Introducing Bruno Latour. Over the past 20+ years Latour has been carefully and thrillingly re-designing the entire landscape of our lives, and increasingly people are noticing what he's been up to. It really is no exaggeration to say that the world as Latour sees it is remarkable, and very little of the ways we commonly understand things survives unscathed. Not that he in any way imposes a new order on things, or concocts vast fantastic scifi-type fantasies. And he doesn't have a critical bone in his body, so he's not out there debunking things either - he sees critique as a tired, misguided activity. On the contrary his genius (and this is probably what defines all genius) is to show us what we're already doing but don't even notice. Rather than attempt some encyclopaedic biography and bibliography, I'll first list probably his most fundamental changes to the way we think about things, and then use one example to show a bit of the flavour of his work. As backg…
There's maybe something just a little bit too twee about Godwin's Law, which began with a witty observation by Godwin that in online chat forums eventually somebody gets compared to Hitler and the Nazis. Since that time the observation has taken on the status of a (tongue-in-cheek) law, and also additional meanings such as "whoever refers to Hitler first in an argument loses", etc. Obviously throwing your opponent to the Nazi legacy in the opening stages of battle is poor form. It's schoolyard "my dad is bigger than your dad" tactics. But there's a big in-between land between that and not talking about them at all that is pretty important. One of the wisest lessons some have drawn from the fascist adventures of the 20th century is that this shit tends to creep up on people, it doesn't arrive overnight with a funny moustache. Fascism/totalitarianism (if these are actually things - there's a whole academic literature on what the terms actually m…
For a long time, the world was divided up into those things with
consciousness, and those things without. The first list was very small,
the second list huge. A lot of fields are shifting how they think about
this now though.
I think a much better concept to understand all
of this is the notion of agency, which has become a hot topic of
research. It doesn’t carry the same human baggage as consciousness.
Everything has agency in some way - the capacity to act, to force other things to react in some way.
Take this sign as an example. Who is the sign talking to, and who is
talking, in the sign? I’ve always thought a workplace with a lot of
signs like this is probably a dysfunctional place, because nobody is
quite sure how to solve a problem, so they delegate it to a sign. The
sign has agency. It may or may not actually work, so its agency may be