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An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns [Hardcover]

Bruno Latour , Catherine Porter
3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
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Book Description

16 Aug 2013
In this new book, Bruno Latour offers answers to questions raised in "We Have Never Been Modern, "a work that interrogated the connections between nature and culture. If not modern, he asked, what "have" we been, and what values should we inherit? Over the past twenty-five years, Latour has developed a research protocol different from the actor-network theory with which his name is now associated--a research protocol that follows the different types of connectors that provide specific truth conditions. These are the connectors that prompt a climate scientist challenged by a captain of industry to appeal to the "institution" of science, with its army of researchers and mountains of data, rather than to "capital-S Science" as a higher authority. Such modes of extension--or modes of existence, Latour argues here--account for the many differences between law, science, politics, and other domains of knowledge. Though scientific knowledge corresponds to only one of the many possible modes of existence Latour describes, an unrealistic vision of science has become the arbiter of reality and truth, seducing us into judging all values by a single standard. Latour implores us to recover other modes of existence in order to do justice to the plurality of truth conditions that Moderns have discovered throughout their history. This systematic effort of building a new philosophical anthropology presents a completely different view of what Moderns have been, and provides a new basis for opening diplomatic encounters with other societies at a time when all societies are coping with ecological crisis.

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Product details

  • Hardcover: 520 pages
  • Publisher: Harvard University Press (16 Aug 2013)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0674724992
  • ISBN-13: 978-0674724990
  • Product Dimensions: 24.2 x 16.3 x 3.9 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 71,421 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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Review

["An Inquiry into Modes of Existence"] is not just a book; it is also a project in "interactive metaphysics". In other words, a book, plus website... Intrigued readers of Latour's text can go online [http: //www.modesofexistence.org/] and find themselves drawn into a collaborative project. Collective collaboration--some would call it 'crowdsourcing'--is rare in philosophy, but Latour, a sociologist and anthropologist by training, is used to collaboration with scientists... Latour's work makes the world--sorry, worlds--interesting again. And, best of all, it is a project to which you can attach yourself. --Stephen Muecke"Los Angeles Review of Books" (12/28/2012)

In his magnificent new book, Latour returns to the problem of modernity [...] Each mode describes a more of less universal aspect of human activity [...] An Inquiry into Modes of Existence shows the he has lost none of his astonishing fetility as a thinker, or his skill and wit as a writer." --Jonathon Ree, Times Literary Supplement, 10 January 2014

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2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars A report not a review 24 Mar 2014
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Well printed and bound, physically a pleasure to read. Bought following an excellent review by Jonathan Rée in the t.l.s 10 Jan 2014. Latour's ideas are interesting, his style not - verbose and mock-enthusiastic as a scientist explaining to a twelve-year old why sugar melts in water. Here he in on 'habit': 'It is the most common experience. No touchstone is more discriminating than this one: there are habits that make us more and more obtuse; there are habits that make us more and more skilllful. There are those that degenerate into..' enough, but there is more and more of this. Somewhere inside these 488 pages lies a brilliant essay. I am trying to find it and it is a struggle.
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1 of 3 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MAGNIFICANT MISDIRECTED EFFORT 25 April 2014
Format:Hardcover
Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch

Many will express admirations for this book and its interactive website, in part because not really understanding its Baroque refinements but unwilling to say so. There is indeed much to admire in the originality of this work and its wealth of observations, concepts and ideas. But my assessment is that this magnificent edifice lacks foundations and is misdirected.
Thus, the whole range of existential challenges posed by science and technology, with all their deep uncertainties and inconceivability, to the future existence and very nature of the human species, as discussed in my recent book, are in the main ignored. To add a concrete example, the critical importance of the quality of senior political leaders in impacting on the future, for better or worse, is not realized - leading to neglect of the crucial need for radical upgrading the minds of high level decision makers.
This is not the place for a detailed critique of the book. But let me further illustrate some of the weaknesses by mentioning a category error and a misunderstanding, and then return to what I regard as the critical failure of the book and the project on which it is based, as hinted at above.
The book discussed "modernity" and the moderns. But the image of modernity and moderns discussed in the book is at best one "pure type" out of a variety of equally plausible ones. For sure it is not reliable anthropological mapping of the multiple and divergent attributes of societies usually regarded as "modern." Thus, a central category of the book is not clarified nor justified, adding up to a kind of category error.
The book completely misunderstands "politics.
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Amazon.com: 3.3 out of 5 stars  3 reviews
13 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Fascinating, novel, and thought-provoking read 5 Nov 2013
By Kerry Koitzsch - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Latour's groundbreaking work is a fascinating read, in much the same way that Julian Jaynes or Gregory Bateson are. The discovery of a philosophical author with something new to say is a revelation in itself. Highly recommended for any reading list that might --- to be even more extreme --- include John Trinick or Erich Neumann as exemplars of 'radical anthropology'.
4 of 10 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars MAGNIFICANT MISDIRECTED EFFORT 25 April 2014
By Yehezkel Dror - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
Avant-Garde Politician: Leaders for a New Epoch
Many will express admirations for this book and its interactive website, in part because not really understanding its Baroque refinements but unwilling to say so. There is indeed much to admire in the originality of this work and its wealth of observations, concepts and ideas. But my assessment is that this magnificent edifice lacks foundations and is misdirected.
Thus, the whole range of existential challenges posed by science and technology, with all their deep uncertainties and inconceivability, to the future existence and very nature of the human species, as discussed in my recent book, are in the main ignored. To add a concrete example, the critical importance of the quality of senior political leaders in impacting on the future, for better or worse, is not realized - leading to neglect of the crucial need for radical upgrading the minds of high level decision makers.
This is not the place for a detailed critique of the book. But let me further illustrate some of the weaknesses by mentioning a category error and a misunderstanding, and then return to what I regard as the critical failure of the book and the project on which it is based, as hinted at above.
The book discussed "modernity" and the moderns. But the image of modernity and moderns discussed in the book is at best one "pure type" out of a variety of equally plausible ones. For sure it is not reliable anthropological mapping of the multiple and divergent attributes of societies usually regarded as "modern." Thus, a central category of the book is not clarified nor justified, adding up to a kind of category error.
The book completely misunderstands "politics." The differences and relations between "politics" and "policy" are not recognized nor discussed, probably because in French (and many other languages) there are no different words for politics and policy. The distinction made by the author between talking politics and talking on politics does nothing to overcome neglect of the realities of the real "corridors of power." Thus, the Agora is regarded as a model of politics, ignoring that fact that in Western democracies too most of politics (and even more so of policy) takes place in closed spaces not accessible to the public - largely necessarily so because of the low levels of public understanding of complex issues. Similarly, the critical roles of myths and imaginaries in politics are not considered.
In addition, the realities of relations between the Occident and "others," which are central to the future of humanity, are grossly oversimplified. Trust in a novel type of "diplomacy" is unrealistic, ignoring the crucial roles of strongly held beliefs -- "fundamentalism" and "fanaticism" are neither understood nor and confronted in the book, nor are the nature of power and the strength of material interests.
Most serious of all, the necessity for a strong global regime, up to a circumscribed "Global Levilathan," for imposing measures essential for assuring the future of humanity, is completely ignored. Instead trust seems to be put on arriving at consensus with the help of a kind of "diplomacy," which is completely misplaced in view of the lessons of history and whatever we understand of the nature of humans and tribal feelings.
To be added as a main failure in its instauration thrust, to use a term from the text, is its concentrating on the interface between Gaia and Anthropocene and the necessity to radically adjust human activities and modes of existence to limits imposed by the Earth. True, this is an important issue. And many do regard it as the most fateful one. But from such an outstanding author more can be expected. Not only are the potentials of geoengineering not taken into account, but - much worse - the fatal dangers posed by synthetic biology and human enhancement, among others, are not taken into account, though they frame the required new civilizations and modes of existence.
The author rejects the "to be or not to be" question (p. 178). He may be right in the specific context in which he does so, but the real issues facing humanity are indeed "to be, what to be, or not to be." Ecology is only one of the crucial facets of this existential mega-quandary. The whole raison d'etre of this book is undermined by not relating to this question as a whole, which realistically considered leads to understandings and conclusions radically different and also contrarian to those proposed in the book and the project on which it is based.
I give this book four stars because of its high intellectual level and the wealth of novel though partial understandings providing by it. But, as a whole, I regret to reach the conclusion that it is misleading concerning the problematic facing humanity and the ways for seeking measures and modes of existence coping with it.
Professor Yehezkel Dror
The Hebrew University of Jerusalem
13 of 56 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars Even for a professional social anthropologist the piece is utterly unreadable. 2 Jan 2014
By Roberto A. DaMatta - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover|Verified Purchase
1. It does not let you know what the issues are;
2. The Author is so full of himself that is his writes in circles;
3. I was completely lost by this terminology and his codes.
4. I miss a lot of the worth-while complexities of Claude Lévi-Strauss.
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