Bruno Latour, Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy


Ch. 2, How to Bring the Collective Together


Politics is defined as "the entire set of tasks that allow the progressive composition of a common world." How can we think of politics as including not only humans but nonhuman things? How can we speak for them?


p. 55. How to reconcile epistemology (on what condition an exact representation of external reality is possible) and political philosophy (on what condition can a representative follow his fellow faithfully?)  p. 57-61. The accords in Kyoto and in Copenhagen, call for a new way of thinking about the Collective. This is not an adding together of nature and society, but a re-thinking of society and nature, or subject and object. Abolish dualism. Make the human and non-human exchange properties. In particular, everything should be seen as capable of speech. Latour see the experimental laboratory as a place where things are made to speak. P. 62. We have to give up the idea of scientific certainty about nature. (Indubitable facts vs. endless discussion, or, the art of demonstration vs. the art of persuasion). The distinction between what is internal and what is external to scientific disciplines also disappears.


p. 64-66. There is a gamut running between complete doubt and total confidence, in the relation of spokesperson to things. Each discipline gives worlds the capacity to write or speak. Non-humans are not objects or matters of fact; they are entities which emerge and cause surprise.  p. 67. Speech prosthesis: allows nonhuman to participate in the discussions of humans, when humans become perplexed abou the participation of new entities in the discussions of humans.


Q. Is this the only way that non-humans participate in the discussions of humans?

p. 69. Are non-humans "subtle mechanisms"? p. 70. How can we get those in whose name we speak to speak for themselves? p. 72. How can we fuse procedures that come from labs and from representative assemblies?


Q. Is the "other place" just the laboratory? What about the field, farm, forest, desert?


p. 73. What is it to be an actor, an agency, an actant? p. 74. Deconstructing the dualism. I am not a sack of amino acids! Vs. These are the facts!  What is wrong with this debate?


Q. Can we talk about actions without talking about narratives? Is an experimental protocol a narrative?


My friend PatienceTuhwe and the troop of baboons in her natal village. p. 79. External reality: surprises and events, emergings p. 81. "Things no longer threaten subjects. Social construction no longer weakens objects."  Recalcitrance. The buffalo on the prairie and the enzyme in cytoplasm.


P. 83-84. How to designate the association of humans and non-humans of the collective as they come together?  Propositions. There cannot be language on one side and the world on the other. p. 85. The more devices we have at our disposal, the more realities abound.


Q. Isn't instrumentalism another kind of constructivism or realism? What does the box on p. 88 mean?


Ch. 3. A New Separation of Powers


"How can we obtain the reality, the externality, and the unity of nature according to due process?"

The separation of Science (there is an external world, so shut up) and Politics (science is a social construction, so shut up) must be overcome. P. 93: the present environmental crisis raises the question of how we can come to a good common world through a political science and a scientific politics, in which the distinction of fact and value has been overcome.


p. 95. How to overcome the distinction of fact and value. Facts are constituted, fabricated in a series of successive stages. Moreover, theory is always needed to establish the coherence of the data. (An isolated fact doesn't mean much.) We also have to overcome the distinction between theory and data. The use of the word 'value' makes it seem as if 'facts' were already available, independent of values; or as if moralists could moralize without looking at the facts.


p. 100. We must avoid two types of fraud: one in which values are used in secret, to interrupt discussions of facts; and one in which matters of fact are surreptitiously used to impose values. But the point is not to maintain the dichotomoy between moral judgments and scientific judgments. But is there a middle ground between necessitarianism and relativism? p. 102. How to overcome the distinction of fact and value, again. See box on p. 109.


Two Powers of Representation:


The Power to Take into Account: How many are we?

*Don't simplify the number of propositions to be taken into account in the discussion.

*Make sure the number of voices that help articulate the propositions is not cut short.


The Power to arrange in rank order: Can we live together?

*Discuss the compatability of new propositions with those already instituted, so that they can all be maintained in the common world that will give them a legitimate place.

*Don't go on questioning the legitimate presence of propositions at the heart of collective life, once they have been instituted.


Notice how Latour has put one aspect of 'facts' into (A.) and (B.) and one aspect of 'values' into (A.) and (B.), thus mixing them up and undermining the fact / value distinction. We have reality, relevance, publicity and closure as imperatives for guiding the political / scientific discussion instead, via the processes of perplexity, consultation, hierarchy, and institution. (see p. 122)


Apropos (A.), he writes: We must find enough (how many is enough?) new propositions to articulate a common world coherently. Nothing should reduce the number of candidate entities; nothing should stifle too quickly the perplexity that occurs at the emergence of new beings. This is the requirement of external reality. And the number of those who participate in this process of admittance should not be limited too quickly or arbitrarily; we need broad consultation with reliable witnesses, credible spokespersons. This is the requirement that all relevant voices have been convoked.


Apropos (B.), he writes: An order must always be found for the common world among the new and old propositions. No new entity can be accepted in the common world without concern for its compatability with those already in place, via compromise and accomodation. This is the requirement of publicity in the ranking of entities. Once the discussion is closed, it should not be re-opened; the discussion must come to an end. This is the requirement of closure.


Ch. 4: Skills for the Collective.


We need to be interested in science and politics at the same time. Pp. 128-31. We need to learn how to practice experimental metaphysics "that will allow us to follow the way the problem of the apportionment between the common worlds and private worlds can open up again, and as a result find solutions other than mononaturalism and multiculturalism.


A new separation of powers: the power to take into account, and the power to put in order.


p. 131: watch out for economics. It can play a role in the new 'heterogeneous integration' but it cannot play the leading role. It cannot give the ultimate account of "the complicated attachments of things and people." The notion of self-regulating markets (alleged to be as natural and necessary as Darwinian evolution) must in fact be regulated. Economics pretends to be a science, but it is just a useful scheme for putting price tags on things, which must always be criticized, revised, and stabilized in public debate. P. 136: As soon as we have reduced economics "to a set of specific and uncertain procedures that sometimes convey agreement, coordination, and the production of externalities, political economics loses its venom." Then it proves to be "one of the professions that are indispensable to the functions of the collective."


Contribution of the Professions to the Procedures of the Houses. (Note that all the professions are mostly male: scientists, politicians, economists, moralists. Shouldn't people who organize and run households and farms be included here?)


The professionals must share in all the functions: Perplexity and Consulation (the two powers to take into account) and Hierarchy and Institution (the two powers to put in order).


Scientists. Perplexity. Labs and Instruments. The displacement of point of view. Copernicus. Van Leeuweenhoek. Consultation. Falsification and verification, repetition of experiments, panels of witnesses, experimental protocol. Hierarchy. How to establish an order among heterogeneous things? "Shift the weight of the necessary compromises to other beings and other properties." (What does he mean by that???) Institution. Consensus; paradigms (cf. Thomas Kuhn), textbooks, lab procedures. Skill.  Close-mindedness has a positive function: autonomy, stability, the power to end controversty and establish habits. Imagining the totality.  What kind of a whole do scientists envisage and enact? Let the scientific imagination try to combine cosmology, biology, and etc. (What does he mean by that????)


Since scientists will work with the Collective and not alone, they can carry out these tasks better.


Politicians. Perplexity. Add a sense of danger stemming from the constituencies (both things and people) that may have been excluded by the scientists: the detection of dangerous propositions. Consultation. Constitute parties, reliable witnesses, stakeholders, lobbies. The ability to fabricate agents, the production of voices. The resumption of interests. Hierarchy. The ability to compromise, to adjudicate the claims of humans and nonhumans in association: cities and landscapes, goods and attachments, etc. p. 146. Modify the opinions of constituents and displace burdens onto other, less important beings. Institution. This is what politicians are really good at: they pass legislation. They decide; they make enemies; they bring things to closure, by rational arbitrariness. Skill. The ability to forge necessity.  Imagining the Totality. The ability to establish provisional cohesion. Everybody agrees enough to act together. A progressive composition. The movement of incessant resumption.


p. 148-9. When they work together, scientists are the guardians of the 'them,' and politicians are the masters of the 'us.' The scientists proceed along a straight and narrow path, while politicians take a crooked one.


p. 147. "Producing freedom and instiuting necessity do not take us back to a division between nature and society, between object and subject, but to the bicameralism of political ecology, to the respect for the distinction between the power to take into account and the power to put in order. The formula may still appear shocking, but people deliberate and decide just as much about facts as about values."


Economists. Perplexity. The ability to detect invisible entities and involve them in the Collective. (What does he mean by that???)  Consultation. Helps to establish relations of relevance pertaining to consultation and the juries that are qualified to judge. (????) Hierarchy. (Where is this in his exposition?)  Institution. Economics gives its provisional version of the common world the justifiable character of a calculation, a bottom line, a model. Skill. Economists translate the attachments of goods and people into money, but nobody confuses that calculation with what really happens. P. 151. Nobody confuses the world with a spreadsheet. So we have a common language, that is not misleading. We have a commensurability that admits that everything is still heterogeneous. Imagining the Totality. Economics offers a scale model of the collective, in terms of money.


MORALITY. p. 155. Let us define morality as uncertainty about the proper relation between means and ends, so that we treat other humans and other things as ends and not merely as means. Ecological crises thus appear to be revolts of beings that have been treated merely as means. This makes perplexity, institution, and imagining the totality much more difficult tasks, which is good!


Moralists. Perplexity. The moralists go looking for those that have been excluded, and acommpany them back to present their cases to the Collective. Consultation. Each candidate must be evaluated by a fitting jury and pertinent questions. Hierarchy. The moralists look for a single homogeneous hierarchy: we must find one order, in the right combination, otherwise we will not have a better common world.   Institution. Skill. Imagining the Totality. The moralists remind us that any totalization is illegitimate, and that we must always take up the resumption of the world of collection. They remind us that we see the Collective only from within.


p. 158-9. The politicians say "we want," and the moralists remind us, "they want." The politicians distinguish between deliberation and decision, freedom and necessity, but the moralists remind us that decision will always be followed by the need for further deliberation. (???) p. 160. "The slow work of externalization and internalization  is provisional work that has to be done over and over again."


What do you make of the Big Box on pp. 162-163? P.S. And maybe we should add:

Householders. Perplexity. Consultation. Hierarchy. Institution. Skill. Imagining the Totality.

Farmers. Perplexity. Consultation. Hierarchy. Institution. Skill. Imagining the Totality.


Ch. 5: Exploring Common Worlds


P. 184-7. The problems with mononaturalism and multiculturalism:  we have to replace Science with the sciences and society with the slow work of political composition. We must oppose both the shortcuts of violence and the shortcuts of reason.


p. 189. We need to go beyond the two kinds of exteriorities. On the one hand, the common world established by science (the reservoir) and on the other hand the archaisms and irrationalities that science leaves behind (the dump).

p. 190-1. Political ecology will have neither reservoir nor dumping ground. Instead, it has an exteriority constructed according to well-formed procedures that produce provisionally excluded entities and postulants. This proceeds from the mixed to the still more mixed, the complicated to the still more complicated, the explicit to the implicit. Many former aliens will become members of the collective, and the collective exists in history.


p. 195-7. So we will differentiate the past from the future not through detachment, but through re-attachment, via collective experimentation. We identify the candidates for common existence, and decide whether they can be situated in the collective or become (provisional) enemies. Can we cohabit with X, and at what price?  The common world has to be built on a life-size scale in real time.  No simple unities, no perfection, no totalization.


p. 198. The foundations are ahead of us. Order and beauty do apply to the totality but to the learning curve. The best we can do is compare two successive states of the collective, in order to define virtue.

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