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We Have Never Been Modern Paperback – 1 Jul 1993


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Product details

  • Paperback: 168 pages
  • Publisher: Longman; 1 edition (1 July 1993)
  • ISBN-10: 074501321X
  • ISBN-13: 978-0745013213
  • Product Dimensions: 23.2 x 15.2 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 4.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (2 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,950,868 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

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29 of 29 people found the following review helpful By mjp on 27 Feb. 2001
Format: Paperback
For those readers familiar with Science in Action, Bruno Latour may not at first strike one as the ideal candidate to sort out the most pressing philosophical issues about human cultures. But that is exactly what this slim, easy to follow volume does: it sorts them out. Latour posits that our "modern" society (and this is taken as Western and/or industrialized society) is based upon a series of paradoxes whereby both nature and society are "constructed" (by humans) and at the same time "transcendent." This contradiction enables us to, among other things, appropriate huge chunks of the natural into the social without giving it so much as a thought because the "modern constitution" of our thought effectively prevents it. Nature can both intervene in society (e.g. by being transformed into manufactured items) and remain distinct, pristinely "natural." Through a series of carefully argued comparisons and contrasts between the "modern consistution," the "non-modern constitution," and (of course) the "postmodern constitution" Latour offers a way for Western society to achieve a responsible relationship to nature and society through a reconsideration of the affects of, for example, the implementation of a new technology on both the natural and the social. The many graphic illustrations and charts serve to provide visual explanations for his argument. I never would have ventured into this text without them. Regardless of your background or ideological leanings, be prepared to be challenged by We Have Never Been Modern in two areas. First, Latour is not shy about employing specific terms where he deems necessary, and that is absolutely everywhere.Read more ›
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60 of 61 people found the following review helpful By A Customer on 17 Dec. 1997
Format: Paperback
For this reader, Bruno Latour's book is one of the most ambitious, original, and important reformulations of social theory since 1989. It is getting lots of attention among scholars, and deserves a wider public. The press reviews here don't do this book justice.
Latour, for those of you who don't know him, has been at the forefront of the emerging field of "science studies", the history and sociology of science, for the past 15 years. He's also a rather bizarre fellow. His "Aramis" is a book of real sociology that is told in the form of a novel, in which the metro car of a failed Parisian public transportation project becomes one of a series of narrators. In "We Have Never Been Modern," he conscisely summarizes the theoretical basis of his work, and stakes out ground that is genuinely new. The book should excite humanisitic academics, scientists, and intellectually adventurous people from all walks of life with a taste for theory.
The thesis -- the basis for the "we have never been modern" part -- is that the "great divide" between nature and human, subject and object, science and society, was never real. Instead, he says, this subject/object divide was the great dirty fiction of the "modern" world.
To give you the gist of the argument as briefly as possible: the separation of nature and human, that has marked Western intellectual life since the 17th century, allowed both science and the humanities to make their own claims for absolute truth. This divide was the basis for our image of "modern western man."
But these claims hid the fact that "hybrids" were springing up all the while.
Read more ›
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)

Amazon.com: 11 reviews
235 of 241 people found the following review helpful
a great, new work; serious social theory for scientists too 17 Dec. 1997
By daum@socrates.berkeley.edu - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For this reader, Bruno Latour's book is one of the most ambitious, original, and important reformulations of social theory since 1989. It is getting lots of attention among scholars, and deserves a wider public. The press reviews here don't do this book justice.
Latour, for those of you who don't know him, has been at the forefront of the emerging field of "science studies", the history and sociology of science, for the past 15 years. He's also a rather bizarre fellow. His "Aramis" is a book of real sociology that is told in the form of a novel, in which the metro car of a failed Parisian public transportation project becomes one of a series of narrators. In "We Have Never Been Modern," he conscisely summarizes the theoretical basis of his work, and stakes out ground that is genuinely new. The book should excite humanisitic academics, scientists, and intellectually adventurous people from all walks of life with a taste for theory.
The thesis -- the basis for the "we have never been modern" part -- is that the "great divide" between nature and human, subject and object, science and society, was never real. Instead, he says, this subject/object divide was the great dirty fiction of the "modern" world.
To give you the gist of the argument as briefly as possible: the separation of nature and human, that has marked Western intellectual life since the 17th century, allowed both science and the humanities to make their own claims for absolute truth. This divide was the basis for our image of "modern western man."
But these claims hid the fact that "hybrids" were springing up all the while. Modernity also spawned technological "quasi-objects" that blur the line between the natural and the human. The tremendous multiplication of these "quasi-objects" (Latour's neologism)in our times has finally forced us to the point where we are at a startling conclusion: the divorce of man from nature never really took place.
What we thought of as scientific Western man was never real. Latour wants us, the generation left with the consequences of this revelation, to exhume this past of hybridity, and seek out a new relationship between nature and culture. In short, he wants to both humanize science and render the humanities more scientific.
This brief bastardization does not do justice to the work. Latour elegantly and convincingly lays out his thesis, and the results are dazzling and compelling. He's also sharp and witty, and fans of the like of Baudrillard and Derrida will see their idols tossed about a bit.
On the other hand, the book is immensely ambitious in its theoretical claims, and has a tendency to pretend that complex and difficult ideas are obvious truth. One wonders at times if he is practicing the French intellectual's habit of making our heads spin for the sheer thrill of watching the confusion. But he's not, and most readers, I think, will finish the book that Latour is ultimately both a sensible man and a humane one.
As a graduate student in the humanities, I know that this book is getting a growing audience in academia. I hope that some non-academic visitors to amazon.com (especially science buffs who enjoy the likes of Steven Pinker and Daniel Dennet) will treat themselves to this intellectual adventure. It's a truly original book, not much over 100 pages, reasonably priced, and well worth the experience.
23 of 25 people found the following review helpful
The philosophy of coexistence 30 Nov. 2008
By Malvin - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
"We Have Never Been Modern" by Bruno Latour is a brilliant interdisciplinary work that profoundly challenges our assumptions about the world we live in. Mr. Latour views the Enlightenment from an anthropological perspective to reveal how its multiple and contradictory ideals have conspired to lead humanity towards ever greater social and environmental crises. Mr. Latour's breakthrough analysis provides a philosophical road map towards a sustainable 'nonmodern' world wherein nature and society are more harmoniously joined together for the greater good.

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

In this light, Mr. Latour rejects the idea that humanity has ever really broken away from its premodern past. To begin with, Mr. Latour suggests that the premoderns' assignment of transcendence to inanimate objects is similar in kind to the transcendent powers assigned by moderns to sciences and ideologies. Mr. Latour goes on to contend that the modern experience is simply larger in scale than the premodern, with ever-more sophisticated but conflicting explanations about the meaning of the extended networks that bind our lived experiences undergoing constant flux. Mr. Latour states that 'morphism' better explains the nonmodern world we inhabit in which humans must continuously adapt themselves to changing sociological and natural conditions.

Mr. Latour argues that once we refute the idea that we have ever been modern, we can reclaim our sense of being ordinary and thereby express our solidarity with all peoples and the planet; at that point, we will be able to focus on the collective challenge of addressing the critical problems that confront us. Crucially, this task requires that our conception of politics enlarges; the discourse must encompass the multitude of human and non-human subjects or 'things' alike if we wish to solve the problems that the quasi-objects present to us. For example, Mr. Latour suggests that in the case of ozone depletion such a debate might be enjoined by representatives speaking on behalf of chemical companies, workers, the ozone hole itself, Antarctica, and so on.

Originally written in 1991, Mr. Latour's pathbreaking thought has proven to be highly influential, with many of his arguments in essence being echoed and enlarged by more and more similarly-minded progressive writers. To cite just a few: Robyn Eckersley's The Green State: Rethinking Democracy and Sovereignty articulates the juridical basis for the representation of non-human life forms in our democracy; Vandana Shiva's Earth Democracy: Justice, Sustainability, and Peace provides a moral argument for human rights and environmentally justice; and Steven Wise' Drawing the Line makes a compelling case for animal rights. Together, works such as these suggest that a new kind of Enlightenment may be forming: a philosophy that recognizes the future of humanity is dependent upon, and not estranged from, the other life forms that coexist with us on planet earth.

This challenging but deeply rewarding book is highly recommended for all philosophically-minded and hopeful readers.
13 of 15 people found the following review helpful
Engaging discussion of our views of culture and nature 6 Dec. 2007
By mjp - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback
For those readers familiar with Science in Action, Bruno Latour may not at first strike one as the ideal candidate to sort out the most pressing philosophical issues about human cultures. But that is exactly what this slim, easy to follow volume does: it sorts them out. Latour posits that our "modern" society (and this is taken as Western and/or industrialized society) is based upon a series of paradoxes whereby both nature and society are "constructed" (by humans) and at the same time "transcendent." This contradiction enables us to, among other things, appropriate huge chunks of the natural into the social without giving it so much as a thought because the "modern constitution" of our thought effectively prevents it. Nature can both intervene in society (e.g. by being transformed into manufactured items) and remain distinct, pristinely "natural." Through a series of carefully argued comparisons and contrasts between the "modern consistution," the "non-modern constitution," and (of course) the "postmodern constitution" Latour offers a way for Western society to achieve a responsible relationship to nature and society through a reconsideration of the affects of, for example, the implementation of a new technology on both the natural and the social. The many graphic illustrations and charts serve to provide visual explanations for his argument. I never would have ventured into this text without them. Regardless of your background or ideological leanings, be prepared to be challenged by We Have Never Been Modern in two areas. First, Latour is not shy about employing specific terms where he deems necessary, and that is absolutely everywhere. Many of the neologisms I have found quite helpful, but the reader's attention must never waver when they are trotted out. Furthermore, you should be prepared to follow Latour wherever he may list, in particular into the history of the vacuum pump. The second major area of challenge is in the nature of his solution to the modern quandary, what he terms "The parliament of things." This arrangement of otherwise distinct and dispersed voices from and about the same "quasi-object" will require major compromises all around. It is hard enough to give a voice to indigenous populations, Latour wishes to enlist others (even scientists!) to speak on behalf of the trees. The price is hefty, but well worth the money, the wait and the effort of what, in the main, is an exhilirating read.
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Essential Reading 6 Feb. 2010
By Richard C. Sha - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
A book stunning in its analytical reach, We Have Never Been Modern shows the futility/centrality of Nature/Culture debates. On the one hand, modernity signifies the need to purify nature from culture. On the other hand, Latour shows us the ways in which we have never been modern. Particularly important are the tools he provides for thinking about science anthropologically: his critique of objectivity, his fascination with things because they elude the neat binary between nature and culture, and his understanding of how deconstruction ironically maintains this purity between nature and culture because it understands language as cut off from both looking subjects and objects of analysis. I would rate this book as one of the top 50 books of cultural analysis.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
What is Modern? 25 April 2013
By M. Zavala - Published on Amazon.com
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
Apparently, we have never been modern ... but how we're different from Middle Ages European society, or anything else for that matter, is unclear. Latour never offers alternative categories. It feels more like he goes back and forth on the matter: we're somewhat modern, we think we're modern, we're not modern, but we act modern ... I don't even know how to put it. His writing is very convoluted and he waffles between arguments, even while there are very interesting ideas throughout the book about nature and objects and the relationship between people, nature-objects, etc. The book starts out feeling a little indulgent in that it feels like a personal reaction to Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer, with Latour setting off to contradict their very useful analysis of the production of knowledge in the debates between Hobbes and Boyle. After spending two or three chapters responding to LEVIATHAN AND THE AIR-PUMP, he goes on to analyze other topics but they are increasingly more confusing and ungrounded. He includes diagrams intended to enlighten readers, but sometimes they are enlightening on their own, other times just as confusing especially in the context in which they are included. I wondered if it was instead worth 2 stars, but this book is a bit of a classic of sorts, and Latour's work is valued very much in the social sciences, but I prefer reading his book with Woolgar than this small but confusing text.
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