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  • "One Must Not Forget This Diplomatic Negotiation"
  • Adrian Ivakhiv (bio)

Interviewer: "One has the impression that the game is over from the start; why would they come to help you in your work? The contributors must be saying to themselves, 'He just has to do the job himself, and then publish the results.'"

Latour: "You are being hard on me, but you are applying pressure where it hurts. … aime really has the ambition of using everything that philosophy has worked on, but to keep open the ethnographic inquiry. Or at least to obtain enough descriptive realism to open the diplomatic negotiation. One must not forget this diplomatic negotiation. It is essential; any critique you have of the project must be calibrated through it."

—Bruno Latour and Carolina Miranda, "Does An Inquiry into Modes of Existence Have a System?"

The first question, for me, is to determine whether to treat An Inquiry into Modes of Existence (aime) as Bruno Latour's quarter-century project of reconceiving the categories that structure what we (or he) think(s) of as modernity, or as something else entirely. Is it an expanded book, itself the culmination of many projects converging into one, or many projects diverging from one provocation (1991's We Have Never Been Modern) reconverged into a multimodal monster? Or is it something more diffuse, more collective, more fractal, digital, already networked, and already much more multiple in its origins and therefore impossible to tackle head on because it is so deeply rooted in diverse entanglements—among philosophers (Souriau, Simondon, James, [End Page 144] Whitehead, Deleuze, Stengers), anthropologists (Viveiros de Castro, Descola, Verran, Kohn), scholars of science (Law, Callon, Mol, Haraway, Leigh Star), and broad networks of others in bonds that will outlast any effort to deconstruct anything made up solely of "Bruno Latour"?

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Fig 1.

First draft of the classification of modes of existence (May 31, 1988, Melbourne, Australia,

If it is the latter, and something that has emerged "from the (ethnographic) ground up," then the Valparaiso interviewer is correct in suggesting that it should not have come fully equipped in a system of [End Page 145] modes that already appeared, in nascent form, in a document from 1988 (see image above), which can be found on the aime website. "How can you say it is 'empirical,'" the interviewer protests, "if it was all there in 1988, with squares to be filled in? … Isn't the system here coming to paralyse the inquiry?"1 But then, it is a strength of the web project that it provides historical details like these, and even incriminatory interviews such as this one, in which Latour equivocates that it is "not at all" a system but that "it's crazy" that he has "no satisfactory explanation for the fact that the modes are arranged in four groups of three. I'm terribly sorry, but they grouped themselves like this." He then admits, "You really have me on the spot, because it is true that candidates for new modes proposed until now by co-researchers did not get very far, or in any case, were not validated, or should I say approved." "But still," he assures, "we are right at the start of the collective work."

More important than the modes themselves, he avers, are the "pluralism of associations" that the system is intended to enable and, of course, the "diplomatic negotiation," which is the point of the whole exercise: "It is essential; any critique you have of the project must be calibrated through it." Latour is, if anything, very much in his element with these equivocations and hedges on the fence—that is, after all, where the diplomat belongs.

Let me suggest a particular reading of Latour and aime here. By his own mode of existence ([me?]), Bruno Latour cannot avoid becoming an obligatory point of passage (to use an actor-network term) for the work he is intending to perform on the world. It is not that here is a Bruno Latour and there is the work he does; here—Latour, and there—his ideas, writings, and activities. No, there is Latouring, which...


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pp. 144-149
Launched on MUSE
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