Re: Harman’s post on Bolivia and Mother Earth

Click here for Harman’s post “Bolivia and Mother Earth” …

my humble response:

Dr. Harman –

I can’t tell you how excited I was to see this post re: Bolivia, nature/culture and policy! I attempted to “leave a comment” and wasn’t able to do so … maybe a problem on my end.

Either way, I “like”-d your post and want to elaborate on why this particular post of yours is so pertinent to my research/scholarship on Latour, and especially my concern with how Latour’s theory of political ecology is answerable in science policy.

In the Rhetoric of Science (Dr. Carl Herndl) course I’m enrolled in at the University of South Florida, we’ve been focusing on questions pertaining to the ways in which rhetorical study can help us to understand how science might or might not participate in social change, how science affects policy, how science cooperates with citizens to evaluate technology and manage controversy/crisis, and most importantly – what we mean when we say that science is the management of uncertainties.

Regarding your objection to the “… continued notion of nature as one pure realm and humans as another pure realm that should not taint one another with interaction,” I couldn’t agree more, and you’re right to suggest that Latour articulates this best. Your allusion to the “continued notion of nature” … as bifurcated from “humans as a … pure realm …” parallels with Latour’s articulation of the old constitution, Science, in which this “… first [old] style of political ecology believed that it was innovating [modern] by inserting nature into politics, whereas in fact it was only exacerbating the paralysis of politics caused by the old nature”. And like Latour, you seem to suggest that “to give new meaning to political ecology, we need to abandon Science in favor of the sciences conceived as ways of socializing non-humans, and we have to abandon the politics of the Cave for politics defined by the progressive composition of the good common world” … (but these are things we are both well aware of …)  

So what I really want to point to is how Jane Bennett’s Vibrant Matter answers Latour. You write that you haven’t heard an answer to Latour’s We Have Never Been Modern, and I want to (very humbly) suggest that Bennett’s text may be one way of answering – extending, conceptualizing, and practicing – Latour’s political ecology (as it seems as though Bolivia is beginning to do  …*on this note, yesterday morning I heard a BBC report on NPR about Ecuador, where a similar type of policy is going into effect … I’ve e-mailed NPR re: the report/transcript and am waiting on the document as we speak …)   

Anyways, regarding the Rhetoric of Science course I mentioned above, I’m actually leading today’s discussion on “science and citizenship” and so I’ve asked for our class to read chapter seven, “Science Beyond Truth and Enlightenment?” in Beck’s Risk Society, and chapter seven, “Political Ecologies” in Bennett’s Vibrant Matter, which is why I wanted to respond to  your post … by pointing to how Bennett’s vital materialist theory calls for the accounting of the contributions of (Latour’s) nonhuman actants in publics, and even how the CHOICES they make implicate them in political action.  From what I can tell, Bennett answers Latour, especially concerning the core argument of her text: that disruptions – the very disruptions that are understood to incite the formation of publics – consist of human and nonhuman disruptions, the desires – choices – of both to engage in reasoned discourse. In her own words, she explains: “… I seek to extend awareness of our interinvolvements and interdependencies. The political goal of a vital materialism is not the perfect equality of actants, but a polity with more channels of communication between members. (Latour calls this a more ‘vascularized’ collective) … Perhaps we can make better progress … by looking at a theory designed to open democracy to the voices of excluded humans. I turn to Ranciere’s theory of democracy as disruption … (104). Bennett repurposes – extends – Ranciere’s theory by asking, “Is the power to disrupt really limited to human speakers?” (106) Her most interesting extension seems to me to be what we’re asking for – how we want Latour’s theory of political ecology to be practiced. She writes, “A second opportunity for a more materialist theory of democracy arises when Ranciere chooses to define what counts as political by what effect is generated: a political act not only disrupts, it disrupts in such a way as to change radically what people can “see”: it repartitions the sensible; it overthrows the regime of the perceptible. Here again the political gate is opened enough for nonhumans to slip through, for they also have the power to startle and provoke a gestalt shift in perception: what was trash becomes things, what was an instrument becomes a participant, what was foodstuff becomes agent, what was adamantine becomes intensity. We see how an animal, plant, mineral, or artifact can sometimes catalyze a public, and we might then see how to devise more effective (experimental) tactics for enhancing or weakening that public” (107) …

I’ll be posting  my more detailed presentation notes on my site this afternoon …


About klangbehn

Doctoral Candidate: Rhetoric of Science University of South Florida 4202 E. Fowler Avenue Tampa, FL 33620-5550 View all posts by klangbehn

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