The importance of Bruno Latour for philosophy

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Citation: Graham Harman (2007/03) The importance of Bruno Latour for philosophy. Cultural Studies Review (RSS)
Internet Archive Scholar (search for fulltext): The importance of Bruno Latour for philosophy
Tagged: Philosophy (RSS) philosophy (RSS)


In this article Graham Harman, like the title suggests, stresses the importance of Bruno Latour in the field of philosophy. Latour, Harman agues, has been widely accepted and published in several other disciplines (anthropology, science, fine arts), but has had strangely little impact in the world of philosophy. Given that Latour is a "full-blown philosopher," Harman feels this is particularly strange.

The reason for this lack of implementation, says Harman, "lies in the stale joint consensus of a philosophical world still divided between analytic and continental schools."

After lamenting the gap philosophy has incurred by not incorporating Latour during the past couple of decades, Harman introduces Latour and his book "Irreductions". Some of the main points during this introduction include:

1. "Bruno Latour is no Heideggerian." I.e., Latour is not a continental philosopher. He's democratic in the sense that that "he makes no distinction even between different ranks and castes of entities, and would study the production of cell phones just as respectfully as ancient tribal handiwork."
2. Latour isn't opposed to realism or power, but is opposed to reductionism—when complexities are reduced to a single, privileged subject. Or, in other words, "'nothing is more complex, multiple, real, palpable, or interesting than anything else'" (Harman quoting Latour).
3. "...[E]verything that exists can be regarded as an actor or actant." What this means is that everything, "animate and inanimate, human and nonhuman, or subject and object" is positioned on the same ontological threshold.
4. Actors or actants operate in networks and never alone. "...[I]t is only the interactions between actants that carve up reality into all its individual districts."

Once these main tenets are described, Harman delves into a series of more nuanced explanations regarding their composite complexities and formations, including sections on "Translation" and "Associations" where we learn that "no actant is inherently strong or weak", but instead depends on "allies" or other actants to gain strength. Or, as Harman reiterates again and again in the article: "An actant is nothing without networks; with networks, it is all."

The last section titled "A New Occasionalism" goes into great detail relating Latour's philosophy with previous philosophical traditions it shares affinities with and is diametrically opposed to. This section is the most dense, but Harman does a great job of maintaining clarity and brevity. He ends the article by heralding Latour for "reviving metaphysics in continental philosophy" and introducing such radical, if ignored, work.