Demodernizing the Humanities with Latour


At first glance, the primary lesson of Bruno Latour for the humanities appears to be simple: the humanities are not just about humans. Though the ultimate picture is more complicated than this, it remains a useful guiding principle, since few contemporary thinkers have had more success than Latour at incorporating nonhuman entities into their writings. Such popular human-centered terms as “language,” “society,” “power,” or even “capitalism” are reassigned by Latour to a derivative position. None of these things is made up of purely human material; all are shown to be composed of hybrid networks that feature viruses, earthworms, computers, and ozone holes no less than police stations and other cynical panoptica. Indeed, one of the reasons that Latour is starting to look like Michel Foucault’s eventual replacement as the default citation in the humanities—he is quickly approaching that point in the social sciences—is that whereas Foucault treats inanimate entities primarily as means by which the human subject is historically molded, Latour’s ever-expanding oeuvre better equips us to take such entities on their own terms, rather than merely as human accessories.