We Have Never Been Modern
by Bruno Latour, (Translated by Catherine Porter)
[Latour, Bruno. 1993. We Have Never Been Modern. Translated by Catherine Porter. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.]
- The act of purification is key to being modern, however, we are increasingly creating and coming up against hybrids. For instance, a discussion of the ozone layer combines science, technology, politics, and nature, blurring the modernist distinctions and continuing the proliferation of quasi-objects.
- Latour is not arguing that we are entering a new era of hybridization, but instead that we have always created these hybrids and their quasi-objects and have never been “modern” to begin with.
- Latour hopes to replace what he calls the modern “constitution” with a nonmodern version that does not separate nature and society and brings the genesis of quasi-objects to light (see below).
Purification—making a clear distinction between the ideas of nature (science, non-human, objects) and society (culture, human, subjects)
Hybridization—mixing nature and culture (non-human and human, object and subject)
Quasi-object—the products of hybridization; objects that can influence the social action of subjects (soccer balls, tools, diagrams, etc.)
“The hypothesis of this essay is that the word ‘modern’ designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The first set of practices, by ‘translation’, creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by ‘purification’, creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on one hand; that of nonhumans on the other. Without the first set, the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless. Without thesecond, the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or evenruled out. The first set corresponds to what I have called networks; the second to what I shall call the modern critical stance” (10-11).
“We can keep the Enlightenment without modernity, provided that we reintegrate the objects of the sciences and technologies into the Constitution, as quasi-objects among many others – objects whose genesis must no longer be clandestine, but must be followed through and through, from the hot events that spawned the objects to the progressive cool-down that transforms them into essences of Nature or Society” (135).