social sciences are entering an age of abundance. In the face of the richness of these new data, nothing justifies keeping old distinctions. Endowed with a quantity of data comparable to the natural sciences, the social sciences can finally correct their lazy eyes and simultaneously maintain the focus and scope of their observations.

An Indigenous Feminist’s take on the Ontological Turn: ‘ontology’ is just another word for colonialism (Urbane Adventurer: Amiskwacî)

Personal paradigm shifts have a way of sneaking up on you. It started, innocently enough, with a trip to Edinburgh to see the great Latour discuss his latest work in February 2013. I was giddy with excitement: a talk by the Great Latour. Live and in colour! In his talk, on that February night, he discussed the climate as sentient. Funny, I thought, this sounds an awful lot like the little bit of Inuit cosmological thought I have been taught by Inuit friends. I waited, through the whole talk, to hear the Great Latour credit Indigenous thinkers for their millennia of engagement with sentient environments, with cosmologies that enmesh people into complex relationships between themselves and all relations. 

It never came. He did not mention Inuit. Or Anishinaabe. Or Nehiyawak. Or any Indigenous thinkers at all. In fact, he spent a great deal of time interlocuting with a Scottish thinker, long dead. And with Gaia.

I left the hall early, before the questions were finished. I was unimpressed. Again, I thought with a sinking feeling in my chest, it appeared that the so-called Ontological Turn was spinning itself on the backs of non-european thinkers. And, again, the ones we credited for these incredible insights into the ‘more-than-human’, and sentience and agency, were not the people who built and maintain the knowledge systems that european and north american anthropologists and philosophers have been studying for well over a hundred years, and predicating their current ‘aha’ ontological moment upon. No, here we were celebrating and worshipping a european thinker for ‘discovering’ what many an Indigenous thinker around the world could have told you for millennia. The climate is sentient!

So, again, I was just another inconvenient Indigenous body in a room full of people excited to hear a white guy talk around Indigenous thought without giving Indigenous people credit. Doesn’t this feel familiar, I thought.

As an Indigenous woman, I have tried, over the last few years, to find thinkers who engage with Indigenous thought respectfully. Who give full credit to Indigenous laws, stories and epistemologies. Who quote and cite Indigenous people rather than anthropologists who studied them 80 years ago. This is not always easy. I am so grateful to scholars like David Anderson, Julie Cruikshank and Ann Fienup-Riordan, among others, for giving me hope amidst the despair I’ve felt as the ‘Ontological Turn’ gains steam on both sides of the Atlantic. I am so grateful, too, for the Indigenous thinkers who wrestle with the academy, who have positioned themselves to speak back to Empire despite all of the polite/hidden racism, heteropatriarchy, and let’s face it–white supremacy–of the University.

The euro-western academy is colonial. It elevates people who talk about Indigenous people above people who speak with Indigenous people as equals, or who ARE Indigenous. (Just do a body count of the number of Indigenous scholars relative to non-Indigenous scholars in the euro academy, and you’ll see that over here there are far more people talking about Indigenous issues than Indigenous people talking about those issues themselves). As scholars of the euro-western tradition, we have a whole host of non-Indigenous thinkers we turn to, in knee-jerk fashion, when we want to discuss the ‘more-than-human’ or sentient environments, or experiential learning. There are many reasons for this. I think euro scholars would benefit from reading more about Critical Race theory, intersectionality, and studying the mounting number of rebukes against the privilege of european philosophy and thought and how this silences non-white voices within and outside the academy. This philosopher, Eugene Sun Park, wrote a scathing critique of the reticence of philosophy departments in the USA to consider non-european thought as ‘credible’. I would say many of the problems he identifies in euro-western philosophy are the same problems I have experienced in european anthropology, despite efforts to decolonise and re-direct the field during the ‘reflexive turn’ of the 1970s-onwards.

As an Indigenous feminist, I think it’s time we take the Ontological Turn, and the european academy more broadly, head on. To accomplish this, I want to direct you to Indigenous thinkers who have been writing about Indigenous legal theory, human-animal relations and multiple epistemologies/ontologies for decades. Consider the links at the end of this post as a ‘cite this, not that’ cheat-sheet for people who feel dissatisfied with the current euro (and white, and quite often, male) centric discourse taking place in our disciplines, departments, conferences and journals.

My experience, as a Métis woman from the prairies of Canada currently working in the UK, is of course limited to the little bit that I know. I can only direct you to the thinkers that I have met or listened to in person, whose writing and speaking I have fallen in love with, who have shifted paradigms for me as an Indigenous person navigating the hostile halls of the academy. I cannot, nor would I try, to speak for Indigenous thinkers in other parts of the world. But I guarantee that there are myriad voices in every continent being ignored in favour of the ‘GREAT WHITE HOPES’ we currently turn to when we discuss ontological matters (I speak here, of course, of ontology as an anthropologist, so hold your horses, philosophers, if you feel my analysis of ‘the ontological’ is weak. We can discuss THAT whole pickle another day).

So why does this all matter? Why am I so fired up at the realisation that (some) european thinkers are exploiting Indigenous thought, seemingly with no remorse? Well, it’s this little matter of colonialism, see. Whereas the european academy tends to discuss the ‘post-colonial’, in Canada I assure you that we are firmly still experiencing the colonial (see Pinkoski 2008 for a cogent discussion of this issue in Anthropology). In 2009, our Prime-Minister, Stephen Harper, famously claimed that Canada has ‘no history of colonialism’. And yet, we struggle with the fact that Indigenous women experience much higher rates of violence than non-Indigenous women (1200 Indigenous women have been murdered or gone missing in the last forty years alone, prompting cries from the UN and other bodies for our government to address this horrific reality). Canada’s first Prime-Minister, proud Scotsman John A. MacDonald (I refuse to apply the ‘Sir’), famously attempted to ‘kill the Indian in the Child’ with his residential schools. Canada is only now coming around to the realisation that through things like residential schools, and the deeply racist—and still legislated!–Indian Act, that it, as a nation, was built on genocide and dispossession. Given our strong British roots in Canada, you can imagine that it’s All Very Uncomfortable and creates a lot of hand-wringing and cognitive dissonance for those who have lived blissfully unaware of these violences. But ask any Indigenous person, and you will hear that nobody from an Indigenous Nation has ever laboured under the fantasy that Canada is post-colonial. Or benevolent. Nor would we pretend that the British Empire saddled us with solely happy, beautiful, loving legacies. For all its excessive politeness, the British colonial moment rent and tore apart sovereign Indigenous nations and peoples in what is now Canada, and though the sun has set on Queen Victoria’s Empire, British institutions (including the academy) still benefit from that colonial moment. We are enmeshed, across the Atlantic, in ongoing colonial legacies. And in order to dismantle those legacies, we must face our complicity head on.

Similarly, with the wave of the post-colonial wand, many european thinkers seem to have absolved themselves of any implication in ongoing colonial realities throughout the globe. And yet, each one of us is embedded in systems that uphold the exploitation and dispossession of Indigenous peoples. The academy plays a role in shaping the narratives that erase ongoing colonial violence. My experience in Britain has been incredibly eye-opening: as far as the majority of Brits are concerned, their responsibility for, and implication in, colonialism in North America ended with the War of Independence (in America) or the repatriation of the Canadian constitution (1982).

Is it so simple, though? To draw such arbitrary lines through intergenerational suffering and colonial trauma, to absolve the european academy and the european mind of any guilt in the genocide of Indigenous people (if and when european and north american actors are willing to admit it’s a genocide)? And then to turn around and use Indigenous cosmologies and knowledge systems in a so-called new intellectual ‘turn’, all the while ignoring the contemporary realities of Indigenous peoples vis-à-vis colonial nation-states, or the many Indigenous thinkers who are themselves writing about these issues? And is it intellectually or ethically responsible or honest to pretend that european bodies do not still oppress Indigenous ones throughout the world?

Zygmunt Bauman (1989) takes sociology to task for its role in narrating the Holocaust, and its role in erasing our collective guilt in the possibility for a future Holocaust to emerge. He argues that by framing the Holocaust as either a a) one-off atrocity never to be repeated (“a failure of modernity”) (5) or b) an inevitable outcome of modernity, sociology enables humanity to ignore its ongoing complicity in the conditions that created the horrors of the Holocaust. The rhetoric of the post-colonial is similarly complacent: it absolves the present generation of thinkers, politicians, lawyers, and policy wonks for their duty to acknowledge what came before, and, in keeping with Bauman’s insights, the possibility it could happen again — that within all societies lurk the ‘two faces’ of humanity that can either facilitate or quash systemic and calculated human suffering and exploitation. But the reality is, as Bauman asserts, that humanity is responsible. For all of these atrocities. And humanity must be willing to face itself, to acknowledge its role in these horrors, in order to ensure we never tread the path of such destruction again. 

I take Bauman’s words to heart, and ask my non-Indigenous peers to consider their roles in the ongoing colonial oppression of Indigenous peoples. The colonial moment has not passed. The conditions that fostered it have not suddenly disappeared. We talk of neo-colonialism, neo-Imperialism, but it is as if these are far away things (these days these accusations are often mounted with terse suspicion against the BRIC countries, as though the members of the G8 have not already colonized the globe through neo-liberal economic and political policies). The reality is that we are just an invasion or economic policy away from re-colonizing at any moment. So it is so important to think, deeply, about how the Ontological Turn–with its breathless ‘realisations’ that animals, the climate, water, ‘atmospheres’ and non-human presences like ancestors and spirits are sentient and possess agency, that ‘nature’ and ‘culture’, ‘human’ and ‘animal’ may not be so separate after all—is itself perpetuating the exploitation of Indigenous peoples. To paraphrase a colleague I deeply admire, Caleb Behn: first they came for the land, the water, the wood, the furs, bodies, the gold. Now, they come armed with consent forms and feeble promises of collaboration and take our laws, our stories, our philosophies. If they bother to pretend to care enough to do even that much—many simply ignore Indigenous people, laws, epistemologies altogether and re-invent the more-than-human without so much as a polite nod towards Indigenous bodies/Nations.

A point I am making in my dissertation, informed by the work of Indigenous legal theorists like John Borrows, Kahente Horn-Miller, Tracey Lindberg, and Val Napoleon, is that Indigenous thought is not just about social relations and philosophical anecdotes, as many an ethnography would suggest. These scholars have already shown that Indigenous epistemologies and ontologies represents legal orders, legal orders through which Indigenous peoples throughout the world are fighting for self-determination, sovereignty. The dispossession wrought by centuries of stop-start chaotic colonial invasion and imposition of european laws and languages is ongoing. It did not end with repatriation of constitutions or independence from colonial rule. Europe is still implicated in what it wrought through centuries of colonial exploitation. Whether it likes it or not.

My point here is that Indigenous peoples, throughout the world, are fighting for recognition. Fighting to assert their laws, philosophies and stories on their own terms. And when anthropologists and other assembled social scientists sashay in and start cherry-picking parts of Indigenous thought that appeal to them without engaging directly in (or unambiguously acknowledging) the political situation, agency and relationality of both Indigenous people and scholars, we immediately become complicit in colonial violence. When we cite european thinkers who discuss the ‘more-than-human’ but do not discuss their Indigenous contemporaries who are writing on the exact same topics, we perpetuate the white supremacy of the academy.

So, for every time you want to cite a Great Thinker who is on the public speaking circuit these days, consider digging around for others who are discussing the same topics in other ways. Decolonising the academy, both in europe and north america, means that we must consider our own prejudices, our own biases. Systems like peer-review and the subtle violence of european academies tend to privilege certain voices and silence others. Consider why, as of 2011, there were no black philosophy profs in all of the UK. Consider why it’s okay to discuss sentient climates in an Edinburgh lecture hall without a nod to Indigenous epistemologies and not have a single person openly question that. And then, familiarise yourself with the Indigenous thinkers (and more!) I am linking below and broaden the spectrum of who you cite, who you reaffirm as ‘knowledgeable’.


Zoe Todd (Métis) is a PhD Candidate in Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, Scotland. She researches human-fish relations in the community of Paulatuuq in the Inuvialuit Settlement Region, Northwest Territories, Canada. She is a 2011 Pierre Elliott Trudeau Foundation Scholar.

Antropólogo francês Bruno Latour fala sobre natureza e política (O Globo)

28.12.2013 | 07h30m

Bruno Latour diz que ‘ecologizar’ é o verbo da vez, mas propõe uma noção de ‘ecologia’ com sentido mais amplo do que o defendido hoje por ativistas e políticos. Para ele, o Brasil, apesar das contradições, é ator fundamental na construção de uma inteligência política e científica para o futuro

Por Fernando Eichenberg, correspondente em Paris

A modernidade é uma falácia, uma ficção inventada para organizar a vida intelectual. Os chamados “modernos” pregam a separação de ciência, política, natureza e cultura, numa teoria distante da realidade do mundo e inadaptada aos desafios impostos neste início de século, acusa o pensador francês Bruno Latour, de 66 anos. “Ecologizar” é verbo da vez, sustenta ele, mas num sentido bem mais amplo do que o espaço compreendido pela ecologia defendida por ativistas e partidos políticos.

— O desenvolvimento da frente de modernização, como se fala de uma frente pioneira na Amazônia, sempre foi, ao contrário, uma extensão de uma quantidade de associações, da marca dos humanos, da intimidade de conexões entre as coisas e as pessoas. A modernidade nunca existiu — dispara Latour, em entrevista ao GLOBO.

Na sua opinião, o Brasil, com todas as suas contradições, é fundamental na possibilidade de um futuro de inovações que gerem um novo tipo de “civilização ecológica”, numa nova “inteligência política e científica”.

Antropólogo, sociólogo e filósofo das ciências, Bruno Latour, que recebeu em maio passado o prestigiado prêmio Holberg de Ciências Humanas, é um dos intelectuais franceses contemporâneos mais traduzidos no exterior. Além de suas originais investigações teóricas, também se aventurou no terreno das artes (com as exposições “Iconoclash” e “Making things public”) e, em outubro, estreou a peça “Gaïa Global Circus”, uma “tragicomédia climática”, que ele espera um dia poder encenar no Jardim Botânico, no Rio. Professor do Instituto de Estudos Políticos de Paris (Sciences-Po), lançou ainda este ano o ensaio “Enquête sur les modes d’existence — Une anthropologie des Modernes” (Investigação sobre os modos de existência – uma antropologia dos Modernos, ed. La Découverte).

Qual a diferença entre “ecologizar” e “modernizar”, segundo seu pensamento?

Modernizar é o argumento que diz que quanto mais nós separamos as questões de natureza e de política, melhor será. Ecologizar é dizer: já que, de fato, não separamos tudo isso, já que a História recente dos humanos na Terra foi o embaraçamento cada vez mais importante das questões de natureza e de sociedade, se é isso que fazemos na prática, então que construamos a política que lhe corresponda em vez de fazer de conta que há uma história subterrânea, aquela das associações, e uma história oficial, que é a de emancipação dos limites da natureza. Ecologizar é um verbo como modernizar, exceto que se trata da prática e não somente da teoria. Mas pode-se dizer “modernidade reflexiva” ou utilizar outros termos. O importante é que haja uma alternativa a modernizar, que não seja arcaica, reacionária. Que seja progressista, mas de uma outra forma, não modernista. Um problema complicado hoje, sobretudo no Brasil. Mas é complicado por todo o lado, na França também. Qualquer dúvida sobre a modernização, se diz que é preciso estancar a frente pioneira, decrescer, voltar ao passado. Isso é impossível. É preciso inovar, descobrir novas formas, e isso se parece com a modernização. Mas é uma modernização que aceita seu passado. E o passado foi uma mistura cada vez mais intensa entre os produtos químicos, as florestas, os peixes, etc. Isso é “ecologizar”. É a instituição da prática e não da teoria.

Qual é a situação e o papel do Brasil neste contexto?

Penso que deve haver uma verdadeira revolução ecológica, não somente no sentido de natureza, e o Brasil é um ator importante. A esperança do mundo repousa muito sobre o Brasil, país com uma enormidade de reservas e de recursos. Se fala muito do movimento da civilização na direção da Ásia, o que não faz muito sentido do ponto de vista ecológico, pois quando se vai a estes países se vê a devastação. Não se pode imaginar uma civilização ecológica vindo da Ásia. No Brasil — e também na Índia — há um pensamento, não simplesmente a força nua, num país em que os problemas ecológicos são colocados em grande escala. Há um verdadeiro pensamento e uma verdadeira arte, o que é muito importante. Se fosse me aposentar, pensaria no Brasil. Brasil e Índia são os dois países nos quais podemos imaginar verdadeiras inovações de civilização, e não simplesmente fazer desenvolvimento sustentável ou reciclagem de lixo. Podem mostrar ao resto do mundo o que a Europa acreditou por muito tempo poder fazer. A Europa ainda poderá colaborar com seu grão de areia, mas não poderá mais inovar muito em termos de construir um quadro de vida, porque em parte já o fez, com cidades ligadas por autoestradas, com belas paisagens e belos museus. Já está feito. Mas numa perspectiva de inventar novas modas e novas formas de existência que nada têm a ver com a economia e a modernização, com a conservação, será preciso muita inteligência política e científica. Não há muitos países que possuem esses recursos. Os Estados Unidos poderiam, mas os perderam há muito tempo, saíram da História quando o presidente George W. Bush disse que o modo de vida dos americanos não era negociável. Brasil e Índia ainda têm essa chance. Mas este é o cenário otimista. O cenário pessimista talvez seja o mais provável.

Qual a hipótese pessimista?

Há os chineses que entram com força no Brasil, por exemplo. Meu amigo Clive Hamilton (pensador australiano) diz que, infelizmente, nada vai acontecer, que se vai fazer uma reengenharia, se vai modernizar numa outra escala e numa outra versão catastrófica. Provavelmente, é o que vai ocorrer, já que não conseguimos decidir nada, e que será preciso ainda assim tomar medidas. Uma hipótese é a de que se vai delegar a Estados ainda mais modernizadores no sentido tradicional e hegemônico a tarefa de reparar a situação por meio de medidas drásticas, sem nada mudar, portanto agravando-a. Mas meu dever é o de ser otimista. Em todo caso, é preciso inventar novas formas para pensar essas questões.

O senhor acompanhou as manifestações de rua no Brasil neste ano que passou?

É uma das razões pelas quais o Brasil é interessante, porque há ao mesmo tempo um dinamismo de invenção política, ligado a outros dinamismos relacionados às ciências, às artes. Há um potencial no Brasil. E há, hoje, uma riqueza. Não são temas que se pode abordar em uma situação de miséria. É preciso algo que se pareça ao bem-estar. Na Índia, se você tem um milhão de pessoas morrendo de fome não pode fazer muito. O Brasil é hoje muito importante para a civilização mundial.

Os partidos ecologistas, na sua opinião, não souberam assimilar estas questões?

Nenhum partido ecologista conseguiu manter uma prática. A ecologia se tornou um domínio, enquanto é uma outra forma de tudo fazer. A ecologia se viu encerrada em um tema, e não é vista como uma outra forma de fazer política. É uma posição bastante difícil. É preciso ao mesmo tempo uma posição revolucionária, pois significa modificar o conjunto dos elementos do sistema de produção. Mas é modificar no nível do detalhe de interconexão de redes técnico-sociais, para as quais não há tradição política. Sabemos o que é imaginar a revolução sem fazê-la, administrar situações estabelecidas melhorando-as, modernizar livrando-se de coisas do passado, mas não sabemos o que é criar um novo sistema de produção inovador, que obriga a tudo mudar, como numa revolução, mas assimilando cada vez mais elementos que estão interconectados. Não há uma tradição política para isso. Não é o socialismo, o liberalismo. E é preciso reconhecer que os partidos verdes, seja na Alemanha, na França, nos EUA não fizeram o trabalho de reflexão intelectual necessária. Como os socialistas, no século XIX, refizeram toda a filosofia, seja marxista ou socialista tradicional, libertária, nas relações com a ciência, na reinvenção da economia. Há uma espécie de ideia de que a questão ecológica era local, e que se podia servir do que chamamos de filosofia da ecologia, que é uma filosofia da natureza, muito impregnada do passado, da conservação. O que é completamente inadaptado a uma revolução desta grandeza. Não podemos criticá-los. Eles tentaram, mas não investiram intelectualmente na escala do problema. Não se deram conta do que quer dizer “ecologizar” em vez de “modernizar”. Imagine o pobre do infeliz responsável pelo transporte público de São Paulo ou de Los Angeles.

A França receberá em 2015 a Conferência Internacional sobre o Clima. Como o senhor avalia esses encontros?

Estamos muito mobilizados aqui na Sciences-Po, porque em 2015 ocorrerá em Paris, e trabalhamos bastante sobre o fracasso da conferência de Copenhague, em 2009. Estamos muito ativos, tanto aqui como no Palácio do Eliseu. Na minha interpretação, o sistema de agregação por nação é demasiado convencional para identificar as verdadeiras linhas de clivagens sobre os combates e as oposições. Cada país é atravessado em seu interior por múltiplas facções, e o sistema de negociação pertence à geopolítica tradicional. E também ainda não admitimos de que se tratam de conflitos políticos importantes. A França aceitou a conferência sem perceber realmente do que se tratava, como um tema político maior. Por quê? Porque ainda não estamos habituados a considerar — e aqui outra diferença entre “ecologizar” e “modernizar” — que as questões de meio ambiente e da natureza são questões de conflito, e não questões que vão nos colocar em acordo. Vocês têm isso no Brasil em relação à Floresta Amazônica. Não é porque se diz “vamos salvar a Floresta Amazônica” que todo mundo vai estar de acordo. Há muita discordância. E isso é muito complicado de entender na mentalidade do que é uma negociação.

Poderá haver avanços em 2015?

Uma das hipóteses que faço para 2015 é a de que é preciso acentuar o caráter conflituoso antes de entrar em negociações. Não começar pela repartição das tarefas, mas admitindo que se está em conflito nas questões da natureza. Os ecologistas têm um pouco a ideia de que no momento em que se fala de natureza e de fatos científicos as pessoas vão se alinhar. Acham que se falar que o atum está desaparecendo os pescadores vão começar a parar de matá-los. Sabe-se há muito tempo que é exatamente o contrário, eles vão rapidamente em busca do último atum. A minha hipótese para 2015 é que se deve tornar visíveis estes conflitos. O que coloca vários problemas de teoria política, de ecologia, de representação, de geografia etc. Talvez 2015 já seja um fracasso como foi 2009. Mas é interessante tentar, talvez seja nossa última chance. Tenho muitas ideias. Faremos um colóquio no Rio de Janeiro em setembro de 2014, organizado por Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, sobre isso. Depois faremos um outro, em Toulouse, para testar os modelos de negociação. Em 2015 faremos um outro aqui na Sciences-Po. A ideia é encontrar alternativas no debate sobre conflitos de mundo. Não é uma questão das pessoas que são a favor do carvão, os que são contra os “climacéticos” etc. Não é a mesma conexão, não é a mesma ciência, não é a mesma confiança na política. São conflitos antropocêntricos. Interessante que as pessoas que assistiram à minha peça de teatro ficaram contentes em ver os conflitos. Na ecologia se faz muita pedagogia, se diz como se deve fazer para salvar a Floresta Amazônica. Mas não se fala muito de conflitos.

Latour: “No estaba escrito que la ecología fuera un partido” (El País)


“No estaba escrito que la ecología fuera un partido”

Sociólogo, antropólogo, filósofo y director científico del Instituto de Estudios Políticos de París.

Bruno Latour tiene una mirada ácida y provocadora de la sociedad y el medio ambiente.

MIGUEL MORA 25 MAR 2013 – 11:52 CET19

Bruno Latour. / MANUEL BRAUN

¿Ha servido para algo el activismo ecológico? ¿Han forjado los verdes una política común? ¿Escuchan los políticos a los científicos cuando alertan sobre el cambio climático? ¿Puede la Tierra soportar más agresiones? El sociólogo, antropólogo y filósofo francés Bruno Latour(Beaune, 1947) lleva más de 20 años reflexionando sobre estos asuntos, y su pronóstico es desolador. A su juicio, la llegada de los ecologistas a la política ha sido un fracaso porque los verdes han renunciado al debate inteligente, los políticos se limitan a aplicar viejas recetas sin darse cuenta de que la revolución se ha producido ya y fue “una catástrofe”: ocurrió en 1947, cuando la población mundial superó el número que garantizaba el acceso a los recursos. Según Latour, es urgente poner en marcha una nueva forma de hacer ecología política, basada en una constitución que comprometa a gobernantes, científicos y ciudadanos a garantizar el futuro de la Tierra. Esta idea es una de las propuestas de su libro Políticas de la naturaleza. Por una democracia de las ciencias, publicado en Francia en 1999 y que ahora edita en español RBA.

Latour, aire de sabio despistado, recibe a El País Semanal en su caótico y enorme despacho del Instituto de Estudios Políticos de París, del que es director científico y director adjunto desde 2007.

PREGUNTA: Este libro se publicó en Francia hace ya 14 años. ¿Sigue suscribiendo lo que escribió?

RESPUESTA: Casi todo, sí. Pero las cosas no han mejorado. He seguido trabajando en lo mismo, pero con otro tono. Hoy debo de ser el único que se ocupa de estas cuestiones, de una filosofía política que exige una verdadera política ecologista. Lo que no ha funcionado es que pensé que iba a ser un libro fundador para los ecologistas. ¡Y ha sido un fracaso total! Los ecologistas han desaparecido.

P: En Francia al menos hay verdes en el Gobierno.

R: Sí, pero tienen una visión muy estrecha de la ecología, no reflexionan ni sobre la economía ni sobre la sociedad. La ecología está limitada a las cuestiones de la naturaleza, cuando en realidad no tiene nada que ver con eso. Hay que elegir entre naturaleza y política. Desgraciadamente, se ha intentado hacer una política ecologista que no ha producido nada bueno porque se ha basado en la lucha tradicional, que tenía como objetivo torpedear la política o, mejor, someterla; en cierto modo, los verdes actúan como un tribunal que trata de definir una especie de soberanía.

P: ¿De superioridad moral o natural?

R: Sí, pero sobre todo de estupidez. Evidentemente, el tomar la naturaleza como un fin no ha hecho más que debilitar la posición de los ecologistas, que nunca han sido capaces de hacer política; en fin, auténtica política en el sentido de la tradición socialista, en la que se hubieran debido inspirar. No han hecho el trabajo que el socialismo primero, el marxismo después y luego la socialdemocracia hicieron. No ha habido, para nada, un trabajo de invención intelectual, de exploración; han preferido “el escaparate”. Puede que no hubiera otra solución, pues no estaba escrito que la ecología se fuera a convertir en un partido.

“Hay una ecología profunda con un gran papel en EE UU y alemania”

P: ¿Entonces el ecologismo es hoy una especie de ac­­tivismo sin conexión científica?

R: Ha habido movimientos interesantes gracias a una casuística muy concreta, importante en lo que concierne a los animales, las plantas, los dientes de los elefantes, el agua, los ríos, etcétera. Han mostrado además gran energía en las cuestiones locales, pero sin afrontar las cuestiones de la política, de la vida en común. Por eso el ecologismo sigue siendo marginal, justo en un momento en que las cuestiones ecológicas se han convertido en un asunto de todos. Y se da una paradoja: la ecología se ocupa de temas minúsculos relacionados con la naturaleza y la sociedad mientras que la cuestión de la Tierra, la presencia de la Tierra en la política, se hace cada vez más apremiante. Esa urgencia, que ya era acuciante hace 10 o 15 años, lo es mucho más ahora.

P: ¿Quizá ha faltado formar una Internacional Verde?

R: No se ha hecho porque los ecologistas pensaban que la Tierra iba a unificar todos estos movimientos. Han surgido un montón de redes, basadas en casos concretos, como Greenpeace. Hay asociaciones, pero nada a nivel político. La internacional sigue siendo la geopolítica clásica de los Estados nación. No ha habido reflexión sobre la nueva situación. Existe una ecología profunda, deep ecology, en Francia prácticamente inexistente, que ha tenido un papel importante en Alemania, en los países escandinavos y en Norteamérica. Pero está muy poco politizada.

P: Estamos ante un fracaso político y ante una mayor conciencia de los científicos. ¿Y los ciudadanos?

R: Paradójicamente, esa dolorosa pelea sobre el clima nos ha permitido progresar. En cierto modo, la querella ha tenido un papel importante en una “comprensión renovada” por parte del público de la realidad científica. El problema es que intentamos insertar las cuestiones ecológicas en el viejo modelo “ciencia y política”. Desde este punto de vista, incluso los científicos más avanzados siguen intentando poner estas cuestiones dentro del marco de esa situación superada que intento criticar. Este es el tema del libro, y en ese sentido sigue de actualidad.

P: En Francia hay una identificación entre ecologismo y territorio. José Bové, por ejemplo, es un proteccionista a ultranza. Es rara esta evolución de la ecología hacia el nacionalismo, ¿no?

R: Sí, pero al mismo tiempo es útil e interesante replantearse lo que es el territorio, el terruño, por usar la palabra francesa. Los ecologistas siempre se han mostrado indecisos sobre el carácter progresista o reaccionario de su apego a la tierra, porque la expresión en francés puede significar cosas muy distintas. Pero es importante, porque es una de las dimensiones de la cuestión ecológica, tanto de la progresista como de la arcaica. Ese era uno de los objetivos fundamentales del libro, saber si hemos sido realmente modernos alguna vez. Hay aspectos regresivos en el apego al terruño, y a la vez hay otros muy importantes sobre la definición de los límites, de los entornos en los cuales vivimos, que son decisivos para el porvenir. Una vez más, los verdes han omitido trabajar esa cuestión. Pero el problema de la orientación, de la diferencia entre el apego reaccionario o progresista a la tierra, es fundamental. Si vemos movimientos como Slow Food, nos preguntamos si están adelantados o retrasados, porque tienen aspectos regresivos. Pero si se piensa en el tema de los circuitos de distribución, ¿por qué las lasañas inglesas tendrían que estar hechas con caballo rumano y transitar por 25 intermediarios? No es una tontería: si tomamos caballo francés, rumano o turco, las cuestiones de pertenencia y de límites se convierten en cuestiones progresistas.

El antropólogo iconoclasta

Bruno Latour nació en la Borgoña, donde surgen los vinos más caros del planeta. Su padre era viticultor. De ahí sus pecualiares análisis sobre el terruño y la tradición. Cursó Antropología y Sociología. Su formación es tan variopinta como los centros donde ha impartido clase, desde la Escuela de Minas de París hasta la London School of Economics y la cátedra de Historia de Harvard.

Escritor incansable, es autor de una treintena de libros de ensayo, todos los últimos editados por Harvard, por los que circulan la tierra, la sociedad, la guerra, la energía, la ciencia, la tecnología, la modernidad y los medios de comunicación.

Su último proyecto está conectado con el llamado medialab, un espacio donde desarrollar conexiones entre las tecnologías digitales, la sociología y los estudios científicos.

P: Su libro llama a superar los esquemas de izquierda y derecha. Pero no parece que eso haya cambiado mucho.

R: El debate afronta un gran problema. Hay una inversión de las relaciones entre el marco geográfico y la política: el marco ha cambiado mucho más que la política. Las grandes negociaciones internacionales manifiestan esa inercia de la organización económica, legal y política, mientras que el marco, lo que antes llamábamos la Tierra, la geografía, cambia a velocidad asombrosa. Esa mutación es difícil de comprender por la gente acostumbrada a la historia de antes, en la cual había humanos que se peleaban, como en el siglo XX: hombres haciéndose la guerra dentro de un marco geográfico estable desde la última glaciación. Es una razón demasiado filosófica. Así que preferimos pensar que tenemos tiempo, que todo está en su sitio, que la economía es así, que el derecho internacional es así, etcétera. Pero incluso los términos para señalar las aceleraciones rápidas han cambiado, volcándose hacia la naturaleza y los glaciares. El tiempo que vivimos es el del antropoceno, y las cosas ya no son como antes. Lo que ha cambiado desde que escribí el libro es que en aquel momento no teníamos la noción del antropoceno. Fue una invención muy útil de Crutzen, un climatólogo, pero no existía entonces, me habría ayudado mucho.

P: ¿Y qué fue de su propuesta de aprobar una constitución ecológica?

R: Intenté construir una asociación de parlamentarios y lanzar una constitución para que las cuestiones de la energía empezaran a ser tratadas de otro modo. Intentaba abrir un debate, que naturalmente no ha tenido lugar. El debate sobre la Constitución empezó bien, se consideró una gran invención de la democracia europea. El problema es que ya no se trata de la cuestión de la representación de los humanos, sino que ese debate atañe a los innumerables seres que viven en la Tierra. Me parecía necesario en aquel momento, y ahora más incluso, hacer un debate constitucional. ¿Cómo sería un Parlamento dedicado a la política ecológica? Tendrá que crearse, pero no reflexionamos lo suficiente sobre las cuestiones de fondo.

P: ¿Las grandes conferencias medioambientales resuelven algo?

R: El problema es que la geopolítica organizada en torno a una nación, con sus propios intereses y nivel de agregación, está mal adaptada a las cuestiones ecológicas, que son transnacionales. Todo el mundo sabe eso, los avances no pueden plasmarse ya a base de mapas, no jugamos en territorios clásicos. Así, desde Copenhague 2009 hay una desafección por las grandes cumbres, no solo porque no se consigue decidir nada, sino también porque nos damos cuenta de que el nivel de decisión y agregación política no es el correcto. De hecho, las ciudades, las regiones, las naciones, las provincias, toman a menudo más iniciativas que los Estados.

P: Francia es uno de los países más nuclearizados del mundo. Los ecologistas braman. ¿Le parece bien?

R: Los ecologistas se han obstinado en la cuestión nuclear, pero nadie ha venido a explicarnos por qué lo nuclear es antiecológico, mientras mucha gente seria considera que el átomo es una de las soluciones, a largo plazo no, pero a corto plazo sí. De nuevo estamos ante la ausencia total de reflexión política por parte de los ecologistas, que militan contra lo nuclear sin explicar por qué. Por consiguiente, no hemos avanzado un centímetro. De hecho, en este momento hay un gran debate público sobre la transición energética, y los verdes siguen siendo incapaces de comprender nada, incluso de discutir, porque han moralizado la cuestión nuclear. Cuando se hace ética, no hay que hacer política, hay que hacer religión.

P: ¿Está realmente en cuestión la supervivencia de la especie?

R: La especie humana se las apañará. Nadie piensa que vaya a desaparecer, ¿pero la civilización? No se sabe lo que es una Tierra a seis u ocho grados, no lo hemos conocido. Hay que remontarse centenares de millones de años. El problema no se abordaba con la misma urgencia cuando escribí el libro en 1999, se hablaba aún de las generaciones futuras. Ahora hablamos de nuestros hijos. No hay una sola empresa que haga un cálculo más allá de 2050, es el horizonte más corto que ha habido nunca. La mutación de la historia es increíblemente rápida. Ahora se trata de acontecimientos naturales, mucho más rápidos que los humanos. Es inimaginable para la gente formada en el siglo XX, una novedad total.

P: ¿Es la globalización? ¿O más que eso?

R: Tiene relación con la globalización, pero no por la extensión de las conexiones entre los humanos. Se trata de la llegada de un mundo desagradable que impide la globalización real: es un conflicto entre globos. Nos hemos globalizado, y eso resulta tranquilizador porque todo está conectado y hace de la Tierra un planeta pequeño. Pero que un gran pueblo sea aplastado al chocar con otra cosa tranquiliza menos.

La especie humana se las apañará. nadie piensa que va a desaparecer”

P: ¿Y el malestar que sentimos, la indignación, tiene que ver con ese miedo?

R: Ese catastrofismo siempre ha existido; siempre ha habido momentos de apocalipsis, de literatura de la catástrofe; pero al mismo tiempo existe un sentimiento nuevo: no se trata del apocalipsis de los humanos, sino del final de recursos, en un sentido, creo, literal.

P: ¿Nos hemos zampado el planeta?

R: La gente que analiza el antropoceno dibuja esquemas de este tipo (muestra un famoso gráfico de población y recursos). Esto se llama “la gran aceleración”, ocurrió en 1947. La revolución ya ha tenido lugar, y es una de las causas de esa nueva ansiedad. La gente sigue hablando de la revolución, desesperándose porque no llega, pero ya está aquí. Es un acontecimiento pasado y de consecuencias catastróficas. Eso también nubla la mente de progresistas y reaccionarios. ¿Qué significa vivir en una época en la cual la revolución ha ocurrido ya y cuyos resultados son catastróficos?

P: ¿No querrá decir que la austeridad es la solución?

R: Ya existe el concepto del decrecimiento feliz, no sé si la tienen en España… ¡Sí! Ustedes están muy adelantados sobre decrecimiento.

P: Estamos en plena vanguardia, pero del infeliz.

R: Es uno de los grandes temas del momento, la crisis económica es decrecimiento no deseado, desigualmente repartido; y hay algo más: austeridad no es necesariamente la palabra, sino ascetismo. Sería la visión religiosa, o espiritual, de la austeridad. Eso se mezcla con las nuevas visiones geológicas de los límites que debemos imponernos…

P: ¿Habla del regreso al campo o de reconstruir el planeta?

R: No me refiero a volver al campo, sino a otra Tierra.

P: ¿La tecnología es la única brújula?

R: La tecnología se encuentra en esa misma situación. Existe una solución muy importante de la geoingeniería, que considera que la situación es reversible, que se pueden recrear artificialmente unas condiciones favorables tras haberlas destruido sin saberlo. Así ha surgido un inmenso movimiento de geoingeniería en todas partes. Ya que es la energía de la Tierra, podemos mandar naves espaciales, modificar la acidez de las aguas del mar, etcétera. Hacer algo que contrarreste lo que se hizo mal. Si hemos podido modificar la Tierra, podemos modificarla en el otro sentido, lo que es un argumento peligroso, porque la podemos destrozar por segunda vez.

P: ¿No se regenerará sola?

R: Sí, ¡pero sin humanos! Se regenerará sola mientras no haya humanos. Puede deshacerse de nosotros, es una de las hipótesis, volviéndose invivible, pero eso no sería muy positivo. La era de los límites puede llegar hasta la extinción.

P: ¿Acabaremos fatal?

R: La historia no está repleta de ejemplos favorables. No se sabe. No hay nada en la naturaleza humana que favorezca la reflexión, por lo cual la solución solo puede ser mala.

P: Algunos temen que acabaremos devorados por los chinos.

R: Los chinos tienen más problemas que nosotros y corren el peligro de comerse a sí mismos por el suelo, el agua y el aire. No nos amenazan, desaparecerán antes que nosotros.

P: Žižek dice que nuestros problemas provienen de la mediocridad intelectual de Alemania y Francia, que esa es la razón principal de la decadencia actual. ¿Qué piensa?

R: Es una estupidez. Ocurren muchas más cosas intelectualmente en Europa que en América, infinitamente más. Por ejemplo, en arte, en filosofía, en ciencias, en urbanismo. Es insensato decir cosas así, pero es que Žižek es un viejo cretino, una especie de cosa de extrema izquierda, fruto del agotamiento de la extrema izquierda, de su decadencia final, de la cual es el síntoma. Por otra parte, es un chico muy majo. La extrema izquierda se ha equivocado tanto sobre el mundo que al final todos estos viejos de extrema izquierda no tienen otra cosa que hacer salvo vomitar sobre el mundo, como hace Alain Badiou en Francia.

P: ¿Prefiere a Marine Le Pen?

R: No soy político, no puedo responder a esta pregunta, no me interesa.

P: ¿No le gusta hablar de política?

R: Sí hablo de política, he escrito un libro sobre política, ¡que yo sepa!,Las políticas de la naturaleza.

P: ¿No le interesa la política de todos los días?

R: La de todos los días sí, pero no la de los partidos, son agitaciones superficiales, sobre todo en Francia, donde ya no hay verdaderamente política.

P: Critica a la extrema izquierda, ¿y nada a la extrema derecha?

R: Se agita, intenta agarrarse a un clavo ardiendo, pero no tiene mucha importancia. No es ahí donde las cosas están en juego.

P: ¿Cree que es residual?

R: No, no es residual, puede desarrollarse y provocar daños, tanto como la extrema izquierda; el no pensar siempre provoca daños, pero no es eso lo que va a solucionar los problemas de la Tierra, la economía, las ciudades, el transporte y la tecnología.

P: ¿Qué escenario prevé para 2050? ¿Qué Tierra, qué humanidad?

R: Ese no es mi trabajo, mi trabajo consiste en prepararnos para las guerras. Las guerras ecológicas van a ser muy importantes y tenemos que preparar nuestros ejércitos de un modo intelectual y humano. Ese es mi trabajo.

P: ¿Habrá guerras violentas por el clima?

R: La definición misma de guerra va a cambiar, estamos en una situación en la cual no podemos ganar contra la Tierra, es una guerra asimétrica: si ganamos, perdemos, y si perdemos, ganamos. Así pues, esta situación crea obligaciones a multitud de gente y antes que nada a los intelectuales.

P: ¿La batalla principal es esa?

R: Si no tenemos mundo, no podemos hacer gran cosa, ni siquiera la revolución. Cuando se lee a Marx, uno se queda impresionado por lo que dice sobre los humanos. En esta época, la cuestión de la ciencia y del margen geográfico, más la presencia de miles de millones de personas, conforma un escenario crucial. Antes teníamos otros problemas, pero este no.

P: ¿Así que se trata de ser o no ser?

R: En cada informe científico, las previsiones son peores, el plan más pesimista siempre aparece. Hay que tener en cuenta eso. Son previsiones extremas, pero de momento son las únicas válidas. No se trata de una guerra mundial, sino de una acumulación de guerras mundiales. Es parecido al invierno nuclear de la guerra fría, una situación de cataclismo, pero con algunas ventajas: es más radical, pero más lento, tenemos mucha capacidad de invención, 9.000 millones de personas y muchas mentes inteligentes. Pero también es un reto. Por tanto, es una cuestión de alta política y no de naturaleza. La política viene primero.

P: ¿Tiene la sensación de estar solo?

R: Lo que era complicado en este libro era crear el vínculo entre ciencia y política, y no puedo decir que haya convencido a mucha gente. Si además se hace el vínculo entre la religión y las artes, es más difícil. Gente como Sloterdijk sería muy capaz de comprenderlo. Sin embargo, muchos intelectuales siguen en el siglo XX, como Žižek. Permanecen en un contexto, en un ideal revolucionario, de decepción. Están decepcionados con los humanos.

P: ¿Cree que los humanos se dejarán ayudar?

R: Primero hay que ayudar a la Tierra. En el antropoceno ya no se puede hacer la distinción entre los humanos y la Tierra.

P: ¿Y sus estudiantes están listos para la lucha?

R: En mi escuela soy el único en dar clases sobre cuestiones donde no entra la política en el sentido clásico. Hay un curso o dos sobre cuestiones ecológicas. Es culpa mía, no he trabajado lo suficiente como para cambiar las cosas. Llevamos mucho retraso.

Para antropólogo, a ideia do “eu” precisa dar lugar à de rede (Valor)

Por Carla Rodrigues | Para o Valor, do Rio

7 de agosto de 2012

Divulgação / DivulgaçãoPremiado por sua teoria ator-rede, o francês Bruno Latour discute a relação entre seres humanos e não-humanos

Ele se autodefine como um antropólogo filosófico trabalhando sobre a sociologia. Na prática, o francês Bruno Latour, 65 anos, faz o que ele chama de “antropologia da modernidade”, ao voltar seu olhar para os discursos e práticas desse período, principalmente as científicas.

Dessa pesquisa resultou um de seus livros mais famosos, “Jamais Fomos Modernos – Ensaios de Antropologia Simétrica”, lançado no Brasil em 1994 (Editora 34).

Latour, que está no Brasil pela terceira vez, apresenta na quinta uma palestra gratuita em São Paulo, no Fronteiras do Pensamento, e acaba de participar do simpósio internacional “A Vida Secreta dos Objetos: Novos Cenários da Comunicação”, realizado em São Paulo, Rio e Salvador e que acabou ontem.

Para ele, é aqui que se dará a disputa pelo debate ambiental no século XXI. Hoje empenhado na causa ecológica, Latour é conhecido e premiado por sua teoria ator-rede, uma forma de pensar a relação entre humanos e não-humanos.

Diretor científico da área de pesquisas do Instituto de Estudos Políticos de Paris, integrante de uma geração de franceses formados no pós-guerra, Latour é frequentemente acusado de ser um relativista, crítica que ele rebate com facilidade. “Eu não conheço um ator participante da ciência que não seja um relativista”, afirma.

Valor: O senhor acredita que o Brasil ocupa um lugar especial no cenário mundial neste momento em que a Europa vive uma crise?

Bruno Latour: O Brasil faz parte de minha vida desde a minha infância, pois tive três irmãs que moraram no país, por razões diferentes. Acredito que a questão ecológica do século XXI vai ser decidida aqui. Há coisas que podem ser melhoradas na Europa, do ponto de vista ambiental, mas o verdadeiro cenário desse jogo será o Brasil, porque já é muito tarde para a Ásia e a África. A questão é saber se os intelectuais e os políticos brasileiros poderão ir além dos fundamentos da modernidade. Mas a grande questão ecológica se desenrolará aqui.

Valor: Sua teoria ator-rede se refere a seres humanos e não-humanos. É uma crítica ao humanismo? O que o legado humanista nos proporcionou de tão criticável?

Latour: O humanismo é uma forma limitada de pensar o grupo dos humanos, que vejo como dependentes de muitos outros seres que não são humanos. Uma definição que isole o humano dos seres que o fabricam – tanto as divindades religiosas quanto as coisas com as quais os humanos vivem, como as árvores, mas também o alumínio para fazer estes talheres – é uma visão estreia. A perspectiva humanista foi legítima em uma determinada época, se falarmos do humanismo da metade do século XIX até a metade do século XX, antes que os ecologistas tenham chamado nossa atenção para o problema ambiental. Mas hoje não há mais nenhum sentido falar em humanismo. Este tipo de humanismo não tem os elementos necessários para absorver as grandes questões políticas atuais. Não se pode, por exemplo, fazer uma teoria consciente do problema do clima com o pensamento moral de Kant. Precisamos pensar na composição na qual seres humanos e não-humanos se relacionam. O humanismo é uma versão ultrapassada dos problemas políticos que nos dizem respeito. Hoje, trata-se de ser inteiramente humanista, ou seja, incluir todos os seres que são necessários para a existência humana.

Valor: Um dos postulados da teoria ator-rede é que, quando uma pessoa age, mais alguém está agindo junto. O senhor poderia explicar como isso funciona?

Latour: Os humanos são envolvidos por muitos outros seres, e a ideia de que uma pessoa age autonomamente, com seus próprios objetivos, não funciona nem na economia, nem na religião, nem na psicologia nem em nenhuma outra situação. Portanto, a pergunta que a teoria ator-rede coloca é: quais são os outros seres ativos no momento em que alguém age? A antropologia e a sociologia que tento desenvolver se ocupa da pesquisa desses seres. Eu posso colocar a questão de um modo inverso: como, apesar das evidências de todos os numerosos seres que participam de uma ação, continua-se a pensar como se o único ator fosse o humano dotado de uma psicologia, ciente de si mesmo, calculador, autônomo, responsável? A antropologia no Brasil é particularmente capaz de entender que não há esse “eu”, esse sujeito individual e autônomo que age no mundo, o que é uma visão muito estreita. Tenho muito contato com outros antropólogos brasileiros, como o Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (UFRJ).

Valor: O senhor veio ao Brasil para participar de um simpósio sobre novas tecnologias de comunicação. Qual é a grande afinidade entre a sua teoria ator-rede e as teorias da comunicação?

Latour: Elas são próximas porque a teoria ator-rede é essencialmente uma teoria da multiplicidade de mediações, e esses pesquisadores estão interessados em discutir o domínio da mídia e das mediações. Aqueles que se interessam por mediação – de modo positivo, e não negativamente – encontram conceitos e métodos para trabalhar com a teoria ator-rede.

Valor: Por que os jornalistas estão sempre mencionados entre os integrantes importantes da teoria ator-rede?

Latour: A formatação de informações desempenha um papel muito importante no espaço público, no qual se situa o espaço político. Não conheço muitos estudos sobre jornalismo que sejam feitos a partir da teoria ator-rede, porque essas pesquisas geralmente são feitas do ponto de vista crítico, e a teoria ator-rede não é uma crítica. Muito frequentemente, os jornalistas são simplesmente acusados de deturpar um ideal de verdade que, se não houvesse a mediação, chegaria ao público a partir de uma transmissão transparente e direta. Cientistas, políticos e economistas gostam de dizer que, se não houvesse os jornalistas, a informação seria mais transparente, mais direta, menos comprometida.

Valor: A teoria ator-rede se transformou em muitas outras coisas – cada um dos pesquisadores do grupo original seguiu por um lado, e houve uma diáspora. O senhor ainda se reconhece como um teórico da ator-rede?

Latour: O grupo original nunca foi muito unido, mas se reuniu em um momento em que a sociologia percebeu que havia negligenciado a técnica, a ciência, e os seres não-humanos. Foi uma tomada de consciência das ciências sociais de que o século XX nos legou uma série de questões – como a da dominação e a da exploração -, mas sempre com uma visão sociocentrada. A teoria ator-rede vem a ser a evidência de que é preciso se interessar pela vida secreta dos objetos.

Valor: Refaço ao senhor uma pergunta que está no livro “A Esperança de Pandora” (Edusc): de onde provém a oposição entre o campo da razão e o campo da força?

Latour: Fiz uma genealogia dessa oposição, que remonta à falsa disputa entre os sofistas e os filósofos e organizou o debate nos países ocidentais. Pretendi suspender essa separação e colocar a questão sobre qual é a força dos dispositivos racionais. Foi assim que comecei minha antropologia da ciência. E há uma segunda pergunta: quais são as razões da relação de força política, religiosa, econômica? A distinção entre força e razão faz parte de um conjunto de antigas dicotomias que não são mais capazes de nos orientar quando falamos da questão científica. Nessa dicotomia, supõe-se que a razão vai unificar a discussão. Mas, se a razão já teve esse poder, atualmente não tem mais, e precisamos encontrar outras ferramentas intelectuais para nos orientar nessa disputa. É o que eu chamo de cartografia da controvérsia. Essa é hoje uma grande questão para a democracia.

Valor: Afirmar que a ciência é social é uma forma de relativizar os resultados científicos?

Latour: Esse é um mal-entendido sobre o significado da palavra social. Evidentemente, dizer que os fatos são sociais não equivale a dizer que esse garfo é uma fabricação social – isso não faria sentido. Eu digo que esse garfo é resultado de um processo industrial que inclui uma legislação, empresas, indústrias – o que é totalmente diferente. A ciência faz parte de um coletivo – estou propositalmente evitando usar a palavra social – do mundo. Há quem acredite que a ciência, particularmente as ciências naturais, é absoluta. Mas esses são os religiosos da ciência, não os participantes da ciência. Não conheço um ator participante da ciência que não seja um relativista ou, melhor dizendo, um relacionista, porque ele sabe que conhecer é estabelecer relações dentro de um quadro de referências. A crítica aos relativistas, feita pelos absolutistas, é frequente, mas essa não é uma discussão produtiva. A discussão que me interessa é: como estabelecer as relações entre os quadros de referência, as culturas, os modos de existência, as formas de vida? Não conheço quem que, desse ponto de vista, critique o relativismo.

Valor: Pode-se resumir seu livro “Jamais Fomos Modernos” como uma crítica à modernidade. O senhor mantém as mesmas críticas em relação aos pós-modernos?

Latour: Sim. Os pós-modernos tiveram a sensibilidade de perceber que havia qualquer coisa de complicada na modernidade, mas é o mesmo movimento. Simplesmente há um retorno a alguns dos problemas que a modernidade não havia tratado, mas não há um retorno às raízes da modernidade.

Carla Rodrigues, professora da Universidade Federal Fluminense (UFF) e da Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio (PUC-Rio), é doutora em filosofia e pesquisadora do CNPq

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