- Thinking about Latour and AIME's Common World
As an "anthropology of the Moderns," aime appears to be a project as vast as it is complex—so complex that after an hour spent on the web platform, I gave up my day-off navigating attitude and went back to my daytime-scholar attitude, carefully reading the platform's first page to figure out what aime was really about.
First, I understood that it was dealing with both modernization, which it aimed to more precisely define, and modes of existence, which is its way to investigate "the beings about which humans are interrogating themselves." Second, I figured that based on its three stages—"that of the readers, that of the co-researchers, and that of the negotiators"—and its focus on diplomatic negotiations between fifteen modes of existence, the very purpose of aime was to learn "how to compose a common world." Then what made me give up on my initial navigation of the web platform became clearer: 1) there are crossings that illustrate the clash between two values; and 2) there is the augmented digital book, which readers can explore after having signed on to aime.
Fully prepared after reading the introductory page of the web platform, I went back to navigating the book.
Frustrated, as an Environmental Historian of Modern Africa
First, as a historian working on Ethiopia and the environments that have resulted from twentieth-century negotiations between international, national, and local human (and nonhuman) actors, my first move was [End Page 120] quite naturally to search the book for occurrences of the word "Africa." I was disappointed to see a single quote appearing, in the section of the introduction entitled "Modernizing or Ecologizing, We Must Choose." Here Bruno Latour explains that his first research into "the end of the modernist parenthesis" was partly based on his much earlier field inquiries "in Africa."
Several thoughts ran through my mind. But mostly I wondered if we were dealing here with the kind of world invented by major international nature conservation organizations, that is, a global world mainly defined by Westerners, discussed in Northern countries, and imposed on Southern countries?
Having some knowledge of Bruno Latour's work, I gathered that things were much more complicated. Again in the introduction, but in the section "Negotiating on Whose Behalf," the reader learns that because "we are still missing an anthropology of the Moderns … , this inquiry is going to have to finally focus on the Moderns, the 'Westerners,' yes, even on the Europeans." The argument was more than convincing.
Nonetheless, when it comes to building a common world, "the question of whose world is being planned by whom, and to what end, must be asked" (Beinart 1987, 19). aime did not seem to broadly address the question of building a common world without involving the ones for whom the choice between modernizing or ecologizing is a daily crucial one.
Enthusiastic, as a Social Sciences Researcher
So I kept exploring the platform, but mainly as a social sciences researcher interested in the social relationships to environment. Both voluntarily and unwillingly, I first got lost in the "modes & crossing" interface. I started here to grasp several values, situations, and paradoxes in sections such as "learning to respect appearances" and "to each mode its own way of playing with custom," as well as "locating the beings of fiction" and "[these beings] are different from the beings of technique." I got the sense of a knowledge-based fuzzy system; and as unproductive it could sound, this feeling was quite a nice one, as I started to truly apprehend the modes of existence that aime had been investigating.
Then, I returned to the digital book. I discovered, step-by-step, several modes of existence and, in the two right-hand columns, the different [End Page 121] concepts and situations they were associated with. I found myself thinking that maybe aime was targeting the same goals set out in the theory of related bodies by Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1964, 13) and the monism idea it inspired in Philippe Descola (2002, 17)—that is, the need to investigate anthropos (the modern one) through the configurations, rather...