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Thursday, 1 May 2014

Who is the anthropologist of the moderns?

Yesterday I was in CIESAS-Golfo talking about what Latour intends to do in AIME. The context was interesting, a dialogue between the notions of Mode of Existence in Latour and Language Game in Wittgenstein. Differences are less remarkable as similarities: pluralism, indispensability of incommensurabilities, a normative character associated to each mode/game. In both cases, the descriptive is always external while an internal involvement - as much as an internal criticism - entails already a norm (and a judgement). In terms of Latour, a value. To describe practices (or modes of existence) in external terms is to be indifferent to the values that make them make sense. This is why Latour associates to the modes different a mini-transcendence, as much as a regime of norm. I pointed out that Latour has at his advantage the concept of construction and his elaboration of it through the book (“Parce que c’est bien construit, c’est peut-être bien vrai”). This gives him resources to bring in science studies, and a more detailed analysis of how more than one mode is involved in scientific tinkering. And, of course, Latour would have that Wittgestein's relativity could not traffic in hard cash (it stops short of conceiving how existence is).

My friend Witek, who was presenting Wittgenstein's views on religion, brought about the issue of who is the anthropologist of the modern, the character in Latour's book. I was saying that the different modes can be considered from the prepositional perspective, the one from the PRE mode of existence (see AIME, 265-269, French edition). The anthropologist is therefore one who can manage to see the different modes as different tonalities and who does assuming an ontology of actants, irreductions, constructions and most of the other ontological commitments of Latour (mostly shared with Simondon and Souriau). This is how she is not fooled by Res Ratiotinans and can diagnose the negotiations with non-humans involved in scientific practice. Well, ok, but is she modern? There is no much clue about that, although I guess at some point Latour hints that yes, she is (still, how modern is she, as those that believe in modernity come in different degrees, they are hybrids too). Further, from which mode of existence does she investigate the moderns? Well, I think the book is wise in presenting the anthropologist as someone unknown, much like most anthropologists when they are met by the natives. Natives - in this case, us, moderns - know very little about her and who is she coming from. And often, the clues the natives have are no more than what she assumes and concludes about them.


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