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We Have Never Been Modern

We Have Never Been Modern

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We Have Never

Been Modern
Bruno Latour
translated by Catherine Porer
Harvard University Press
Cambridge, Massachusetts
This translation © 1993 by Harvester Whearsheaf and
the President and Fellows of Harvard College
All rights reserved
Printed in the United States of America
Originally published as Nous n 'avons jamais ete modernes:
Essais d'anthropologie symmetrique.
Copyright © 1991 La Decouverte
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data
Latourg Bruno.
[Nous n'avons jamais ete modernes. English]
We have never been modern I Bruno Latour : translated by
Catherine Porter.
p. em.
Translation of: Nous n'avons jamais ete moderns.
Includes bibliographical references and index.
ISBN 0-674-94838-6. -ISBN 0-674-94839- (pbk.)
1. Science-Social aspects. 2. Technology-Soci al aspects.
3. Science-Philosophy. 4. Science-History. I. Title.
Q175.5. L3513 1993
303.48'3-c20
93-15226
CIP
For Charis and Adrian
CONTENTS
Acknowledgements Î7
CRISIS 1
1.1 The Proliferation of Hybrids 1
1.2 Retying the Gordian Knot 3
1. 3 The Crisis of the Critical Stance 5
1.4 1989: The Year of Miracles 8
1.5 What Does It Mean To Be A Modern? 10
2 CONSTITUTION 13
2. 1 The Modern Constitution 13
2.2 Boyle and His Objects 15
2. 3 Hobbes and His Subjects 18
2.4 The Mediation of the Laboratory 20
2.5 The Testimony of Nonhumans 22
2.6 The Double Artifact of the Laboratory and the
Leviathan 24
2. 7 Scientifc Representation and Political Representation 27
2. 8 The Constitutional Guarantees of the Modern 29
2.9 The Fourth Guarantee: The Crossed-out God 32
2.10 The Power of the Modern Critique 35
2.11 The Invincibility of the Moderns 37
2.12 What the Constitution Clarifes and What It Obscures 39
2.13 The End of Denunciation 43
2.14 We Have Never Been Modern 46
vii
viii
CONTENTS
3 REVOLUTION
49
3.1 The Moderns, Victims of Their Own Success 49
3. 2 What Is a Quasi-Obj ect? 51
3.3 Philosophies Stretched Over the Yawning Gap 55
3.4 The End of Ends 59
3.5 Semiotic Turns 62
3.6 Who Has Forgotten Being? 65
3.7 The Beginning of the Past 67
3.8 The Revolutionary Miracle 70
3. 9 The End of the Passing Past 72
3.10 Triage and Multiple Times 74
3.11 A Copernican Counter-revolution 76
3.12 From Intermediaries to Mediators 79
3.13 Accusation, Causation 82
3.14 Variable Ontologies 85
3.15 Connecting the Four Modern Repertoires 88
4 RELTIVISM 91
4.1 How to End the Asymmetry 91
4. 2 The Principle of Symmetry Generalized 94
4.3 The Import-Export System of the Two Great Divides 97
4.4 Anthropology Comes Home from the Tropics 100
4. 5 There Are No Cultures 103
4. 6 Sizeable Differences 106
4. 7 Archimedes' coup d'etat 109
4. 8 Absolute Relativisim and Relativist Relativism 111
4. 9 Small Mistakes Concerning the Disenchantment of the
World 114
4.10 Even a Longer Network Remains Local at All Points 117
4.11 The Leviathan is a Skein of Networks 120
4.12 A Perverse Taste for the Margins 122
4. 13 Avoid Adding New Crimes to Old 125
4.14 Transcendences Abound 127
5 REDISTRIBUTION 130
5. 1 The Impossible Modernization 130
5. 2 Final Examinations 132
5. 3 Humanism Redistributed 136
5. 4 The Nonmodern Constitution 138
5. 5 The Parliament of Things 142
Bibliography 146
Index 154
A CKNO WLEDG EMENTS
In many places the English text differs from the French. I have modifed
the fgures, added section 3. 2 and qualifed or clarifed the argument
without modifying its main structure. I have abstained from giving
empirical examples in order to retain the speculative - and, I am afraid,
very Gallic! - character of this essay. Many case studies, including several
by myself, will be found in the bibliography. Having written several
empirical books, I am trying here to bring the emerging feld of science
studies to the attention of the literate public through the philosophy
associated with this domain.
Many people have tried to make this essay less unreasonable. Among
them I especially thank Luc Boltanski, Francis Chateauraynaud, Eliza­
beth Claverie, Gerard de Vries, Fran\ois Geze and Isabelle Stengers.
I thank Harry Collins, Ernan McMullin, Jim Griesemer, Michel Izard,
Clifford Geertz and Peter Galison for allowing me to present the
arguments of this essay in their seminars.
Parts of Chapter 2 have been published in 'Postmodern? No, simply
amodern: steps towards an anthropology of science. An essay review',
Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 21: (1990) 145-71.
Some of the arguments in Chapter 3 have appeared in a different form in
'One more turn after the social turn: easing science studies into the non­
modern world', in E. McMullin, ed., The Social Dimensions of Science.
Notre Dame: Notre Dame University Press, 1992, pp. 272-92.
ix
D
CRISIS
1 .1 The Proliferation of Hybrids
On page four of my daily newspaper, I learn that the measurements taken
above the Antarctic are not good this year: the hole in the ozone layer is
growing ominously larger. Reading on, I turn from upper-atmosphere
chemists to Chief Executive Officers of Atochem and Monsanto,
companies that are modifying their assembly lines in order to replace the
innocent chlorofuorocarbons, accused of crimes against the ecosphere. A
few paragraphs later, I come across heads of state of major industrialized
countries who are getting involved with chemistry, refrigerators, aerosols
and inert gases. But at the end of the article, I discover that the
meteorologists don't agree with the chemists ; they're talking about
cyclical fluctuations unrelated to human activity. So now the industrial­
ists don' t know what to do. The heads of state are also holding back.
Should we wait? Is it already too late? Toward the bottom of the page,
Third World countries and ecologists add their grain of salt and talk
about international treaties, moratoriums, the rights of future gener­
ations, and the right to development.
The same article mixes together chemical reactions and political
reactions. A single thread links the most esoteric sciences and the most
sordid politics, the most distant sky and some factory in the Lyon
suburbs, dangers on a global scale and the impending local elections or
the next board meeting. The horizons, the stakes, the time frames, the
actors - none of these i s commensurable, yet there they are, caught up in
the same story.
On page six, I learn that the Paris AIDS virus contaminated the culture
medium in Professor Gallo's laboratory; that Mr Chirac and Mr Reagan
had, however, solemnly sworn not to go back over the history of that
2
CRISIS
discovery; that the chemical industry is not moving fast enough to
market medications which militant patient organizations are vocally
demanding; that the epidemic is spreading in sub-Saharan Africa. Once
again, heads of state, chemists, biologists, desperate patients and
industrialists fnd themselves caught up in a single uncertain story mixing
biology and society.
On page eight, there is a story about computers and chips controlled
by the Japanese; on page nine, about the right to keep frozen embryos;
on page ten, about a forest burning, its columns of smoke carrying off
rare species that some naturalists would like to protect; on page eleven,
there are whales wearing collars fted with radio tracking devices; also
on page eleven, there is a slag heap in northern France, a symbol of the
exploitation of workers, that has j ust been classifed as an ecological
preserve because of the rare fora it has been fostering! On page twelve,
the Pope, French bishops, Monsanto, the Fallopian tubes, and Texas
fundamentalists gather in a strange cohort around a single contraceptive.
On page fourteen, the number of lines on high-defnition television bring
together Mr Delors, Thomson, the EEC, commissions on standardiz­
ation, the Japanese again, and television flm producers. Change the
screen standard by a few lines, and billions of francs, millions of
television sets, thousands of hours of flm, hundreds of engineers and
dozens of CEOs go down the drain.
Fortunately, the paper includes a few restful pages that deal purely
with politics (a meeting of the Radical Party), and there is also the literary
supplement in which novelists delight in the adventures of a few
narcissistic egos ('I love you . . . you don't') . We would be dizzy without
these soothing features. For the others are multiplying, those hybrid
articles that sketch out imbroglios of science, politics, economy, law,
religion, technology, fction. If reading the daily paper is modern man's
form of prayer, then it is a very strange man indeed who is doing the
praying today while reading about these mixed-up affairs. All of culture
and all of nature get churned up again every day.
Yet no one seems to fnd this troubling. Headings like Economy,
Politics, Science, Books, Culture, Religion and Local Events remain in
place as if there were nothing odd going on. The smallest AIDS virus
takes you from sex to the unconscious, then to Africa, tissue cultures,
DNA and San Francisco, but the analysts, thinkers, journalists and
decision-makers will slice the delicate network traced by the virus for you
into tidy compartments where you will fnd only science, only economy,
only social phenomena, only local news, only sentiment, only sex. Press
the most innocent aerosol button and you'll be heading for the Antarctic,
and from there to the University of California at Irvine, the mountain
ranges of Lyon, the chemistry of inert gases, and then maybe to the
RETYING THE GORDIAN KNOT l
United Nations, but this fragile thread will be broken into as many
segments as there are pure disciplines.
By all means, they seem to say, let
us not mix up knowledge, interest, j ustice and power. Let us not mix up
heaven and earth, the global stage and the local scene, the human and the
nonhuman. 'But these i mbroglios do the mixing, ' you'll say, 'they weave
our world together! ' 'Act as if they didn't exist,' the analysts reply. They
have cut the Gordian knot with a well-honed sword. The shaft is broken:
on the left, they have put knowledge of things; on the right, power and
human politics.
1.2 Retying the Gordia Kot
For twenty years or so, my friends and I have been studying these strange
situations that the intellectual culture in which we live does not know
how to categorize. For lack of better terms, we call ourselves sociologists,
historians, economists, political scientists, philosophers or anthropol­
ogists. But to these venerable disciplinary labels we always add a
qualifer: 'of science and technology'. 'Science studies', as Anglo­
Americans call it, or 'science, technology and society'. Whatever label we
use, we are always attempting to retie the Gordian knot by crisscrossing,
as often as we have to, the divide that separates exact knowledge and the
exercise of power - let us say nature and culture. Hybrids ourselves,
installed lopsidedly within scientifc institutions, half engineers and half
philosophers, ' tiers instruits' (Serres, 1991) without having sought the
role, we have chosen to follow the imbroglios wherever they take us. To
shuttle back and forth, we rely on the notion of translation, or network.
More supple than the notion of system, more historical than the notion
of structure, more empirical than the notion of complexity, the idea of
network is the Ariadne's thread of these interwoven stories.
Yet our work remains incomprehensible, because it is segmented into
three components corresponding to our critics' habitual categories. They
turn it into nature, politics or discourse.
When Donald MacKenzie describes the inertial guidance system of
intercontinental missiles (MacKenzie, 1990) ; when Michel Calion
describes fuel cell electrodes (Calion, 1989) ; when Thomas Hughes
describes the flament of Edison's incandescent lamp (Hughes, 1983) ;
when I describe the anthrax bacterium modifed by Louis Pasteur
(Latour, 1988b) or Roger Guillemin's brain peptides (Latour and
Woolgar, [1979] 1986), the critics imagine that we are talking about
science and technology. Since these are marginal topics, or at best
manifestations of pure instrumental and calculating thought, people who
are interested in politics or in souls feel j ustifed in paying no attention.
CRI SI S
Yet this research does not deal with nature or knowledge, with things-in­
themselves, but with the way all these things are tied to our collectives
and to subjects. We are talking not about instrumental thought but about
the very substance of our societies. MacKenzie mobilizes the entire
American Navy, and even Congress, to talk about his inertial guidance
system; Calion mobilizes the French electric utility (EDF) and Renault as
well as great chunks of French energy policy to grapple with changes in
ions at the tip of an electrode in the depth of a laboratory; Hughes
reconstructs all America around the incandescent flament of Edison's
lamp; the whole of French society comes into view i f one tugs on
Pasteur's bacteria; and it becomes impossible to understand brain
peptides without hooking them up with a scientifc community,
instruments, practices - all impedimenta that bear very little resemblance
to rules of method, theories and neurons.
'But then surely you're talking about politics ? You're simply reducing
scientifc truth to mere political interests, and technical effciency to mere
strategical manruvres?' Here is the second misunderstanding. If the facts
do not occupy the simultaneously marginal and sacred place our worship
has reserved for them, then it seems that they are immediately reduced to
pure local contingency and sterile machinations. Yet science studies are
talking not about the social contexts and the interests of power, but
about their involvement with collectives and objects. The Navy's
organization is profoundly modifed by the way its offces are allied with
its bombs; EDF and Renault take on a completely di fferent look
depending on whether they invest in fuel cells or the internal combustion
engine; America before electricity and America after are two di fferent
places; the social context of the nineteenth century is altered according to
whether it is made up of wretched souls or poor people infected by
microbes; as for the unconscious subjects stretched out on 'the analyst's
couch, we picture them differently depending on whether their dry brain
is discharging neurotransmitters or their moist brain is secreting
hormones. None of our studies can reutilize what the sociologists, the
psychologists or the economists tell us about the social context or about
the subj ect in order to apply them to the hard sciences - and this is why I
will use the word 'collective' to describe the association of humans and
nonhumans and 'society' to designate one part only of our collectives, the
divide invented by the social sciences. The context and the technical
content turn out to be redefned every time. Just as epistemologists no
longer recognize in the collectivized things we offer them the ideas,
concepts or theories of their childhood, so the human sciences cannot be
expected to recognize the power games of their militant adolescence in
these collectives full of things we are lining up. The delicate networks
traced by Ariadne's little hand remain more invisible than spiderwebs.
THE CRISIS OF THE CRITICAL STANCE
5
'But if you are not talking about things-in-themselves or about
humans-among-themselves, then you must be talking j ust about dis­
course, representation, language, texts, rhetorics. ' This is the third
misunderstanding. It is true that those who bracket off the external
referent - the nature of things - and the speaker - the pragmatic or social
context - can talk only about meaning effects and language games. Yet
when MacKenzie examines the evolution of inertial guidance systems, he
is talking about arrangements that can kill us all; when Calion follows a
trail set forth in scientifc articles, he is talking about industrial strategy
as well as rhetoric (Calion et al. , 1986) ; when Hughes analyzes Edison's
notebooks, the internal world of Menlo Park i s about to become the
external world of all America (Hughes, 1983). When I describe Pasteur's
domestication of microbes, I am mobilizing nineteenth-century society,
not j ust the semiotics of a great man's texts; when I describe the
invention-discovery of brain peptides, I am really talking about the
peptides themselves, not simply their representation in Professor Guille­
min's laboratory. Yet rhetoric, textual strategies, writing, staging,
semiotics - all these are really at stake, but in a new form that has a
simultaneous impact on the nature of things and on the social context,
while it is not reducible to the one or the other.
Our intellectual life is out of kilter. Epistemology, the social sciences,
the sciences of texts - all have their privileged vantage point, provided
that they remain separate. If the creatures we are pursuing cross all three
spaces, we are no longer understood. Offer the established disciplines
some fne sociotechnological network, some lovely translations, and the
frst group will extract our concepts and pull out all the roots that might
connect them to society or to rhetoric; the second group will erase the
social and political dimensions, and purify our network of any object; the
third group, fnally, will retain our discourse and rhetoric but purge our
work of any undue adherence to reality - horresco referens - or to power
plays. In the eyes of our critics the ozone hole above our heads, the moral
law in our hearts, the autonomous text, may each be of interest, but only
separately. That a delicate shuttle should have woven together the
heavens, industry, texts, souls and moral law - this remains uncanny,
unthinkable, unseemly.
1 .3 The Crisis of the Critical Stance
The critics have developed three distinct approaches to talking about our
world: naturalization, socialization and deconstruction. Let us use E.O.
Wilson, Pierre Bourdieu, and Jacques Derrida - a bit unfairly - as
emblematic fgures of these three tacks. When the frst speaks of
6
CRISIS
naturalized phenomena, then socrettes, subjects, and all forms of
discourse vanish. When the second speaks of felds of power, then
science, technology, texts, and the contents of activities disappear. When
the third speaks of truth effects, then to believe in the real existence of
brain neurons or power plays
.
would betray enormous naivete. Each of
these forms of criticism is powerful in itself but impossible to combine
with the other two. Can anyone imagine a study that would treat the
ozone hole as simultaneously naturalized, sociologized and decon­
structed? A study in which the nature of the phenomena might be frmly
established and the strategies of power predictable, but nothing would be
at stake but meaning effects that project the pitiful illusions of a nature
and a speaker? Such a patchwork would be grotesque. Our intellectual
life remains recognizable as long as epistemologists, sociologists and
deconstructionists remain at arm's length, the critique of each group
feeding on the weaknesses of the other two. We may glorify the sciences,
play power games or make fun of the belief in a reality, but we must not
mix these three caustic acids.
Now we cannot have it both ways. Either the networks my colleagues
in science studies and I have traced do not really exist, and the critics are
quite right to marginalize them or segment them into three distinct sets:
facts, power and discourse; or the networks are as we have described
them, and they do cross the borders of the great fefdoms of criticism:
they are neither objective nor social, nor are they effects of discourse,
even though they are real, and collective, and discursive. Either we have
to disappear, we bearers of bad news, or criticism itself has to face a crisis
because of these networks it cannot swallow. Yes, the scientifc facts are
indeed constructed, but they cannot be reduced to the social dimension
because this dimension is populated by objects mobilized to construct it.
Yes, those objects are real but they look so much like social actors that
they cannot be reduced to the reality 'out there' invented by the
philosophers of science. The agent of this double construction - science
with society and society with science - emerges out of a set of practices
that the notion of deconstruction grasps as badly as possible. The ozone
hole is too social and too narrated to be truly natural; the strategy of
industrial frms and heads of state is too full of chemical reactions to be
reduced to power and interest; the discourse of the ecosphere is too real
and too social to boil down to meaning effects. Is it our fault if the
networks are simultaneously real, like nature, narrated, like discourse,
and collective, like societ? Are we to pursue them while abandoning all
the resources of criticism, or are we to abandon them while endorsing the
common sense of the critical tripartition? The tiny networks we have
unfolded are torn apart like the Kurds by the Iranians, the Iraqis and the
Turks; once night has fallen, they slip across borders to get married, ard
THE CRISIS OF THE CRITICAL STANCE 7
they dream of a common homeland that would be carved out of the three
countries which have divided them up.
This would be a hopeless dilemma had anthropology not accustomed
us to dealing calmly and straightforwardly with the seamless fabric of
what I shall call 'nature-culture' , since it is a bit more and a bit less than a
culture (see Section 4. 5) . Once she has been sent into the feld, even the
most rationalist ethnographer is perfectly capable of bringing together in
a single monograph the myths, ethnosciences, genealogies, political
forms, techniques, religions, epics and rites of the people she is studying.
Send her off to study the Arapesh or the A chuar, the Koreans or the
Chinese, and you will get a single narrative that weaves together the way
people regard the heavens and their ancestors, the way they build houses
and the way they grow yams or manioc or rice, the way they construct
their government and their cosmology. In works produced by anthropo­
logists abroad, you will not find a single trait that is not simultaneously
real, social and narrated.
If the analyst is subtle, she will retrace networks that look exactly like
the sociotechnical imbroglios that we outline when we pursue microbes,
missiles or fuel cells in our own Western societies. We too are afraid that
the sky is falling. We too associate the tiny gesture of releasing an aerosol
spray with taboos pertaining to the heavens. We too have to take laws,
power and morality into account in order to understand what our
sciences are telling us about the chemistry of the upper atmosphere.
Yes, but we are not savages; no anthropologist studies us that way,
and it is impossible to do with our own culture- or should I say nature­
culture ? - what can be done elsewhere, with others. Why? Because we
are modern. Our fabric is no longer seamless. Analytic continuity has
become impossible. For traditional anthropologists, there is not - there
cannot be, there should not be - an anthropology of the modern world
(Latour, 1988a) . The ethnosciences can be connected in part to society
and to discourse ( Conklin, 1983); science cannot. It is even because they
remain incapable of studying themselves in this way that ethnographers
are so critical, and so distant, when they go off to the tropics to study
others. The critical tripartition protects them because it authorizes them
to reestablish continuity among the communities of the premoderns. It is
only because they separate at home that ethnographers make so bold as
to unify abroad:
The formulation of the dilemma is now modifed. Either it i s
impossible to do an anthropological analysis of the modern world - and
then there is every reason to ignore those voices claiming to have a
homeland to offer the sociotechnological networks; or it is possible to do
an anthropological analysis of the modern world - but then the very
defnition of the modern world has to be altered. We pass from a limited
8
CRISIS
problem - why do the networks remain elusive? Why are science studies
ignored? - to a broader and more classical problem: what does i t mean to
be modern? When we dig beneath the surface of our elders' surprise at
the networks that - as we see it - weave our world, we discover the
anthropological roots of that lack of understanding. Fortunately, we are
being assisted by some major events that are burying the old critical mole
in its own burrows. If the modern world in its turn is becoming
susceptible to anthropological treatment, this is because something has
happened to it. Ever since Madame de Guermantes's salon, we have
known that it took a cataclysm like the Great War for intellectual culture
to change its habits slightly and open its doors to the upstarts who had
been beyond the pale before.
1 .4 1 989: The Year of Miracles
All dates are conventional, but 1989 is a little less so than some. For
everyone today, the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizes the fall of
soci alism. 'The triumph of liberalism, of capitalism, of the Western
democracies over the vain hopes of Marxism' : such is the victory
communique issued by those who escaped Leninism by the skin of their
teeth. While seeking to abolish man's exploitation of man, socialism had
magnifed that exploitation immeasurably. It is a strange dialectic that
brings the exploiter back to life and buries the gravedigger, having given
the world lessons in large-scale civil war. The repressed returns, and with
a vengeance: the exploited people, in whose name the avant-garde of the
proletariat had reigned, becomes a people once agai n; the voracious elites
that were to have been dispensed with return at full strength to take up
their old work of exploitation in banks, businesses and factories. The
liberal West can hardly contain itself for joy. lt has won the Cold War.
But the triumph is short-lived. In Paris, London and Amsterdam, thi s
same glorious year 1989 witnesses the frst conferences on the global
state of the planet: for some observers they symbolize the end of
capitalism and its vain hopes of unlimited conquest and total dominion
over nature. By seeking to reorient man's exploitation of man toward an
exploitation of nature by man, capitalism magnifed both beyond
measure. The repressed returns, and with a vengeance: the multitudes
that were supposed to be saved from death fall back into poverty by the
hundreds of millions; nature, over which we were supposed to gain
absolute mastery, dominates us in an equally global fashion, and
threatens us all. It is a strange dialectic that turns the slave into man's
owner and master, and that suddenly informs us that we have invented
ecocides as well as large-scale famine.
1989: THE YEAR OF MIRCLES 9
The perfect symmetry between the dismantling of the wall of shame
and the end of limitless Nature i s invisible only to the rich Western
democracies. The various manifestations of socialism destroyed both
their peoples and their ecosystems, whereas the powers of the North and
the West have been able to save their peoples and some of their
countrysides by destroying the rest of the world and reducing its peoples
to abject poverty. Hence a double tragedy: the former socialist societies
think they can solve both their problems by imitating the West; the West
thinks it has escaped both problems and believes it has lessons for others
even as it leaves the Earth and its people to die. The West thinks it is the
sole possessor of the clever trick that will allow it to keep on winning
indefnitely, whereas it has perhaps already lost everything.
After seeing the best of intentions go doubly awry, we moderns from
the Western world seem to have lost some of our self-confdence. Should
we not have tried to put an end to man's exploitation of man? Should we
not have tried to become nature's masters and owners ? Our noblest
virtues were enlisted in the service of these twin missions, one in the
political arena and the other in the domain of science and technology.
Yet we are prepared to look back on our enthusiastic and right-thinking
youth as young Germans look to their greying parents and ask: 'What
criminal orders did we follow?' 'Will we say that we didn't know?'
This doubt about the well-foundedness of the best of intentions pushes
some of us to become reactionaries, in one of two ways. We must no
longer try to put an end to man's domination of man, say some; we must
no longer try to dominate nature, say others. Let us be resolutely
antimodern, they all say.
From a different vantage point, the vague expression of postmodern­
ism aptly sums up the incomplete scepticism of those who reject both
reactions. Unable to believe the dual promises of socialism and
'naturalism', the postmoderns are also careful not to reject them totally.
They remain suspended between belief and doubt, waiting for the end of
the millennium.
Finally, those who reject ecological obscurantism or antisocialist
obscurantism, and are unable to settle for the scepticism of the
postmoderns, decide to carry on as if nothing had changed: they intend
to remain resolutely modern. They continue to believe in the promises of
the sciences, or in those of emancipation, or both. Yet their faith in
modernization no longer rings quite true in art, or economics, or politics,
or science, or technology. In art galleries and concert halls, along the
fa�ades of apartment buildings and inside international organizations,
you can feel that the heart is gone. The will to be modern seems hesitant,
sometimes even outmoded.
10 CRISIS
Whether we are antimodern, modern or postmodern, we are all called
into question by the double debacle of the miraculous year 1989. But we
take up the threads of thought i f we consider the year precisely to be a
double debacle, two lessons whose admirable symmetr allows us to look
at our whole past in a new light.
And what if we had never been modern? Comparative anthropology
would then be possible. The networks would have a place of their own.
1 .5 What Does it Mea To Be a Moem?
Moderity comes in as many versions as there are thinkers or jouralists,
yet all its defnitions point, in one way or another, to the passage of time.
The adjective 'modem' desigates a new regme, an acceleration, a rupture,
a revolution in time. When the word 'modern', 'moderization', or
'modernity' appears, we are defning, by contrast, an archaic and stable
past. Furthermore, the word is always being thrown into the middle of a
fght, in a quarrel where there are winners and losers, Ancients and
Moderns. 'Modern' is thus doubly asymmetrical: it designates a break in
the regular passage of time, and it designates a combat in which there are
victors and vanquished. If so many of our contemporaries are reluctant
to use this adjective today, if we qualify it with prepositions, it is because
we feel less confdent in our ability to maintain that double asymmetry:
we can no longer point to time's irreversible arrow, nor can we award a
prize to the winners. In the countless quarrels between Ancients and
Moderns, the former come out winners as often as the latter now, and
nothing allows us to say whether revolutions fnish off the old regimes or
bring them to fruition. Hence the scepticism that is oddly called
'post'modern even though it does not know whether or not it is capable
of taking over from the Moderns.
To go back a few steps: we have to rethink the defnition of modernity,
interpret the symptom of postmodernity, and understand why we are no
longer committed heart and soul to the double task of domination and
emancipation. To make a place for the networks of sciences and
technologies, do we really have to move heaven and earth? Yes, exactly,
the Heavens and the Earth.
The hypothesis of this essay is that the word 'modern' designates two
sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are
to remain effective, but have recently begun to be confused. The frst set
of practices, by 'translation', creates mixtures between entirely new types
of beings, hybrids of nature and culture. The second, by 'purifcation',
creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on
WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A MODERN? II
the one hand; that of nonhumans on the other. Without the frst set, the
practices of purifcation would be fruitless or pointless. Without the
second, the work of translation would be slowed down, limited, or even
ruled out. The frst set corresponds to what I have called networks; the
second to what I shall call the modern critical stance. The frst, for
example, would link in one continuous chain the chemistry of the upper
atmosphere, scientifc and industrial strategies, the preoccupations of
heads of state, the anxieties of ecologists; the second would establish a
partition between a natural world that has always been there, a society
with predictable and stable interests and stakes, and a discourse that i s
independent of both reference and society.
First dichotomy
���
u
��moans
O
H�����s
2
Hybrids
Netorks
Figure 1.1 Purifcation and translation
WORK OF
PURIFICATION
WORK OF
TRANSLATION
So long as we consider these two practices of translation and purifcation
separately, we are truly modern - that is, we willingly subscribe to the
critical project, even though that project is developed only through the
proliferation of hybrids down below. As soon as we direct our attention
simultaneously to the work of purifcation and the work of hybridiza­
tion, we immediately stop being wholly modern, and our future begins to
change. At the same time we stop having been modern, because we
become retrospectively aware that the two sets of practices have always
already been at work in the historical period that is ending. Our past
begins to change. Finally, if we have never been modern - at least in the
way criticism tells the story - the tortuous relations that we have
maintained with the other nature-cultures would also be transformed.
Relativism, domination, imperialism, false consciousness, syncretism -
all the problems that anthropologists summarize under the loose
12
CRISIS
expression of 'Great Divide' - would be explained differently, thereby
modifing comparative anthropology.
What link is there between the work of translation or mediation and
that of purifcation? This is the question on which I should like to shed
light. My hypothesis - which remains too crude - is that the second has
made the frst possible: the more we forbid ourselves to conceive of
hybrids, the more possible their interbreeding becomes - such is the
paradox of the moderns, which the exceptional situation in which we
fnd ourselves today allows us fnally to grasp. The second question has
to do with premoderns, with the other types of culture. My hypothesis -
once again too simple - is that by devoting themselves to conceiving of
hybrids, the other cultures have excluded their proliferation. It i s this
disparity that would explain the Great Divide between Them - all the
other cultures - and Us - the westerners - and would make it possible
fnally to solve the insoluble problem of relativism. The third question
has to do with the current crisis: if modernity were so effective in its dual
task of separation and proliferation, why would it weaken itself today by
preventing us from being truly modern? Hence the fnal question, which
is also the most diffcult one: if we have stopped being modern, if we can
no longer separate the work of proliferation from the work of
purifcation, what are we going to become? Can we aspire to
Enlightenment without modernity? My hypothesis - which, like the
previous ones, is too coarse - is that we are going to have to slow down,
reorient and regulate the proliferation of monsters by representing their
existence offcially. Will a different democracy become necessary? A
democracy extended to things? To answer these questions, I shall have to
sort out the premoderns, the moderns, and even the postmoderns in
order to distinguish between their durable characteristics and their lethal
ones.
Too many questions, as I am well aware, for an essay that has no
excuse but its brevity. Nietzsche said that the big problems were like cold
baths: you have to get out as fast as you got in.
2
D
CONSTITUTION
2. 1 The Moem Constitution
Modernity is often defned in terms of humanism, either as a way of
saluting the birth of 'man' or as a way of announcing his death. But this
habit itself is modern, because it remains asymmetrical. It overlooks the
simultaneous birth of 'nonhumanity' - things, or objects, or beasts - and
the equally strange beginning of a crossed-out God, relegated to the
sidelines. Modernity arises frst from the conjoined creation of those
three entities, and then from the masking of the conjoined birth and the
separate treatment of the three communities while, underneath, hybrids
continue to multiply as an effect of this separate treatment. The double
separation is what we have to reconstruct: the separation between
humans and nonhumans on the one hand, and between what happens
'above' and what happens 'below' on the other.
These separations could be compared to the division that distinguishes
the judiciary from the executive branch of a government. This division is
powerless to account for the multiple links, the intersecting influences,
the continual negotiations between judges and politicians. Yet it would
be a mistake to deny the effectiveness of the separation. The modern
divide between the natural world and the social world has the same
constitutional character, with one difference: up to now, no one has
taken on the task of studying scientists and politicians in tandem, since
no central vantage point has seemed to exist. In one sense, the
fundamental articles of faith pertaining to the double separation have
been so well drawn up that this separation has been viewed as a double
ontological distinction. As soon as one outlines the symmetrical space
and thereby reestablishes the common understanding that organizes the
separation of natural and political powers, one ceases to be modern.
ll
. .
CONSTITUTION
The common text that defnes this understanding and this separation is
called a constitution, as when we talk about amendments to the
American constitution. Who is drafting such a text? For political
constitutions, the task falls to j urists and Founding Fathers, but so far
they have done only a third of the work, since they have left out both
scientifc power and the work of hybrids. For the nature of things, it is the
scientists' task, but they have done only another third of the work, since
they have pretended to forget about political power, and they have denied
that hybrids have any role to play even as they multiply them. For the
work of translation, writing the constitution is the task of those who
study those strange networks that I have outlined above, but science
students have fulflled only half of their contract, since they do not
explain the work of purifcation that is carried out above them and
accounts for the proliferation of hybrids.
Who is to write the full constitution? As far as foreign collectives are
concerned, anthropology has been pretty good at tackling everything at
once. In fact, as we have seen, every ethnologist is capable of including
within a single monograph the defnition of the forces in play; the
distribution of powers among human beings, gods, and nonhumans; the
procedures for reaching agreements; the connections between religion
and power; ancestors; cosmology; property rights; plant and animal
taxonomies. The ethnologist will certainly not write three separate
books: one dealing with knowledge, another with power, yet another
with practices. She will write a single book, like the magnifcent one i n
which Philippe Descola attempts to sum up the constitution of the
Achuar of the Amazon region (Descola, [1986] 1993):
Yet the Achuar have not completely subdued nature by the symbolic
networks of domesticity. Granted, the cultural sphere is all-encompassing,
since in it we fnd animals, plants and spirits which other Amerindian
societies place in the realm of nature. The Achuar do not, therefore, share
this antinomy between two closed and irremediably opposed worlds: the
cultural world of human society and the natural world of animal society.
And yet there is nevertheless a certain point at which the continuum of
sociability breaks down, yielding to a wild world inexorably foreign to
humans. Incomparably smaller than the realm of culture, this little piece of
nature includes the set of things with which communication cannot be
established. Opposite beings endowed with language [aents], of which
humans are the most perfect incarnation, stand those things deprived of
speech that inhabit parallel, inaccessible worlds. The inability to communi­
cate is often ascribed to a lack of soul [wakan] that affects certain living
species: most insects and fsh, poultry, and numerous plants, which thus
lead a mechanical, inconsequential existence. But the absence of communi­
cation is sometimes due to distance: the souls of stars and meteors,
BOYLE AND HIS OBJECS
infnitely far away and prodigiously mobile, remain deaf to human words.
[p. 3
99
]
IS
If an anthropology of the modern world were to exist its task would
consist in describing in the same way how all the branches of our
government are organized, including that of nature and the hard sciences,
and in explaining how and why these branches diverge as well as
accounting for the multiple arrangements that bring them together. The
ethnologist of our world must take up her position at the common locus
where roles, actions and abilities are distributed - those that make it
possible to defne one entity as animal or material and another as a free
agent; one as endowed with consciousness, another as mechanical, and
still another as unconscious and incompetent. Our ethnologist must even
compare the always different ways of defning - or not defning - matter,
law, consciousness and animals' souls, without using modern metaphys­
ics as a vantage point. Just as the constitution of jurists defnes the rights
and duties of citizens and the State, the working of justice and the
transfer of power, so this Constitution - which I shall spell with a capital
C to distinguish it from the political ones - defnes humans and
nonhumans, their properties and their relations, their abilities and their
groupings.
How can this Constitution be described? I have chosen to concentrate
on an exemplary situation that arose at the very beginning of its drafting,
in the middle of the seventeenth century, when the natural philosopher
Robert Boyle and the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes were arguing
over the distribution of scientifc and political power. Such a choice
might appear arbitrary if a remarkable book had not j ust come to grips
with this double creation of a social context and a nature that escapes
that very context. I shall use Boyle and Hobbes, along with their
descendants and disciples, as a way of summarizing a much longer story
- one that I cannot retrace here but one that others, better equipped than
I, may want to pursue.
2.2 Byle ad His Objet
A book by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer (Shapin and Schafer,
1985) marks the real beginning of a comparative anthropology that takes
science seriously. At frst glance, this book does nothing more than
exemplify what has been the slogan of the Edinburgh school of science
studies (Barnes and Shapin, 1979; Bloor, [1976] 1991) and of a great
body of work in the social histor of science (Shapin, 1982) and i the
sociology of knowledge (Moscovici, 1977) : 'questons of epistemolog are
1 6
CONSTITUTION
also questions of social order'. It is impossible to do justice to either
question if the two are separa
ted, one assigned to departments of
philosophy and the other to departments of sociology or political science.
But Shapin and Schaffer push this general programme to the limit - frst
by displacing the historical beginning of this very divide between
epistemology and sociology, and second, in part unwittingly, by ruining
the privilege given to the social context in explaining the sciences.
We have not referred to politics as something that happens solely outside of
science and which can, so to speak, press in upon it. The experimental
community [set up by Boyle] vigorously developed and deployed such
boundary-speech, and we have sougt to situate this speech historically
and to explain why these conventionalized ways of talking developed.
What we cannot do if we want to be serious about the historical nature of
our inquiry is to use such actors' speech unthinkingly as an explanatory
resource. The language that transports politics outside of science is
precisely what we need to understand and explain. We fnd ourselves
standing against much current sentiment in the history of science that holds
that we should have less talk of the 'insides' and 'outsides' of science, that
we have transcended such outmoded categories. Far from it; we have not
yet begun to understand the issues involved. We still need to understand
how such boundary-conventions developed: how, as a matter of historical
record, scientifc actors allocated items with respect to their boundaries
(not ours), and how, as a matter of record, they behaved with respect to the
items thus allocated. Nor should we take any one system of boundaries as
belonging self-evidently to the thing that is called 'science.' (Shapin and
Schaffer, 1
9
85, p. 342)
In this long passage the authors do not show how the social context of
England might justify the development of Boyle's physics and the failure
of Hobbes's mathematical theories. They come to grips with the very
basis of political philosophy. Far from 'situating Boyle's scientifc works
in their social context' or showing how politics 'presses in upon' scientifc
doctrines, they examine how Boyle and Hobbes fought to invent a
science, a context, and a demarcation between the two. They are not
prepared to explain the content by the context, since neither existed in
this new way before Boyle and Hobbes reached their respective goals and
settled their differences.
The beauty of Shapin and Schaffer's book stems fom their success in
unearthing Hobbes's scientifc works - which had been neglected by
political scientists, because they were embarrassed by the wild mathematical
imaginings of their hero - and in rescuing from oblivion Boyle's political
theories - which had been neglected by historians of science because they
preferred to conceal their hero's organizational efforts. Instead of setting up
an asymmetry, instead of distibuting science to Boyle and political theor
BOYLE AND HI S OBJECTS 1 7
to Hobbes, Shapin and Schaffer outline a rather nice quadrant: Boyle has
a science and a political theory; Hobbes has a political theory and a
science. The quadrant
would be uninteresting if the ideas of our two
heroes were too far apart - if, for example, one were a philosopher after
the fashion of Paracelsus and the other a Bodin-style lawmaker. But by
good fortune, they agree on almost everything. They want a king, a
Parliament, a docile and unifed Church, and they are fervent subscribers
to mechanistic philosophy. But even though both are thoroughgoing
rationalists, their opinions diverge as to what can be expected from
experimentation, from scientifc reasoning, from political argument -
and above all from the air pump, the real hero of the story. The
disagreements between the two men, who agree on everything else, make
them the ideal laboratory material, the perfect fruit fies for the new
anthropology.
Boyle carefully refrained from talking about vacuum pumps. To put
some order into the debates that followed the discovery of the Toricellian
space at the top of a mercury tube inverted in a basin of the same
substance, he claimed to be investigating only the weight of the air
without taking sides in the dispute between plenists and vacuists. The
apparatus he developed (modelled on Otto von Guericke's) that would
permanently evacuate the air from a transparent glass container was, for
the period - in terms of cost, complication and novelty - the equivalent
of a major piece of equipment in contemporary physics. This was already
Big Science. The great advantage of Boyle's installations was that they
made it possible to see inside the glass walls and to introduce or even
manipulate samples, owing to a series of ingeniously constructed lock
chambers and covers. The pistons of the pump, the thick glass containers
and the gaskets were not of adequate quality, so Boyle had to push
technological research far enough, for instance, to be able to carry out
the experiment he cared about most: that of the vacuum within a
vacuum. He enclosed a Torricelli tube within the pump's glass enclosure
and thus obtained an initial space at the top of the overturned tube.
Then, by getting one of his technicians (who were invisible [Shapin,
1989] ) to work the pump, he suppressed the weight of the air enough to
bring down the level of the column, which descended nearly to the level
of the mercury in the basin. Boyle undertook dozens of experiments
within the confned chamber of his air pump, starting with attempts to
detect the ether wind postulated by his adversaries, or to explain the
cohesiveness of marble cylinders, or to sufocate small animals and put
out candles - these experiments were later popularized by eighteenth­
century parlour physics.
While a dozen civil wars were raging, Boyle chose a method of
argument - that of opinion - that was held in contempt by the oldest
1 8 CONSTITUTION
scholastic tradition. Boyle and his colleagues abandoned the certainties
of apodeictic reasoning in favour of a doxa. This doxa was not the raving
imagination of the credulous masses, but a new mechanism for winning
the support of one's peers. Instead of seeking to ground his work in logic,
mathematics or rhetoric, Boyle relied on a parajuridical metaphor:
credible, trustworthy, well-to-do witnesses gathered at the scene of the
action can attest to the existence of a fact, the matter of fact, even if they
do not know its true nature. So he invented the empirical style that we
still use today (Shapin, 1984) .
Boyle did not seek these gentlemen's opinion, but rather their
observation of a phenomenon produced artifcially in the closed and
protected space of a laboratory (Shapin, 1 990) . Ironically, the key
question of the constructivists - are facts thoroughly constructed in the
laboratory? (Woolgar, 1988) - is precisely the question that Boyle raised
and resolved. Yes, the facts are indeed constructed in the new installation
of the laboratory and through the artifcial intermediary of the air pump.
The level does descend in the Torricelli tube that has been inserted into
the transparent enclosure of a pump operated by breathless technicians.
'Les faits sont faits': 'Facts are fabricated,' as Gaston Bachelard would
say. But are facts that have been constructed by man artifactual for that
reason? No: for Boyle, just like Hobbes, extends God's 'constructivism'
to man. God knows things because He creates them (Funkenstein, 1986) .
We know the nature of the facts because we have developed them in
circumstances that are under our complete control. Our weakness
becomes a strength, provided that we limit knowledge to the instrumen­
talized nature of the facts and leave aside the interpretation of causes.
Once again, Boyle turns a faw - we produce only matters of fact that are
created in laboratories and have only local value - into a decisive
advantage: these facts will never be modifed, whatever may happen
elsewhere in theory, metaphysics, religion, politics or logic.
1.3 Hobbs ad His Subje
Hobbes rejected Boyle's entire theatre of proof. Like Boyle, Hobbes too
wanted to bring an end to the civil war; he too wanted to abandon free
interpretation of the Bible on the part of clerics and the people alike. But
he meant to reach his goal by a unifcation of the Body Politic. The
Sovereign created by the contract, 'that Mortall God, to which we owe,
under the Immortal God, our peace and defence' (Hobbes, [ 1 65 1] 1947,
p. 89), is only the representative of the multitude. 'For it is the Uni
t
of
the Representer, not the Uni
t
of the Represented, that maketh the
Person One' (p. 85) . Hobbes was obsessed by the unity of the Person who
HOBBES AND HIS SUBjECTS 1 9
is, as he puts it, the Actor of which we citizens are the Authors. I t i s
because of this unity that there can be no transcendence. Civil wars will
rage as long as there exist supernatural entities that citizens feel they have
a right to petition when they are persecuted by the authorities of this
lower world. The loyalty of the old medieval society - to God and King -
is no longer possible if all people can petition God directly, or designate
their own King. Hobbes wanted to wipe the slate clean of all appeals to
entities higher than civil authority. He wanted to rediscover Catholic unity
while at the same time closing of any access to divine transcendence.
For Hobbes, Power is Knowledge, which amounts to saying that there
can exist only one Knowledge and only one Power if civil wars are to be
brought to an end. This is why the major portion of Leviathan is devoted
to an exegesis of the Old and New Testaments. One of the great dangers
for civil peace comes from the belief in immaterial bodies such as spirits,
phantoms or souls, to which people appeal against the judgements of
civil power. Antigone might be dangerous when she proclaims the
superiority of piety over Creon's 'reasons of State' ; the egalitarians, the
Levellers and the Diggers are much more so when they invoke the active
powers of matter and the free interpretation of the Bible in order to
disobey their legitimate princes. Inert and mechanical matter is as
essential to civil peace as a purely symbolic interpretation of the Bible. In
both cases, it behoves us to avoid at all costs the possibility that the
factions may invoke a higher Entity - Nature or God - which the
Sovereign does not fully control.
This reductionism does not lead to a totalitarian State, since Hobbes
applies it to the Republic itself: the Sovereign is never anything but an
Actor designated by the social contract. There is no divine law or higher
agency that the Sovereign might invoke in order to act as he wishes and
dismantle the Leviathan. In this new regime in which Knowledge equals
Power, everything is cut down to size: the Sovereign, God, matter, and
the multitude. Hobbes even rules out turning his own science of the State
into an invocation of. transcendence. He arrives at all his scientifc results
not by opinion, observation or revelation but by a mathematical
demonstration, the only method of argument capable of compelling
everyone's assent; and he accomplishes this demonstration not by
making transcendental calculations, like Plato's King, but by using a
purely computational instrument, the Mechanical Brain, a computer
before its time. Even the famous social contract is only the sum of a
calculation reached abruptly and simultaneously by all the terrorized
citizens who are seeking to liberate themselves from the state of nature.
Such is Hobbes's generalized constructivism designed to end civil war: no
transcendence whatsoever, no recourse to God, or to active matter, or to
Power by Divine Right, or even to mathematical Ideas.
20 CONSTITUTION
All the elements are now in place for the confrontation between
Hobbes and Boyle. After Hobbes has reduced and reunifed the Body
Politic, along comes the Royal Society to divide everything up again:
some gentlemen proclaim the right to have an independent opinion, in a
closed space, the laboratory, over which the State has no control. And
when these troublemakers fnd themselves in agreement, it is not on the
basis of a mathematical demonstration that everyone would be compel­
led to accept, but on the basis of experiments observed by the deceptive
senses, experiments that remain inexplicable and inconclusive. Worse
still, this new coterie chooses to concentrate its work on an air pump that
once again produces immaterial bodies, te vacuum - as if Hobbes had
not had enough trouble getting rid of phantoms and spirits! And here we
are again, Hobbes worries, right in the middle of a civil war! We are no
longer to be subjected to the Levellers and the Diggers, who challenged
the King's authority in the name of their personal interpretation of God
and of the properties of matter (they have been properly exterminated),
but we are going to have to put up with this new clique of scholars who
are going to start challenging everyone's authority in the name of Nature
by invoking wholly fabricated laboratory events! If you allow experi­
ments to produce their own matters of fact, and if these allow the
vacuum to be infltrated into the air pump and, from there, into natural
philosophy, then you will divide authority again: the immaterial spirits
will incite everone to revolt by offering a court of appeal for
frustrations. Knowledge and Power will be separated once more. You
will 'see double', as Hobbes put it. Such are the warnings he addresses to
the King in denouncing the goings-on of the Royal Society.
2.4 The Meiation of the Lratory
This political interpretation of Hobbes's plenism does not suffce to make
Shapin and Schaffer's book a solid foundation for comparative anthro­
pology. Any good historian of ideas could have done the same job. But in
three decisive chapters our authors leave the confnes of intellectual
history and pass from the world of opinions and argument to the world
of practices and netorks. For the frst time in science studies, all ideas
pertaining to God, the King, Matter, Miracles and Morality are
translated, transcribed, and forced to pass through the practice of
making an instrument work. Before Shapin and Schaffer, other historians
of science had studied scientifc practice; other historians had studied the
religious, political and cultural context of science. No one, before Shapin
and Schaffer, had been capable of doing both at once.
Just as Boyle succeeds in transforming his tinkering about with a jerry­
built air pump into the partial assent of gentlemen with respect to facts
THE MEDIATION OF THE LBORTORY 2 1
that have become indisputable, s o Shapin and Schaffer manage to explain
how and why discussions dealing with the Body Politic, God and His
miracles, matter and its power, have to be translated through the air
pump. This mystery has never been cleared up by those seeking a
contextualist explanation for the sciences. Contextualists start from the
principle that a social macro-context exists - England, the dynastic
quarrel, Capitalism, Revolution, Merchants, the Church - and that this
context in some way influences, forms, refects, has repercussions for,
and exercises pressure on 'ideas about' matter, the air's spring, vacuums,
and Torricelli tubes. But they never explain the prior establishment of a
link connecting God, the King, Parliament, and some bird suffocating in
the transparent closed chamber of a pump whose air is being removed by
means of a crank operated by a technician. How can the bird's
experience translate, displace, transport, distort all the other con­
troversies, in such a way that those who master the pump also master the
King, God, and the entire context?
Hobbes indeed seeks to get round everything that has to do with
experimental work, but Boyle forces the discussion to proceed by way of
a set of sordid details involving the leaks, gaskets and cranks of his
machine. In the same way, philosophers of science and historians of ideas
would like to avoid the world of the laboratory, that repugnant kitchen
in which concepts are smothered with trivia (Cunningham and Williams,
1 992; Knorr, 1 981 ; Latour and Woolgar, [ 1 979] 1986; Pickering, 1992;
Traweek, 1988) . Shapin and Schaffer force their analyses to hinge on the
object, on a certain leak, a particular gasket in the air pump. The practice
of fabricating objects is restored to the dominant place it had lost with
the modern critical stance. Their book is not empirical simply because of
i ts abundant details; i t is empirical because it undertakes the archaeology
of that new object that is born in the seventeenth century in the
laboratory. Shapin and Schaffer, like Ian Hacking (Hacking, 1983) , do in
a quasi-ethnographic way what philosophers of science now do scarcely
at all: they show the realistic foundations of the sciences. But rather than
speaking of the external reality 'out there', they anchor the indisputable
reality of science 'down there', on the bench.
The experiments don't go very well. The pump leaks. It has to be
patched up. Those who are incapable of explaining the irruption of
objects into the human collective, along with all the manipulations and
practices that objects require, are not anthropologists, for what has
constituted the most fundamental aspect of our culture, since Boyle's
day, eludes them: we live in communities whose social bond comes from
objects fabricated in laboratories; ideas have been replaced by practices,
apodeictic reasoning by a controlled doxa, and universal agreement by
groups of colleagues. The lovely order that Hobbes was trying to recover
n CONSTITUTION
is annihilated by the multiplication of private spaces where the
transcendental origin of facts is proclaimed - facts that have been
fabricated by man yet are no one's handiwork, facts that have no
causality yet can be explained.
How can a society be made to hold together peaceflly, Hobbes asks
indignantly, on the pathetic foundation of matters of fact? He is
particularly annoyed by the relative change in the scale of phenomena.
According to Boyle, the big questions concerning matter and divine
power can be subjected to experimental resolution, and this resolution
will be partial and modest. Now Hobbes rejects the possibility of the
vacuum for ontological and political reasons of primary philosophy, and
he continues to allege the existence of an invisible ether that must be
present, even when Boyle's worker is too out of breath to operate his
pump. In other words, he demands a macroscopic response to his
'macro-'arguments, a demonstration that would prove that his ontology
is not necessary, that the vacuum is politically acceptable. Now what
does Boyle do in response? He chooses, on the contrary, to make his
experiment more sophisticated, to show the effect on a detector - a mere
chicken feather! - of the ether wind postulated by Hobbes in the hope of
invalidating hi s detractor's theory (Shapin and Schaffer, 1985, p. 1 82) .
Ridiculous! Hobbes raises a fundamental problem of political philosophy,
and his theories are to be refuted by a feather in a glass chamber inside
Boyle's mansion! Of course, the feather doesn't move at all, and Boyle
draws the conclusion that Hobbes is wrong, that there is no ether wind.
However, Hobbes cannot be wrong, because he refuses to admit that the
phenomenon he is talking about can be produced on a scale other than
that of the Republic as a whole. He denies what is to become the essential
characteristic of modern power: the change in scale and the displace­
ments that are presupposed by laboratory work (Latour, 1983) . Boyle, a
new Puss in Boots, now has only to pounce on the Ogre, who has just
been reduced to the size of a mouse.
1.5 The Testimony of Nonhumas
Boyle's innovation is striking. Against Hobbes's judgement, he takes
possession of the old repertoire of penal law and biblical exegesis, but he
does so in order to apply them to the testimony of the things put to the
test in the laboratory. As Shapin and Schaffer write:
Sprat and Boyle appealed to 'the practice of our courts of justice here in
England' to sustain the moral certainty of their conclusions and to suppor
the argument that the multiplication of wimesses allowed 'a concurrence of
THE TESTIMONY OF NONHUMAN$
such probabilities. ' Boyle used the provision of Clarendon's 1661 Treason
Act, in which, he said, to witnesses were necessary to convict. So the legal
and priestly models of authority through witnessing were fundamental
resources for the experimenters. Reliable witnesses were ipso facto the
members of a trustworthy community: Papists, atheists, and sectaries
found their stories challenged, the social status of a witness sustained his
credibilit, and the concurring voices of many witnesses put the extremists
to flight. Hobbes challenged the basis of this practice: once again, he
displayed the form of life that sustained witnessing as an ineffective and
subversive enterprise. (Shapin and Schaffer, 1 985, p. 327)
2
At frst glance, Boyle's repertoire does not contribute much that is new.
Scholars, monks, jurists and scribes had been developing all those
resources for a millennium and more. What is new, however, is their
point of application. Earlier, the witnesses had always been human or
divine - never nonhuman. The texts had been written by men or inspired
by God - never inspired or written by nonhumans. The law courts had
seen countless human and divine trials come and go - never affairs that
called into question the behaviour of nonhumans in a laboratory
transformed into a court of justice. Yet for Boyle, laboratory experiments
carry more authority than unconfrmed depositions by honourable
witnesses:
'The pressure of the water in our recited experiment' [on the diver's bell]
having manifest effects upon inanimate bodies, which are not capable of
prepossessions, or giving us partial informations, will have much more
weight with unprejudiced persons, than the suspicious, and sometimes
disagreeing accounts of igorant divers, whom prejudicate opinions may
much sway, and whose very sensations, as those of other vulgar men, may
be infuenced by predispositions, and so many other circumstances, that
they may easily give occasion to mistakes.' [Shapin and Schaffer, 1 985,
p. 218]
Here i n Boyle's text we witness the intervention of a new actor
recognized by the new Constitution: inert bodies, incapable of will and
bias but capable of showing, signing, writing, and scribbling on
laboratory instruments before trustworthy witnesses. These nonhumans,
lacking souls but endowed with meaning, are even more reliable than
ordinary mortals, to whom will is attributed but who lack the capacity to
indicate phenomena in a reliable way. According to the Constitution, in
case of doubt, humans are better off appealing to nonhumans. Endowed
with their new semiotic powers, the latter contribute to a new form of
text, the experimental science article, a hybrid between the age-old style
of biblical exegesis - which has previously been applied only to the
24
CONSTITUTION
Scriptures and classical texts - and the new instrument that produces
new inscriptions. From this point on, witnesses will pursue their
discussions around the air pump in its enclosed space, discussions about
the meaningful behaviour of nonhumans. The old hermeneutics will
persist, but it will add to its parchments the shaky signature of scientifc
instruments (Latour and De Noblet, 1985; Law and Fyfe, 1988; Lynch
and Woolgar, 1 990) . With a law court thus renewed, all the other powers
will be overthrown, and this is what makes Hobbes so upset; however,
the overturning is possible only if all connections with the political and
religious branches of government become impossible.
Shapin and Schaffer pursue their discussion of objects, laboratories,
capacities, and changes of scale to its extreme consequences. If science is
based not on ideas but on a practice, if it is located not outside but inside
the transparent chamber of the air pump, and if it takes place within the
private space of the experimental community, then how does it reach
'everywhere' ? How does it become as universal as 'Boyle's laws' or
'Newton's laws' ? The answer is that it never become universal - not, at
least, in the epistemologists' terms! Its network is extended and
stabilized. This expansion is brilliantly demonstrated i n a chapter which,
like the work of Harry Collins (Collins, 1 985) or Trevor Pinch (Pinch,
1986) offers a striking example of the fruitfulness of the new science
studies. By following the reproduction of each prototype air pump
throughout Europe, and the progressive transformation of a piece of
costly, not very reliable and quite cumbersome equipment, into a cheap
black box that gradually becomes standard equipment in every labora­
tory, the authors bring the universal application of a law of physics back
within a network of standardized practices. Unquestionably, Boyle's
interpretation of the air's spring is propagated - but its speed of
propagation i s exactly equivalent to the rate at which the community of
experimenters and their equipment develop. No science can exit from the
network of its practice. The weight of air is indeed always a universal,
but a universal in a network. Owing to the extension of this network,
competences and equipment can become suffciently routine for produc­
tion of the vacuum to become as invisible as the air we breathe; but
universal in the old sense? Never.
2.6 The Double Arifact of the Lratory ad the Lviatha
How far does the symmetry hold between Hobbes's invention and
Boyle's ? Shapin and Schaffer are not clear on this point. At frst sight,
however, it seems that Hobbes and his disciples created the chief
resources that are available to us for speaking about power (' representa-
DUBLE ARTIFACT: LBORTORY AND LEVIATHAN 2
tion', 'sovereign', 'contract', 'property', 'citizens'), while Boyle and his
successors developed
one of the major repertoires for speaking about
nature ('experiment', 'fact', 'evidence', 'colleagues' ) . It should thus seem
also clear that we are dealing not with two separate inventions but with
only one, a division of power between the two protagonists, to Hobbes,
the politics and to Boyle, the sciences. This, however, is not the
conclusion drawn by Shapin and Schaffer. After having had the stroke of
genius that led them to compare the experimental practice and political
organization of two major fgures from the very beginning of the modern
era, they back off and hesitate to treat Hobbes and his politics in the
same way as they had treated Boyle and his science. Strangely enough,
they seem to adhere more steadfastly to the political repertoire than to
the scientifc one.
Yet Shapin and Schaffer unintentionally displace the traditional centre
of reference of the modern critique downward. If science is based on
forms of life, practices, laboratories and networks, then where is it to be
situated? Certainly not on the side of things-in-themselves, since the facts
are fabricated. But it cannot be situated, either, on the side of the subject
- or whatever name one wants to give this side: society, brain, spirit,
language game, epistemes or culture. The suffocating bird, the marble
cylinders, the descending mercury are not our own creations, they are not
made out of thin air, not of social relations, not of human categories.
Must we then place the practice of science right in the middle of the line
that connects the Obj ect Pole to the Subject Pole? Is this practice a
hybrid, or a mixture of the two? Part object and part subject? Or is it
necessary to invent a new position for this strange generation of both a
political context and a scientifc content?
The authors do not give us a defnitive answer to these questions as i f
they had failed to do justice to their own discoyery. Just as Hobbes and
Boyle agree on everything except how to carry out experiments, the
authors, who agree on everything, disagree on how to deal with the
'social' context - that is, Hobbes's symmetrical invention of a human
capable of being represented. The last chapters of the book waver
between a Hobbesian explanation of the authors' own work and a
Boylian point of view. This tension only makes their work more
interesting, and it supplies the anthropology of science with a new line of
ideally suited fruit flies, since they differ by only a few traits. Shapin and
Schaffer consider Hobbes's macro-social explanations relative to Boyle's
science more convincing than Boyle's arguments refuting Hobbes!
Trained in the framework of the social study of sciences, they seem to
accept the limitations imposed by the Edinburgh school: if all questions
of epistemology are questions of social order, this is because, when all is
said and done, the social context contains as one of its subsets the
16 CONSTITUTION
defnition of what counts as good science. Such an asymmetry renders
Shapin and Schaffe
r less well equipped to deconstruct the macro-social
context than Nature 'out there'. They seem to believe that a society 'up
there' actually exists, and that it accounts for the failure of Hobbes's
programme. Or - more precisely - they do not manage to settle the
question, cancelling out in their conclusion what they had demonstrated
in Chapter 7, and cancelling out their own argument yet again in the very
last sentence of the book:
Neither our scientifc knowledge, nor the constitution of our society, nor
traditional statements about the connections beteen our society and our
knowledge are taken for granted any longer. As we come to recogize the
conventional and artifactual status of our forms of knowing, we put
ourselves in a position to realize that it is ourselves and not reality that i s
responsible for what we know. Knowledge, as much as the State, is the
product of human actions. Hobbes was right. [p. 344]
No, Hobbes was wrong. How could he have been right, when he was the
one who invented the monist society in which Knowledge and Power are
one and the same thing? How can such a crude theory be used to explain
Boyle's invention of an absolute dichotomy between the production of
knowledge of facts and politics? Yes, ' knowledge, as much as the State, is
the product of human actions', but that is precisely why Boyle's political
invention is much more refned than Hobbes's sociology of science. If we
are to understand the fnal obstacle separating us from an anthropology
of science, we have to deconstruct Hobbes's constitutional invention
according to which there is such a thing as a macro-society much sturdier
and more robust than Nature.
Hobbes invents the naked calculating citizen, whose rights are limited
to possessing and to being represented by the artifcial construction of the
Sovereig. He also creates the language according to which Power equals
Knowledge, an equation that is at the root of the entire modern
Realpolitik. Furthermore, he offers a set of terms for analyzing human
interests which, along with Machiavelli's, remains the basic vocabulary
for all of sociology today. In other words, even though Shapin and
Schaffer take great care to use the expression 'scientifc fact' not as a
resource but rather as a historical and political invention, they take no
such precautions where political language itself is concerned. They use
the words 'power', ' interest' and 'politics' in all innocence (Chapter 7) .
Yet who invented these words, with their modern meaning? Hobbes!
Our authors are thus 'seeing double' themselves, and walking sideways,
criticizing science but swallowing politics as the only valid source of
explanation. Now who offers us this asymmetric way of explaining
SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REPRESENTATION 17
knowledge through power? Hobbes again, with his construction of a
monist macro-structure in which knowledge has a place only in support
of the social order. The authors offer a masterful deconstruction of the
evolution, diffusion and popularization of the air pump. Why, then, do
they not deconstruct the evolution, diffusion and popularization of
'power' or 'force' ? Is 'force' less problematic than the air's spring? If
nature and epistemology are not made up of transhistoric entities, then
neither are history and sociology - unless one adopts some authors'
asymmetrical posture and agrees to be simultaneously constructivist
where nature is concerned and realist where society is concerned (Collins
and Yearley, 1992) ! But it is not very probable that the air's spring has a
more political basis than English society itself . . .
2. 7 Sientific Reprenttio ad Politicl Rpresnttion
If, unlike Shapin and Schaffer themselves, we pursue the logic of their
book to the end, we understand the symmetry of the work achieved
simultaneously by Hobbes and Boyle, and we might locate the practice of
science that they have described. Boyle i s not simply creating a scientifc
discourse while Hobbes i s doing the same thing for politics; Boyle is
creating a political discourse from which politics is to be excluded, while
Hobbes is imagining a scientifc politics from which experimental science
has to be excluded. In other words, they are inventing our modern world,
a world in which the representation of things through the intermediary of
the laboratory is forever dissociated from the representation of citizens
through the intermediary of the social contract. So it is not at all by
oversight that political philosophers have ignored Hobbes's science,
while historians of science have igored Boyle's positions on the politics
of science. All of them had to 'see double' from Hobbes's and Boyle's day
on, and not establish direct relations between the representation of
nonhumans and the representation of humans, between the artifciality of
facts and the artifciality of the Body Politic. The word 'representation' is
the same, but the controversy between Hobbes and Boyle renders any
likeness between the two senses · of the word unthinkable. Today, now
that we are no longer entirely modern, these two senses are moving closer
together again.
The link between epistemology and social order now takes a
completely new meaning. The two branches of government that Boyle
and Hobbes develop, each on his own side, possess authority only if they
are dearly separated: Hobbes's State is impotent without science and
technology, but Hobbes speaks only of the representation of naked
citizens; Boyle's science is impotent without a precise delimitation of the
2
CONSTITUTION
religious, political and scientifc spheres, and that is why he makes such
an effort to counteract Hobbes's monism. They are like a pair of
Founding Fathers, acting in concert to promote one and the same
innovation in political theory: the representation of nonhumans belongs
to science, but science is not allowed to appeal to politics; the
representation of citizens belongs to politics, but politics is not allowed to
have any relation to the nonhumans produced and mobilized by science
and technology. Hobbes and Boyle quarrel in order to defne the two
resources that we continue to use unthinkingly, and the intensity of their
double batle is highly indicative of the novelty of what they are
inventing.
Hobbes defnes a naked and calculating citizen who constitutes the
Leviathan, a mortal god, an artifcial creature. On what does the
Leviathan depend? On the calculation of human atoms that leads to the
contract that decides on the irreversible composition of the strength of all
in the hands of a single one. In what does this strength consist? In the
authorization granted by all naked citizens to a single one to speak in
their name. Who is acting when that one acts ? We are, we who have
defnitively delegated our power to him. The Republic is a paradoxical
artifcial creature composed of citizens united only by the authorization
given to one of them to represent them all. Does the Sovereign speak in
his own name, or in the name of those who empower him? This is an
insoluble question with which modern political philosophy will grapple
endlessly. It is indeed the Sovereign who speaks, but it is the citizens who
are speaking through him. He becomes their spokesperson, their persona,
their personifcation. He translates them; therefore he may betray them . .
They empower him: therefore they may impeach him. The Leviathan is
made up only of citizens, calculations, agreements or disputes. In short, it
is made up of nothing but social relations. Or rather, thanks to Hobbes
and his successors, we are beginning to understand what is meant by
social relations, powers, forces, societies.
But Boyle defnes an even stranger artifact. He invents the laboratory
within which artifcial machines create phenomena out of whole cloth.
Even though they are artifcial, costly and hard to reproduce, and despite
the small number of trained and reliable witnesses, these facts indeed
represent nature as it is. The facts are produced and represented in the
laboratory, in scientifc writings; they are recogized and vouched for by
the nascent community of witnesses. Scientists are scrupulous representa­
tives of the facts. Who is speaking when they speak? The facts
themselves, beyond all question, but also their authorized spokespersons.
Who is speaking, then, nature or human beings ? This is another insoluble
question with which the modern philosophy of science will wrestle over
the course of three centuries. In themselves, facts are mute; natural forces
THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUARNTEES OF THE MODERNS
29
are brute mechanisms.
Yet the scientists declare that they themselves are
not speaking; rather, facts speak for themselves. These mute entities are
thus capable of speaking, writing, sigifying within the artifcial chamber
of the laboratory or inside the even more rarefed chamber of the vacuum
pump. Little groups of gentlemen take testimony from natural forces,
and they testify to each other that they are not betraying but translating
the silent behaviour of objects. With Boyle and his successors, we begin
to conceive of what a natural force is, an object that is mute but endowed
or entrusted with meaning.
In their common debate, Hobbes's and Boyle's descendants offer us the
resources we have used up to now: on the one hand, social force and
power; on the other, natural force and mechanism. On the one hand, the
subject of law; on the other, the object of science. Te political
spokespersons come to represent the quarrelsome and calculating
multitude of citizens; the scientifc spokespersons come to represent the
mute and material multitude of objects. Te former translate their
principals, who cannot all speak at once; the latter translate their
constituents, who are mute from birth. The former can betray; so can the
latter. In the seventeenth century, the symmetry is still visible; the two
camps are still arguing through spokespersons, each accusing the other of
multiplying the sources of conflict. Only a little effort is now required for
their common origin to become invisible, for there to be no more
spokesperson except on the side of human beings, and for the scientists'
mediation to become invisible. Soon the word 'representation' will take
on two different meanings, according to whether elected agents or things
are at stake. Epistemology and political science will go their opposite
ways.
2.8 The Constitutional Guaate of te Moerns
If the modern Constitution invents a separation between the scientifc
power charged with representing things and the political power charged
with representing subjects, let us not draw the conclusion that from now
on subjects are far removed from things. On the contrary. In his
Leviathan, Hobbes simultaneously redraws physics, theology, psychol­
ogy, law, biblical exegesis and political science. In his writing and his
correspondence, Boyle simultaneously redesigns scientifc rhetoric, theol­
ogy, scientifc politics, and the hermeneutics of facts. Together, they
describe how God must rule, how the new King of England must
legislate, how the spirits or the angels should act, what the properties of
matter are, how nature i s to be interrogated, what the boundaries of
scientifc or political discussion must be, how to keep the lower orders on
)
CONSTITUTION
a tight rein, what the rights and duties of women are, what is to be
expected of mathematics. In practice, then, they are situated within the
old anthropological matrix; they divide up the capacities of things and
people, and they do not yet establish any separation between a pure
social force and a pure natural mechanism.
Here lies the entire modern paradox. If we consider hybrids, we are
dealing only with mixtures of nature and culture; if we consider the work
of purifcation, we confront a total separation between nature and
culture. It is the relation between these two tasks that I am seeking to
understand. While both Boyle and Hobbes are meddling in politics and
religion and technology and morality and science and law, they are also
dividing up the tasks to the extent that the one restricts himself to the
science of things and the other to the politics of men. What is the intimate
relation between their two movements? Is purifcation necessary to allow
for proliferation? Must there be hundreds of hybrids in order for a simply
human politics and simply natural things to exist? Is an absolute
distinction required between the to movements in order for both to
remain effective? How can the power of this arrangement be explained?
What, then, is the secret of the modern world? In an attempt to grasp the
answers, we have to generalize the results achieved by Shapin and
Schaffer and defne the complete Constitution, of which Hobbes and
Boyle wrote only one of the early drafts. To do so I have none of the
historical skills of my colleagues and I will have to rely on what is, of
necessity, a speculative exercise imagining that such a Constitution has
indeed been drafted by conscious agents trying to build from scratch a
functional system of checks and balances.
As with any Constitution, this one has to be measured by the
guarantees it offers. The natural power that Boyle and his many scientifc
descendants defned in opposition to Hobbes, the power that allows mute
objects to speak through the intermediary of loyal and disciplined
scientifc spokespersons, offers a signifcant guarantee: it is not men who
make Nature; Nature has always existed and has always already been
there; we are only discovering its secrets. The political power that
Hobbes and his many political descendants defne in opposition to Boyle
has citizens speak with one voice through the translation and betrayal of
a sovereign, who says only what they say. This power offers an equally
signifcant guarantee: human beings, and only human beings, are the
ones who construct society and freely determine their own destiny.
If, after the fashion of modem political philosophy, we consider these two
guarantees separately, they remain incomprehensible. If Nature is not made
by or for human beings, then it remains foreig, forever remote and hostile.
Nature's ver transcendence overhelms us, or renders it inaccessible.
Symmetrically, if society is made only by and for humans, the Leviathan,
THE CONSTITUT
IONAL G
UARANTEES OF THE MODERNS 3 1
an artifcial creature of which we
are at once the form and the matter,
cannot stand up. Its very immanence destroys it at once in the war of
every man against every man. But these two constitutional guarantees
must not be taken separately, as if the frst assured the nonhumanity of
Nature and the second the humanity of the social sphere. They were
created together. They reinforce each other. The frst and second
guarantees serve as counterweight to one another, as checks and
balances. They are nothing but the two branches of a single new
government.
If we now consider them together, not separately, we note that the
guarantees are reversed. Boyle and his descendants are not simply saying
that the Laws of Nature escape our grasp; they are also fabricating these
laws i n the laboratory. Despite their artifcial construction inside the
vacuum pump (such is the phase of mediation or translation) , the facts
completely escape all human fabrication (such is the phase of purifca­
tion). Hobbes and his descendants are not declaring simply that men
make their own society by sheer force, but that the Leviathan is durable
and solid, massive and powerful; that it mobilizes commerce, inventions,
and the arts; and that the Sovereign holds the well-tempered steel sword
and the golden sceptre in his hand. Despite its human construction, the
Leviathan infnitely surpasses the humans who created it, for in its pores,
its vessels, its tissues, it mobilizes the countless goods and objects that
give it consistency and durability. Yet despite the solidity procured by the
mobilization of things (as revealed by the work of mediation) , we alone
are the ones who constitute it freely by the sheer force of our reasoning ­
we poor, naked, unarmed citizens (as demonstrated by the work of
purifcation) .
But these two guarantees are contradictory, not only mutually but
internally, since each plays simultaneously on transcendence and
. immanence. Boyle and his countless successors go on and on both
constructing Nature artifcially and stating that they are discovering it;
Hobbes and the newly defned citizens go on and on constructing the
Leviathan by dint of calculation and social force, but they recruit more
and more objects in order to make it last. Are they lying? Deceiving
themselves? Deceiving us ? No, for they add a third constitutional
guarantee: there shall exist a complete separation between the natural
world (constructed, nevertheless, by man) and the social world ( sus­
tained, nevertheless, by things) ; secondly, there shall exist a total
separation between the work of hybrids and the work of purifcation.
The frst two guarantees are contradictory only as long as the third does
not keep them apart for ever, as long as it does not turn an overly patent
symmetry into two contradictory asyrmetries that practice resolves but
can never express.
32
CONSTITUTION
FIRST PARADOX
Nat u re is not ou r constr u ction;
it is transcendent and
s u rpasses u s infnitely.
Society is ou r fee construcion;
it is immanent to our action.
SECOND PARADOX
Nat u re is ou r artifcial
constr u ction in the laboratory;
it is immanent.
Society is not ou r constr u ction;
it is transcendent and s u rpasses
u s infnitely.
CONSTITUTION
First gu arantee: even thou g we
constr u ct Nat u re, Nat u re is as if
we did not constr u ct it.
Second g u arantee: even thou gh we
do not constru ct Society, Society
is as if we did constr u ct it.
Third gu arantee: Nat u re and Society
mu st remain absol u tely distinct: the
work of pu rifcation mu st remain absol u tely
distinct from the work of mediation.
Figure 2. 1 Te paradoxes of Nature and Societ
It will take many more authors, many more institutions, many more
rules, to complete the movement sketched out by the exemplary dispute
between Hobbes and Boyle. But the overall structure is now easy to
grasp: the three guarantees taken together will allow the moderns a
change in scale. They are going to be able to make Nature intervene at
every point in the fabrication of their societies while they go right on
attributing to Nature its radical transcendence; they are going to be able
to become the only actors in their own political destiny, while they go
right on making their society hold together by mobilizing Nature. On the
one hand, the transcendence of Nature will not prevent its social
immanence; on the other, the immanence of the social will not prevent
the Leviathan from remaining transcendent. We must admit that this is a
rather neat construction that makes it possible t do everything without
being limited by anything. It is not surprising that this Constitution
should have made it possible, as people used to say, to 'liberate
productive forces . . .
2. 9 The Fourh Guarantee: The Crosed-ut God
It was necessary, however, to avoid seeing an overly perfect symmetry
between the two guarantees of the Constitution, which would have
prevented that duo from giving its all. A fourth guarantee had to settle
the question of God by removing Him for ever from the dual social and
FOURTH GUARNTEE: THE CROSSED-OUT GOD 33
natural construction, while leaving Him presentable and usable neverthe­
less. Hobbes's and Boyle's followers succeeded in carrying out this task ­
the former by ridding Nature of any divine presence, the latter by ridding
Society of any divine origin. Scientifc power 'no longer needed this
hypothesis' ; as for statesmen, they could fabricate the 'mortal god' of the
Leviathan without troubling themselves further about the immortal God
whose Scripture was now interpreted only fguratively by the Sovereig.
No one is truly modern who does not agree to keep God from interfering
with Natural Law as well as with the laws of the Republic. God becomes
the crossed-out God of metaphysics, as different from the premodern
God of the Christians as the Nature constructed in the laboratory is from
the ancient phusis or the Society invented by sociologists from the old
anthropological collective and its crowds of nonhumans.
But an overly thorough distancing would have deprived the moderns
of a critical resource they needed to complete their mechanism. The
Nature-and-Society tins would have been left hanging in the void, and
no one would have been able to decide, in case of conflict between the
two branches of government, which one should win out over the other.
Worse still, their symmetry would have been excessively obvious. If I am
allowed to go on with the convenient fction that this Constitution is
drafted by some conscious agent endowed with will, foresight and
cunning I could say that everything happens as if the moderns had
applied the same doubling to the crossed-out God that they had used on
Nature and Society. His transcendence distanced Him infnitely, so that
He disturbed neither the free play of nature nor that of society, but the
right was nevertheless reserved to appeal to that transcendence in case of
conflict between the laws of Nature and those of Society. Modern men
and women could thus be atheists even while remaining religious. They
could invade the material world and freely re-create the social world, but
without experiencing the feeling of an orphaned demiurge abandoned by
all.
Reinterpretation of the ancient Christian theological themes made it
possible to bring God's transcendence and His immanence into play
simultaneously. But this lengthy task of the sixteenth-century Reforma­
tion would have produced very different results had it not got mixed up
with the task of the seventeenth century, the conjoined invention of
scientifc facts and citizens (Eisenstein, 1979) . Spirituality was re­
invented: the all-powerful God could descend into men's heart of hearts
without intervening in any way in their external affairs. A wholly
individual and wholly spiritual religion made it possible to criticize both
the ascendancy of science and that of society, without needing to bring
God into either. The moderns could now be both secular and pious at the
same time (Weber, [ 1920] 1958) . This last constitutional guarantee was
l .
CONSTITUTION
given not by a supreme God but by an absent God - yet His absence did
not prevent people from calling on Him at will in the privacy of their own
hearts. His position became literally ideal, since He was bracketed twice
over, once in metaphysics and again in spirituality. He would no longer
interfere in any way with the development of the moderns, but He
remained effective and helpful within the spirit of humans alone.
A threefold transcendence and a threefold immanence in a crisscrossed
schema that locks in all the possi bilities: this is where I locate the power
of the moderns. They have not made Nature; they make Society; they
make Nature; they have not made Society; they have not made either,
God has made everything; God has made nothing, they have made
everything. There is no way we can understand the moderns if we do not
see that the four guarantees serve as checks and balances for one another.
The frst two make it possible to alternate the sources of power by
moving directly from pure natural force to pure political force, and vice
versa. The third guarantee rules out any contamination between what
belongs to Nature and what belongs to politics, even though the frst two
guarantees allow a rapid alternation between the two. Might the
contradiction between the third, which separates, and the frst two,
which alternate, be too obvious ? No, because the fourth constitutional
guarantee establishes as arbiter an infnitely remote God who i s
simultaneously totally impotent and the sovereign j udge.
If I am right in this outline of the Constitution, modernity has nothing
to do with the invention of humanism, with the emergence of the
sciences, with the secularization of society, or with the mechanization of
the world. Its originality and its strength come from the conjoined
production of these three pairings of transcendence and immanence,
across a long history of which I have presented only one stage via the
fgures of Hobbes and Boyle. The essential point of this modern
Constitution is that it renders the work of mediation that assembles
hybrids invisible, unthinkable, unrepresentable. Does this lack of
representation limit the work of mediation in any way? No, for the
modern world would immediately cease to function. Like all other
collectives it lives on that blending. On the contrary (and here the beauty
of the mechanism comes to light) , the modern Constitution allows the
expanded proliferation of the hybrids whose existence, whose very
possibility, it denies. By playing three times in a row on the same
alternation between transcendence and immanence, the moderns can
mobilize Nature, obj ectify the social, and feel the spiritual presence of
God, even while frmly maintaining that Nature escapes us, that Society
is our own work, and that God no longer intervenes. Who could have
resisted such a construction? Truly exceptional events must have
weakened this powerful mechanism for me to be able to describe it today
THE POWER OF THE MODERN CRITIQUE 35
with an ethnologist's detachment for a world that is in the process of
disappearing.
2. 1 0 The Power of the Modem Critique
At the very moment when the moderns' critical capacities are waning, it
is useful to take the measure, one last time, of their prodigious effcacity.
Freed from religious bondage, the moderns could criticize the
obscurantism of the old powers by revealing the material causality that
those powers dissimulated - even as they invented those very phenomena
in the artifcial enclosure of the laboratory. The Laws of Nature allowed
the frst Enlightenment thinkers to demolish the ill-founded pretensions
of human prejudice. Applying this new critical tool, they no longer saw
anything in the hybrids of old but illegitimate mixtures that they had to
purify by separating natural mechanisms from human passions, interests
or ignorance. All the ideas of yesteryear, one after the other, became
inept or approximate. Or rather, simply applying the modern Consti­
tution was enough to create, by contrast,. a 'yesteryear' absolutely
different fom today. The obscurity of the olden days, which illegitimately
blended together social needs and natural reality, meanings and
mechanisms, signs and things, gave way to a luminous dawn that cleanly
separated material causality from human fantasy. The natural sciences at
last defned what Nature was, and each new emerging scientifc discipline
was experienced as a total revolution by means of which it was fnally
liberated from its prescientifc past, from its Old Regime. No one who
has not felt the beauty of this dawn and thrilled to its promises is modern.
But the modern critique did not simply turn to Nature in order to
destroy human prejudices. It soon began to move in the other direction,
turning to the newly founded social sciences in order to destroy the
excesses of naturalization. This was the second Enlightenment, that of
the nineteenth century. This time, precise knowledge of society and its
laws made it possible to criticize not only the biases of ordinary
obscurantism but also the new biases created by the natural sciences.
With solid support from the social sciences, it became possible to
distinguish the truly scientifc component of the other sciences from the
component attributable to ideology. Sorting out the kernels of science
from the chaff of ideology became the task for generations of well­
meaning modernizers. In the hybrids of the frst Enlightenment thinkers,
the second group too often saw an unacceptable blend that needed to be
purifed by carefully separating the part that belonged to things
themselves and the part that could be attributed to the functioning of the
economy, the unconscious, language, or symbols. All the ideas of
l
CONSTITUTION
yesteryear - including those of certain pseudo-sciences - became inept or
approximate. Or rather, by contrast, a succession of radical revolutions
created an obscure 'yesteryear' that was soon to be dissipated by the
luminous dawn of the social sciences. The traps of naturalization and
scientifc ideology were fnally dispelled. No one who has not waited for
that dawn and thrilled to its promises is modern.
The invincible moderns even found themselves able to combine the
two critical moves by using the natural sciences to debunk the false
pretensions of power and using the certainties of the human sciences to
uncover the false pretensions of the natural sciences, and of scientism.
Total knowledge was fnally within reach. If it seemed impossible, for so
long, to get past Marxism, this was because Marxism interove the two
most powerful resources ever developed for the modern critique, and
bound them together for all time (Althusser, 1992) . Marxism made it
possible to retain the portion of truth belonging to the natural and social
sciences even while it carefully eliminated their condemned portion, their
ideology. Marxism realized - and fnished off, as was soon to become
clear - all the hopes of the frst Enlightenment, along with all those of the
second. The frst distinction between material causality and the illusions
of obscurantism, like the second distinction between science and
ideology, still remain the two principal sources of modern indigation
today, even though our contemporaries can no longer close off discussion
in Marxist fashion, and even though their critical capital has now been
disseminated into the hands of millions of small shareholders. Anyone
who has never felt this dual power vibrate within, anyone who has never
been obsessed by the distinction between rationality and obscurantism,
between false ideology and true science, has never been modern.
Anchor point Critical possibility
Transcendence of nature We can do nothing against Nature's laws
Immanence of Nature We have unlimited possibilities
Immanence of Society We are totally free
Transcendence of Society We can do nothing against Societ's laws
Figure 2.2 Anchor points and critical possibilities
Solidly grounded in the transcendental certainty of nature's laws, the
modern man or woman can criticize and unveil, denounce and express
indignation at irrational beliefs and unjustifed dominations. Solidly
grounded in the certainty that humans make their own destiny, the
moder man or woman can criticize and unveil, express indignation at
and denounce irrational beliefs, the biases of ideologies, and the
unjustifed domination of the experts who claim to have staked out the
limits of action and freedom. The exclusive transcendence of a Nature
THE INVINCIBI LITY OF THE MODERNS 37
that is not our doing, and the exclusive immanence of a Society that we
create through and through, would nevertheless paralyze the moderns,
who would appear too impotent in the face of things and too powerful
within society. What an enormous advantage to be able to reverse the
principles without even the appearance of contradiction! In spite of its
transcendence, Nature remains mobilizable, humanizable, socializable.
Every day, laboratories, collections, centres of calculation and of proft,
research bureaus and scientifc institutions blend it with the multiple
destinies of social groups. Conversely, even though we construct Society
through and through, it lasts, it surpasses us, it dominates us, it has its
own laws, it is as transendent as Nature. For every day, laboratories,
collections, centres of calculation and of proft, research bureaus and
scientifc institutions stake out the limits to the freedom of social groups,
and transform human relations into durable objects that no one has
made. The critical power of the moderns lies in this double language:
they can mobilize Nature at the heart of social relationships, even as they
leave Nature infnitely remote from human beings; they are free to make
and unmake their society, even as they render its laws ineluctable,
necessary and absolute.
2. 1 1 The Invincibilit of the Moems
Because it believes in the total separation of humans and nonhumans,
and because it simultaneously cancels out this separation, the Constitu­
tion has made the moderns invincible. If you criticize them by saying that
Nature is a world constructed by human hands, they will show you that
it is transcendent, that science is a mere intermediary allowing access to
Nature, and that they keep their hands off. If you tell them that we are
free and that our destiny is in our own hands, they will tell you that
Society is transcendent and its laws infnitely surpass us. If you object
that they are being duplicitous, they will show you that they never
confuse the Laws of Nature with imprescriptible human freedom. If you
believe them and direct your attention elsewhere, they will take
advantage of this to transfer thousands of objects from Nature into the
social body while procuring for this body the solidity of natural things. If
you turn round suddenly, as in the children's game 'Mother, may 1 ? ', they
will freeze, looking innocent, as if they hadn't budged: here, on the left,
are things themselves; there, on the right, is the free society of speaking,
thinking subjects, values and of signs. Everything happens in the middle,
everything passes between the two, everything happens by way of
mediation, translation and networks, but this space does not exist, it has
no place. It is the unthinkable, the unconscious of the moderns. What
l8 CONSTITUTION
better way to extend collectives than by bringing them into alliance both
with Nature's transcendence and with all of human freedom, while at the
same time incorporating Nature and imposing absolute limits on the
boundaries of freedom? This makes it possible to do anything-and its
opposite.
Native Americans were not mistaken when they accused the Whites of
having forked tongues. By separating the relations of political power
from the relations of scientifc reasoning while continuing to shore up
power with reason and reason with power, the moderns have always had
two irons in the fre. They have become invincible.
You think that thunder is a divinity? The modern critique will show
that it is generated by mere physical mechanisms that have no infuence
over the progress of human affairs. You are stuck in a traditional
economy? The modern critique will show you that physical mechanisms
can upset the progress of human affairs by mobilizing huge productive
forces. You think that the spirits of the ancestors hold you forever
hostage to their laws? The modern critique will show you that you are
hostage to yourselves and that the spiritual world is your own human­
too human - construction. You then think that you can do everything
and develop your societies as you see ft? The modern critique will show
you that the iron laws of society and economics are much more infexible
than those of your ancestors. You are indignant that the world is being
mechanized? The moder critique will tell you about the creator God to
whom everything belongs and who gave man everything. You are
indignant that society is secular? The modern critique will show you that
spirituality is thereby liberated, and that a wholly spiritual religion is far
superior. You call yourself religious? The modern critique will have a
hearty laugh at your expense!
How could the other cultures-natures have resisted? They became
premoder by contrast. They could have stood up against tanscendent
Nature, or immanent Nature, or society made by human hands, or
transcendent Society, or a remote God, or an intimate God, but how
could they resist the combination of all six? Or rather, they might have
resisted, if the six resources of the moder critique had been visible
together in a single operation such as I am retracing today. But they
seemed to be separate, in conflict with one another, blending incom­
patible branches of government, each one appealing to different
foundations. What is more, all these critical resources. of purifcation
were contradicted at once by the practice of mediation, yet that
contradiction had no influence whatsoever either on the diversity of the
sources of power or on their hidden unit.
Such a superiority, such an originality, made the moderns think they
were free from the ultimate retrictions that might limit their expansion.
WHAT THE CONSTITUTION CLARIFIES AND OBSCURES 39
Century after century, colonial empire after colonial empire, the poor
premodern collectives were accused of making a horrible mishmash of
things and humans, of objects and signs, while their accusers fnally
separated them totally - to remix them at once on a scale unknown until
now . . . . As the moderns also extended this Great Divide in time after
extending it in space, they felt themselves absolutely free to give up
following the ridiculous constraints of their past which required them to
take into account the delicate web of relations between things and
people. But at the same time they were taking into acc
o
unt many more
things and many more people . . .
You cannot even accuse them of being nonbelievers. If you tell them
they are atheists, they will speak to you of an all-powerful God who is
infnitely remote in the great beyond. If you say that this crossed-out God
is something of a foreigner, they will tell you that He speaks in the
privacy of the heart, and that despite their sciences and their politics they
have never stopped being moral and devout. If you express astonishment
at a religion that has no infuence either on the way the world goes or on
the direction of society, they will tell you that it sits in judgement on
both. If you ask to read those judgements, they will object that religion
infnitely surpasses science and politics and it does not infuence them, or
that religion is a social construct, or the effect of neurons!
What will you tell them, then? They hold all the sources of power, all
the critical possibilities, but they displace them from case to case with
such rapidity that they can never be caught redhanded. Yes, unquestion­
ably, they are, they have been, they have almost been, they have believed
they were, invincible.
2. 1 2 What the Constitution Clarife ad What It Obures
Yet the modern world has never happened, in the sense that it has never
functioned according to the rules of its offcial Constitution alone: it has
never separated the three regions of Being I have mentioned and
appealed individually to the six resources of the modern critique. The
practice of translation has always been different from the practices of
purifcation. Or rather, this difference itself is inscribed in the Constitu­
tion, since the double play of each of the three agencies between
immanence and transcendence makes it possible to do anything - and its
opposite. Never has a Constitution allowed such a margin for manruvre
in practice. But the price the moderns paid for this freedom was that they
remained unable to conceptualize themselves in continuity with the
premoderns. They had to think of themselves as absolutely di fferent, they
had to invent the Great Divide because the entire work of mediation
CONSTITUTION
escapes the constitutional framework that simultaneously outlines it and
denies its existence.
Expressed in this way, the modern predicament looks like a plot that I
am about to unveil. False consciousness would force the moderns to
imagine a Constitution that they can never apply. They would practise
the very things that they are not allowed to say. The modern world
would thus be populated by liars and cheaters. Worse still, by proposing
to debunk their illusions, to uncover their real practice, to probe their
unconscious belief, to reveal their double talk, I would play a very
modern role indeed, taking my turn in a long queue of debunkers and
critics. But the relation between the work of purifcation and that of
mediation is not that of conscious and unconscious, formal and informal,
language and practice, illusion and reality. I am not claiming that the
moderns are unaware of what they do, I am simply saying that what they
do - innovate on a large scale in the production of hybrids - is possible
only because they steadfastly hold to the absolute dichotomy between the
order of Nature and that of Society, a dichotomy which i s itself possible
only because they never consider the work of purifcation and that of
mediation together. There is no false consciousness involved, since the
moderns are explicit about the two tasks. They have to practise the top
and the bottom halves of the modern Constitution. The only thing I add
is the relation between those two different sets of practices.
So is modernity an illusion? No, it is much more than an illusion
and much less than an essence. It is a force added to others that for a long
time it had the power to represent, to accelerate, or to summarize - a
power that it no longer entirely holds. The revision I am proposing is
similar to the revision of the French Revolution that has been undertaken
during the last twenty years or so in France - and the two revisions
amount to one and the same, as we shall see further on. Since the 1970s,
French historians have fnally understood that the revolutionary reading
of the French Revolution had been added to the events of that time, that
it had organized historiography since 1789, but that it no longer defnes
the events themselves (Furet, [ 1978] 198 1 ) . As Fran�ois Furet proposes,
the Revolution as 'modality of historical action' is to be distinguished
from the Revolution as 'process'. The events of 1789 were no more
revolutionary than the modern world has been modern. The actors and
chroniclers of 1789 used the notion of revolution to understand what
was happening to them, and to influence their own fate. Similarly, the
modern Constitution exists and indeed acts in history, but it no longer
defnes what has happened to us. Modernity still awaits its Tocqueville,
and the scientifc revolutions still await their Fran�ois Furet.
So, modernity is not the false consciousness of moderns, and we have
to be very careful to grant the Constitution, like the idea of Revolution,
WHAT THE CONSTITUTION CLARIFIES AND OBSCURES ..
its own effectiveness. Far from eliminating the work of mediation, i t has
allowed this work to expand. Just as the idea of Revolution led the
revolutionaries to take irreversible decisions that they would not have
dared take without it, the Constitution provided the moderns with the
daring to mobilize things and people on a scale that they would otherwise
have disallowed. This modifcation of scale was achieved not - as they
thought - by the separation of humans and nonhumans but, on the
contrary, by the amplifcation of their contacts. This growth is in turn
facilitated by the idea of transcendent Nature (provided that it remains
mobilizable), by the idea of free Society (provided that it remains
transcendent), and by the absence of all divinity (provided that God
speaks to the heart) . So long as their contraries remain simultaneously
present and unthinkable, and so long as the work of mediation multiplies
hybrids, these three ideas make it possible to capitalize on a large scale.
The moderns think they have succeeded in such an expansion only
because they have carefully separated Nature and Society (and bracketed
God), whereas they have succeeded only because they have mixed
together much greater masses of humans and nonhumans, without
bracketing anything and without ruling out any combination! The link
between the work of purifcation and the work of mediation has given
birth to the moderns, but they credit only the former with their success.
In saying this I am not unveiling a practice hidden beneath an offcial
reading, I am simply adding the bottom half to the upper half. They are
both necessary together, but as long as we were modern, they simply
could not appear as one single and coherent confguration.
So are the moderns aware of what they are doing or not? The solution
to the paradox may not be too hard to fnd if we look at what
anthropologists tell us of the premoderns. To undertake hybridization, it
is always necessary to believe that it has no serious consequences for the
constitutional order. There are two ways of taking this precaution. The
frst consists in thoroughly thinking through the close connections
between the social and the natural order so that no dangerous hybrid will
be introduced carelessly. The second one consists in bracketing off
entirely the work of hybridization on the one hand and the dual social
and natural order on the other. While the moderns insure themselves by
not thinking at all about the consequences of their innovations for the
social order, the premoderns - if we are to believe the anthropologists -
dwell endlessly and obsessively on those connections between nature and
culture. To put it crudely: those who think the most about hybrids
circumscribe them as much as possible, whereas those who choose to
ignore them by insulating them from any dangerous consequences
develop them to the utmost. The premodems are all monists in the
constitution of their nature-cultures. 'The native is a logical hoarder',
41 CONSTITUTION
writes Claude Levi-Strauss; 'he is forever tying the threads, unceasingly
turning over all the aspects of reality, whether physical, social or mental'
(Levi-Strauss, [ 1 962] 1 966, p. 267). By saturating the mixes of divine,
human and natural elements with concepts, the premoderns limit the
practical expansion of these mixes. It is the impossibility of changing the
social order without modifying the natural order - and vice versa - that
has obliged the premoderns to exercise the greatest prudence. Every
monster becomes visible and thinkable and explicitly poses serious
problems for the social order, the cosmos, or divine laws (Horton, 1967,
1 982) . Descola writes about the Achuar:
The homeostasis of the 'cold societies' of Amazonia would be less the result
of the implicit rejection of political alienation, with which Clastres credited
'savages' {Clastres, 1974) . . . than the effect of the inertia effect of a
thought system unable to represent the process of socializing nature in any
way other than through the categories that dictate the way real society
should function. Running counter to the overhasty technical determinism
with which evolutionist theories are often imbued, one might postulate that
when a society transforms its material base, this is conditioned by a prior
mutation of the forms of social organization that comprise the conceptual
framework of the material mode of producing. {Descola, [ 1986] 1993;
p. 405; emphasis added)
If, on the contrary, our Constitution authorizes anything, it is surely the
accelerated socialization of nonhumans, because it never allows them to
appear as elements of 'real society' . By rendering mixtures unthinkable,
by emptying, sweeping, cleaning and purifying the arena that is opened in
the central space defned by their three sources of power, the moderns
allowed the practice of mediation to recombine all possible monsters
without letting them have any effect on the social fabric, or even any
contact with it. Bizarre as these monsters may be, they posed no problem
because they did not exist publicly and because their monstrous
consequences remained untraceable. What the premoderns have always
ruled out the moderns can allow, since the social order never turns out to
correspond, point for point, with the natural order.
Boyle's air pump, for example, might seem to be a rather frightening
chimera, since it produces a laboratory vacuum artifcially, a vacuum
that simultaneously permits the defnition of the Laws of Nature, the
action of God, and the settlement of disputes in England at the time of
the Glorious Revolution. According to Robin Horton, savage thought
would have conjured away its dangers at once. From now on the English
seventeenth century will go on to construct Royalty, Nature and theolog
with the scientifc community and the laboratory. The air' s spring will
THE END OF DENUNCIATION
join the actors that inhabit England. Yet this recruitment of a new ally
poses no problem, since there is no chimera, since nothing monstrous has
been produced, since nothing more has been done than to discover the
Laws of Nature. The scope of the mobilization is directly proportional to
the impossibility of directly conceptualizing its relations with the social
order. The less the moderns think they are blended, the more they blend.
The more science is absolutely pure, the more it is intimately bound up
with the fabric of society. The modern Constitution accelerates or
facilitates the deployment of collectives - which differ, as I indicated
earlier, from societies made up only of social relations - but does not
allow their conceptualization.
2. 1 3 The End of Denunciation
To be sure, by affrming that the Constitution, if it is to be effective, has
to be unaware of what it allows, I am practising an unveiling, but one
that no longer bears upon the same objects as the modern critique and is
no longer triggered by the same mainsprings. So long as we adhered
willingly to the Constitution, it allowed us to settle all disputes and
served as a basis for the critical spirit, providing individuals with
justifcation for their attacks and their operations of unveiling. But if the
Constitution as a whole now appears as only one half that no longer
allows us to understand its own other half, then it is the very foundation
of the modern critique that turns out to be ill-assured. I am thus trying
the tricky move to unveil the modern Constitution without resorting to
the modern type of debunking. To do so I am accounting for this vague
and uneasy feeling that we have recently become as unable to denounce
as to modernize. The upper ground for taking a critical stance seems to
have escaped us.
Yet by appealing sometimes to Nature, sometimes to Society,
sometimes to God, and by constantly opposing the transcendence of each
one of these three terms to its immanence, the moderns had found the
mainspring of their indignations well wound up. What kind of a modern
could no longer fall back on the transcendence of nature to criticize the
obscurantism of power? On the immanence of Nature to criticize human
inertia? On the immanence of Society to criticize the submission of
humans and the dangers of naturalism? On the transcendence of society
to criticize the human illusion of individual liberty? On the transcendence
of God to appeal to the judgement of humans and the obstinacy of
things? On the immanence of God to criticize established Churches,
naturalist beliefs and socialist dreams ? It would be a pretty pathetic kind
of modern, or else a postmodern: still inhabited by the violent desire to
denounce, they would no longer have the strength to believe in the
CONSTITUTION
legitimacy of any of these six courts of appeal. To strip moderns of their
indignation is to deprive them, it seems, of all self-respect. To strip
critical intellectuals of the six bases for their denunciations is apparently
to rob them of all reason to live. In losing our wholehearted adherence to
the Constitution, do we not have the impression that we are losing the
best of ourselves? Was it not the origin of our energy, our moral strength,
our ethics?
However, Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot have done away with
modern denunciation, in a book as important for my own essay as
Shapin and Schaffer's. They have done for the work of critical
indignation what Fran�ois Furet did earlier for the French Revolution.
'The French Revolution is over,' he wrote; in the same vein the subtitle of
Economies de Ia grandeur could have been 'The modern denunciation is
over' (Boltanski and Thevenot, 1991 ) . Up to that point, critical
unmasking appeared to be self-evident. It was only a matter of choosing a
cause for indignation and opposing false denunciations with as much
passion as possible. To unmask: that was our sacred task, the task of us
moderns. To reveal the true calculations underlying the false conscious­
nesses, or the true interests underlying the false calculations. Who is not
still foaming slightly at the mouth with that particular rabies? Now
Boltanski and Thevenot have invented the equivalent of an anti-rabies
vaccine by calmly comparing all sources of denunciation - the Cities that
supply the various principles of j ustice - and by interweaving the
thousand and one ways we have, in France today, of bringing an affair to
justice. They do not denounce others. They do not unmask anyone. They
show how we all go about accusing one another. Instead of a resource,
the critical spirit becomes a topic, one competence among others, the
grammar of our indignations. Instead of practising a critical sociology
the authors quietly begin a sociology of criticism.
Suddenly, thanks to this little gap opened up by systematic study, we
can no longer fully adhere to the spirit of the modern critique. How can
we still make wholehearted accusations when the scapegoating mechan­
ism has become obvious? Even .the human sciences are no longer the
ultimate reservoir that would make it possible at last to discern the real
motives beneath appearances. They too are made part of the analysis
(Chateauraynaud, 1 990) ; they too bring issues to justice, and become
indignant and criticize. The tradition of the human sciences no longer has
the privilege of rising above the actor by discerning, beneath his
unconscious actions, the reality that i s to be brought to light (Boltanski,
1 990). It is impossible for the human sciences to be scandalized, without
henceforth occupying one of the boxes in our colleagues' grid. The
denouncer is the brother of the ordinary people that he claimed to be
denouncing. Instead of really believing in it, we now experience the work
of denunciation as a 'historical modality' which certainly influences our
TH
E END OF DENUNCIATION 45
affairs but does not explain them any more than the revolutionary
modality explained the process of the even
ts of 1789. Today, denuncia­
tion and revolution have both gone stale.
Boltanski and Thevenot's work completes the movement predicted and
described by Rene Girard according to which moderns can no longer
make sincere accusations; but Boltanski and Thevenot, unlike Girard, do
not scorn objects. In order for the mechanism of victim-formation to
function, the accused person who was sacrifced in public by the crowd
had to be actually guilty (Girard, [ 1 978] 1 987) . If the victim became a
scapegoat, the mechanism of accusation became visible: some fall guy
innocent of any crime was wrongly accused, with no reason except to
reconcile the community at his expense. The shift from sacrifce to
scapegoat thus voids accusation. This evacuation does not soften the
moderns, however, since the reason for their series of crimes is precisely
that they are never able to make a genuine accusation of a truly guilty
party (Girard, 1983) . But Girard does not see that he himself is thus
making a more serious allegation, since he accuses objects of not really
counting. So long as we imagine obj ective stakes for our disputes, he
claims, we are caught up in the illusion of mimetic desire. It is this desire,
and this desire alone, that adorns objects with a value that is not their
own. In themselves, they do not count; they are nothing. By revealing the
process of accusation, Girard, like Boltanski and Thevenot, forever
exhausts our aptitude to accuse. But he prolongs the tendency of
moderns to scorn objects even further - and Girard tenders that
accusation wholeheartedly; he really believes it, and he sees in this hard­
won scorn the highest proof of morality (Girard, 1989) . Here is a
denouncer and a half. The greatness of Boltanski and Thevenot's book
comes from the fact that they exhaust denunciation even as they put the
object engaged in tests of judgement at the heart of their analyses.
Are we devoid of any moral foundation once denunciation has been
exhausted? But underneath moral judgement by denunciation, another
moral judgement has always functioned by triage and selection. It is
called arrangement, combination, combinazione, combine, but also
negotiation or compromise. Charles Peguy used to say that a supple
morality is infnitely more exigent than a rigid morality (Peguy, 1 961 b).
The same holds true for the unoffcial morality that constantly selects and
distributes the practical solutions of the moderns. It is scorned because it
does not allow indignation, but it is active and generous because it
follows the countless meanderings of situations and netorks. It is
scorned because it takes into account the objects that are no more the
arbitrary stakes of our desire alone than they are the simple receptacle for
our mental categories. Just as the modern Constitution scorns the hybrids
CONSTITUTION
that it shelters, offcial morality scorns practical arrangements and the
objects that uphold it. Underneath the opposition between objects and
subjects, there is the whirlwind of the mediators. Underneath moral
grandeur there is the meticulous triage of circumstances and cases
(Jonsen and Toulmin, 1988) .
2. 1 4 We Have Never Been Moem
I now have a choice: either I believe in the complete separation between
the two halves of the modern Constitution, or I study both what this
Constitution allows and what it forbids, what it clarifes and what it
obfuscates. Either I defend the work of purifcation - and I myself serve
as a purifer and a vigilant guardian of the Constitution - or else I study
both the work of mediation and that of purifcation - but I then cease to
be wholly modern.
By claiming that the modern Constitution does not permit itself to be
understood, by proposing to reveal the practices that allow it to exist, by
asserting that the critical mechanism has outlived its usefulness, am I
behaving as though we were entering a new era that would follow the era
of the moderns? Would I then be, literally, postmodern? Postmodernism
is a symptom, not a fresh solution. It lives under the modern
Constitution, but it no longer believes in the guarantees the Constitution
offers. It senses that something has gone awry in the modern critique, but
it is not able to do anything buf prolong that critique, though without
believing in its foundations (Lyotard, 1 979). Instead of moving on to
empirical studies of the netorks that give meaning to the work of
purifcation it denounces, postmodernism rejects all empirical work as
illusory and deceptively scientistic (Baudrillard, 1992). Disappointed
rationalists, its adepts indeed sense that modernism is done for, but they
continue to accept its way of dividing up time; thus they can divide up
eras only in terms of successive revolutions. They feel that they come
'after' the moderns, but with the disagreeable sentiment that there is no
more 'after'. 'No future' : this is the slogan added to the moderns' motto
'No past' . What remains? Disconnected instants and groundless denun­
ciations, since the postmoderns no longer believe in the reasons that
would allow them to denounce and to become indignant.
A different solution appears as soon as we follow both the offcial
Constitution and what it forbids or allows, as soon as we study in detail
the work of production of hybrids and the work of elimination of these
same hybrids. We then discover that we have never been modern in the
sense of the Constitution, and this is why I am not debunking the false
consciousness of people who would practise the contrary of what they
WE HAVE NEVER BEEN MODERN
claim. No one has ever been modern. Modernity has never begun. There
has never been a modern world. The use of the past perfect tense is
important here, for it is a matter of a retrospective sentiment, of a
rereading of our history. I am not saying that we are entering a new era;
on the contrary we no longer have to continue the headlong fight of the
post-post-postmodernists; we are no longer obliged to cling to the avant­
garde of the avant-garde; we no longer seek to be even cleverer, even
more critical, even deeper into the 'era of suspicion'. No, instead we
discover that we have never begun to enter the modern era. Hence the
hint of the ludicrous that always accompanies postmodern thinkers; they
claim to come after a time that has not even started!
This retrospective attitude, which deploys instead of unveiling, adds
instead of subtracting, fraternizes instead of denouncing, sorts out
instead of debunking, I characterize as nonmoder (or amodern) . A
nonmodern is anyone who takes simultaneously into account the
moderns' Constitution and the populations of hybrids that that
Constitution rejects and allows to proliferate.
The Constitution explained everything, but only by leaving out what
was in the middle. 'It's nothing, nothing at all,' it said of the networks,
'merely residue.' Now hybrids, monsters - what Donna Haraway calls
'cyborg' and 'tricksters' (Haraway, 1991) whose explanation it abandons ­
are just about everything; they compose not only our own collectives but
also the others, illegitimately called premodern. At the very moment
when the twin Enlightenments of Marxism seemed to have explained
everything, at the very moment when the failure of their total
explanation leads the postmoderns to founder in the despair of self­
criticism, we discover that the explanations had not yet begun, and that
this has always been the case; that we have never been moder, or
critical; that there has never been a yesteryear or an Old Regime (Mayer,
1 982) ; that we have never really left the old anthropological matrix
behind, and that it could not have been otherise.
To notice that we have never been modern and that only minor
divisions separate us from other collectives does not mean that I am a
reactionary. The antimoder reaction struggles fercely against the effects
of the Constitution, but accepts it fully. Antimoderns want to defend
localities, or spirit, or rationality, or the past, or universality, or liberty,
or society, or God, as if these entities really existed and actually had the
form that the offcial part of the modern Constitution granted them.
Only the sign and the direction of their indignation vary. The
antimoderns even accept the chief oddity of the moderns, the idea of a
time that passes irreversibly and annuls the entire past in its wake.
Whether one wishes to conserve such a past or abolish it, in either case
the revolutionary idea par excelence, the idea that revolution is possible,
CONSTITUTION
is maintained. Today, that very idea strikes us as exaggerated, since
revolution is only one resource among many others in histories that have
nothing revolutionary, nothing irreversible, about them. 'In potentia' the
modern world is a total and irreversible invention that breaks with the
past, j ust as 'in potentia' the French or Bolshevik Revolutions were
midwives at the birth of a new world. Seen as networks, however, the
modern world, like revolutions, permits scarcely anything more than
small extensions of practices, slight accelerations in the circulation of
knowledge, a tiny extension of societies, minuscule increases in the
number of actors, small modifcations of old beliefs. When we see them
as networks, Western innovations remain recognizable and important,
but they no longer suffce as the stuff of saga, a vast saga of radical
rupture, fatal destiny, irreversible good or bad fortune.
The antimoderns, like the postmoderns, have accepted their adver­
saries' playing feld. Anoter feld - much broader, much less polemical ­
has opened up before us : the feld of nonmodern worlds. It is the Middle
Kingdom, as vast as China and as little known.
3
D
REVOLUTION
3. 1 The Moems, Vicims of Their Own Success
If the critical apparatus of the moderns has made them invincible, why
are they hesitating over their own destiny today? If the effectiveness of
the Constitution depended precisely upon its obscure half, why can I now
relate it to its luminous half? The bond between the two sets of practices
must indeed have changed for me to be able to follow both the practices
of purifcation and those of translation. If we can no longer adhere
wholeheartedly to the tasks of modernization, unforeseen obstacles must
have i nterfered with the mechanism. What has happened that makes the
work of purifcation unthinkable, when a few years ago it was the
deployment of networks that appeared absurd and scandalous?
Let us say that the moderns have been victims of their own success. It is
a crude explanation, I admit, yet it would appear that the scope of the
mobilization of collectives had ended up multiplying hybrids to such an
extent that the constitutional framework which both denies and permits
their existence could no longer keep them in place. The moder
Constitution has collapsed under its own weight, submerged by the
mixtures that it tolerated as material for experimentation because it
simultaneously dissimulated their impact upon the fabric of society. The
third estate ends up being too numerous to feel that it is faithflly
represented either by the order of objecs or by the order of subjects.
When the only thing at stake was the emergence of a few vacuum
pumps, they could still be subsumed under to classes, that of natural
laws and that of political representations; but when we fnd ourselves
invaded by frozen embros, exper systems, digtal machines, sensor­
equipped robots, hybrid corn, data banks, psychotopic drugs, whales
outtted with radar sounding devices, gene synthesizers, audience
5
REVOLUTION
analyzers, and so on, when our daily newspapers display all these
monsters on page after page, and when none of these chimera can be
properly on the object side or on the subject side, or even in between,
something has to be done. It is as if the two poles of the Constitution had
been confated in the end precisely because of the practice of mediation
that this Constitution at once liberates and disavows. It is as if there were
no longer enough judges and critics to partition the hybrids. The
purifcation system has become as clogged as our judicial system.
Perhaps the modern framework could have held up a little while longer
if its very development had not established a short circuit beteen
Nature on the one hand and human masses on the other. So long as
Nature was remote and under control, i t still vaguely resembled the
constitutional pole of tradition, and science could still be seen as a mere
intermediary to uncover it. Nature seemed to be held in reserve,
transcendent, inexhaustible, distant enough. But where are we to classif
the ozone hole story, or global warming or deforestation? Where are we
to put these hybrids ? Are they human? Human because they are our
work. Are they natural? Natural because they are not our doing. Are they
local or global? Both. As for the human masses that have been made to
multiply as a result of the virtues and vices of medicine and economics,
they are no easier to situate. In what world are these multitudes to be
housed? Are we in the realm of biology, sociology, natural history, ethics,
sociobiology? This is our own doing, yet the laws of demography and
economics are infnitely beyond us. Is the demographic time bomb local
or global ? Both. Thus, the two constitutional guarantees of the moderns
- the universal laws of things, and the inalienable rights of subjects - can
no longer be recogized either on the side of Nature or on the side of the
Social. The destiny of the starving multitudes and the fate of our poor
planet are connected by the same Gordian knot that no Alexander will
ever again manage to sever.
Let us say, then, that the moderns have caved in. Their Constitution
could absorb a few counter-examples, a few exceptions - indeed, it
thrived on them. But it is helpless when the exceptions proliferate, when
the third estate of things and the Third World join together to invade all
its assemblies en masse. In order to accommodate those exceptions,
which are hardly any different from those of savage thought (see below),
we need to outline a space that is no longer the space of the modem
Constitution, because it flls the median zone that the Constitution
claimed to empty. To the practice of purifcation - the horizontal line -
we need to add the practices of mediation - the vertical line.
Instead of following the multiplication of hybrids by projecting them
on to their longitude alone, we also need to identify them by means of a
latitude. The diagnosis of the crisis with which I began this essay is now
Nature Pole Te Modem
WHAT IS A QUASI-OBJECT?
Te Nonmoem
Dimension
Te Multiplication
of Hybrids
Figure 3. 1 Purification and mediation
51
quite clear: the proliferation of hybrids has saturated the constitutional
famework of the moderns. The moderns have always been using both
dimensions in practice, they have always been explicit about each of
them, but they have never been explicit about the relation between the
two sets of practices. Nonmoderns have to stress the relations beteen
them if they are to understand both the moderns' successes and their
recent failures, and still not lapse into postmodernism. By deploying both
dimensions at once, we may be able to accommodate the hybrids and
give them a place, a name, a home, a philosophy, an ontology and, I
hope, a new constitution.
3.2 What Is a Quai-Obje?
Using the two dimensions at once, the longitude and the latitude, we may
now be able to locate the position of these strange new hybrids and to
understand how come that we had to wait for science studies in order to
defne what, following Michel Serres ( 1 987), I shall call quasi-objects,
quasi-subjects. To do so, we simply have to follow the little comic strip in
Figure 3. 2.
Social scientists have for long allowed themselves to denounce the
belief system of ordinary people. They call this belief system 'naturalization'
(Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992) . Ordinary people imagine that the
power of gods, the obj ectivity of money, the attraction of fashion, the
beauty of art, come from some objective properties intrinsic to the nature
of things. Fortunately, social scientists know better and they show that
52
1
2
5
The double
denunciation
Denunciation no. 1
ª
^

^
¯ ¶
¬
¬
% ª
Belief no. 1
Belief no.2
ª ¯

-
^
¯ ¬
..
¬
W º
Denunciation no.2
ª
*

-

¯ ¬
¬
¬
% ª
Dialectic
REOLUTION
Dualism and its destruction
Nature no. I Society no.l
'so
h'




'
hard'
Narure no.2
� �
�no.2
'hard'
-
-
-
-
-
'sof'
3
Nature no. I _

Soiety no. l
'sof'
J
^
.. 'hard'
V· ·�dir
Nature no.2 ' ..
.. �ty no.2
'hard'
-
-
- -
-
'soft'
4
Nature
Quasi-object
Soiety
The locus of the quasi-object
6
Figure 3.2 Wat is a quasi-object?
the arrow goes in fact in the other direction, from society to the objects.
Gods, money, fashion and art offer only a surface for the projection of
ou
r social needs and interests. At least since Emile Durkheim, such has
be
en the price of entry into the sociology profession (Durkheim, [ 1915]
1
965) . To become a social scientist is to realize that the inner properties
of objects do not count, that they are mere receptacles for human
ca
tegories.
The diffculty, however, is to reconcile this form of denunciation with
a
nother one in which the directions of the arrows are exactly reversed.
Ordinar people, mere social actors, average citizens, believe that they
ar
e free and that they can modif their desires, their motives and their
ra
tional strategies at will. The arrow of their beliefs now goes from the
S
ubject/Society pole to the Nature pole. But fortunately, social scientists
WHAT IS A QUASI-OBJECT? 53
are standing guard, and they denounce, and debunk and ridicule this naive
belief in the freedom of the human subject and society. This time they use
the nature of things - that is the indisputable results of the sciences - to
show how it determines, informs and moulds the soft and pliable wills of
te poor humans. 'Naturalization' is no longer a bad word but the
shibboleth that allows the social scientists to ally themselves with the
natural sciences. Al the sciences (natural and social) are now mobilized to
tum the humans into so many puppets manipulated by objective forces -
which only the natural or social scientists happen to know.
When the two critical resources are put together we now understand
why it is so diffcult for social scientists to reach agreement on objects.
They too 'see double' . In the frst denunciation, objects count for
nothing; they are j ust there to be used as the white screen on to which
society projects its cinema. But in the second, they are so powerfl that
they shape the human society, while the social construction of the
sciences that have produced them remains invisible. Objects, things,
consumer goods, works of art are either too weak or too strong. But still
stranger are the successive roles given to society. In the frst denunciation,
society is so powerful that it is sui generis, it has no more cause than the
transcendental ego it replaces. It is so originary that it is able to mould
and shape what is nothing more than an arbitrary and shapeless matter.
In the second form of denunciation, however, it has become powerless,
shaped in turn by the powerful objective forces that completely
determine its action. Society is either too powerful or too weak vis-a-vis
objects which are alternatively too powerful or too arbitrary.
The solution to this double contradictory denunciation is so pervasive
that it has been providing social scientists with most of their common
sense; it is called dualism. The Nature pole will be partitioned into two
sets: the frst list will incude its 'softer' parts - screens for projecting
social categories -while the second list will include all its 'harder' parts -
causes for determining the fate of human categories: that is, the sciences
and the technologies. The same partition will be made on the Subject/
Society pole: there will be its 'harder' components - the sui generis social
factors - and its 'softer' components - determined by the forces
discovered by sciences and technologies. Social scientists will happily
alternate from one to the other showing without any trouble that for
instance gods are mere idols shaped by the requirements of social order,
while the rules of society are determined by biology.
To be sure, this alternation is not very convincing. First, the lists are
made haphazardly, the 'soft' list of the nature pole gathering all the
things social scientists happen to despise - religion, consumption,
popular culture and politics - while the 'hard' list is made of all the
sciences they naively believe in at the time - economics, genetics, biology,
REVOLUTION
linguistics, or brain sciences. Second, it is not clear why society needs to
be projected on to arbitrary objects if those objects count for nothing. Is
society so weak that it needs continuous resuscitation? So terrible that,
like Medusa's face, it should be seen only in a mirror? And if religion,
arts or styles are necessary to 'refect', 'reif', 'materialize', 'embody'
society - to use some of the social theorists' favourite verbs - then are
objects not, in the end, its co-producers? Is not society built literally - not
metaphorically - of gods, machines, sciences, arts and styles? But then
where is the illusion of the 'common' actor in the bottom arrow of Figure
3. 2. 1 ? Maybe social scientists have simply forgotten that before
projecting itself on to things society has to be made, built, constructed?
And out of what material could it be built if not out of nonsocial, non­
human resources ? But social theory is forbidden to draw this conclusion
because it has no conception of objects except the one handed down to it
by the alternative 'hard' sciences which are so strong that they simply
determine social order which in turn becomes fimsy and immaterial.
Dualism may be a poor solution, but it provided 99 per cent of the
social sciences' critical repertoire, and nothing would have disturbed its
blissful asymmetry if science studies had not upset the applecart. Up to
that point, dualism had seemed to work, since the 'hard' part of society
was used on the 'soft' objects, while the 'hard' objects were used only on
the 'soft' part of society (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1992). Social scientists
could denounce the practices they did not believe in by using the solid
science of society they had concocted and embracing the sciences they
had complete confdence in so as to establish the social order. It is the
glory of the Edinburgh school of social studies of science to have
attempted a forbidden crossover (Barnes, 1 974; Barnes and Shapin,
1 979; Bloor, [ 1 976] 1 991 ; MacKenzie, 198 1 ; Shapin, 1992). They used
the critical repertoire that was reserved for the 'soft' parts of nature to
debunk the 'harder' parts, the sciences themselves! In short, they wanted
to do for science what Durkheim had done for religion, or Bourdieu for
fashion and taste; and they innocently thought that the social sciences
would remain unchanged, swallowing science as easily as religion or
the arts. But there was a big difference, invisible until then. Social
scientists did not really believe in religion and popular consumption.
They did believe in science, however, from the bottom of their scientistic
hearts.
Thus this breach of the dualists' game immediately bankrupted the
whole enterprise. What had started as a 'social' study of science could not
succeed, of course, and this is why it lasted only a split second - just long
enough to reveal the terrible faws of dualism. By treating the 'harder'
parts of nature in the same way as the sofer ones - that is, as arbitrary
constructions determined by the interests and requirements of a
PHILOSOPHIES . . . OVER THE YAWNING GAP
55
sui generis society - the Edinburgh daredevils deprived the dualists - and
indeed themselves, as they were soon to realize - of half of their
resources. Society had to produce everything arbitrarily including the
cosmic order, biology, chemistry, and the laws of physics! The
implausibility of this claim was so blatant for the 'hard' parts of nature
that we suddenly realized how implausible it was for the 'soft' ones as
well. Objects are not the shapeless receptacles of social categories -
neither the 'hard' ones nor the 'soft' ones. By disturbing the dualist pack
of cards, the social students of science, revealed the complete asymmetry
of the frst and second denunciations, and they also revealed - at least
negatively - how badly constructed were the social theory as well as the
epistemology that went with those denunciations. Society is neither that
strong nor that weak; objects are neither that weak nor that strong. The
double position of objects and society had to be entirely rethought.
To resort to dialectical reasoning was no way to exit out of the
diffculty into which 'science studies' had put the social sciences. Linking
the two poles of nature and society by as many arrows and feedback
loops as one wishes does not relocate the quasi·obj ects or quasi·subject
that I want to take into account. On the contrary, dialectics makes the
ignorance of that locus still deeper than in the dualist paradigm since it
feigns to overcome it by loops and spirals and other complex acrobatic
fgures. Dialectics literally beats around the bush. Quasi-objects are in
between and below the two poles, at the very place around which
dualism and dialectics had turned endlessly without being able to come
to terms with them. Quasi-obj ects are much more social, much more
fabricated, much more collective than the 'hard' parts of nature, but they
are in no way the arbitrary receptacles of a full-fedged society. On the
other hand they are much more real, nonhuman and objective than those
shapeless screens on which society - for unknown reasons - needed to be
'projected'. By trying the impossible task of providing social explanations
for hard scientifc facts - after generations of social scientists had tried
either to denouce 'soft' facts or to use hard sciences uncritically - science
studies have forced everyone to rethink anew the role of objects in the
construction of collectives, thus challenging philosophy.
3.3 Phi losophies Stretched Over the Yawning Gap
How have the major philosophies attempted to absorb both the modern
Constitution and the quasi-objects, that Middle Kingdom which kept on
expanding? By simplifying considerably, we can identify three principal
strategies. The frst consists in establishing a great gap between objects
5 REVOLUTION
and subjects and continually increasing the distance between them; the
second, known as the 'semiotic turn', focuses on the middle and
abandons the extremes; the third isolates the idea of Being, thus rejecting
the whole divide between objects, discourse and subjects.
Let me undertake a rapid survey of the frst group. The more quasi­
objects multiply, the more the major philosophies treat the two
constitutional poles as incommensurable, even while they assert that
there is no task more urgent than their reconciliation. So these
philosophies illustrate the modern paradox in their own fashion by
forbidding what they allow and allowing what they forbid. Each of these
philosophies is, of course, infnitely more subtle than my inadequate
summary; each one is by defnition nonmodern since modernism has
never really begun; thus each explicitly addresses the same problem I am
awkwardly attempting to address; but their offcial and popularized
interpretations nevertheless attest, on this point, to an astonishing
consistency in the way they defne their task: how to multiply quasi­
objects without accepting them, in order to maintain the Great Divide
that separates us both from our past and from other nature-cultures.
Hobbes and Boyle, as we have seen, fought so much only because they
were j ust barely managing to separate the. pole of natural mute
nonhumans from the pole of conscious speaking citizens. The two
artifacts were still so similar and so close to their common origin that
te two philosophers could do no more than make a small cut through
the hybrids. It is with Kantianism that our Constitution receives its truly
canonical formulation. What was a mere distinction is sharpened into a
total separation, a Copernican Revolution. Things-in-themselves become
inaccessible while, symmetrically, the transcendental subject becomes
infnitely remote from the world. The two guarantees remain clearly
symmetrical, however, since knowledge is possible only at the median
point, that of phenomena, through an application of the two pure forms,
the thing-in-itself and the subject. Hybrids are indeed accepted, but solely
as mixtures of pure forms in equal proportion. To be sure, the work of
mediation remains visible, since Kant multiplies the stages needed to pass
from the remote world of things to the still more remote world of the
Ego. These mediations, however, are accepted only as simple inter­
mediaries, which merely betray or transmit pure forms - the only
recognizable ones. Multiplying layers of intermediaries make it possible
to accept the role of the quasi-objects, but without giving them an
ontology that would call the 'Copernican Revolution' back into question.
This Kantian formulation is still visible today every time the human mind
is credited with the capacity to impose forms arbitrarily on amorphous
but real matter. To be sure, the Sun King around which objects revolve
will be overturned in favour of many other pretenders - Societ,
PHILOSOPHIES . . . OVER THE YAWNING GAP 57
epistemes, mental structures, cultural categories, intersubjectivity, lan­
guage; but these palace revolutions will not alter the focal point, which I
have called, for that reason, Subj ectSociety.
The greatness of dialectics derives from its attempt to traverse the
complete circle of the premoderns, one last time, by encompassing all
divine, social and natural beings, in order to avoid the Kantianist
contradiction between the role of purifcation and that of mediation. But
dialectics picked the wrong contradiction. It did manage to identify the
one between the Subject pole and the Object pole, but it did not see the
one between the whole of the modern Constitution that was establishing
itself and the proliferation of quasi-objects - a proliferation that marked
the nineteenth century, however, as much as it has marked our own. Or
rather, dialectics thought it would absorb the second by resolving the
frst. Yet by believing that he was abolishing Kant's separation between
things-in-themselves and the subject, Hegel brought the separation even
more fully to life. He raised it to the level of a contradiction, pushed it to
the limit and beyond, then made it the driving force of history. The
seventeenth-century distinction becomes a separation in the eighteenth
century, then an even more complete contradiction in the nineteenth. It
became the mainspring of the entire plot. How could the modern
paradox be better illustrated? Dialectics further enlarges the abyss that
separates the Object pole from the Subject pole, but since it surmounts
and abolishes this abyss in the end, it imagines that it has gone beyond
Kant! Dialectics speaks of nothing but mediations, yet the countless
mediations with which it peoples its grandiose history are only
intermediaries that transmit pure ontological qualities - either of the
spirit, in its right-wing version, or of matter, in its left-wing version. In
the end, if there is a pair that no one can reconcile, it is the pole of Nature
and the pole of Spirit, since their very opposition is retained and
abolished - that is to say, denied. One can hardly be more modern than
this. The dialecticians were incontestably our greatest modernizers, all
the more powerful in that they seemed in fact to have gathered up the
totality of knowledge and the past and brought to bear all the resources
of the modern critique.
But quasi-objects continue to proliferate: those monsters of the frst,
second and third industrial revolutions, those socialized facts and these
humans turned into elements of the natural world. No sooner are
totalities closed in on themselves than they start cracking all over. The
end of history is followed by history no matter what.
Again, one last time, phenomenology was to establish the great split,
but this time with less ballast: it jettisoned the two poles of pure
consciousness and pure object and spread itself, literally, over the middle,
in an attempt to cover the now gaping hole that it sensed it could no
5
ROLUTION
hyper-incommensurability (postmoderns)
Nature Pole
The mor the
quasi-objects multiply,
the grater grws the
distinction beteen the
to poles
incommensurability (Habermas)
Nonmoder Dimension
WORK OF
PURIFICATON
WORK OF
MEDITON
Multiplication of
quasi-objects
Figure 3.3 Te modern paradox
longer absorb. Once again the modern paradox is taken further. The
notion of intentionality transforms a distinction, a separation, a
contradiction, into an insurmountable tension between object and
subject. The hopes of dialectics are abandoned, since this tension offers
no resolution. The phenomenologists have the impression that they have
gone further than Kant and Hegel and Marx, since they no longer
attribute any essence either to pure subjects or to pure objects. They
really have the impression that they are speaking only of a mediation that
does not require any pole to hold fast. Yet like so many anxious
modernizers, they no longer trace anything but a line between poles that
are thus given the greatest importance. Pure objectivity and pure
consciousness are missing, but they are nevertheless - indeed, all the
more - in place. The 'consciousness of something' becomes nothing more
than a slender footbridge spanning a gradually widening abyss. Pheno­
menologists had to cave in - and they did. During the same period,
Gaston Bachelard's dual enterprise - which further exaggerates the
objectivity of the sciences by dint of breaking with common sense, and
symmetrically exaggerates the objectless power of the imaginary by dint
THE END OF ENDS
59
of epistemological breaks - offers the perfect symbol for this impossible
crisis, this drawing and quartering (Bachelard, 1967; Tile, 1984) .
3.4 The End of Ends
The sequel to this story takes an involuntarily comic turn. The further the
great gap is stretched, the more the whole business looks like a tightrope
walker doing the splits. Up to this point, all these great philosophical
movements were profound and serious; they established, they explored,
they accompanied the prodigious development of quasi-objects; they
wanted to believe, in spite of everything, that these objects could be
swallowed up and digested. By speaking only of purity, they were aiming
only at grasping the work of the hybrids. All these thinkers were
passionately interested in the exact sciences, in technologies and
economies, because they recognized in them both the risk and the
possibility of salvation. But what can be said of the philosophies that
came later? And in the frst place, what are we to call them? Modern?
No, because they no longer attempt to hold on to both ends of the chain.
Postmodern? Not yet; the worst is still to come. Let us call them pre­
postmodern, to indicate that they are transitional. They raise what had
been only a distinction, then a separation, then a contradiction, then an
insurmountable tension, to the level of an incommensurability.
The modern Constitution as a whole had already declared that there is
no common measure between the world of subjects and the world of
objects, but that same Constitution at once cancelled out the distance by
practising the contrary, by measuring humans and things alike with the
same yardsticks, by multiplying mediators in the guise of intermediaries.
The pre-postmoderns, for their part, truly believe that speaking subjects
are incommensurable with natural objects and with technological
effcacy, or that speaking subj ects ought to become so if they are not
incommensurable enough already. Thus they cancel out the modern
project while claiming that they are restoring it, since they comply with
the half of the Constitution that speaks of purity but neglect the other
half, which practises only hybridization. They imagine that there are not
- that there must not be - any mediators. On the subject side, they invent
speech, hermeneutics and meaning, and they let the world of things drift
slowly in its void. On the other side of the mirror, of course, scientists
and technocrats take the symmetrical attitude. The more hermeneutics
spins its web, the more naturalism does the same. But this repetition of
the divisions of history becomes a caricature: E. 0. Wilson and his genes
on one side; Lacan and his analysands on the other. This pair of twins is
no longer faithful to the modern intention, since they no longer make the
6
REOLUTION
effort to think through the paradox that consists in multiplying below the
hybrids whose existence is precluded above, and in imagining impossible
relations between the two.
It is worse still when the modern project is defended against the threat
of disappearance. Jirgen Habermas ( 1987) makes one of the most
desperate attempts. Is he going to show at last that nothing has ever
profoundly separated things from people? Is he going to take up the
modern project once again? Will he demonstrate the practical arrange­
ments that underlie the justifcations of the Constitution and fnally
accept the masses of hybrids as de Gaulle and Nixon fnally recognized
mainland China? Quite the contrary: he j udges that the supreme danger
arises from the confusion of speaking and thinking subjects with the pure
scientifc and technical rationality that is allowed by the old philosophy
of consciousness! 'I have already suggested that the paradigm of the
knowledge of objects has to be replaced by the paradigm of mutual
understanding between subjects capable of speech and action' (p. 295-) .
If anyone has ever picked the wrong enemy, i t i s surely this displaced
twentieth-century Kantianism that atempts to widen the abyss between
the objects known by the subject on the one hand, and communicational
reason on the other; whereas the old consciousness had at least the merit
of aiming at the object, and thus of recalling the artifcial origin of the
to constitutional poles. But Habermas wants to make the two poles
incommensurable, at the very moment when quasi-obj ects are multi­
plying to such an extent that it appears impossible to fnd a single one
that more or less resembles a free speaking subject or a reifed natural
object. Kant was already unable to bring it of in the middle of the
Industrial Revolution; how could Habermas manage it after the sixth or
seventh revolution? And even so, Kant multiplied the layering of
intermediaries that allowed him to re-establish the transitions beteen
tings-in-themselves and the transcendental Ego. There is nothing of the
sort when technological reason has to be kept as remote as possible from
the free discussion of human beings.
The pre-postmoderns have something in common with the feudal
reaction at the very end of the Old Regime: never was the sense of
honour more prickly nor the calculation of degrees of nobility more
precise; yet it was a bit late to bring off a radical separation between the
third estate and the nobility! In the same way, it is a bit too late to carry
off the coup of the Copernican Revolution and make things revolve
around intersubjectivity. Habermas and his disciples hold on to the
modern project only by abstaining from all empirical inquiry - not a
single case study in the five hundred pages of his master work
(Habermas, [ 1981 ] 1989) ; such an inquiry would bring the third estate to
light too quickly, and would be too intimately mixed up with the poor
TE END OF ENDS 61
speaking subjects. Let the networks perish, Habermas would say,
provided that communicational reason appears to triumph.
Nevertheless, he remains honest and respectable. Even in the caricature
of the modern project we can still recogize the faded splendour of the
eighteenth-century Enlightenment, or the echo of the nineteenth-century
Critique. Even in this obsession with separating objectivity fom
communication we can grasp a
trace, a reminder, a scar arising from the
very impossibility of bringing off such a separation. With the postmod­
erns, the abandonment of the modern project is consummated. I have not
found words ugly enough to desigate this intellectual movement - or
rather, this intellectual immobility through which humans and non­
humans are left to drift. I call it 'hyper-incommensurability'.
A single modern example will illustrate the abdication of thought as
well as the self-inflicted defeat of the postmodern project. 'As a
philosopher, I offer a balance sheet of disaster,' replies Jean-Fran�ois
Lyotard, who was being asked by some well-meaning scientists to
conceptualize the bond that links science to the human community:
I simply maintain that there is nothing human about scientifc expansion.
Perhaps our brain is only the temporary bearer of a process of
complexifcation. It would then be a matter of detaching this process from
what has supported it up to now. I am convinced that that is what you
people [scientists!] are in the process of doing. Computer science, genetic
engineering, physics and astrophysics, astronautics, robotics, these discip­
lines are already working toward presering that complexity under
conditions of life independent of life on Earth. But I do not see in what
respect this is human, if by human we mean collectivities with their cultural
traditions, established in a given period in precise locations on this planet. I
don't doubt for a second that this 'a-human' process may have some useful
fringe benefts for humanity alongside its destructive effects. But this has
nothing to do with the emancipation of human beings. (Lyotard, 1 988,
p. xxxviii)
To the scientists who are surprised by this disastrous reckoning, and
continue to believe in the usefulness of philosophers, Lyotard replies
lugubriously: 'I think you have a long time to wait! ' But the debacle is
that of postmodernism, not that of philosophy (Hutcheon, 1 989;
Jameson, 1991) . The postmoderns believe they are still modern because
they accept the total division between the material and technological
world on the one hand and the linguistic play of speaking subjects on the
other - thus forgetting the bottom half of the modern Constitution; or
because they relish only in the hybrid character of free floating networks
and collages - thus forgetting the upper half of that same Constitution.
62 REVOLUTION
But they are mistaken, because true moderns have always surreptitiously
multiplied intermediaries in order to try to conceptualize the massive
expansion of hybrids as well as their purifcation. The sciences have
always been as intimately linked to communities as Boyle's pump or
Hobbes's Leviathan. It is the double contradiction that is modern, the
contradiction between the two constitutional guarantees of Nature and
Society on the one hand, and between the practice of purifcation and the
practice of mediation on the other. By believing in the total separation of
the three terms, by really believing that scientists are extraterrestrials,
that matter is immaterial, that technology is ahuman, that politics is pure
simulacrum the postmoderns in fact fnish off modernism, by defnitively
taking away the mainspring that had been the source of its tension.
There is only one positive thing to be said about the postmoderns: after
them, there is nothing. Far from being the last word, they mark the end of
ends - that i s, the end of ways of ending and of moving on that led to the
succession, at an ever more vertiginous rate, of ever more radical and
revolutionary critiques. How could we go further in the absence of
tension between Nature and Society, or in the separation between the
work of hybridization and that of purifcation? Will we have to imagine
some super-hyper-incommensurability? The 'postmods' are the end of
history, and the most amusing part i s that they really believe i t. And to
make quite clear that they are not naive, they claim to be delighted with
that end! 'You have nothing to expect from us,' Baudrillard and Lyotard
delight in saying. No; indeed. But it is no more in their power to end
history than it is not to be naive. They are simply stuck in the impasse of
all avant-gardes that have no more troops behind them. Let them sleep
till the end of the millennium, as Baudrillard advocates, and let us move
on to other things. Or rather, let us retrace our steps. Let us stop moving
on.
3.5 Semiotic Turns
While the modernizing philosophies were doing the splits between the
two poles of the Constitution in order to absorb the proliferation of
quasi-objects, another strategy was being put in place to seize the middle
ground, whose dimensions were continuing to expand. Instead of
concentrating on the extremes of the work of purifcation, this strategy
concentrated on one of its mediations, language. Whether they are called
'semiotics', 'semiology' or 'linguistic turns', the object of all these
philosophies is to make discourse not a transparent intermediary that
would put the human subject in contact with the natural world, but a
mediator independent of nature and society alike. This autonomization
SEMIOTIC TURNS 63
of the sphere of meaning has occupied the best minds of our time for the
past half-century. If they too have led us into an impasse, it is not because
they have ' forgotten man',
or ' abandoned reference', as the modernist
reaction is declaring today, but because they themselves have limited
their enterprise to discourse alone.
These philosophies have deemed it impossible to autonomize meaning
except by bracketing off, on the one hand, the question of reference to
the natural world and, on the other, the identity of speaking and thinking
subjects. For them, language still occupies that median space of modern
philosophy (for Kant, the meeting point of phenomena) ; but instead of
making it more or less transparent or more or less opaque, more or less
faithful or more or less treacherous, it has taken over the entire space.
Language has become a law unto itself, a law governing itself and its own
world. The 'system of language', the 'play of language', the 'signifer',
'writing', the 'text', 'textuality', 'narratives', 'discourse' - these are some
of the terms that designate the Empire of Signs - to expand Barthes's title
(Barthes, [ 1970] 1982) . While modernizing philosophers were increas­
ingly reviving the distance that separated objects from subjects by
making them incommensurable, philosophies of language, discourse or
texts were occupying the middle ground that had been left vacant,
thinking themselves far removed from the natures and societies that they
had bracketed off (Pavel, 1986) .
The greatness of these philosophies was that they developed, protected
from the dual tyranny of referents and speaking subjects, the concepts
that give the mediators their dignity - mediators that are no longer
simple intermediaries or simple vehicles conveying meaning from Nature
to Speakers, or vice versa. Texts and language make meaning; they even
produce references internal to discourse and to the speakers installed
within discourse ( Greimas, 1976; Greimas and Courtes, 1982) . In order
to produce natures and societies they need only themselves, and, by a
strange bootstrapping operation they extract their principle of reality
from other narrative forms. Given the primacy of the signifer, the
signifeds bustle about in the vicinity without retaining any special
privilege. The text becomes primary; what it expresses or conveys is
secondary. Speaking subj ects are transformed into so many fctions
generated by meaning effects; as for the author, he is no longer anything
but the artifact of his own writings (Eco, 1979) . The objects being spoken
of become reality effects gliding over the surface of the writing.
Everything becomes sign and sign system: architecture and cooking,
fashion and mythology, politics - even the unconscious itself (Barthes,
[ 1985] 1988) .
The great weakness of these philosophies, however, i s to render more
diffcult the connections between an autonomized discourse and what
REVOLUTION
they had provisionally shelved: the referent - on Nature's side - and the
speaker - on the side of society/subject. Once again, science studies
played their disturbing role. When they applied semiotics to scientifc
discourse, and not only to literatures of fction, the autonomization of
discourse appeared as an artifce (Bastide, in press) . As for rhetoric, it
changed its meaning entirely when it had truth and proof to absorb
instead of conviction and seduction (Latour, 1987) . When we are dealing
with science and technology it is hard to imagine for long that we are a
text that is writing itself, a discourse that is speaking all by itself, a play of
signifers without signifeds. It is hard to reduce the entire cosmos to a
grand narrative, the physics of subatomic particles to a text, subway
systems to rhetorical devices, all social structures to discourse. The
Empire of Signs lasted no longer than Alexander's, and like Alexander's
it was carved up and parcelled out to its generals (Pavel, 1989) . Some
wanted to render the autonomous system of language more plausible by
reestablishing the speaking subject or even the social group, and to that
end they went off in search of the old sociology. Others sought to make
semiotics less absurd by reestablishing contact with the referent, and they
chose the world of science or that of common sense in order to anchor
discourse once again. Sociologization, naturalization; the choice is never
very broad. Others retained the original impetus of the Empire and set
about deconstructing themselves, autono�ous glosses on autonomous
glosses, to the point of autodissolution.
From this crucial turning point, we have learned that the only way to
escape from the parallel traps of naturalization and sociologization
consists in granting language its autonomy. Without it, how could we
deploy that median space between natures and societies so as to
accommodate quasi-obj ects, quasi-subjects? The various forms of semio­
tics ofer an excellent tool chest for following the mediations of language.
But by avoiding the double problem of connections to the referent and
connections to the context, they prevent us from following the quasi­
objects to the end. These latter, as I have said, are simultaneously real,
discursive, and social. They belong to nature, to the collective and to
discourse. If one autonomizes discourse by turning nature over to the
epistemologists and giving up society to the sociologists, one makes it
impossible to stitch these three resources back together.
The postmodern condition has recently sought to j uxtapose these three
great resources of the modern critique - nature, society and discourse -
without even trying to connect them. If they are kept distinct, and if all
three are separate from the work of hybridization, the image of the
modern world they give is indeed terrifying: a nature and a technology
that are absolutely sleek; a society made up solely of false consciouness,
WHO HAS FORGOTEN BEI NG? 65
simulacra and illusions; a discourse consisting only in meaning effects
detached from everything; and this whole world of appearances keeps
afloat other disconnected elements of networks that can be combined
haphazardly by collage from all places and all times. Enough, indeed, to
make one contemplate jumping off a cliff. Here is the cause of the
postmoderns' fippant despair, one that has taken over from the angst of
their predecessors, masters of the absurd. However, postmoderns would
never have reached this degree of derision and dereliction had they not
believed - to cap it all - that they had forgotten Being.
3.6 Who Ha Forgoten Being?
In the beginning, though, the idea of the difference between Being and
beings seemed a fairly good means of harbouring the quasi-obj ects, a
third strategy added to that of the modernizing philosophers and to that
of linguistic turns. Quasi-obj ects do not belong to Nature, or to Society,
or to the subject; they do not belong to language, either. By deconstruct­
ing metaphysics (that is, the modern Constitution taken in its isolation
from the work of hybridization), Martin Heidegger designates the central
point where everything holds together, remote from subjects and objects
alike. 'What is strange in the thinking of Being is its simplicity. Precisely
this keeps us from it' (Heidegger, 1977a) . By revolving around this navel,
this omphalos, the philosopher does assert the existence of an articula­
tion between metaphysical purifcation and the work of mediation.
'Thinking is on the descent to the poverty of its provisional essence.
Thinking gathers language into simple saying. In this way language is the
language of Being, as the clouds are the clouds of the sky' (p. 242) .
But immediately the philosopher loses this well-intentioned simplicity.
Why? Ironically, he himself indicates the reason for this, in an apologue
on Heraclitus who used to take shelter in a baker's oven. 'Einai gar kai
entautha theous' ¯ 'here, too, the gods are present,' said Heraclitus to
visitors who were astonished to see him warming his poor carcass like an
ordinary mortal (Heidegger, 1977b, p. 233) . 'Auch hier nimlich wesen
Gotter an. ' But Heidegger is taken in as much as those naive visitors,
since he and his epigones do not expect to fnd Being except along the
Black Forest Holzwege. Being cannot reside in ordinary beings. Every­
where, there is desert. The gods cannot reside in technology - that pure
Enframing (Zimmerman, 1990) of being [Ge-Stell], that ineluctable fate
[Geschick] , that supreme danger [Gefahr] . They are not to be sought in
science, either, since science has no other essence but that of technology
(Heidegger, 1977b). They are absent from politics, sociology, psychol­
ogy, anthropology, history - which is the history of Being, and counts its
6
REVOLUTION
epochs in millennia. The gods cannot reside in economics - that pure
calculation forever mired i n beings and worry. They are not to be found
in philosophy, either, or in ontology, both of which lost sight of their
destiny 2,500 years ago. Thus Heidegger treats the modern world as the
visitors treat Heraclitus: with contempt.
And yet - 'here too the gods are present' : in a hydroelectric plant on
the banks of the Rhine, in subatomic particles, in Adidas shoes as well as
in the old wooden clogs hollowed out by hand, in agribusiness as well as
in timeworn landscapes, in shopkeepers' calculations as well as in
Holderlin's heartrending verse. But why do those philosophers no longer
recognize them? Because they believe what the modern Constitution says
about itself! This paradox should no longer astonish us. The moderns
indeed declare that technology is nothing but pure instrumental mastery,
science pure Enframing and pure Stamping [Das Ge-Stell], that econo­
mics is pure calculation, capitalism pure reproduction, the subject pure
consciousness. Purity everywhere! They claim this, but we must be
careful not to take them at their word, since what they are asserting is
only half of the modern world, the work of purifcation that distils what
the work of hybridization supplies.
Who has forgotten Being? No one, no one ever has, otherwise Nature
would be truly available as a pure 'stock' . Look around you: scientifc
objects are circulating simultaneously as subjects objects and discourse.
Networks are full of Being. As for machines, they are laden with subjects
and collectives. How could a being lose its difference, its incompleteness,
its mark, its trace of Being? This is never in anyone's power; otherwise
we should have to imagine that we have truly been modern, we should be
taken in by the upper half of the modern Constitution.
Has someone, however, actually forgotten Being? Yes: anyone who
really thinks that Being has really been forgotten. As Levi-Strauss says,
' the barbarian is frst and foremost the man who believes in barbarism. '
(Levi-Strauss, [ 1 952] 1 987, p. 1 2) . Those who have failed to undertake
empirical studies of sciences, technologies, law, politics, economics,
religion or fction have lost the traces of Being that are distributed
everywhere among beings. If, scorning empiricism, you opt out of the
exact sciences, then the human sciences, then traditional philosophy,
then the sciences of language, and you hunker down in your forest - then
you will indeed feel a tragic loss. But what is missing is you yourself, not
the world! Heidegger's epigones have converted that glaring weakness
into a strength. 'We don' t know anything empirical, but that doesn't
matter, since your world is empty of Being. We are keeping the little
flame of Being safe from everything, and you, who have all the rest, have
nothing. ' On the contrary: we have everything, since we have Being, and
beings, and we have never lost track of the difference between Being
THE
BEGINNI NG OF THE PAST 67
and beings. We are carrying out the impossible project undertaken by
Heidegger, who believed what the modern Constitution said about itself
without understanding that what is at issue there is only half of a larger
mechanism which has never abandoned the old anthropological matrix.
No one can forget Being, since there has never been a modern world, or,
by the same token, metaphysics. We have always remained pre-Socratic,
pre-Cartesian, pre-Kantian, pre-Nietzschean. No radical revolution can
separate us from these pasts, so there is no need for reactionary counter­
revolutions to lead us back to what has never been abandoned. Yes,
Heraclitus is a surer guide than Heidegger: 'Einai gar kai entautha
theous. '
l. 7 The Beginning of the Pat
The proliferation of quasi-objects was thus greeted by three different
strategies: frst, the ever-increasing separation between the pole of
Nature - things-in-themselves - and that of Society or the subj ect -
people-among-themselves; second, the autonomization of language or
meaning; fnally, the deconstruction of Western metaphysics. Four
different resources allow the modern critique to develop these acids:
naturalization, sociologization, discursivization, and fnally the forget­
ting of Being. No single one of these resources makes it possible to
understand the modern world. If they are put together but kept separate,
the situation is still worse, for their results lead only to the ironic despair
whose symptom is postmodernism. All these critical resources share the
failure to follow both the work of the proliferation of hybrids and the
work of purifcation. In order to exit from the postmoderns' paralysis, i t
suffces to reutilize all these resources, but they must be pieced together
and put to work in shadowing quasi-objects or networks.
But how are we to make these critical resources work together, given
that they have emerged only as a result of their disputes with one
another? We have to retrace our steps, in order to deploy an intellectual
space large enough to accommodate both the tasks of purifcation and
the tasks of mediation - that is, the two halves of the modern world. But
how can we retrace our steps? Isn't the modern world marked by the
arrow of time? Doesn't it consume the past ? Doesn't it break defnitively
with the past? Doesn't the very cause of the current prostration come
precisely from a 'post' modern era that would inevitably succeed the
preceding one, which, in a series of catastrophic upheavals, itself
succeeded the premodern eras ? Hasn't history already ended? By seeking
to harbour quasi-objects at the same time as their Constitution, we are
obliged to consider the temporal framework of the moderns. Since we
6
REVOLUTION
refuse to pass 'after' the postmods, we cannot propose to return to a
nonmodern world that we have never left, without a modifcation in the
passage of time itself.
We are led from the defnition of quasi-objects to that of time, and time
too has a modern and a nonmodern dimension, a longitude and a
latitude. No one has expressed this better than Charles Peguy in his Clio,
a stunning meditation on the brewing of history (Peguy, 1961 a; see also
Latour, 1 977) . Calendar time may well situate events with respect to a
regulated series of dates, but historicity situates the same events with
respect to their intensity. This is what the muse of history drolly explains
in comparing Victor Hugo's terrible play Les Burgraves ¯ an accumula­
tion of time without historicity - to a little phrase of Beaumarchais - a
perfect example of historicity without history:
'When I am told that Hatto, the son of Magus, the Marquis of Verona,
the Burgrave of Nollig, is the father of Gorlois, son of Hatto (bastard),
Burgrave of Sareck, I learn nothing,' she [Clio] says. 'I do not know them. I
shall never know them. But when I am told that Cherubino is dead, in a
swif storing of a fort to which he had not been assigned, oh, then I really
learn something. And I know quite well what I am being told. A secret
trembling alerts me to the fact that I have heard.' (p. 276; original
emphasis)
The modern passage of time is nothing but a particular form of
historicity. Where do we get the idea of time that passes? From the
modern Constitution itself. Anthropology is here to remind us: the
passage of time can be interpreted in several ways - as a cycle or as
decadence, as a fall or as instability, as a return or as a continuous
presence. Let us call the interpretation of this passage temporality, in
order to distinguish it carefully from time. The moderns have a peculiar
propensity for understanding time that passes as if it were really
abolishing the past behind it. They all take themselves for Attila, i n
whose footsteps no grass grows back. They do not feel that they are
removed from the Middle Ages by a certain number of centuries, but that
they are separated by Copernican revolutions, epistemological breaks,
epistemic ruptures so radical that nothing of that past surives in them -
nothing of that past ought to survive in them.
'That theory of progress amounts essentially to a theory of savings banks,'
says Clio. 'Overall, and universally, it presupposes, it creates an enormous
universal savings bank for the entire human community, a huge intellectual
savings bank, general and even universal, automatic, for the whole human
community, automatic in the sense that humanity would make deposits in
it and would never withdraw from it. And in the sense that the
THE
BEGINNING OF THE PAST
contributions would keep on depositing themselves, tirelessly, on their own
initiative. Such is the theory of progress. And such are its blueprints. A
stepladder.' (Peguy, 1961a, p. 129}
6
Since everything that passes is eliminated for ever, the moderns indeed
sense time as an irreversible arrow, as capitalization, as progress. But
since this temporality is imposed upon a temporal regime that works
quite differently, the symptoms of discord are multiplied. As Nietzsche
observed long ago, the moderns sufer from the illness of historicism.
They want to keep everything, date everything, because they think they
have defnitively broken with their past. The more they accumulate
revolutions, the more they save; the more they capitalize, the more they
put on display in museums. Maniacal destruction is counterbalanced by
an equally maniacal conservation. Historians reconstitute the past, detail
by detail, all the more carefully inasmuch as it has been swallowed up for
ever. But are we as far removed from our past as we want to think we
are? No, because modern temporality does not have much effect on the
passage of time. The past remains, therefore, and even returns. Now this
resurgence is incomprehensible to the moderns. Thus they treat it as the
return of the repressed. They view it as an archaism. 'If we aren't careful,'
they think, 'we're going to return to the past; we're going to fall back into
the Dark Ages. ' Historical reconstitution and archaism are two symp­
toms of the moderns' incapacity to eliminate what they nevertheless have
to eliminate in order to retain the impression that time passes.
If I explain that revolutions attempt to abolish the past but cannot do
so, I again run the risk of being taken for a reactionary. This is because
for the modems - as for their antimodern enemies, as well as for their
false postmodern enemies - time's arrow is unambiguous: one can go
forward, but then one must break with the past; one can choose to go
backward, but then one has to break with the modernizing avant-gardes,
which have broken radically with their own past. This diktat organized
modern thought until the last few years - without, of course, having any
effect on the practice of mediation, a practice that has always mixed up
epochs, genres, and ideas as heterogeneous as those of the premoderns. If
there is one thing we are incapable of carrying out, we now know, it is a
revolution, whether it be in science, technology, politics or philosophy.
But we are still modern when we interpret this fact as a disappointment,
as if archaism had invaded everything, as if there no longer existed any
public dump where we could pile up the repressed material behind us.
We are still postmodern when we attempt to rise above this disappoint­
ment by j uxtaposing in a collage elements from all times - elements that
are all equally outdated and outmoded.
70
REVOLUION
3.8 The Revolutiona Mirale
What is the connection between the modern form of temporality and the
modern Constitution, which tacitly links the two asymmetries of Nature
and Society and allows hybrids to proliferate underneath? Why does the
modern Constitution oblige us to experience time as a revolution that
always has to start over and over again? The answer, once again, has
been offered by the daring foray of science studies into history. The social
history of science tried to apply the usual tools of cultural history no
longer to the soft contingent local human events but to the hard
necessary and universal phenomena of Nature. Once again, historians
believed that i t would be an easy task simply adding a new wing to the
castle of history. And, once again, the absorption of sciences forced them
to reconsider most of the hidden assumptions of 'normal' history exactly
as it had done for the assumptions of sociology, philosophy or anthropol­
ogy. The modern conception of time, as it is embedded into the discipline
of history depends - strangely enough - on a certain conception of
science that suppresses the ins and outs of Nature's objects and presents
their sudden emergence as if it were miraculous.
Modern time is a succession of inexplicable apparitions attributable to
the distinction beteen the history of sciences or technologies and j ust
plain history. If you suppress Boyle and Hobbes and their disputes, if you
eliminate the work of constructing the pump, the domestication of
colleagues, the invention of a crossed-out God, the restoration of English
Royalty, how are you going to account for Boyle's discovery? The air's
spring comes from nowhere. It emerges fully armed. In order to explain
what becomes a great mystery, you are going to have to construct an
image of time that is adapted to this miraculous emergence of new things
that have always already been there, and to human fabrications that no
human has ever made. The idea of radical revolution is the only solution
the moderns have imagined to explain the emergence of the hybrids that
their Constitution simultaneously forbids and allows, and in order
to avoid another monster: the notion that things themselves have a
history.
There are good reasons for thinking that the idea of political
revolution was borrowed from the idea of scientifc revolution (Cohen,
1 985) . We can understand why. How could Lavoisier's chemistry not
have been an absolute novelty, since the great scientist eradicated all the
traces of his construction and cut all the ties that bound him to his
predecessors, whom he relegated to obscurity? That he should have been
executed with the same guillotine he had used on his elders, and in the
name of the same obscurantist Enlightenment, is a sinister irony of
THE REVOLUTIONARY MIRCLE 71
history (Bensaude-Vincent, 1 989) . The genesis of scientifc or technologi­
cal innovations is so mysterious in the modern Constitution only because
the universal transcendence of local and fabricated laws becomes
unthinkable, and has to remain so, to avoid a scandal. The history of
human beings, for its part, is going to remain contingent, agitated by
sound and fury. From now on there will thus be two different histories:
one dealing with universal and necessary things that have always been
present, lacking any historicity but that of total revolutions or epistemo­
logical breaks; the other focusing on the more or less contingent or more
or less durable agitation of poor human beings detached from things.
Through this distinction between the contingent and the necessary, the
historical and the atemporal, the history of the moderns will be
punctuated owing to the emergence of the nonlmans - the Pythagorean
theorem, heliocentrism, the laws of gravity, the steam engine, Lavoisier's
chemistry, Pasteur's vaccination, the atomic bomb, the computer - and
on each occasion time will be reckoned starting from these miraculous
beginnings, secularizing each incarnation in the history of transcendent
sciences. People are going to distinguish the time
'
sc
'
and 'AC' with
respect to computers as they do the years 'before Christ' and 'after
Christ' . With the vocal tremors that often accompany declarations on the
modern destiny, people even go to the extent of speaking of a 'Judaeo­
Christian conception of time', whereas that notion is an anachronism,
since neither Jewish mystics nor Christian theologians have had any
inclination whatsoever for the modern Constitution. They have con­
structed their regime of time around Presence (that is, the presence of
God) , and not around the emergence of the vacuum, or DNA, or
microchips, or automated factories . . .
Modern temporality has nothing 'Judaeo-Christian' about it and,
fortunately, nothing durable either. It is a projection of the Middle
Kingdom on to a line transformed into an arrow by the brutal separation
between what has no history but emerges nevertheless in history - the
things of nature - and what never leaves history - the labours and
passion of humans. The asymmetr between nature and culture then
becomes an asymmetr between past and future. The past was the
confusion of things and men; the future is what will no longer confuse
them. Modernization consists in continually exiting from an obscure age
that mingled the needs of society with scientifc truth, in order to enter
into a new age that will fnally distinguish clearly what belongs to
a temporal nature and what comes from humans, what depends on things
and what belongs to signs. Modern temporality arises from a super­
position of the difference between past and future with another
difference, so much more important, between mediation and purifca­
tion. The present is outlined by a series of radical breaks, revolutions,
n
REOLUION
which constitute so many irreversible ratchets that prevent us from ever
going backward. In itself, this line is as empty as the scansion of a
metronome. Yet it is on to this line that the moderns will project the
multiplication of quasi-objects and, with the aid of these objects, will
trace two series of irreversible advances: one upward, toward progress,
and the other downward, toward decadence.
3. 9 The End of the Pasing Pat
The mobilization of the world and of communities on an ever-larger scale
multiplies the actors who make up our natures and our societies, but
nothing in their mobilization implies an ordered and systematic passage
of time. However, thanks to their quite peculiar form of temporality, the
moderns will order the proliferation of new actors either as a form of
capitalism, an accumulation of conquests, or as an invasion of
barbarians, a succession of catastrophes. Progress and decadence are
their two great resources, and the two have the same origin. On each of
these three lines - calendar time, progress, decadence - it will be possible
to locate the antimoderns, who accept modern temporality but reverse its
direction. In order to wipe out progress or degeneracy, they want to
return toward the past - as if there were a past!
What is the source of the very modern impression that we are living a
new time that breaks with the past? Of a liaison, a repetition that in itself
has nothing temporal about it (Deleuze, 1968) ? The impression of
passing irreversibly is generated only when we bind together the cohort
of elements that make up our day-to-day universe. It is their systematic
cohesion, and the replacement of these elements by others rendered just
as coherent in the subsequent period, which gives us the impression of
time that passes, of a continuous flow going from the fture toward the
past - of a stepladder, as Peguy says. Entities have to be made
contemporary by moving in step and have to be replaced by other things
equally well aligned if time is to become a fow. Modern temporality is
the result of a retraining imposed on entities which would pertain to all
sorts of times and possess all sorts of ontological statuses without this
harsh disciplining.
The vacuum pump in itself is no more modern than it is revolutionary.
It associates, combines and redeploys countless actors, some of whom are
fresh and novel - the King of England, the Vacuum, the weight of air -
but not all of whom can be seen as new. Their cohesiveness is not
suffcient to allow a clean break with the past. A whole supplementary
work of sorting out, cleaning up and dividing up is required to obtain the
impression of a modernization that goes in step with time. If we place
THE END OF THE PASSING PAST 73
Boyle's discoveries in eternity and they now fall suddenly upon England,
i f we connect them with those of Galileo and Descartes by linking them
in a 'scientifc method', and if, fnally, we reject Boyle's belief in miracles
as archaic, we then get the impression of a radically new modern time.
The notion of an irreversible arrow - progress or decadence - stems from
an ordering of quasi-objects, whose proliferation the moderns cannot
explain. Irreversibility in the course of time is itself due to the
transcendence of the sciences and technologies, which indeed escape all
comprehension for the moderns, since the two halves of their Constitu­
tion are never specifed together. It is a classifcatory device for
dissimulating the inadmissible origin of the natural and social entities
from the work of mediation down below. Just as they eliminate the ins
and outs of all the hybrids, so the moderns interpret the heterogeneous
rearrangements as systematic totalities in which everything would hold
together. Modernizing progress is thinkable only on condition that all the
elements that are contemporary according to the calendar belong to the
same time. For this to be the case, these elements have to form a complete
and recognizable cohort. Then, and only then, time forms a continuous
and progressive flow, of which the moderns declare themselves the avant­
garde and the antimoderns the rearguard while the premoderns are left
on the sideline of complete stagnation.
This beautiful order is disturbed once the quasi-objects are seen as
mixing up different periods, ontologies or genres. Then a historical
period will give the impression of a great hotchpotch. Instead of a fne
laminary fow, we will most often get a turbulent flow of whirlpools and
rapids. Time becomes reversible instead of irreversible. At frst, this does
not bother the moderns. They consider everything that does not march in
step with progress archaic, irrational or conservative. And as there are
antimoderns who are delighted to play the reactionary role that the
modern scenario has prepared for them, the great dramas of luminous
progress struggling against obscurantism (or the anti drama of the mad
revolutionaries against reasonable conservatives) can be deployed, all the
same, for the greater pleasure of the spectators. But if the modernizing
temporality is to continue to function, the impression of an ordered front
of entities sharing the same contemporary time has to remain credible.
Thus there must not be too many counter-examples. If they proliferate
too much, it becomes impossible to speak of archaism, or of a return of
the repressed.
The proliferation of quasi-objects has exploded modern temporality
along with its Constitution. The moderns' fight into the future ground to
a halt perhaps twenty years ago, perhaps ten, perhaps last year, with the
multiplication of exceptions that nobody could situate in the regular flow
of time. First, there were the skyscrapers of postmodern architecture -
74 REVOLUTION
(architecture is at the origin of this unfortunate expression) ; then
Khomeini's Islamic revolution, which no one managed to peg as
revolutionary or reactionary. From then on, the exceptions have popped
up without cease. No one can now categorize actors that belong to the
'same time' in a single coherent group. No one knows any longer whether
the reintroduction of the bear in Pyrenees, kolkhozes, aerosols, the Green
Revolution, the anti-smallpox vaccine, Star Wars, the Muslim religion,
partridge hunting, the French Revolution, service industries, labour
unions, cold fusion, Bolshevism, relativity, Slovak nationalism, commer­
cial sailboats, and so on, are outmoded, up to date, futuristic, atemporal,
nonexistent, or permanent. It is thi s whirlpool in the temporal fow that
the postmoderns have sensed so early and with so much sensitivity in the
two avant-garde movements of fne arts and politics (Hutcheon, 1 989) .
As always, however, postmodernism is a symptom, not a solution. The
postmoderns retain the modern framework but disperse the elements that
the modernizers grouped together in a well-ordered cluster. The
postmoderns are right about the dispersion; every contemporary
assembly is polytemporal. But they are wrong to retain the framework
and to keep on believing in the requirement of continual novelty that
modernism demanded. By mixing elements of the past together in the
form of collages and citations, the postmoderns recognize to what extent
these citations are truly outdated. Moreover, it is because they are
outmoded that the postmoderns dig them up, in order to shock the
former 'modernist' avant-gardes who no longer know at what altar to
worship. But it is a long way from a provocative quotation extracted out
of a truly fnished past to a reprise, repetition or revisiting of a past that
has never disappeared.
.
3. 1 0 Triage ad Multiple Times
Fortunately, nothing obliges us to maintain modern temporality with its
succession of radical revolutions, its antimoderns who return to what
they think is the past, and its double concert of praise and complaint, for
or against continual progress, for or against continual degeneration. We
are not attached for ever to this temporality that allows us to understand
neither our past nor our future, and that forces us to shelve the totality of
the human and nonhuman third worlds. It would be better to say that
modern temporality has stopped passing. Let us not bemoan the fact, for
our real history had only the vaguest of relations with the Procrustean
bed that the modernizers and their enemies imposed on it.
Time is not a general framework but a provisional result of the
connection among entities. Modern discipline has reassembled, hooked
TRIAGE AND MULTIPLE TIMES
75
together, systematized the cohort of contemporary elements to hold i t
together and thus to eliminate those that do not belong to the system.
This attempt has failed; it has always failed. There are no longer - there
have never been - anything but elements that elude the system, objects
whose date and duration are uncertain. It is not only the Bedouins and
the ! Kung who mix up transistors and traditional behaviours, plastic
buckets and animal-skin vessels. What country could not be called 'a
land of contrasts' ? We have all reached the point of mixing up times. We
have all become premodern again. If we can no longer progress in the
fashion of the moderns, must we regress in the fashion of the
antimoderns ? No, we have to pass from one temporality to the other,
since a temporality, in itself, has nothing temporal about it. It is a means
of connecting entities and fling them away. If we change the classifca­
tion principle, we get a different temporality on the basis of the same
events.
Let us suppose, for example, that we are going to regroup the
contemporary elements along a spiral rather than a line. We do have a
future and a past, but the future takes the form of a circle expanding in
all directions, and the past is not surpassed but revisited, repeated,
surrounded, protected, recombined, reinterpreted and reshufled. Elements
that appear remote if we follow the spiral may turn out to be quite
nearby if we compare loops. Conversely, elements that are quite
contemporary, if we j udge by the line, become quite remote if we traverse
a spoke. Such a temporality does not oblige us to use the labels 'archaic'
or 'advanced', since every cohort of contemporary elements may bring
together elements from all times. In such a framework, our actions are
recognized at last as polytemporal.
I may use an electric drill, but I also use a hammer. The former is
thirty-fve years old, the latter hundreds of thousands. Will you see me as
a DIY expert 'of contrasts' because I mix up gestures from di fferent
times? Would I be an ethnographic curiosity? On the contrary: show me
an activity that is homogeneous from the point of view of the modern
time. Some of my genes are 500 million years old, others 3 million, others
1 00,000 years, and my habits range in age from a few days to several
thousand years. As Peguy's Clio said, and as Michel Serres repeats, 'we
are exchangers and brewers of time' (Serres and Latour, 1 992) . It is this
exchange that defnes us, not the calendar or the fow that the moderns
had constructed for us. Pile up the burgraves one behind the other, and
you will still not have time. Go down sideways to grab hold of the event
of Cherubino's death in its intensity, and time will be given unto you.
Are we traditional, then? Not that either. The idea of a stable tradition
is an illusion that anthropologists have long since set to rights. The
immutable traditions have all budged - the day before yesterday. Most
76
REVOLUTION
ancestral folklores are like the 'centenary' Scottish kilt, invented out of
whole cloth at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Trevor-Roper,
1 983) , or the Chevaliers du Tastevin of my little town in Burgundy,
whose millennia} ritual is not ffy years old. 'Peoples without history'
were invented by those who thought theirs was radically new (Goody,
1 986) . In practice, the former innovate constantly; the latter are forced to
pass and repass indefnitely through the same rituals of revolutions,
epistemological breaks, and quarrel of the Classics against the Moderns.
One is not born traditional; one chooses to become traditional by
constant innovation. The idea of an identical repetition of the past and
that of a radical rupture with any past are two symmetrical results of a
single conception of time. We cannot return to the past, to tradition, to
repetition, because these great immobile domains are the inverted image
of the earth that is no longer promised to us today: progress, permanent
revolution, modernization, forward fight.
What are we to do, if we can move neither forward nor backward?
Displace our attention. We have never moved either forward or
backward. We have always actively sorted out elements belonging to
different times. We can still sort. It is the sorting that makes the times,
not the times that make the sorting. Modernism - like its anti- and post­
modern corollaries - was only the provisional result of a selection made
by a small number of agents in the name of all. If there are more of us
who regain the capacity to do our own sorting of the elements that
belong to our time, we will rediscover the freedom of movement that
modernism denied us - a freedom that, in fact, we have never really lost.
We are not emerging from an obscure past that confused natures and
cultures in order to arrive at a future in which the two poles will fnally
separate cleanly owing to the continual revolution of the present. We
have never plunged into a homogeneous and planetary flow arriving
either from the future or from the depths of time. Modernization has
never occurred. There is no tide, long in rising, that would be fowing
again today. There has never been such a tide. We can go on to other
things - that is, return to the multiple entities that have always passed in
a different way.
3. 1 1 A Copernica Counter-revolution
If we had been able to keep the human multitudes and the nonhuman
environment repressed behind us longer, we would probably have been
able to continue to believe that modern times were really passing while
eliminating everything in their path. But the repressed has returned. The
human masses are here again, in the East as well as in the South, and the
A COPERNICAN COUNTER-REVOLUTION 7
infnite variety of nonhuman masses have arrived from Everywhere. They
can no longer be exploite
d. They
can no longer be surpassed, because
nothing surpasses them any longer. There is nothing greater than the
nature surrounding us; Eastern peoples can no longer be reduced to their
proletarian avant-gardes; as for the Third World masses, nothing will
circumscribe them. How can we absorb them? The moderns raise the
question in anguish. How can they all be modernized? We might have
done it; we thought we could do it; we can no longer believe it possible.
Like a great ocean liner that slows down and then comes to a standstill in
the Sargasso Sea, the moderns' time has fnally been suspended. But time
has nothing to do with it. The connections among beings alone make
time. It was the systematic connection of entities i n a coherent whole that
constituted the fow of modern time. Now that this laminary flow has
become turbulent, we can give up analyses of the empty framework of
temporality and return to passing time - that is, to beings and their
relationships, to the networks that construct irreversibility and rever­
sibility.
But how can the principle for classifying entities be changed? How can
the illegitimate multitudes be given a representation, a lineage, a civil
status ? How can this terra incognita that is nevertheless so familiar to us
be explored? How can we go from the world of objects or that of subjects
to what I have called quasi-objects or quasi-subjects ? How can we move
from transcendentimmanent Nature to a nature that is still j ust as real,
but extracted from the scientifc laboratory and then transformed into
external reality? How can we shift from immanenttranscendent Society
toward collectives of humans and nonhumans ? How can we go from the
transcendentimmanent crossed-out God to the God of origins who
should perhaps be called the God below? How are we to gain access to
networks, those beings whose topology is so odd and whose ontology i s
even more unusual, beings that possess both the capacity to connect and
the capacit to divide - that is, the capacity to produce both time and
space? How are we to conceptualize the Middle Kingdom? As I have
said, we have to trace both the modern dimension and the nonmodern
dimension, we have to deploy the latitude and longitude that will allow
us to draw maps adapted both to the work of mediation and to the work
of purifcation.
The moderns knew perfectly well how to conceive of this Kingdom.
They did not make quasi-objects disappear by eradication and denial, as
if they wanted to simply repress them. On the contrary, they recognized
their existence but emptied it of any relevance by turning full-blown
mediators into mere intermediaries. An intermediary - although recog­
nized as necessary - simply transports, transfers, transmits energy from
one of the poles of the Constitution. It is void in itself and can only be
78
REVOLUTION
less faithful or more or less opaque. A mediator, however, is an original
event and creates what it translates as well as the entities between which
it plays the mediating role. If we simply restore this mediating role to all
the agents, exactly the same world composed of exactly the same entities
cease being modern and becomes what it has never ceased to be - that is,
nonmodern. How did the modern manage to specify and cancel out the
work of mediation both at once? By conceiving every hybrid as a mixture
of two pure forms. The modern explanations consisted in splitting the
mixtures apart in order to extract from them what came from the subject
(or the social) and what came from the object. Next they multiplied the
intermediaries in order to reconstruct the unity they had broken and
wanted none the less to retrieve through blends of pure forms. So these
operations of analysis and synthesis always had three aspects: a
preliminary purifcation, a divided separation, and a progressive reblend­
ing. The critical explanation always began from the poles and headed
toward the middle, which was frst the separation point and then the
conjunction point for opposing resources - the place of phenomena in
Kant's great narrative. In this way the middle was simultaneously
maintained and abolished, recognized and denied, specifed and silenced.
This is why I can say without contradicting myself that no one has ever
been modern, and that we have to stop being so. The necessity of
multiplying intermediaries to reconstruct the lost unity has always been
recognized - thus no one except the postmods really believes in the two
extreme poles of Nature and Society radically distinct from free-floating
and disconnected networks - but as long as those intermediaries were
seen as mixtures made of pure forms, the belief in the existence of a
modern world was inescapable. The whole difference hinges on the
apparently small nuance between mediators and intermediaries (Hen­
nion, 1991) .
I f we seek to deploy the Middle Kingdom for itself, we are obliged to
invert the general form of the explanations. The point of separation -
and conjunction - becomes the point of departure. The explanations no
longer proceed from pure forms toward phenomena, but from the centre
toward the extremes. The latter are no longer reality's point of
attachment, but so many provisional and partial results. The layering of
intermediaries is replaced by chains of mediators, according to the model
proposed by Antoine Hennion. Instead of denying the existence of
hybrids - and reconstructing them awkwardly under the name of
intermediaries - this explanatory model allows us instead to integrate the
work of purifcation as a particular case of mediation. The only
difference between the modern and nonmodern conception is therefore
breached, since purifcation is considered as a useful work requiring
instruments, institutions and know-how whereas i n the modern para-
FROM INTERMEDIARIES TO MEDIA TORS 79
digm there was no explicit function and no apparent necessity in the
work of mediation.
Kant's Copernican Revolution, as we have seen, offers a perfected
model for modernizing explanations, by making the object revolve
around a new focus [foyer] and multiplying the intermediaries to cancel
out distance between the two poles little by little. But nothing obliges us
to take that revolution as a decisive event that sets us for ever on the sure
path of science, morality and theology. This reversal may be likened to
the French Revolution with which it is linked: they are excellent tools for
making time irreversible, but they are not irreversible in themselves. I call
this reversed reversal - or rather thi s shift of the extremes centreward and
downward, a movement that makes both object and subject revolve
around the practice of quasi-objects and mediators - a Copernican
counter-revolution. We do not need to attach our explanations to the
two pure forms known as the Object or Subject/Society, because these
are, on the contrary, partial and purifed results of the central practice
that is our sole concern. The explanations we seek will indeed obtain
Nature and Society, but only as a fnal outcome, not as a beginning.
Nature does revolve, but not around the Subj ect/Society. It revolves
around the collective that produces things and people. The Subject does
revolve, but not around Nature. It revolves around the collective out of
which people and things are generated. At last the Middle Kingdom is
represented. Natures and societies are its satellites.
3. 1 2 From Intermediaries to Mediators
As soon as we bring about the Copernican counter-revolution and place
the quasi-object in a position below and equidistant from the former
things-in-themselves and the former humans-among-themselves, when
we return to our usual practice, we notice that there is no longer any
reason to limit the ontological varieties that matter to two (or three,
counting the crossed-out God) .
Is the vacuum pump that has served as our example hitherto a new
ontological variety in its own right? We cannot use asymmetrical
historians to answer this question, since they will be unable to locate the
common ontological problem. Some will be historians only of
seventeenth-century England, and will have no interest whatsoever in the
pump except to make it emerge miraculously from the Heaven of Ideas to
establish their chronology. On the other side, scientists and epistemolog­
ists will describe the physics of the vacuum without paying the slightest
attention to England, or even to Boyle. Let us set aside these
asymmetrical tasks, one of which ignores nonhumans and the other
8
RVOLUION
humans, and suppose symmetrical historians who will compare the two
balance sheets when using mediators or int�rmediaries.
In the modern world of the Copernican Revolution there will be no
new entities, since we are supposed to split it in two dividing its
originality among the two poles: a frst part would head toward the right
and would become 'Laws of Nature'; a second part would move leftward
and become 'seventeenth-century English society'; while we would mark
the place of the phenomenon, this still empty place where the two poles
have to be stitched back together. Then, by multiplying intermediaries,
we were supposed to take what we had just separated and bring them
closer together. We were to say that the laboratory pump 'reveals' or
'represents' or 'materializes' or 'allows us to grasp' the Laws of Nature.
We were to say, similarly, that the wealthy English gentlemen's
'representations' made it possible to 'interpret' air pressure and to
'accept' the existence of a vacuum. By moving closer to the point of
separation and conjunction, we were to pass from the global context to
the local context, and we were to show how Boyle's gestures and the
pressure of the Royal Society allowed them to understand the defects of
the pump, its leaks and its aberrations. By multiplying intermediary
terms, we were to have ended up reconnecting the two parts that were at
frst infnitely distant from Nature and from the Social.
According to such an explanation, nothing essential has happened. To
explain our air pump, we simply plunged a hand alternately either into
the urn that contains for all eternity the beings of Nature, or into the one
that contains the sempiternal mainsprings of the social world. Nature has
always been unchanging. Society always comprises the same resources,
the same interests, the same passions. In the modern perspective, Nature
and Society allow explanation because they themselves do not have to be
explained. Intermediaries exist, of course, and their role is precisely to
establish the link between the two, but they establish links only because
they themselves lack any ontological status. They merely transport,
convey, transfer the power of the only two beings that are real, Nature
and Society. To be sure, they may do a bad job of the transporting; they
may be unfaithful, or obtuse. But their lack of faithfulness does not give
them any importance in their own right, since that is what proves, on the
contrary, their intermediary status. Their competence is not their own. At
worst, they are brutes or slaves; at best, they are loyal servants.
If we bring about the Copernican counter-revolution we are then
obliged to take the work of the intermediaries much more seriously, since
it is no longer their task to transmit the power of Nature and that of
Society, and since they nevertheless all produce the same reality effects. If
we now enumerate the entities endowed with autonomous status, we fnd
far more than two or three. There are dozens. Does nature abhor a
FROM
I NTERMEDIARIES TO MEDIA TORS 81
vacuum or not ? I s there a real vacuum i n the pump, or could some subtle
ether have slipped in? How are the Royal Society's witnesses going to
account for the leaks in the air pump? How is the King of England going
to consent to let people go back to talking about the properties of matter
and reestablishing private cliques j ust when the question of absolute
power is fnally about to be resolved? Is the auth�nticity of miracles
supported by the mechanization of matter or not? Is Boyle going to
become a respected experimenter if he devotes himself to pursuing these
vulgar experimental tasks and abandons the deductive explanation, the
only one worthy of a scholar ? All these questions are no longer caught
between Nature and Society, since they all redefne what Nature may be
and what Society is. Nature and Society are no longer explanatory terms
but rather something that requires a conjoined explanation. Around the
work of the air pump we witness the formation of a new Boyle, a new
Nature, a new theology of miracles, a new scholarly sociability, a new
Society that will henceforth include the vacuum, scholars, and the
laboratory. History does something. Each entity is an event.
We shall no longer explain the innovation of the air pump by reaching
alternately into the two urns of Nature and Society. On the contrary, we
will refll these urns, or at least profoundly modify their contents. Nature
will emerge altered from Boyle's laboratory, and so will English society;
but Boyle and Hobbes will also change in the same degree. Such
metamorphoses are incomprehensible i f only two beings, Nature and
Society, have existed from time immemorial, or if the frst remains eternal
while the second alone is stirred up by history. These metamorphoses
become explicable, on the contrary, i f we redistribute essence to all the
entities that make up this history. But then they stop being simple, more
or less faithful, intermediaries. They become mediators - that is, actors
endowed with the capacity to translate what they transport, to redefne
it, redeploy it, and also to betray i t. The serfs have become free citizens
once more.
By offering to all the mediators the being that was previously captive in
Nature and in Society, the passage of time becomes more comprehensible
again. In the world of the Copernican Revolution, in which everything
had to be contained between the poles of Nature and Society, history did
not really count. Nature was merely discovered, or Society was deployed,
or one was applied to the other. Phenomena were nothing but the
encounter of already-present elements. There was indeed a contingent
history, but for humans alone, detached from the necessity of natural
things. As soon as we start from the middle, as soon as we invert the
arrows of the explanation, as soon as we take the essence accumulated at
the two extremes and redistribute i t to the whole set of intermediaries, as
soon as we elevate the latter to the status of full-fledged mediators, then
82 CONSTm.TION
history in fact becomes possible. Time is there not for naught, but for
real. Something does in fact happen to Boyle, to the air's spring, to the
vacuum, to the air pump, to the King, to Hobbes. They all come out
changed. All the essences become events, the air's sprin. g by the same
token as the death of Cherubino. History is no longer simply the history
of people, it becomes the history of natural things as well.
3.13 Accusation, Causation
This Copernican counter-revolution amounts to modifying the place of
the object to ren1ove it fron1 things-in-themselves and bring it to the
con1n1unity, but \"ithout bringing it closer to society. Michel Serres's
work is no less important than Shapin and Schaffer's or Bennion's for
achieving this displacement or descent. As Serres writes in one of his best
books: 'We want to describe the emergence of the object, not only of
tools or beautiful statues, but of things in general, ontologically speaking.
Iiow does the object come to what is human?' (Serres, 1987). But his
problem is that he 'can't fnd anything in books that recounts the
prin1itive experience during which the objecr as such constituted the
human subject, because books are vritten to entomb this very experi­
ence, to block all access to it, and because the noise of discourse drovvns
out ':hat happened in that utter silence' (p. 216).
We possess hundreds of myths describing the way subjects (or the
collective, or intersubjectivity, or epistemes) construct the object-Kant's
Copernican Revolution is only one in a long line of examples. Yer ,� . e
have nothing that recounts the other aspect of the story: ho�r objects
construct the subject. Shapin and Schaffer have access to thousands of
archival pages on Boyle's ideas, and Hobbes's, but nothing about the
tacit practice of the air pump or on the dexterit it required. The
witnesses to this second half of history are constituted not by texts or
languages but by silent, brute remainders such as pumps, stones and
statues. Even though Serres's archaeology is situated several levels below
that of the air pump, he encounters the same silence.
The people of Israel chant psalms before the dismantled Wailing Wall: of
the temple, not one stone remains standing on another. 'Xlhat did the \vise
Th4Jeaes see, do, and thi�k, by the Egyptian pyramids, in a time as renote
for us as the time of Cheops was for him? Why did he invent geometry by
this pile of stones? All Islam dreams of traveling to llecca vrhere. in the
Kaaba, the Black Stone is preserved. Modern science \as born, in the
Renaissance, from the study of falling bodies: stones fall to the ground.
Why did Jesus establish the Christian Church on a man called Peter? I an1
ACCUSATION. CAUSATIO
N
deliberately mixing religion with science in these examples of inauguration.
(Serres, 1987, p. 21 3)
8l
Why should we take seriously such a hasty generalization of all these
petrifcations, one that mixes up a black religious stone with Galileo's
falling bodies ? For the same reason that I have taken Shapin and
Schaffer's work seriously, 'deli berately mixing religion and sciences in
these examples of inauguration' of modern science and politics. They had
ballasted epistemology with an unknown new actor, a leaky, pieced­
together, handmade air pump. Serres ballasts epistemology with an
unknown new actor, silent things. They all do it for the same
anthropological reason: science and religion are linked by a profound
reinterpretation of what it means to accuse and put to the test. For Boyle
as for Serres, science is a branch of the j udiciary:
In all the languages of Europe, north and south alike, the word 'thing',
whatever its form, has as its root or origin the word 'cause', taken from the
realm of law, politics, or criticism generally speaking. As if objects
themselves existed only according to the debates of an assembly or after a
decision issued by a j ury. Language wants the world to stem from language
alone. At least this is what it says . . . (Serres, 1 987, p. 1 1 1 )
Thus in Latin the word for 'thing' is res, from which we get reality, the
object of j udicial procedure or the cause itself, so that, for the Ancients, the
accused bore the name reus because the magistrates were suing him. As i f
the only human reality came from tribunals alone. (p. 307)
Here we shall see the mi racle and fnd the solution to the ultimate enigma.
The word 'cause' designates the root or origin of the word 'thing' : causa,
cosa, chose, or Ding . . . . The tribunal stages the very identity of cause and
thing, of word and object, or the passage of one to the other by
substitution. A thing emerges there. (p. 294)
Thus with three citations Serres generalizes the results that Shapin and
Schaffer brought together with so much diffculty: causes, stones and
facts never occupy the position of the thing-in-itself. Boyle wondered
how to put an end to civil wars. By compelling matter to be inert, by
asking God not to be directly present, by constructing a new closed space
in a container where the existence of the vacuum would become
manifest, by renouncing the condemnation of witnesses for their
opinions. No ad hominem accusation will prevail any longer, Boyle said;
no human witness will be believed; only nonhuman indicators and
instruments observed by gentlemen will be considered trustworthy. The
stubborn accumulation of matters of fact will establish the foundations
of the pacifed collective. This invention of facts is not, however, a
REVOLUTION
discovery of the things that are out there; it is an anthropological
creation that redistributes God, will, love, hatred and j ustice. Serres
makes precisely the same point. We have no idea of the aspect things
would have outside the tri bunal, beyond our civil wars, and outside our
trials and our courtrooms. Without accusation we have no causes to
plead, and we cannot assign causes to phenomena. This anthropological
situation is not limited to our prescientifc past, since it belongs more to
our scientifc present.
Thus we live in a society that is modern not because, unlike all the
others, it is fnally liberating itself from the hell of social relationships,
from the obscurantism of religion, from the tyranny of politics, but
because, j ust like all the others, it is redistributing the accusations that
replace a cause - j udiciary, collective, social - by a cause - scientifc,
nonsocial, matter-of-factual. Nowhere can on

observe an obj ect and a
subj ect, one society that would be primitive and another that would be
modern. Series of substitutions, displacements and translations mobilize
peoples and things on an ever-increasing scale.
I imagine, at the origin, a rapid whirlwind in which the transcendental
constitution of the object by the subject would be nourished, as in return,
by the symmetrical constitution of the subject by the object, i n crushing
semi cycles that are endlessly begun anew, returning to the origin . . . . There
exists a transcendental objective, a constitutive condition of the subject
through the appearance of the object as object in general. Of the inverse or
symmetrical condition on the whirling cycle, we have testimony, traces or
narratives, written i n the labile languages . . . . But of the direct constitutive
condition on the basis of the object we have witnesses that are tangible,
visible, concrete, formidable, tacit. However far back we go i n talkative
history or silent prehistory, they are still there. (Serres, 1987, p. 209)
Serres, in his so-unmodern work, recounts a pragmatogony that is as
fabulous as Hesiod's old cosmogony, or Hegel's. However, Serres
proceeds not by metamorphosis or dialectics, but by substitutions. The
new sciences that deviate, transform, knead the collective into things that
no one has made, are simply latecomers in that long mythology of
substitutions. Those who follow networks, or study the sciences, are only
documenting the nth loop in the spiral whose fabulous beginning Serres
sketches for us. Contemporary science is a way of prolonging what we
have already done. Hobbes constructs a political body on the basis of
animated naked bodies: he fnds himself with the gigantic artifcial
prosthesis of the Leviathan. Boyle concentrates all the dissension of civil
wars on an air pump: he fnds himself with the facts. Each loop in the
spiral defnes a new collective and a new objectivity. The collective in
VARIABLE ONTOLOGIES
85
permanent renewal that is organized around things in permanent renewal
has never stopped evolving. We have never left the anthropological
matrix - we are still in the Dark Ages or, if you prefer, we are still in the
world's infancy.
3. 1 4 Variable Ontologies
As soon as we grant historicity to all the actors so that we can
accommodate the proliferation of quasi-objects, Nature and Society have
no more existence than West and East. They become convenient and
relative reference points that moderns use to differentiate intermediaries,
some of which are called 'natural' and others 'social', while still others
are termed ' purely natural' and others 'purely social', and yet others are
considered 'not only' natural ' but also' a little bit soci al. The analysts who
head left will be called realists, while those who head right will be called
constructivists (Latour, 1 992b; Pickering, 1992). Those who want to
maintain a position plumb in the middle will invent countless combina­
tions in order to mix Nature with Society (or subj ects) , alternating the
'symbolic dimension' of things with the 'natural dimension' of societies.
Others, more imperialistic or more one-sided, will try to naturalize
Society by integrating it into Nature (Hull, 1988) , or to socialize Nature
by getting it digested by Society (Bloor, [ 1 976] 1 991 ) (or by the Subj ect,
which is more diffcult) .
Still, these reference points and discussions remain one-dimensional.
To classify the entire set of entities along the single line that runs from
Nature to Society would amount to drawing cartographic maps on the
basis of longitude alone, thereby reducing them to a single line! The
second di mension makes it possible to give every latitude to the entities
and to deploy the map that registers, as I have said, both the modern
Constitution and its practice. How will we defne this equivalent of
North and South? Mixing my metaphors, I would say that it has to be
defned as a gradient that registers variations in the stability of entities
from event to essence. We still know nothing at all about the air pump
when we say that it is the representation of the Laws of Nature, or the
representation of English Society, or the product of the two opposite
constraints of Nature and Society. We still need to be told whether what
is at stake is the air pump as a seventeenth-century event or the air pump
as a stabilized essence of the eighteenth century or the twentieth century.
The degree of stabilization - the latitude - is as important as the position
on the line that runs from the natural to the social - the longitude (see
Cussins, 1 992, for another and more precise mapping device) .
8
latitude
Nature Pole
E Y8CUUD
No.5
REVOLUTION
Subject/Society
Essence
C
' A'
B'
D"
E"
'
--
C
"
C Y8CUUD
Noo 3
longitude
B"
B Y8CUUD
t- No.2
A Y8CUUD
No. 1
Existence
Pole
D Y8CUUD
No.4
Figure 3.4 The modern Constitution and its practice
The ontology of mediators thus has a variable geometry. What Sartre
said of humans - that their existence precedes their essence - has to be
said of all the actants: of the air's spring as well as society, of matter as
well as consciousness. We do not have to choose between vacuum no. 5,
a reality of external nature whose essence does not depend on any
human, and vacuum no. 4, a representation that Western thinkers have
taken centuries to defne. Or rather, we shall be able to choose between
the two only once they are stabilized. About the very unstable vacuum
no. 1 , in Boyle's laboratory, we cannot say whether it is natural or social,
only that it emerges artifcially in the laboratory. Vacuum no. 2 may be
an artifact made by human hands, unless it is transmuted into vacuum
no. 3, which begins to become a reality that eludes humans. What is a
vacuum, then? None of these positions. The essence of the vacuum is the
traj ectory that links them all. In other words, the air's spring has a
history. Each of the actants possesses a unique signature in the space
deployed in thi s way. In order to trace them, we do not have to form any
hypotheses about the essence of Nature or the essence of Society.
VARIABLE ONTOLOGIES
87
Superpose all the signatures and you will have the shapes of what the
moderns wrongly call, in order to summarize and purif, 'Nature' and
'Society'.
But if we project all these trajectories on to the single line that connects
the former 'Nature' pole with the former 'Society/Subject' pole,
everything becomes hopelessly confused. All the points (A, B, C, D, E)
will be projected along the single latitude ( A' , B' , C' , D' , E' ) , with the
central point A localized at the site of the former phenomena - precisely
where, in the modern scenario, nothing is supposed to happen, since it is
nothing but the meeting point of the two extremes of Nature and Society
in which resides the whole of reality. With this single line, realists and
constructivists will be able to quarrel over the interpretation of the
vacuum for centuries : the former will declare that no one has fabricated
this real fact; the latter that our hands alone fashioned this social fact; the
advocates of the middle ground will waver between the two senses of the
word 'fact', using - for better or for worse - the formula ' not only . . . but
also . . . '. This is because the fabrication is below the line, in the work of
mediation, visible only i f we also take into account the degree of
stabilization (B", C", D", E") .
The great masses of Nature and Society can be compared to the
cooled-down continents of plate tectonics. If we want to understand their
movement, we have to go down into those searing rifts where the magma
erupts and on the basis of this eruption are produced - much later and
much farther off, by cooling and progressive stacking - the two
continental plates on which our feet are frmly planted. Like the
geophysicians, we too have to go down and approach the places where
the mixtures are made that will become - but only much later - aspects
of Nature or of the Social. Is it too much to ask of our discussions that
from now on we should spell out the latitude of the entities we are talking
about as well as their longitude, and that we should view essences as
events and trajectories ?
We now have a better understanding of the paradox of the moderns.
By using both the work of mediation and the work of purifcation, but
never representing the two together, they were playing simultaneously on
the transcendence and the immanence of the two entities, Nature and
Society. That gave them four contradictory resources which allowed
them an unusual freedom of movement. Now if we draw the map of the
ontological varieties, we note that there are not four regions but three.
The double transcendence of Nature on one side and Society on the other
corresponds to one single set of stabilized essences. For each state of
Society there exists a corresponding state of Nature. Nature and Society
are not two opposite transcendences but one and the same growing out
8
REVOLUTION
of the work of mediation. On the other hand, the immanence of
naturing-natures and collectives corresponds to a single region: that of
the instability of events, that of the work of mediation. The modern
Constitution is therefore correct: there is indeed an abyss between
Nature and Society, but this abyss is only a delayed result of stabi l ization.
The only abyss that counts separates the work of mediation from the
constitutional formatting, but this abyss becomes - owing to the very
proliferation of hybrids - a continuous gradient that we are able to
traverse as soon as we become once again what we have never stopped
being: nonmoderns. If we add to the offcial, stable version of the
Constitution its unoffcial, 'hot' or unstable version, the middle is what
flls up, on the contrary, and the extremities are emptied. We understand
why the nonmoderns are not the successors to the moderns. The former
only make offcial the latter's denied practice. At the price of a little
counter-revolution, we fnally understand retrospectively what we had
always done.
3. 1 5 Connecting the Four Modern Rpertoires
By setting up the to dimensions, modern and nonmodern, by operating
this Copernican counter-revolution, by making object and subj ect both
slide centreward and downward, perhaps we shall now be able to
capitalize on the best resources of the modern critique. The moderns have
developed four di fferent repertoires, which they see as incompati ble, to
accommodate the proliferation of quasi-objects. The frst deals with the
external reality of a nature of which we are not masters, which exists
outside ourselves and has neither our passions nor our desi res, even
though we are capable of mobi lizing and constructing it. The second
deals with the social bond, with what attaches human beings to one
another, with the pas�ions and desires that move us, with the personifed
forces that structure society - a society that surpasses us all, even though
it is of our own making. The third deals with signifcation and meaning,
with the actants that make up the stories we tell ourselves
,
with the
ordeals they undergo, with the adventures they live through, with the
tropes and genres that organize them, with the great narratives that
dominate us infnitely, even though they are at the same time merely texts
and discourses. The fourth, fnally, speaks of Being and deconstructs
what we invariably forget when we concern ourselves with beings alone,
even though the presence of Being is distributed among beings, is
coextensive with their very existence, their very historicity.
These resources are incompatible only in the offcial version of the
Constitution. In practice, we have trouble telling the four apart. We
CONNECTI NG THE FOUR MODERN REPERTOIRES
8
shamelessly confuse our desires with natural entities - that is, with the
socially constructed sciences which in turn very much look like
discourses and trace our society. As soon as we are on the trail of some
quasi-obj ect, it appears to us sometimes as a thing, sometimes as a
narrative, sometimes as a social bond, without ever being reduced to a
mere being. Our vacuum pump traces the spring of air, but it also
sketches in seventeenth-century society and likewise defnes a new
literary genre, that of the account of a laboratory experiment. In
following the pump, do we have to pretend that everything is rhetorical,
or that everything is natural, or that everything is socially constructed, or
that everything is stamped and stocked? Do we have to suppose that the
same pump is in its essence sometimes an object, sometimes a social
bond, and sometimes discourse? Or that it is a bit of each? That
sometimes it is a mere being, and sometimes it is marked by the
ontological difference between Being and beings ? And what if i t were we
ourselves, the moderns, who artifcially divided a unique trajectory,
which would be at frst neither object, nor subject, nor meaning effect,
nor pure being? What if the separation of the four repertoires were
applied only to stabilized and later stages ?
Nothing proves that these resources remain incompatible when we
move from essences to events, from purifcation to mediation, from the
modern dimension to the nonmodern dimension, from revolution to the
Copernican counter-revolution. Of quasi-objects, quasi-subjects, we
shall si mply say that they trace networks. They are real, quite real, and
we humans have not made them. But they are collective because they
attach us to one another, because they circulate in our hands and defne
our social bond by their very circulation. They are discursive, however;
they are narrated, historical, passionate, and peopled with actants of
autonomous forms. They are unstable and hazardous, existential, and
never forget Being. This liaison of the four repertoires in the same
networks once they are offcially represented allows us to construct a
dwelling large enough to house the Middle Kingdom, the authentic
common home of the nonmodern world as well as its Constitution.
The linkage is impossible as long as we remain truly modern, since
Nature, Discourse, Society and Being surpass us infnitely, and because
these four sets are defned only by their separation, which maintains our
constitutional guarantees. But continuity becomes possible if we add to
the guarantees the practice of mediation that the Constitution allows
because it denies it. The moderns are quite right to want reality,
language, society and being all at once. They are wrong only in believing
that these sets are forever contradictory. Instead of always analyzing the
trajectory of quasi-obj ects by separating these resources, can we not
write as if they ought to be in continuous connection with one another?
9
REVOLUTION
We might well escape from the postmodern prostration itself caused by
an overdose of the four critical repertoires.
Are you not fed up at fnding yourselves forever locked into language
alone, or imprisoned in social representations alone, as so many social
scientists would like you to be? We want to gain access to things
themselves, not only to their phenomena. The real is not remote; rather,
it is accessible in all the objects mobilized throughout the world. Doesn't
external reality abound right here among us?
Do you not have more than enough of being continually dominated by
a Nature that is transcendent, unknowable, inaccessible, exact, and
simply true, peopled with entities that lie dormant like the Sleeping
Beauty until the day when scientifc Prince Charmings fnally discover
them? The collectives we live in are more active, more productive, more
socialized than the tiresome things-in-themselves led us to expect.
Are you not a little tired of those sociologies constructed around the
Social only, which is supposed to hold up solely through the repetition of
the words 'power' and 'legitimacy' because sociologists cannot cope
either with the contents of objects or with the world of languages that
nevertheless construct society? Our collectives are more real, more
naturalized, more discursive than the tiresome humans-among­
themselves led us to expect.
Are you not fed up with language games, and with the eternal
scepticism of the deconstruction of meaning? Discourse is not a world
unto itself but a population of actants that mix with things as well as
with societies, uphold the former and the latter alike, and hold on to
them both. Interest in texts does not distance us from reality, for things
too have to be elevated to the dignity of narrative. As for texts, why deny
them the grandeur of forming the social bond that holds us together?
Are you not tired of being accused of having forgotten Being, of living
in a base world emptied of all its substance, all its sacredness and its art?
In order to rediscover these treasures, do we really have to give up the
historical, scientifc and social world in which we live? To apply oneself
to the sciences, to technologies, to markets, to things, does not distance
us any more from the difference of Being with beings than from society,
politics, or language.
Real as Nature, narrated as Discourse, collective as Society, existential
as Being: such are the quasi-objects that the moderns have caused to
proliferate. As such it behoves us to pursue them, while we simply
become once more what we have never ceased to be: amoderns.
4
D
RELATIVISM
4. 1 How to End the Asymmetry
At the beginning of this essay I proposed anthropology as a model for
describing our world, since anthropology alone seemed capable of
linking up the strange trajectory of quasi-objects as a whole. I quickly
recognized, however, that this model was not readily usable, since it did
not apply to science and technology. While ethnographers were quite
capable of retracing the links that bound the ethnosciences to the social
world, they were unable to do so for the exact sciences. In order to
understand why i t was so diffcult to apply the same freedom of tone to
the sociotechnological networks of our Western world, I needed to
understand what we meant by modern. If we understand modernity in
terms of the offcial Constitution that has to make a total distinction
between humans and nonhumans on the one hand and between
purifcation and mediation on the other, then no anthropology of the
modern world is possible. But if we link together in one single picture the
work of purifcation and the work of mediation that gives it meaning, we
discover, retrospectively, that we have never been truly modern. As a
result, the anthropology that has been stumbling over science and
technology up to now could once again become the model for description
that I have been seeking. Unable to compare premoderns to moderns, it
could compare them both to nonmoderns.
Unfortunately, it is not easy to reutilize anthropology as it stands.
Shaped by moderns studying people who were said to be premodern,
anthropology has internalized, in its practices, concepts and questions,
the impossibility I mentioned above. It rules out studying obj ects of
nature, limiting the extent of its inquiries exclusively to cultures. It thus
remains asymmetrical. If anthropology is to become comparative, if it is
92
RELTIVISM
to be able to go back and forth between moderns and nonmoderns, it
must be made symmetrical. To this end, it must become capable of
confronting not beliefs that do not touch us directly - we are always
critical enough of them - but the true knowledge to which we adhere
totally. It must therefore be made capable of studying the sciences by
surpassing the limits of the sociology of knowledge and, above all, of
epistemology.
The frst principle of symmetry upset traditional sociology of know­
ledge by requiring that error and truth be treated in the same terms
(Bloor, [ 1 976] 1 991 ). In the past, the sociology of knowledge, by
marshalling a great profusion of social factors, had explained only
deviations with respect to the straight and narrow path of reason. Error,
beliefs, could be explained socially, but truth remained self-explanatory.
It was certainly possible to analyze a belief in flying saucers, but not the
knowledge of black holes; we could analyze the illusions of parapsychol­
ogy, but not the knowledge of psychologists; we could analyze Spencer's
errors, but not Darwin's certainties. The same social factors could not be
applied equally to both. In this double standard we recognize the split in
anthropology between sciences, which were not open to study, and
ethnosciences, which were.
The presuppositions of the sociology of knowledge would not have
intimidated ethnologists for long, if epistemologists - especially in the
French tradition - had not erected as a founding principle this same
asymmetry between true and false sciences. Only the latter - the
'outdated' sciences - can be related to the social context. As for the
'sanctioned' sciences, they become scientifc only because they tear
themselves away from all context, from any traces of contamination by
history, from any naive perception, and escape even their own past. Here
is the difference, for Bachelard and his disciples, between history and the
history of sciences (Bachelard, 1 967; Canguilhem, [ 1 968] 1988) . History
may be symmetrical, but that hardly matters, because it never deals with
real science; the history of science, on the other hand, must never be
symmetrical, because it deals with science and its utmost duty is to make
the epistemological break more complete.
A single example will suffce to show to what lengths the rejection of
all symmetrical anthropology can be taken when epistemologists have to
treat true sciences differently from false beliefs. When Georges Canguil­
hem distinguishes scientifc ideologies from true sciences, he asserts not
only that it is impossible to study Darwin - the scientist - and Diderot ­
the ideologue - in the same terms, but that it must be impossible to lump
them together: 'Distinguishing between ideology and science prevents us
from seeing continuities where in fact there are only elements of ideology
preserved in a science that has supplanted an earlier ideology. Hence such
HOW TO END THE ASYMMETRY 93
a distinction prevents us from seeing anticipations of the Origin of
Species in [Diderot's] Dream of d'Alembert' ( Canguilhem, [ 1 968] 1 988
p. 39) . Only what breaks for ever with ideology is scientifc. I t i s diffcult
indeed to pursue the ins and outs of quasi-objects while following such a
principle. Once they have passed into the hands of such epistemologists,
they will be pulled out by the roots. Objects alone will remain, excised
from the entire network that gave them meaning. But why even mention
Diderot or Spencer? Why take an interest in error? Because without it the
truth would shine too brightly! 'Recognizing the connections between
ideology and science should prevent us from reducing the history of
science to a featureless landscape, a map without relief' ( p. 39) . For such
epistemologists, 'Whiggish' history is not a mistake to be overcome but a
duty to be carried out with utmost rigour. The history of science should
not be confused with history (Bowker and Latour, 1 987) . The false is
what makes the true stand out. What Racine did for the Sun King under
the lofty name of historian, Canguilhem does for Darwin under the
equally usurped label of historian of science.
The principle of symmetry, on the contrary, reestablished continuity,
historicity, and - we may as well say i t - elementary j ustice. David Bloor
is Canguilhem's opposite number, j ust as Serres is Bachelard's. 'The only
pure myth is the idea of a science devoid of all myth,' writes the latter as
he breaks with epistemology (Serres, 1 974) . For Serres, as for actual
historians of science, Diderot, Darwin, Malthus and Spencer have to be
explained according to the same principles and the same causes; if you
want to account for the belief in flying saucers, make sure your
explanations can be used, symmetrically, for black holes ( Lagrange,
1 990) . If you claim to debunk parapsychology, can you use the same
factors for psychology ( Collins and Pinch, 1 982) ? If you analyze
Pasteur's successes, do the same terms allow you to account for his
failures (Latour, 1 988b) ?
Above all, the frst principle of symmetry proposes a slimming
treatment for the explanations of errors offered by social scientists. It had
become so easy to account for deviation! Society, beliefs, ideology,
symbols, the unconscious, madness - everything was so readily available
that explanations were becoming obese. But truths ? When we lost our
facile recourse to epistemological breaks, we soon realized, we who study
the sciences, that most of our explanations were not worth much.
Asymmetry organized them all, and simply added insult to inj ury.
Everything changes if the staunch discipline of the principle of symmetry
forces us to retain only the causes that could serve both truth and
falsehood, belief and knowledge, science and parascience. Those who
weighed the winners with one scale and the losers with another, while
shouting 'vae victis!' (woe to the vanquished) , like Brennus, made that
94
RELTIVISM
discrepancy incomprehensible up to now. When the balance of symmetry
is reestablished with precision, the discrepancy that allows us to
understand why some win and others lose stands out all the more
sharply.
4.2 The Principle of Symmetry Generalized
The frst principle of symmetry offers the incomparable advantage of
doing away with epistemological breaks, with a priori separations
between 'sanctioned' and 'outdated' sciences, or artifcial divisions
between sociologists who study knowledge, those who study belief
systems, and those who study the sciences. Formerly, when the
anthropologist returned from his remote land to discover sciences that
had been tidied up by epistemology at home, he could establish no
continuity between ethnoscience and scientifc knowledge. Thus with
good reason he abstained from studying nature, and settled for analyzing
cultures. Now when he returns and discovers studies - becoming more
numerous by the day - that focus on his own sciences and technologes at
home, the abyss is already narrower. He can move without too much
diffculty from Trobriand navigators to those of the United States Navy
(Hutchins, 1 980) ; from calculators in West Africa to arithmeticians in
Califoria (Rogoff and Lave, 1 984) ; from technicians i the Ivory Coast to
a Nobel laureate in La Jolla (Latour and Woolgar, [ 1 979] 1 986) ; from
sacrifces to the god Baal to the Challenger explosion (Serres, 1 987) . He is
no longer required to limit himself to cultures, since Nature - or, rather,
natures - have become similarly accessible to study (Pickering, 1 992).
However, the principle of symmetry defned by Bloor leads rapidly to
an impasse. If it requires an iron discipline in its explanation, the
principle itself is asymmetrical, as the following diagram will make clear.
Epistemologists and sociologists of knowledge explained truth through
its congruence with natural reality, and falsehood through the constraint
of social categories, epistemes or interests. They were asymmetrical.
Bloor's principle seeks to explain truth and falsehood alike through the
same categories, the same epistemes and the same interests. But what
terms does it choose? Those that the sciences of society offer social
scientists - that is, Hobbes and his many successors. Thus it is
asymmetrical not because it separates ideology and science, as epistemo­
logists do, but because it brackets off Nature and makes the 'Society' pole
carry the full weight of explanation. Constructivist where Nature is
concerned, it is realistic about Society (Calion and Latour, 1 992; Collins
and Yearley, 1 992) .
But Societ, as we now know, is no less constructed than Nature, since
it is the dual result of one single stabilization process. For each state of
Nature Pole
0
THE PRINCIPLE OF SYMMETRY GENERALIZED
SubjectSociet
��
Pole
�-
Truth is explained
by Nature
Falsehood is explained
by Society
0
Nature explains neither
truth or falsehood
0
Truth and falsehood are
both explained by Soiety
���
explamed
� .
The explanation
starts from
quasi-objects
Figure 4. 1 Te principle of symmetry
95
ASYMETCAL
EXPANATONS
FRST
PRICIPLE OF
SYMMETRY
GENERALIZED
PRICIPLE OF
SYMMETRY
Nature there exists a corresponding state of society. If we are to be realist
in the one case, we have to be realist in the other; i f we are constructivist
in one instance, then we have to be constructivist for both. Or rather, as
our investigation of the two modern practices has shown, we must be
able to understand simultaneously how Nature and Society are imman­
ent - in the work of mediation - and transcendent - after the work of
purifcation. Nature and Society do not offer solid hooks to which we
might attach our interpretations (which should be asymmetrical in
Canguilhem's sense, or symmetrical in Bloor's), but are what is to be
explained. The appearance of explanation that Nature and Society
provide comes only in a late phase, when stabilized quasi-objects have
become, after cleavage, objects of external reality on the one hand,
subj ects of Society on the other. Nature and Society are part of the
problem, not part of the solution.
If anthropology is to become symmetrical, therefore, i t has to do more
than take in the frst principle of symmetry - which puts a stop to only
the most flagrant inj ustices of epistemology. It has to absorb what Michel
9 RELTIVISM
Callon calls the
principle of
generalized symmetry: the anthropologist
has to position himself at the median point where he can follow the
attribution of both nonhuman and human properties ( Callan, 1 986) . He
is not allowed to use external reality to explain society, or to use power
games to account for what shapes external reality. In the same way, he is
of course forbidden to alternate natural realism and sociological realism
by using 'not only' Nature 'but also' Society, in order to keep the two
original asymmetries even while concealing the weaknesses of the one
under those of the other (Latour, 1 987) .
So long as we were modern, it was impossible to occupy this central
place from which the symmetry between Nature and Society becomes
visi ble at last, because it did not exist! The only central position
recognized by the Constitution, as we have already seen, was the
phenomenon, the meeting point where the Nature pole and the Subject
pole were applied to one another. Hitherto this point has remained a no­
man's-land, a nonplace. Everything changes when, instead of constantly
and exclusively alternating between one pole of the modern dimension
and the other, we move down along the nonmodern dimension. The
unthinkable nonplace becomes the point in the Constitution where the
work of mediation emerges. It is far from empt: quasi-objects, quasi­
subj ects, proliferate in it. No longer unthinkable, it becomes the terrain
of all the empirical studies carried out on the networks.
But isn't this place the one that anthropology prepared so painstak­
ingly over the course of a century, the one the ethnologist occupies so
effortlessly today when she sets out to study other cultures? Indeed, we
can watch her move, without modifying her analytical tools, from
meteorology to the kinship system, from the nature of plants to their
cultural representation, from political organization to ethnomedicine,
from mythic structures to ethnophysics or to hunting techniques. To be
sure, the ethnologist draws the courage to deploy this seamless web from
her profound conviction that she is dealing merely, and solely, with
representations. Nature, for its part, remains unique, external and
universal. But if we superpose the two positions - the one that the
ethnologist occupies effortlessly in order to study cultures and the one
that we have made a great effort to defne in order to study our own
nature - then comparative anthropology becomes possible, if not easy. It
no longer compares cultures, setting aside its own, which through some
astonishing privilege possesses a unique access to universal Nature. It
compares natures-cultures. Are they comparable? Are they similar? Are
they the same? We can now, perhaps, solve the insoluble problem of
relativism.
THE IMPORT -EXPORT SYSTEM
,
4.3 The Impor- Expor System of the Two Great Divide
'We Westerners are absolutely different from others! ' - such is the
moderns' victory cry, or protracted lament. The Great Divide between Us
- Occidentals - and Them - everyone else, from the China seas to the
Yucatan, from the Inuit to the Tasmanian aborigines - has not ceased to
obsess us. Whatever they do, Westerners bring history along with them in
the hulls of their caravels and their gunboats, i n the clinders of their
telescopes and the pistons of their immunizing syringes. They bear this
white man's burden sometimes as an exalting challenge, sometimes as a
tragedy, but always as a destiny. They do not claim merely that they
differ from others as the Sioux differ from the Algonquins, or the Baoules
from the Lapps, but that they differ radically, absolutely, to the extent
that Westerners can be lined up on one side and all the cultures on the
other, since the latter all have in common the fact that they are precisely
cultures among others. In Westerners' eyes the West, and the West alone,
is not a culture, not merely a culture.
Why does the West see itself this way? Why would the West and only
the West not be a culture? In order to understand the Great Divide
between Us and Them, we have to go back to that other Great Divide
between humans and nonhumans that I defned above. In effect, the frst
is the exportation of the second. We Westerners cannot be one culture
among others, since we also mobilize Nature. We do not mobilize an
image or a symbolic representation of Nature, the way the other societies
do, but Nature as it is, or at least as it is known to the sciences - which
remain in the background, unstudied, unstudiable, miraculously con­
fared with Nature itself. Thus at the heart of the question of relativism
we fnd the question of science. If Westerners had been content with
trading and conquering, looting and dominating, they would not
distinguish themselves radically from other tradespeople and conquerors.
But no, they invented science, an activity totally distinct from conquest
and trade, politics and morality.
Even those who have tried, in the name of cultural relativism, to
defend the continuity of cultures without ordering them in a progressive
series, and without isolating them in their separate prisons (Levi-Strauss,
[ 1952] 1987), think they can do this only by bringing them as close as
possible to the sciences.
'We have had to wait until the middle of this century', writes Levi­
Strauss in The Savage Mind, 'for the crossing of long separated paths:
that which arrives at the physical world by the detour of communication
[the savage mind] , and that which, as we have recently come to know,
arrives at the world of communication by the detour of the physical
[modern science]' (Levi-Strauss, [ 1 962] 1 966, p. 269) .
.
RELTIVISM
Te false antimony between logical and prelogical mentality was sur­
mounted at the same time. The savage mind is as logical i n the same sense
and the same fashion as ours, though as our own is only when it is applied
to knowledge of a universe in which it recognizes physical and semantic
properties simultaneously . . . It will be objected that there remains a major
difference beteen the thought of primitives and our own: Information
Theory is concerned with genuine messages whereas primitives mistake
mere manifestations of physical determinism for messages . . . In treating
the sensible properties of the animal and plant kingdoms as if they were the
elements of a message, and in discovering 'signatures' - and so signs - in
them, men [those with savage minds] have made mistakes of identification:
the meaningful element was not always the one they supposed. But,
without perfected instruments which would have permitted them to place it
where it most often is - namely, at the microscopic level - they already
discerned 'as through a glass darkly' principles of interpretation whose
heuristic value and accordance with reality have been revealed to us only
through very recent inventions: telecommunications, computers and
electron microscopes. (Levi-Strauss, [ 1 962] 1966, p. 268)
Levi-Strauss, a generous defence lawyer, imagines no mitigating circum­
stances other than making his clients look as much like scientists as
possible! If primitive peoples do not differ from us as much as we think, it
is because they anticipate the newest conquests of information theory,
molecular biology and physics, but with inadequate instruments and
'errors of identifcation' . The very sciences that are used for this
promotion are now off limits. Conceived in the fashion of epistemology,
these sciences remain objective and external, quasi-obj ects purged of
their networks. Give the primitives a microscope, and they will think
exactly as we do. Is there a better way to fnish off those one wants to
save from condemnation? For Levi-Strauss (as for Canguilhem, Lyotard,
Girard, Derrida, and the majority of French intellectuals), this new
scientifc knowledge lies entirely outside culture. It is the transcendence
of science - confated with Nature - that makes it possible to relativize all
cultures, theirs and ours alike - with the one caveat, of course, that it is
precisely our culture, not theirs, that is constructed through biology,
electronic microscopes and telecommunication networks . . . . The abyss
that was to supposed to be narrowing opens up again.
Somewhere in our societies, and in ours alone, an unheard-of
transcendence has manifested itself: Nature as it is, ahuman, sometimes
inhuman, always extrahuman. Since this event occurred - whether one
situates it in Greek mathematics, Italian physics, German chemistry,
American nuclear engineering or Belgian thermodynamics - there has
been a total asymmetry between the cultures that took Nature into
account and those that took into account only their own culture or the
THE I MPORT- EXPORT SYSTEM
"
distorted versions that they might have of matter. Those who invent
sciences and discover physical determinisms never deal exclusively with
human beings, except by accident. The others have only representations
of Nature that are more or less disturbed or coded by the cultural
preoccupations of the humans that occupy them fully and fall only by
chance - 'as through a glass darkly' -on things as they are.
The First Great Divide: Inteal
The Mode Partition
(as pracsed but denied
by the moes)
Te Sond Great Divide:
Exteral
The Premoer Oerlap
(a seen by the modems)
Figure 4.2 Te to Great Divides
So the Internal Great Divide accounts for the External Great Divide:
we are the only ones who differentiate absolutely between Nature and
Culture, between Science and Society, whereas in our eyes all the others ­
whether they are Chinese or Amerindian, Azande or Barouya - cannot
really separate what is knowledge from what is Society, what is sign from
what is thing, what comes from Nature as it is from what their cultures
require. Whatever they do, however adapted, regulated and functional
they may be, they will always remain blinded by this confusion; they are
prisoners of the social and of language alike. Whatever we do, however
criminal, however imperialistic we may be, we escape from the prison of
the social or of language to gain access to things themselves through a
providential exit gate, that of scientifc knowledge. The internal partition
between humans and nonhumans defnes a second partition - an external
one this time - through which the moderns have set themselves apart
from the premoderns. For Them, Nature and Society, signs and things,
1 0
RELTIVISM
are virtually coextensive. For Us they should never be. Even though we
might still recognize in our own societies some fuzzy areas in madness,
children, animals, popular culture and women's bodies (Haraway, 1 989) ,
we believe our duty is to extirpate ourselves from those horrible mixtures
as forcibly as possible by no longer confusing what pertains to mere
social preoccupations and what pertains to the real nature of things.
4.4 Anthroplog Comes Home from the Tropic
When anthropology comes home from the tropics in order to rejoin the
anthropology of the modern world that is ready and waiting, it does so at
frst with caution, not to say with pusillanimity. At frst, it thinks it can
apply its methods only when Westerners mix up signs and things the way
savage thought does. It will therefore look for what most resembles its
traditional terrains as defned by the External Great Divide. To be sure, it
has to sacrifce exoticism, but not at great cost, since anthropology
maintains its critical distance by studying only the margins and fractures
of rationality, or the realms beyond rationality. Popular medicine,
witchcraft in the Bocage (Favret-Saada, 1 980) , peasant life in the shadow
of nuclear power plants (Zonabend, 1 989) , the representations ordinary
people have of technical risks (Douglas, 1 983) - all these can be excellent
feld study topics, because the question of Nature - that is, of science - is
not yet raised.
However, the great repatriation cannot stop there. In fact, by
sacrifcing exoticism, the ethnologist loses what constituted the very
originality of her research as opposed to the scattered studies of
sociologists, economists, psychologists or historians. In the tropics, the
anthropologist did not settle for studying the margins of other cultures
(Geertz, 1 971 ) . If she remained marginal by vocation and method, and
out of necessity, she nevertheless claimed to be reconstituting the centre
of those cultures: their belief system, their technologies, their ethno­
sciences, their power plays, their economies - in short, the totality of
their existence (Mauss, [ 1 923] 1 967) . If she comes back home but limits
herself to studying the marginal aspects of her own culture, she loses all
the hard-won advantages of anthropology. For example Marc Auge
when he resided among the lagoon-dwellers of the Ivory Coast, sought to
understand the entire social phenomenon revealed by sorcery (Auge,
1 975) . His marginality did not hinder him from grasping the full social
fabric of Alladian culture. But back at home he has limited himself to
studying the most superfcial aspects of the metro (Auge, 1 986) ,
interpreting some graffti on the walls of subway corridors, intimidated
this time by the evidence of his own marginality in the face of Western
ANTHROPOLOGY COMES HOME FROM THE TROPICS 1 01
economics, technologies and science. A symmetrical Marc Auge would
have studied the sociotechnological network of the metro itself: its
engineers as well as its drivers, its directors and its clients, the employer­
State, the whole shebang - simply doing at home what he had always
done elsewhere. Western ethnologists cannot limit themselves to the
periphery; otherwise, still asymmetrical, they would show boldness
toward others, timidity toward themselves. Back home anthropology
need not become the marginal discipline of the margins, picking up the
crumbs that fall from the other disciplines' banquet table.
In order to achieve such freedom of movement and tone, however, one
has to be able to view the two Great Divides in the same way, and
consider them both as one particular defnition of our world and its
relationships with the others. Now these Divides do not defne us any
better than they defne others; they are no more an instrument of
knowledge than i s the Constitution alone, or modern temporality alone
(see Section 3. 7) . To become symmetrical, anthropology needs a
complete overhaul and intellectual retooling so that it can get around
both Divides at once by believing neither in the radical distinction
between humans and nonhumans at home, nor in the total overlap of
knowledge and society elsewhere.
Let us imagine an ethnologist who goes out to the tropics and takes
along with her the Internal Great Divide. In her eyes, the people she
studies continually confuse knowledge of the world - which the
investigator, as a good scientistic Westerner, possesses as her birthright ­
and the requirements of social functioning. The tribe that greets her thus
has only one vision of the world, only one representation of Nature. To
go back to the expression Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim made
famous, this tribe projects its own social categories on to Nature
( Durkheim and Mauss, [ 1 903] 1 967; Haudricourt, 1 962) . When our
ethnologist explains to her informers that they must be more careful to
separate the world as it is from the social representation they provide for
it, they are scandalized or nonplussed. The ethnologist sees in their rage
and their misunderstanding the very proof of their premodern obsession.
The dualism in which she lives - humans on one side, nonhumans on the
other, signs over here, things over there - is intolerable to them. For
social reasons, our ethnologist concludes, this culture requires a monist
attitude. 'We traffc in ideas; [the savage mind] hoards them up' (Levi­
Strauss, [ 1 962] 1966, p. 267) .
But let us suppose now that our ethnologist returns to her homeland
and tries to dissolve the Internal Great Divide. And let us suppose that
through a series of happy accidents she sets out to analyze one tribe
among others - for example, scientifc researchers or engineers ( Knorr­
Cetina, 1 992). The situation turns out to be reversed, because now she
1 02 RELTIVISM
applies the lessons of monism she thinks she has learned from her earlier
experience. Her tribe of scientists claims that i n the end they are
completely separating their knowledge of the world from the necessities
of politics and morality (Traweek, 1 988) . In the observer's eyes,
however, this separation is never very visible, or is itself only the by­
product of a much more mixed activity, some tinkering in and out of the
laboratory. Her i nformers claim that they have access to Nature, but the
ethnographer sees perfectly well that they have access only to a vision, a
representation of Nature that she herself cannot distinguish neatly from
politics and social interests (Pickering, 1 980) . This tribe, like the earlier
one, projects its own social categories on to Nature; what is new is that i t
pretends i t has not done so. When the ethnologist explains to her
informers that they cannot separate Nature from the social representa­
tion they have formed of it, they are scandalized or nonplussed. Our
ethnologist sees in their rage and incomprehension the very proof of their
modern obsession. The monism in which she now lives - humans are
always mixed up with nonhumans - is intolerable to them. For social
reasons, our ethnologist concludes, Western scientists require a dualist
attitude.
'Us for Us' 'Them for Us'
2 VWD
BY "US"
VWD
3 BY "TEM"
'Us for Them'
'Them for Them'
Figure 4. 3 Them and Us
However, her double conclusion is incorrect, for she has not really
heard what her informers were saying. The goal of anthropology is not to
scandalize twice over, or to provoke incomprehension twice in a row: the
THERE ARE NO CULTURES
101
frst time by exporting the Internal Great Divide and imposing dualism
on cultures that reject it; the second time by cancelling the External Great
Divide and imposing monism on a culture, our own - that rejects it
absolutely. Symmetrical anthropology must realize that the two Great
Divides do not describe reality - our own as well as that of others - but
defne the particular way Westerners had of establishing their relations
with others as long as they felt modern. 'We' , however, do not
distinguish between Nature and Society more than 'They' make them
overlap. If we take into account the networks that we allow to proliferate
beneath the offcial part of our Constitution they look a lot like the
networks in which 'They' say they live. Premoderns are said never to
distinguish beween signs and things, but neither do 'We' (Figure 4. 3. 3
and the bottom of 4. 3. 1 look very much alike) . If, through an acrobatic
thought experiment, we could go further and ask 'Them' to try to map on
to their own networks our strange obsession with dichotomies and to try
to imagine, in their own terms, what it could mean to have a pure Nature
and a pure Society they would draw, with extreme diffculty, a
provisional map in which Nature and Society would barely escape from
the networks (Figure 4. 3. 4) . But what does this picture represent, this
picture in which Nature and Culture appear to be redistributed among
the networks and to escape from them only fuzzily as i f in dotted lines ? It
is exactly our world as we now see it through nonmodern eyes! It is
exactly the picture I have tried to offer from the beginning, in which the
upper and lower halves of the Constitution gradually merge. Premoderns
are like us. Once they are considered symmetrically, they might offer a
better analysis of the Westerners than the modernist anthropology
offered of the premoderns! Or, more exactly, we can now drop entirely
the 'Us' and 'Them' dichotomy, and even the distinction between
moderns and premoderns. We have both always built communities of
natures and societies. There is only one, symmetrical, anthropology.
4.5 There Are No Culture
Let us suppose that anthropology, having come home from the tropics,
sets out to retool itself by occupying a triply symmetrical position. It uses
the same terms to explain truths and errors (this is the frst principle of
symmetry) ; it studies the production of humans and nonhumans
simultaneously (this is the principle of generalized symmetry) ; fnally, it
refrains from making any a priori declarations as to what might
distinguish Westerners from Others. To be sure, i t loses exoticism, but it
gains new felds of study that allow it to analyze the central mechanism of
all collectives, including the ones to which Westerners belong. It loses its
lo
RELTIVISM
exclusive attachment to cultures alone - or to cultural dimensions alone
- but it gains a priceless acquisition, natures. The two positions I have
been staking out since the beginning of this essay - the one the
ethnologist is now occupying effortlessly, and the one the analyst of the
sciences was striving toward with great diffculty - can now be
superimposed. Network analysis extends a hand to anthropology, and
offers it the job that has been ready and waiting.
The question of relativism is already becoming less diffcult. If science
as conceived along the epistemologists' lines made the problem insoluble,
it suffces, as is often the case, to change the conception of scientifc
practices in order to dispel the artifcial diffculties. Wat reason
complicates, networks explicate. It is the peculiar trait of Westerners that
they have imposed, by their offcial Constitution, the total separation of
humans and nonhumans - the Internal Great Divide - and have thereby
artifcially created the scandal of the others. 'How can one be a Persian?'
How can one not establish a radical difference beteen universal Nature
and relative culture? But the ver notion of culture is an artifact created
by bracketing Nature off. Cultures - different or universal - do not exist,
any more than Nature does. Tere are only natres-cultres, and these
offer the only possible basis for comparison. As soon as we take practices
of mediation as well as practices of purifcation into account, we discover
that the moderns do not separate humans from nonhumans any more
than the 'others' totally superimpose sigs and things.
I can now compare the forms of relativism according to whether they
do or do not take into account the construction of natures as well.
Absolute relativism presupposes cultures that are separate and incom­
mensurable and cannot be ordered in any hierarchy; there is no use
talking about it, since it brackets off Nature. As for cultural relativism,
which is more subtle, Nature comes into play, but in order to exist it does
not presuppose any scientifc work, any society, any construction, any
mobilization, · any network. It is Nature revisited and corrected by
epistemology, for which scientifc practice still remains off camera, hors
champ. Within this tradition, the cultures are thus distributed as so many
more or less accurate viewpoints on that unique Nature. Certain societies
see it 'as through a glass darkly', others see it through thick fog, still others
under clear skies. Rationalists will insist on the common aspects of all
these viewpoints; relativists will insist on the irresistible distortion that
social structures impose on all perception. The former will be undone if it
can be shown that cultures do not superimpose their categories; the latter
will lose ground if it can be proved that the categories are superimposed
(Hollis and Lukes, 1 982; Wilson, 1 970).
In practice, however, as soon as Nature comes into play without being
attached to a particular culture, a third model is always secretly used : a
THERE ARE NO CULTURES lO
ABSOLUT RELATSM
Culture without hierarchy
and without contacts,
all incommensurable;
Nature is bracketed
CULTURAL RELATSM
Nature is present but outside cultures;
cultures all have a more or less precis
point of view toward Nature
Soiety
A
1
(soiety
part)
Nature Pole Subject/oiety
Pole
PARTCULAR UNERSAUSM
One of the cultures (A) has
a privileged access to Nature
which sts it apart fom the others
SYMMETCAL ANOPLOY
All the collecives similarly constitute
natures and cultures; only the
scale of the mobilization varies
Figre 4.4 Relativism and universalism
type of universalism that I would call 'particular'. One society - and it
is always the Wester one - defnes the general framework of Nature
with respect to which the others are situated. Tis is Levi-Strauss's
solution: he distinguishes Wester society, which has a specifc inter­
pretation of Nature, from that Nature itself, miraculously known to our
society. The frst half of the argument allows for modest relativism (we
are just one interpretation among others), but the · second permits the
surreptitious return of arrogant universalism - we remain absolutely
different. In Levi-Strauss's eyes, however, there is no contradiction
between the to halves, precisely because our Constitution, and it alone,
allows us to distinguish society A g made up of humans, from society A 2,
composed of nonhumans but forever removed from the frst one! The
1 0
RELTIVISM
contradiction stands out today only in the eyes of symmetrical
anthropology. This latter model is the common stock of the other two,
whatever the relativists (who never relativize anything but cultures) may
say.
The relativists have never been convincing on the subject of the
equality of cultures, since they limit their consideration precisely to
cultures. And Nature? According to them, it is the same for all, since
universal science defnes it. In order to get out of this contradiction, they
then either have to limit all peoples to a representation of the world by
locking them up for ever in the prison of their own societies or,
conversely, they have to reduce all scientifc results to products of local
and contingent social constructions in order to deny science any
universality. But to imagine billions of people imprisoned in distorted
views of the world since the beginning of time is as diffcult as it is to
imagine neutrinos and quasars, DNA and universal gravitation, as
Texan, British or Burgundian social productions. The two responses are
equally absurd, and that is why the great debates over relativism never
lead anywhere. It is as impossible to universalize nature as it is to reduce
it to the narrow framework of cultural relativism alone.
The solution appears along with the dissolution of the artifact of
cultures. All natures-cultures are similar in that they simultaneously
construct humans, divinities and nonhumans. None of them inhabits a
world of signs or symbols arbitrarily imposed on an external Nature
known to us alone. None of them - and especially not our own - lives in
a world of things. All of them sort out what will bear signs and what will
not. If there is one thing we all do, it is surely that we construct both our
human collectives and the nonhumans that surround them. In constitut­
ing their collectives, some mobilize ancestors, lions, fxed stars, and the
coagulated blood of sacrifce; in constructing ours, we mobilize genetics,
zoology, cosmology and hrmatology. 'But those are sciences! ' the
moderns will exclaim, horrifed at this confusion. 'They have to escape
the representations of society to the greatest possible extent! ' Yet the
presence of the sciences does not suffce to break the symmetry; such is
the discovery of comparative anthropology. From cultural relativism we
move on to 'natural' relativism. The frst led to absurdities; the second
will allow us to fall back on common sense.
4.6 Sizeable Diferences
Still, the problem of relativism has not been solved. Only the confusion
resulting from the bracketing off of Nature has been provisionally
eliminated. We now fnd ourselves confronting productions of natures-
SIZEABLE DIFFERENCES
107
cultures that I am calling collectives - as different, it should be recalled,
from the society construed by sociologists - men-among-themselves - as
they are from the Nature imagined by epistemologists - things-in­
themselves. In the view of comparative anthropology these collectives are
all alike, as I have said, in that they distribute both what will later, after
stabilization, become elements of Nature and elements of the social
world. No one has ever heard of a collective that did not mobilize heaven
and earth in its composition, along with bodies and souls, property and
law, gods and ancestors, powers and beliefs, beasts and fctional beings .
. . . Such is the ancient anthropological matrix, the one we have never
abandoned.
But this common matrix defnes only the point of departure of
comparative anthropology. All collectives are different from one another
in the way they divide up beings, in the properties they attribute to them,
in the mobilization they consider acceptable. These differences constitute
countless small divides, and there is no longer a Great Divide to take one
apart from all the others. Among these small divides, there is one that we
are now capable of recognizing as such, one that has distinguished the
offcial version of certain segments of certain collectives for three
centuries. This is our Constitution, which attributes the role of
nonhumans to one set of entities, the role of citizens to another, the
function of an arbitrary and powerless God to a third and cuts off the
work of mediation from that of purifcation. In itself this Constitution
does not separate us signifcantly from others, since it is added to the long
list of di fferential traits that defne us in the eyes of comparative
anthropology. Those traits could be transcribed as a set of entries in the
huge data base of anthropology departments - which would then simply
have to be rechristened 'Human and Nonhuman Relations Area Files' !
In our distribution of variable-geometry entities, we are as different
from the Achuar as they are from the Tapirape or the Arapesh. No more
so, and no less. Such a comparison, however, respects only the conjoined
production of one nature-culture, which is only one aspect of collectives.
It may satisf our sense of j ustice, but in various ways it encounters the same
diffculty as absolute relativism, since it immediately abolishes differences by
rendering them all equally different. It does not allow us to account for that
other aspect of what I have been pursuing since the beginning of this essay ­
the scope of the mobilization, a scope that issimultaneously the
consequence of modernism and the cause of its demise.
This is because the principle of symmetry aims not only at establishing
equality - which is only the way to set the scale at zero - but at
registering di fferences -that is, in the fnal analysis, asymmetries -and at
understanding the practical means that allow some collectives to
1 0
RELTIVISM
dominate others. Even though they might be similar in the principle of
their co-production, collectives may differ in size. At the beginning of the
weighing-in process, a nuclear power plant, or a hole in the ozone layer,
or a map of the human genome, or a rubber-tyred metro train, or a
satellite network, or a cluster of galaxies, weighs no more than a wood
fre, or the sky that may fall on our heads, or a genealogy, or a cart, or
spirits visible in the heavens, or a cosmogony. As I said above, this is not
yet enough to break the symmetry. In each case these quasi-objects trace,
with their hesitant trajectories, both forms of nature and forms of
society. When, however, the weighing is complete, the frst lot outlines an
entirely different collective from the second. These new differences,
measurable only because the scales have frst been calibrated by the
principle of symmetry, have to be recognized as well.
In other words, the differences are sizeable, but they are only of size.
They are important ( and the error of cultural relativism is that it ignores
them) , but they are not disproportionate (and the error of universalism is
that it sets them up as a Great Divide) . The collectives are all similar,
except for their size, like the successive helixes of a single spiral. The fact
that one of the collective needs ancestors and fxed stars while another
one, more eccentric, needs genes and quasars, is explained by the
dimensions of the collective to be held together. A much larger number of
objects requires a much larger number of subjects. A much greater degree
of subjectivity requires a much greater degree of objectivity. If you want
Hobbes and his descendants, you have to take Boyle and his as well. I f
you want the Leviathan, you have to have the air pump too. This i s the
stance that makes it possible to resp
e
ct the differences (the dimensions of
the helixes do vary) while at the same time respecting the similarities (all
collectives mix human and nonhuman entities together in the same way) .
Relativists, who strive to put all cultures on an equal footing by viewing
all of them as equally arbitrary codings of a natural world whose
production is unexplained, do not succeed in respecting the efforts
collectives make to dominate one another. And universalists on the other
hand, are incapable of understanding the deep fraternity of collectives,
since they are obliged to offer access to Nature to Westerners alone, and
to imprison all others in social categories from which they will escape
only by becoming scientifc, modern and Westernized.
Sciences and technologies are remarkable not because they are true or
effcient - they gain these properties in addition, and for reasons entirely
di fferent from those the epistemologists provide (Latour, 1 987) - but
because they multiply the nonhumans enrolled in the manufacturing of
collectives and because they make the community that we form with
these beings a more intimate one. The extension of the spiral, the scope of
the enlistments it will bring about, the ever-increasing lengths to which it
ARCHIMEDES' COUP O'TAT
1 0
goes to recruit these beings, are what characterize the modern sciences,
not some epistemological break that would cut them off for ever from
their prescientifc past. Modern knowledge and power are different not in
that they would escape at last the tyranny of the social, but in that they
add many more hybrids in order to recompose the social /ink and extend
its scale. Not only the air pump but also microbes, electricity, atoms,
stars, second-degree equations, automatons and robots, miJ� and
pistons, the unconscious and neurotransmitters. At each turn in the
spiral, a new translation of quasi-obj ects gives new impetus to the
redefnition of the social body, of subj ects and objects alike. Sciences and
technologies, for 'Us', do not reflect society any more than Nature refects
social structures for 'Them' . No one is fddling with mirrors. It is a matter
of constructing collectives themselves on scales that grow larger and
larger. There are indeed differences, but they are differences in size. There
are no differences in nature - still less in culture.
4.7 Archimee' coup d'ett
Wat explains this new asymmetry which the principle of symmetry,
generalized, allows us to detect? The relative size of collectives will be
profoundly modifed by the enlistment of a particular type of non­
humans. To help us understand this variation in size, there is no more
striking emblem than an impossible experiment recounted by Plutarch -
Michel Authier has called it 'the canon of the savant' ( Authier, 1 989) ,
and it is as striking as Boyle's ai r pump:
Archimedes, who was a kinsman and friend of King Hiero, wrote to him
that with any given force it was possible to move any given weight; and
emboldened, as we are told, by the strength of his demonstration, he
declared that if there were another Earth, and he could go to it, he could
move this one. Hiero was astonished and begged him to put his proposition
into execution, and show him some great weight moved by a slight force.
Archimedes therefore fxed upon a three-masted merchantman of the royal
feet, which had been draged ashore by the great labours of many men,
and after putting on board many passengers and the customary freight, he
seated himself at a distance from her, and without any great effort, but
quietly setting in motion with his hand a system of compound pulleys,
drew her towards him smoothly and evenly, as though she were gliding
through the water. Amazed at this, then, and comprehending the power of
his art, the King persuaded Archimedes to prepare for him offensive and
defensive engines to be used in every kind of siege warfare. ( Plutarch,
Marcellus' Life, xiv, 7-9, transl. Bernadotte Perrin)
1 10 RE
LTIVISM
Not only did Archimedes overturn power relations through the inter­
mediary of the compound pulley, he also reversed political relations by
offering the king a real mechanism for making one man physically
stronger than a multitude. Up to that time, the Sovereign represented the
masses whose spokesperson he was, but he had no greater strength as a
result. Archimedes procured a different principle of composition for the
Leviathan by transforming the relation of political representation into a
relation of mechanical proportion. Without geometry and statics, the
Sovereign had to reckon with social forces that infnitely overpowered
hi m. But if you add the lever of technology to the play of political
representation alone, then you can become stronger than the multitude;
you can attack and defend yourself. It is not surprising that Hiero was
'amazed' at the power of technology (sunnoesas tes tecnes ten dunamin) .
It had not occurred to him, until then, t o bring political power into
relation with the compound pulley.
But Plutarch's lesson goes still further. This frst moment through
which Archimedes makes ( physical) force commensurable with (political)
force owing to the relation of proportion between large and small,
between the reduced model and the life-size application, is coupled with a
second, even more decisive moment:
And yet, Archimedes [after equipping Syracuse with war machines]
possessed such a lofty spirit, so profound a soul, and such a wealth of
scientifc theory, that although his inventions had won for him a name and
fame for superhuman sagacity, he would not consent to leave behind him
any treatise on this subject, but regarding the work of an engineer and
every art that ministers to the needs of life as ignoble and vulgar, he
devoted his earnest efforts only to those studies. the subtlety and charm of
which are not affected by the claims of necessity. (Plutarch, xvii, 45)
Mathematical demonstrations remain incommensurable with lowly
manual trades, vulgar politics, mere applications. Archimedes is divine,
the power of mathematics is supernatural. All vestiges of composition,
connection, alliance, liaison between the two moments are now effaced.
Even treatises have to disappear without trace. The frst moment
produced an unknown hybrid thanks to which the weaker became the
stronger through the alliance he established between political forms and
the laws of proportion. The second moment purifes politics and science,
the empire of men and the empyrean of mathematics, and renders them
incomparable (Serres, 1 989) . The Archimedean point is to be sought not
in the frst moment, but in the conjunction of the two: how are we to
undertake politics with new means rendered suddenly commensurable,
ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM, RELATIVIST RELATIVISM
I l l
while rejecting any link between absolutely incommensurable activities ?
The balance sheet is doubly positive: Hiero defends Syracuse with the
machines whose dimensions we know how to calculate through
proportions, and the collective also grows proportionally; but the origin
of this variation in scale, of this commensurability, disappears for ever,
leaving the empyrean of mathematics as a resource of fresh forces, always
available, never visible. Yes, science is indeed politics pursued by other
means, means that are powerful only because they remain radically other
( Latour, 1 990b) .
By learning of Archimedes' coup (or rather, Plutarch's) we identify the
entry point of a new type of nonhumans into the very fabric of the
collective. It is not a matter of trying to fnd out how geometry 'refects'
Hiero's interests, or how Syracusan society 'is constrained' by the laws of
geometry. A new collective is constituted by enlisting geometry and
denying that it has done so. Society cannot explain geometry, since it is a
new geometry-based society that begins to defend the walls of Syracuse
against Marcellus. Politics-based society is an artifact obtained by the
elimination of walls and levers, pulleys and swords, j ust as the social
context of seventeenth-century England could be obtained only by the
preliminary exclusion of the air pump and the nascent science of physics.
It is only when we remove the nonhumans churned up by the collective
that the residue, which we call society, becomes incomprehensible,
because its size, its durability and its solidity no longer have a cause. One
might as well sustain the Leviathan with naked citizens and the social
contract alone, without air pumps, sword, blade, invoices, computers,
fles and palaces (Calion and Latour, 1 98 1 ; Latour, 1 988c; Strum and
Latour, 1 987) . The social link does not hold without the objects that the
other branch of the Constitution permits us both to mobilize and to
render forever incommensurable with the social world.
4.8 Absolute Relativism and Relativist Relativism
The question of relativism is not closed, however, even if we take into
account simultaneously the profound likeness of natures-cultures - the
old anthropological matrix - and the di fference in size, the scope of the
mobilization of these collectives. In fact, as I have indicated several times,
size is related to the modern Constitution. It is precisely because the
Constitution guarantees that quasi-obj ects will be absolutely and
irreversibly transformed, either into objects of external nature or into
subj ects of society, that the mobilization of these quasi-obj ects can take
on an unprecedented amplitude. Symmetrical anthropology thus has to
I ll RELTIVISM
do justice to this peculiarity, without adding to it any epistemological
break, any Great Metaphysical Divide, any difference between prelogical
and logical societies, 'hot' ones and 'cold' ones, between an Archime­
des who meddles in politics and a divine Archimedes with his head in the
celestial Heavens of Ideas. The whole challenge of the exercise is to
generate a maximum of differences by a minimum of means ( Goody,
1 977; Latour, 1 990a) .
Moderns do differ from premoderns by this single trai t: they refuse to
conceptualize quasi-objects as such. In their eyes, hybrids present the
horror that must be avoided at all costs by a ceaseless, even maniacal
purifcation. By itself, this difference in constitutional representation
would not matter very much, since it would not suffce to set moderns
apart from others. There are as many purifcation processes as there are
collectives. But the machine for creating differences is triggered by the
refusal to conceptualize quasi-objects, because this very refusal leads to
the uncontrollable proliferation of a certain type of being: the object,
constructor of the social, expelled from the social world, attributed to a
transcendent world that is, however, not divine - a world that produces,
in contrast, a foating subject, bearer of law and morality. Boyle's air
pump, Pasteur's microbes, Archimedes' pulleys, are such objects. These
new nonhumans possess miraculous properties because they are at one
and the same time both social and asocial, producers of natures and
constructors of subjects. They are the tricksters of comparative anthro­
pology. Through thi s opening, sciences and technologies will emerge in
society in such a mysterious way that this miracle will force Westerners
to see themselves as completely different from others. The frst miracle
gives rise to a second (why don't the others do the same ?) , then a third
(why are we so exceptional ? ) . This feature generates a cascade of small
differences that will be collected, summarized and amplifed by the Great
Divide, the great narrative of the West, set radically apart from all
cultures.
Once this feature has been pinpointed, and thereby neutralized,
relativism offers no more signifcant diffculties. Nothing keeps us from
reopening the question of how to establish relationships among
collectives by defning two relativisms that have hitherto been confated.
The frst is absolute; the second is relative. The frst locked cultures away
in exoticism and strangeness, because it accepted the universalists'
viewpoint while refusing to rally round it: if no common, unique and
transcendental measuring instrument exists, then all languages are
untranslatable, all intimate emotions incommunicable, all rites equally
respectable, all paradigms incommensurable. There is no arguing about
tastes or colours. Whereas universalists declare that this common
ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM. RELATIVIST RELATIVISM
I l l
yardstick does exist, absolute relativists are delighted that there is no
such thing. Their attitudes may differ, but both groups agree in asserting
that the reference to some absolute yardstick is essential to their dispute.
This amounts to not taking the practice of relativism, or even the word
relativism, very seriously. To establish relations; to render them
commensurable; to regulate measuring instruments; to institute
metrological chains; to draw up dictionaries of correspondences; to
discuss the compatibility of norms and standards; to extend calibrated
networks ; to set up and negotiate valorimeters - these are some of the
meanings of the word ' relativism' ( Latour, 1 988d) . Absolute relativism,
like its enemy brother rationalism, forgets that measuring instruments
have to be set up. By ignoring the work of instrumentation, by confating
science with nature, one can no longer understand anything about the
notion of commensurability itself. They neglect even more thoroughly
the enormous efforts Westerners have made to 'take the measure' of
other peoples, to ' size them up' by rendering them commensurable and
by creating measuring standards that did not exist before - via military
and scientifc expeditions.
But if we are to understand this task of measuring, we need to reinforce
the noun with the adjective 'relativist', which compensates for the noun's
apparent foolishness. Relativist relativism restores the compatibility that
was assumed to have been lost. To be sure, relativist relativism has to
abandon what constituted the common argument of the universalists as
well as the earliest cultural relativists - that is, the word 'absolute'.
Instead of stopping midway, it continues to the end and rediscovers, in
the form of work and montage, practice and controversy, conquest and
domination, the process of establishing relations. A little relativism
distances us from the universal; a lot brings us back, but it is a universal
in networks that has no more mysterious properties.
The universalists defned a single hierarchy. The absolute relativists
made all hierarchies equal. The relativist relativists, more modest but
more empirical, point out what instruments and what chains serve to
create asymmetries and equalities, hierarchies and di fferences (Calion,
1 992) . Worlds appear commensurable or incommensurable only to those
who cling to measured measures. Yet all measures, in hard and soft
science alike, are also measuring measures, and they construct a
commensurability that did not exist before their own calibration.
Nothing is, by itself, either reducible or irreducible to anything else.
Never by itself, but always through the mediation of another. How can
one claim that worlds are untranslatable, when translation is the very
soul of the process of relating? How can one say that worlds are
dispersed, when there are hundreds of institutions that never stop
totalizing them? Anthropolog itself - one discipline among many
. . . RELTIVI SM
others, one institution among many others - participates in the work of
relating, of constructing catalogues and museums, of sending missions,
expeditions and investigators, maps, questionnaires, and fling systems
( Copans and Jamin, 1 978; Fabian, 1 983; Stocking, 1983, 1 986) .
Ethnology i s one of those measuring measures that resolves the question
of relativism in practical terms by constructing a certain commensurab­
ility. If the question of relativism is insoluble, relativist relativism- or, to
put it more elegantly, relation ism - presents no diffculty in principle. If
we cease to be completely modern, relationism will become one of the
essential resources for relating the collectives that will no longer be
targets for modernization. Relationism will serve as an organon for
planetary negotiations over the relative universals that we are groping to
construct.
4.9 Small Mistakes Concerning the Disenchantment of the
World
We are indeed different from others, but we must not situate the
differences where the now-closed question of relativism had located
them. As collectives, we are all brothers. Except in the matter of
dimension, which is itself caused by small differences in the distribution
of entities, we can recognize a continuous gradient between premoderns
and nonmoderns. Unfortunately, the diffculty of relativism does not
arise only from the bracketing off of Nature. It stems also from the
related belief that the modern world is truly disenchanted. It is not only
out of arrogance that Westerners think they are radically different from
others, it is also out of despair, and by way of self-punishment. They like
to frighten themselves with their own destiny. Their voices quaver when
they contrast Barbarians to Greeks, or the Centre to the Periphery, or
when they celebrate the Death of God, or the Death of Man, the
European Krisis, imperialism, anomie, or the end of the civilizations that
we now know are mortal. Why do we get so much pleasure out of being
so different not only from others but from our own past? What
psychologist will be subtle enough to explain our morose delight in being
in perpetual crisis and in putting an end to history? Why do we like to
transform small di fferences in scale among collectives into huge dramas ?
In order to bypass completely the modern pathos that prevents us from
recognizing the fraternity of collectives, and thus to sort them more
freely, comparative anthropology has to measure these effects of size
with precision. Now the modern Constitution requires that the scaling
effects of our collectives be confused with their causes, which the
Constitution cannot indicate without ceasing to be operative. Rightly
SMALL MISTAKES
1 1 5
astounded by the size of the effects, the moderns believe that they require
prodigious causes. And as the only causes recognized by the Constitution
appear miraculous because they are reversed, the moderns clearly have to
imagine themselves as di fferent from ordinary humanity. In their hands,
the uprooted, acculturated, Americanized, scientifzed, technologized
Westerner becomes a Spock-like mutant. Haven't we shed enough tears
over the disenchantment of the world? Haven't we frightened ourselves
enough with the poor European who is thrust into a cold soulless
cosmos, wandering on an inert planet in a world devoid of meaning?
Haven't we shivered enough before the spectacle of the mechanized
proletarian who is subj ect to the absolute domination of a mechanized
capitalism and a Kafaesque bureaucracy, abandoned smack in the
middle of language games, lost in cement and formica ? Haven't we felt
sorry enough for the consumer who leaves the driver's seat of his car only
to move to the sofa in the T room where he is manipulated by the
powers of the media and the postindustrialized society? ! How we do love
to wear the hair shirt of the absurd, and what even greater pleasure we
take in postmodern nonsense!
However, we have never abandoned the old anthropological matrix.
We have never stopped building our collectives with raw materials made
of poor humans and humble nonhumans. How could we be capable of
disenchanting the world, when every day our laboratories and our
factories populate the world with hundreds of hybrids stranger than
those of the day before? Is Boyle's air pump any less strange than the
Arapesh spirit houses (Tuzin, 1980) ? Does it contribute any less to
constructing seventeenth-century England? How could we be vi ctims of
reductionism, when each scientist multiplies new entities by the
thousands in order to be reductionist for a few of them? How could we
be rationalists, when we still don't see beyond the tip of our own noses?
How could we be materialists, when every matter we invent possesses
new properties that no single matter allows us to unify (Dagognet,
1 989) ? How could we be victims of a total technological system, when
machines are made of subj ects and never succeed in settling into more or
less stable systems (Kidder, 198 1 ; Latour, 1 992a) ? How could we be
chilled by the cold breath of the sciences, when the sciences are hot and
fragile, human and controversial, full of thinking reeds and of subj ects
who are themselves inhabited by things (Pickering, 1 992) ?
The error the moderns make about themselves is easy enough to
understand, once symmetry has been reestablished and once both the
work of purifcation and the work of translation have been taken into
account. The moderns confused products with processes. They believed
that the production of bureaucratic rationalization presupposed rational
bureaucrats; that the production of universal science depended on
1 1 6 RELTIVISM
universalist scientists; that the production of effective technologies led to
the effectiveness of engineers; that the production of abstraction was
itself abstract; that the production of formalism was itself formal. We
might j ust as well say that a refnery produces oil in a refned manner, or
that a dairy produces butter in a butterly way! The words 'science',
'technology', 'organization', 'economy', ' abstraction', 'formalism',
and ' universality' designate many real effects that we must indeed respect
and for which we have to account. But in no case do they designate the
causes of these same effects. These words are good nouns, but they make
lousy adjectives and terrible adverbs. Science does not produce itself
scientifcally any more than technology produces itself technologically or
economy economically. Scientists in the lab, Boyle's descendants, know
this perfectly well, but as soon as they set out to reflect on what they do,
they pronounce the words that sociologists and epistemologists, Hobbes's
descendants, put in their mouths.
The paradox of the moderns (and the antimoderns) is that from the
outset they have accepted massive cognitive or psychological explana­
tions in order to explain equally massive effects, whereas in all other
scientifc domains they seek small causes for large effects. Reductionism
has never been applied to the modern world, whereas it was supposed to
have been applied to everything! Our own mythology consists in
imagining ourselves as radically different, even before searching out
small differences and small divides. However, as soon �s the double
Great Divide disappears, this mythology unravels as well. As soon as the
work of mediation is taken into account simultaneously with the work of
purifcation, ordinary humanity and ordinary inhumanity must come
back i n. To our great surprise, we then discover that we know very little
about what causes sciences, technologies, organizations and economies.
Open books on social science and epistemology, and you will see how
they use the adjectives and adverbs 'abstract', 'rational' , 'systematic',
'universal', 'scientifc', 'organized', 'total', 'complex' . Look for the
ones that try to explain the nouns ' abstraction', 'rationality', 'system',
' universal ' , 'science', 'organization', 'totality', 'complexity', without ever
using the corresponding adjectives, or the equivalent adverbs, and you
will be lucky to fnd a dozen. Paradoxically, we know more about the
Achuar, the Arapesh or the Alladians than we know about ourselves. As
long as small local causes lead to local differences, we are able to follow
them. Why would we no longer be capable of following the thousand
paths, with their strange topology, that lead from the local to the global
and return to the local ? Is anthropology forever condemned to be
reduced to territories, unable to follow networks ?
EVEN A LONGER NETORK REMAINS LOCAL 1 1 7
4. 1 0 Even a Longer Network Remains Lcal at All Points
To take the precise measure of our differences without reducing them as
relativism used to do, and without exaggerating them as modernizers
tend to do, let us say that the moderns have simply invented longer
networks by enlisting a certain type of nonhumans. The network­
lengthening process had been interrupted in earlier periods, because it
would have threatened the maintenance of territories (Deleuze and
Guattari, [ 1 972] 1 983) . But by multiplying the hybrids, half object and
half subj ect, that we call machines and facts, collectives have changed
their topography. Since this enlistment of new beings had enormous
scaling effects by causing relations to vary from local to global, but we
continue to think about them in terms of the old opposite categories of
universal and contingent, we tend to transform the lengthened networks
of Westerners into systematic and global totalities. To dispel this
mystery, it suffces to follow the unaccustomed paths that allow this
variation in scale, and to look at networks of facts and laws rather as one
looks at gas lines or sewage pipes.
The secular explanation of the effects of size proper to the West is easy
to grasp in technological networks (Bij ker and others, 1 987) . If relativism
had been applied there frst, i t would have had no trouble understanding
this relative universal that is its greatest claim to glory. Is a railroad local
or global ? Neither. It is local at all points, since you always fnd sleepers
and railroad workers, and you have stations and automatic ticket
machines scattered along the way. Yet it is global, since it takes you from
Madrid to Berlin or from Brest to Vladivostok. However, it is not
universal enough to be able to take you j ust anywhere. It 'is impossible to
reach the l i ttle Auvergnat village of Malpy by train, or the little
Staffordshire village of Market Drayton. There are continuous paths that
lead from the local to the global, from the circumstantial to the universal,
from the contingent to the necessary, only so long as the branch lines are
paid for.
The railroad model can be extended to all the technological networks
that we encounter daily. It may be that the telephone has spread
everywhere, but we still know that we can die right next to a phone line i f
we aren't plugged into an outlet and a receiver. The sewer system may be
comprehensive, but nothing guarantees that the tissue I drop on my
bedroom foor will end up there. Electromagnetic waves may be
everywhere, but I still have to have an antenna, a subscription and a
decoder if I am to get CNN ( Cable News Network) . Thus, in the case of
technological networks, we have no diffculty reconciling their local
aspect and their global dimension. They are composed of particular
places, aligned by a series of branchings that cross other places and
1 1 8 RELTIVISM
require other branchings in order to spread. Between the lines of the
network there is, strictly speaking, nothing at all : no train, no telephone,
no intake pipe, no television set. Technological networks, as the name
indicates, are nets thrown over spaces, and they retain only a few
scattered elements of those spaces. They are connected lines, not surfaces.
They are by no means comprehensive, global or systematic, even though
they embrace surfaces without covering them, and extend a very long
way. The work of relative universalization remains an easy-to-grasp
category that relationism can follow in a thoroughgoing way. Every
branching, every alignment, every connection can be documented, since
it generates tracers, and every one of them has a cost. It can be extended
almost everywhere; it can be spread out in time as well as in space, yet
without flling time and space (Stengers, 1 983) .
For ideas, knowledge, laws, and skills, however, the model of the
technological network seems inadequate to those who are highly
impressed by the effects of diffusion, those who believe what epistemol­
ogy says about the sciences. The tracers become more diffcult to follow,
their cost is no longer so well documented, and one risks losing sight of
the bumpy path that leads from the local to the global. So the ancient
philosophical category of the universal radically di fferent from the
contingent circumstances is applied to them.
It seems, then, that ideas and knowledge can spread everywhere
without cost. Certain ideas appear to be local, others global. Universal
gravitation appears to be active and present everywhere; we are
convinced of it. Boyle's laws, Mariotte's laws, Planck's constants
legislate everywhere and are constant everywhere. As for Pythagoras'
theorem and transfnite numbers, they seem so universal that they may
even escape this world here below to rejoin the works of the divine
Archimedes. It is here that the old relativism and its enemy brother
rationalism begin to show their faces, since it is in relation to these
universals, and only these, that the humble Achuar or the poor Arapesh
or the unfortunate Burgundians appear desperately contingent and
arbitrary, forever imprisoned within the narrow confnes of their regional
peculiarities and their local knowledge (Geertz, 1971 ) . If we had had
only the world-economies of the Venetian, Genoan or American
merchants, i f we had had only telephones and television, railroads and
sewers, Western domination would never have appeared as anything but
the provisional and fragile extension of some frail and tenuous networks.
But there is science, which always renews and totalizes and flls the
gaping holes left by the networks in order to turn them into sleek, unifed
surfaces that are absolutely universal. Only the idea that we have had of
science up to now rendered absolute a dominion that might have
remained relative. All the subtle pathways leading continuously from
EVEN A LONGER NETORK REMAI NS LOCAL 1 1 9
circumstances to universals have been broken off by the epistemologists,
and we have found ourselves with pitiful contingencies on one side and
necessary Laws on the other - without, of course, being able to
conceptualize their relations.
Now, as concepts, ' local' and 'global' work well for surfaces and
geometry, but very badly for networks and topology. The belief in
rationalization is a simple category mistake. One branch of mathematics
has been confused with another! The itinerary of ideas, knowledge or
facts would have been understood with no trouble if we had treated them
like technological networks ( Schaffer, 1 988, 1 991 ; Shapin and Schaffer,
1 985; Warwick, 1 992) . Fortunately, the assimilation is made easier not
only by the end of epistemology but also by the end of the Constitution,
and by the technological transformations that it authorizes without
including them. The itinerary of facts becomes as easy to follow as that of
railways or telephones, thanks to the materialization of the spirit that
thinking machines and computers allow. When information is measured
in bytes and bauds, when one subscribes to a data bank, when one can
plug into (or unplug from) a network of distributed intelligence, i t is
harder to go on picturing universal thought as a spirit hovering over the
waters (Levy, 1 990) . Reason today has more in common with a cable
television network than with Platonic ideas. It thus becomes much less
diffcult than it was in the past to see our laws and our constants, our
demonstrations and our theorems, as stabilized objects that circulate
widely, to be sure, but remain within well-laid-out metrological networks
from which they are incapable of exiting - except through branchings,
subscriptions and decodings.
To speak in popular terms about a subject that has been dealt with
largely in learned discourse, we might compare scientifc facts to frozen
fsh: the cold chain that keeps them fresh must not be interrupted,
however briefy. The universal in networks produces the same effects as
the absolute universal, but it no longer has the same fantastic causes. It is
possible to verify gravitation 'everywhere', but at the price of the relative
extension of the networks for measuring and interpreting. The air's
spring can be verifed everywhere, provided that one hooks up to an air
pump that spreads little by little throughout Europe owing to the
multiple transformations of the experimenters (Shapin and Schaffer,
1985) . Try to verify the tiniest fact, the most trivial law, the humblest
constant, without subscribing to the multiple metrological networks, to
laboratories and instruments. The Pythagorean theorem and Planck's
constant spread into schools and rockets, machines and instruments, but
they do not exit from their worlds any more than the Achuar leave their
villages. The former constitute lengthened networks, the latter territories
or loops: the difference is important and must be respected, but let us not
1 20
RELTIVISM
use it to j ustify transforming the former into universals and the latter into
localities. To be sure, the West may believe that universal gravitation is
universal even in the absence of any instrument, any calculation, any
decoding, any laboratory, j ust as the Bimin-Kuskumin of New Guinea
may believe that they comprise all of humanity, but these are respectable
beliefs that comparative anthropology is no longer obliged to share.
4. 1 1 The Lviathan i s a Skein of Networks
Just as the moderns have been unable to keep from exaggerating the
universality of their sciences ( by pulling away the subtle network of
practices, instruments and institutions that paved the way from
contingencies to necessities), symmetrically, they have been unable to do
anything but exaggerate the size and solidity of their own societies. They
thought themselves revolutionary because they invented the universality
of sciences that were torn out of local peculiarities for all time, and
because they invented gigantic rationalized organizations that broke with
all the local loyalties of the past. In so doing, they missed the originality
of their own inventions twice over: a new topology that makes i t possible
to go almost everywhere, yet without occupying anything except narrow
lines of force and a continuous hybridization between socialized objects
and societies rendered more durable through the proliferation of
nonhumans. The moderns got excited about virtues they are incapable of
possessing (rationalization), but they likewise flagellated themselves for
sins they are quite incapable of committing (rationalization again) ! In
both cases, they mistook length or connection for di fferences in level.
They thought there really were such things as people, ideas, situations
that were local and organizations, laws, rules that were global. They
believed that there were contexts and other situations that enjoyed the
mysterious property of being 'decontextualized' or 'delocalized'. And
indeed, if the intermediary network of quasi-objects is not reconstituted,
it becomes j ust as diffcult to grasp society as scientifc truth, and for the
same reasons. The mediators that have been effaced had contained
everything, while the extremes, once isolated, are no longer anything at
all.
Without the countless objects that ensured their durability as well as
their solidity, the traditional objects of social theory - empire, classes,
professions, organizations, States - become so many mysteries ( Law,
1986, 1992; Law and Fyfe, 1 988) . What, for example, is the size of IBM,
or the Red Army, or the French Mini stry of Education, or the world
market ? To be sure, these are all actors of great size, since they mobilize
hundreds of thousands or even millions of agents. Their amplitude must
THE LEVIATHAN I S A SKEI N OF NETWORKS
I ll
therefore stem from causes that absolutely surpass the small collectives of
the past. However, if we wander about inside IBM, if we follow the
chains of command of the Red Army, if we inquire in the corridors of the
Ministry of Education, if we study the process of selling and buying a bar
of soap, we never leave the local level. We are always in interaction with
four or fve people; the building superintendent always has his territory
well staked out; the directors' conversations sound j ust like those of the
employees; as for the salespeople, they go on and on giving change and
flling out their invoices. Could the macro-actors be made up of micro­
actors (Garfnkel, 1 967) ? Could IBM be made up of a series of local
interactions ? The Red Army of an aggregate of conversations in the mess
hall ? The Ministry of Education of a mountain of pieces of paper? The
world market of a host of local exchanges and arrangements ?
We rediscover the same problem as that of trains, telephones, or
universal constants. How can one be connected without being either
local or global ? Modern sociologists and economists have a hard time
posing the problem. Either they remain at the ' micro' level, that of
interpersonal contacts, or they move abruptly to the 'macro' level and no
longer deal with anything, they believe, but decontextualized and
depersonalized rationalities. The myth of the soulless, agentless
bureauracy, like that of the pure and perfect marketplace, offers the
mirror-image of the myth of universal scientifc laws. Instead of the
continual progression of an inquiry, the moderns have imposed an
ontological difference as radical as the sixteenth-century di fferentiation
between the supralunar worlds that knew neither change nor uncer­
tainty. (The same physicists had a good laugh with Galileo at that
ontological distinction - but then they rushed to reestablish it in order to
protect the laws of physics from social corruption! )
Yet there i s an Ariadne's thread that would allow us t o pass with
continuity from the local to the global, from the human to the
nonhuman. It i s the thread of networks of practices and instruments, of
documents and translations. An organization, a market, an institution,
are not supralunar objects made of a different matter from our poor local
sublunar relations (Cambrosio et al. 1990) . The only difference stems
from the fact that they are made up of hybrids and have to mobilize a
great number of objects for their description. The capitalism of Karl
Marx or Fernand Braudel is not the total capitalism of the Marxists
(Braudel, 1 985) . It is a skein of somewhat longer networks that rather
inadequately embrace a world on the basis of points that become centres
of proft and calculation. In following it step by step, one never crosses
the mysterious limes that should divide the local from the global. The
organization of American big business described by Alfred Chandler
( Chandler, 1 977, 1990) is not the Organization described by Kafka. It is
1 22 RELTIVISM
a braid of networks materialized in order slips and flow charts, local
procedures and special arrangements, which permit i t to spread to an
entire continent so long as i t does not cover that continent. One can
follow the growth of an organization in its entirety without ever
changing levels and without ever discovering 'decontextualized' rational­
ity. The very size of a totalitarian State is obtained only by the
construction of a network of statistics and calculations, of offces and
inquiries, which in no way corresponds to the fantastic topography of the
total State (Desrosieres, 1 990) . The scientifco-technological empire of
Lord Kelvin described by Norton Wise (Smith and Wise, 1 989) , or the
electricity market as described by Tom Hughes ( Hughes, 1 983) , never
require us to leave the particularities of the laboratory, the meeting room
or the control centre. Yet these 'networks of power' and these 'lines of
force' do extend across the entire world. The markets described by the
Economy of conventions are indeed regulated and global, even though
none of the causes of that regulation and that aggregation is itself either
global or total. The aggregates are not made from some substance
different from what they are aggregating (Thevenot, 1 989, 1 990). No
visible or invisible hand suddenly descends to bring order to dispersed
and chaotic individual atoms. The two extremes, local and global, are
much less interesting than the intermediary arrangements that we are
calling networks.
4. 1 2 A Perer Tate for the Magins
Just as the adjectives ' natural' and 'social' designate representations of
collectives that are neither natural nor social i n themselves, so the words
'local' and 'global' offer points of view on networks that are by nature
neither local nor global, but are more or less long and more or less
connected. What I have called modern exoticism consists in taking these
two pairs of oppositions as what defnes our world and what would set
us apart from all others. So four different regions are thus created. The
natural and the social are not composed of the same ingredients; the
global and the local are intrinsically distinct. Yet we know nothing about
the social that is not defned by what we think we know about the
natural, and vice versa. Similarly, we defne the local only by contrast
with what we think we have to attribute to the global, and vice versa. So
the strength of the error that the modern world makes about itself is now
understandable, when the two couples of opposition are paired: in the
middle there is nothing thinkable - no collective, no network, no
mediation; all conceptual resources are accumulated at the four
extremes. We poor subject-objects, we humble societies-natures, we
A PERVERSE TASTE FOR THE MARGINS
I ll
modest locals-globals, are literally quartered among ontological regions
that defne each other mutually but no longer resemble our practices.
This quartering makes it possible to unfurl the tragedy of modern man
considering hi mself as absolutely and irremediably different from all
other humanities and all other naturalities. But such a tragedy is not
inevitable, if we recall that these four terms are representations without
any direct relation to the collectives and the networks that give them
meaning. In the middle, where nothing is supposed to be happening,
there is almost everything. And at the extremes - which according to the
moderns house the origin of all forces, Nature and Society, Universality
and Locality - there is nothing except purifed agencies that serve as
constitutional guarantees for the whole.
The tragedy becomes more painful still when the antimoderns, taking
what the moderns say about themselves at face value, want to save
something from what looks to them like a shipwreck. The antimoderns
frmly believe that the West has rationalized and disenchanted the world,
that it has truly peopled the social with cold and rational monsters which
saturate all of space, that it has defnitively transformed the premodern
cosmos into a mechanical interaction of pure matters. But instead of
seeing these processes as the modernizers do - as glorious, albeit painful,
conquests - the antimoderns see the situation as an unparalleled
catastrophe. Except for the plus or minus sign, moderns and antimoderns
share all the same convictions. The postmoderns, always perverse, accept
the idea that the situation is indeed catastrophic, but they maintain that it
is to be acclaimed rather than bemoaned! They claim weakness as their
ultimate virtue, as one of them affrms in his own inimitable style: 'The
Vermindung of metaphysics is exercised as Vermindung of the Ge-Ste/1'
(Vatimo, 1 987, p. 1 84) .
What do the antimoderns do, then, when they are confronted with this
shipwreck? They take on the courageous task of saving what can be
saved: souls, minds, emotions, interpersonal relations, the symbolic
dimension, human warmth, local specifcities, hermeneutics, the margins
and the peripheries. An admirable mission, but one that would be more
admirable still if all those sacred vessels were actually threatened. Now
where does the threat come from? Surely not from collectives incapable
of abandoning their fragile and narrow networks populated with souls
and obj ects. Surely not from sciences whose relative universality has to be
purchased, day after day, by branchings and calibrations, instruments
and alignments. Surely not from societies whose size varies only so long
as material entities characterized by variable ontology proliferate. Where
does it come from, then? Well, in part from the antimoderns themselves,
and from their accomplices the moderns, who frighten each other and
add gigantic causes to the effects of size. 'You are disenchanting the
1 24
RELTIVISM
world; I shall maintain the rights of the spirit! ' 'You want to maintain the
spirit? Then we shall materialize i t! ' 'Reductionists ! ' ' Spiritualists! ' The
more the antireductionists, the romantics, the spiritualists seek to save
subj ects, the more the reductionists, the scientistics, the materialists
imagine that they possess objects. The more the latter boast, the more
they frighten the former; the wilder the former become, the more the
latter believe that they themselves are indeed terrifying. Are not most
ethicists busy with those two opposite but symmetrical tasks: defending
the purity of science and rationality from the polluting influence of
passions and interests; defending the unique values and rights of human
subjects against the domination of scientifc and technical objectivity?
The defence of marginality presupposes the existence of a totalitarian
centre. But if the centre and its totality are illusions, acclaim for the
margins is somewhat ridiculous. It is fne to want to defend the claims of
the suffering body and human warmth against the cold universality of
scientifc laws. But if universality stems from a series of places in which
warm flesh-and-blood bodies are suffering everywhere, is not this defence
grotesque ? Protecting human beings from the domination of machines
and technocrats is a laudable enterprise, but if the machines are full of
human beings who fnd their salvation there, such a protection is merely
absurd (Ellul, 1 967) . It is admirable to demonstrate that the strength of
the spirit transcends the laws of mechanical nature, but this programme
is idiotic if matter is not at all material and machines are not at all
mechanical. It is admirable to seek to save Being, with a cry of
desperation, at the very moment when technological Ge-Stell seems to
dominate everything, because 'where danger is, grows the saving power
also' . But it is rather perverse to seek to proft brazenly from a crisis that
has not yet commenced!
Look for the origins of the modern myths, and you will almost always
fnd them among those who claim to be countering modernism with the
impenetrable barrier of the spirit, of emotion, the subject, or the margins.
In the effort to offer a supplement of soul to the modern world, the one it
has is taken away - the one it had, the one it was quite incapable of
losing. That subtraction and that addition are the two operations that
allow the moderns and the antimoderns to frighten each other by
agreeing on the essential point: we are absolutely different from the
others, and we have broken radically with our own past. Now sciences
and technologies, organizations and bureaucracies are the only proofs
always offered by moderns and antimoderns of that unparalleled
catastrophe, and it is precisely through them that science studies can
demonstrate the permanence of the old anthropological matrix best and
most directly. To be sure, the innovation of lengthened networks 1s
important, but it is hardly a reason to make such a great fuss.
AVOID ADDING NEW CRIMES TO OLD
1 25
4. 1 3 Avoid Adding New Crimes to Old
It is quite di ffcult, however, to soothe the modern sense of dereliction,
because its starting point is a sentiment that is respectable in itself: the
awareness of having committed irreparable crimes against the rest of the
natural and cultural worlds, as well as crimes against the self whose
scope and intentions seem indeed without precedent. How can moderns
be restored to ordinary humanity and inhumanity without being too
hastily absolved of the crimes that they are right to seek to expiate? How
can we claim - correctly - that our crimes are frightful, but that they
remain ordinary; that our virtues are great, but that they too are quite
ordinary?
Our misdeeds can be compared to our access to Nature: we must not
exaggerate their causes even as we measure their effects, for that
exaggeration itself would be the cause of greater crimes. Every
totalization, even if it is critical, helps totalitarianism. We need not add
total domination to real domination. Let us not add power to force. We
need not grant total imperialism to real imperialism. We need not add
absolute deterritorialization to capitalism, which is also quite real
enough ( Deleuze and Guattari, [ 1 972] 1 983) . Similarly, we do not need
to credit scientifc truth and technological effcacity with transcendence,
also total, and rationality, also absolute. With misdeeds as with
domination, with capitalisms as with sciences, what we need to
understand is the ordinary dimension: the small causes and their large
effects (Arendt, 1 963 ; Mayer, 1 988) .
Demonizing may be more satisfying for us because we still remain
exceptional even in evi l; we remain cut off from all others and from our
own past, modern at least for the worst after thinking we were modern
for the best. But totalization participates, in devious ways, in what it
claims to abolish. It renders its practitioners powerless in the face of the
enemy, whom it endows with fantastic properties. A system that is total
and sleek does not get divided up. A transcendental and homogeneous
nature does not get recombined. A totally systematic technological
system cannot be reshuffed by anyone. A Kafkaesque society cannot be
renegotiated. A 'deterritorializing' and absolutely schizophrenic capital­
ism will never be redistributed by anyone. A West radically cut off from
other cultures-natures is not open to discussion. Cultures imprisoned for
ever in arbitrary, complete and consistent representations cannot be
evaluated. A world that has totally forgotten Being will be saved by no
one. A past from which we are forever separated by radical epistemologi­
cal breaks cannot be sorted out again by anyone at all.
All these supplements of totality are attributed by their critics to actors
who did not ask for them. Take some small business-owner hesitatingly
1 26
RELTIVISM
going after a few market shares, some conqueror trembling with fever,
some poor scientist tinkering in his lab, a lowly engineer piecing together
a few more or less favourable relationships of force, some stuttering and
fearful politician; turn the critics loose on them, and what do you get?
Capitalism, imperialism, science, technology, domination - all equally
absolute, systematic, totalitarian. In the frst scenario, the actors were
trembling; in the second, they are not. The actors in the frst scenario
could be defeated; in the second, they no longer can. In the frst scenario,
the actors were still quite close to the modest work of fragile and
modifable mediations; now they are purifed, and they are all equally
formidable.
What is to be done, then, with such sleek, flled-in surfaces, with such
absolute totalities? Turn them inside out all at once, of course; subvert
them, revolutionize them - such was the strategy of those modernists par
excellence, the Marxists. Oh, what a lovely paradox! By means of the
critical spirit, the moderns have invented at one and the same time the
total system, the total revolution to put an end to the system, and the
equally total failure to carry out that revolution - a failure that leaves
them in total postmodern despair! Isn't this the cause of many of the
crimes with which we reproach ourselves? By considering the Constitu­
tion instead of the work of translation, the critics have imagined that we
were incapable of tinkering, reshuffling, crossbreeding and sorting. On
the basis of the fragile heterogeneous networks that collectives have
always formed, the critics have elaborated homogeneous totalities that
could not be touched unless they were totally revolutionized. And
because this subversion was impossible, but they tried i t anyway, they
have gone from one crime to another. How could the totalizers' 'Noli me
tangere' still be passed off as a proof of morality? Might the belief in a
radical and total modernity then lead to immorality?
Perhaps it would be less unj ust to speak of a generational effect. We
were born after the war, with the black camps and then the red camps
behind us, with famines below us, the nuclear apocalypse over our heads,
and the global destruction of the planet ahead of us. It is indeed diffcult
for us to deny the effects of scale, but it is still more diffcult to believe
unhesitatingly in the incomparable virtues of the political, medical,
scientifc or economic revolutions. Yet we were born amid sciences, we
have known only peace and prosperity, and we love - should we admit
it? - the technologies and consumer objects that the philosophers and
moralists of earlier generations advise us to abhor. For us, technologies
are not new, they are not modern in the banal sense of the word, since
they have always constituted our world. More than earlier generations,
ours has digested, integrated, and perhaps socialized them. Because ve
TRNSCENDENCES ABOUND
1 27
are the frst who believe neither in the virtues nor in the dangers of
science and technology, but share their vices and virtues without seeing
either heaven or hell in them, it is perhaps easier for us to look for their
causes without appealing to the white man's burden, or the fatality of
capitalism, or the destiny of Europe, or the history of Being, or universal
rationality. Perhaps it is easier today to give up the belief in our own
strangeness. We are not exotic but ordinary. As a result, the others are
not exotic either. They are like us, they have never stopped being our
brethren. Let us not add to the crime that of believing that we are
radically different to all the others.
4. 1 4 Transendences Abund
If we are no longer entirely modern, and if we are not premodern either,
then on what basis are we going to establish the comparison of
collectives? As we now know, we have to add the unoffcial work of
mediation to the offcial Constitution. When we compared the Constitu­
tion to the cultures described by the asymmetrical anthropology of the
past, we ended up only with relativism and an impossible modernization.
If on the contrary, we compare the translation work of collectives, we
make symmetrical anthropology possi ble, and we dispel the false
problems of absolute relativism. But we also deprive ourselves of the
resources developed by the moderns: the Social, Nature, Discourse - not
to mention the crossed-out God. This is the ultimate diffculty of
relativism: now that comparison has become possible, in what common
space do all collectives, producers of natures and societies, fnd
themselves equally immersed?
Are they in nature ? Certainly not, since sleek, transcendent, external
nature is the relative and belated consequence of collective production.
Are they in society? Not there either, since society is only the symmetrical
artifact of nature, what is left when all objects are removed, and the
mysterious transcendence of the Leviathan is produced. Are they in
language, then? Impossible, since discourse is another artifact that has
meaning only when the external reality of the referent and the social
context are both bracketed off. Are they in God? That is not very
probable, for the metaphysical entity that bears this name merely
occupies the place of a remote referee so as to maintain as much distance
as possible between two symmetrical entities, Nature and Society. Are
they in Being? That is even less likely since, through an astonishing
paradox, the thought of Being has become precisely a residue, what is left
over after every science, every technology, every society, every history,
1 28
RELTIVISM
every language, every theology, has been abandoned to the pure
expansionism of beings. Naturalization, socialization, discursivization,
divinization, ontologization - all these '-izations' are equally implausible.
None of them forms a common basis on which collectives, thus rendered
comparable, might repose. No, we do not fall from Nature into the
Social, from the Social into Discourse, from Discourse into God, from
God into Being. Those agencies had a constitutional role to play only so
long as they remained distinct. No one of them can cover, fll, subsume
the others; no one of them can serve to describe the work of mediation
and translation.
Where are we, then? Where do we land? As long as we keep asking
that question, we are unmistakably in the modern world, obsessed with
the construction of one immanence [immanere: to reside in] or the
deconstruction of another. We still remain - to use the old word - within
metaphysics. Now by traversing these networks, we do not come to rest
in anything particularly homogeneous. We remain, rather, within an
infra-physics. Are we immanent, then, one force among others, texts
among other texts, one society among other societies, being among
beings ?
Not that either, for if, instead of attaching poor phenomena to the
solid hooks of Nature and Society, we let mediators produce natures and
societies, we reverse the direction of the modernizing transcendences.
Natures and societies become the relative products of history. However,
we do not fall into immanence alone, since networks are immersed in
nothing. We do not need a mysterious ether for them to propagate
themselves. We do not need to fll in blanks. It is the conception of the
terms 'transcendence' and 'immanence' that ends up being modifed by
the moderns' return to nonmodernity. Who told us that transcendence
had to have a contrary? We have never abandoned transcendence - that
is, the maintenance in presence by the mediation of a pass.
Moderns were always struck by the diffuse aspect of active or spiritual
forces in other so-called premodern cultures. Nowhere were pure
matters, pure mechanical forces, put into play. Spirits and agents, gods
and ancestors, were blended in at every point. In contrast, from the
moderns' viewpoint the modern world appeared disenchanted, drained
of its mysteries, dominated by the sleek forces of pure immanence on
which we humans alone imposed some symbolic dimension and beyond
which there existed, perhaps, the transcendence of the crossed-out God.
Now if there is no immanence, if there are only networks, agents, actants,
we cannot be disenchanted. Humans are not the ones who arbitrarily add
the 'symbolic dimension' to pure material forces. These forces are as
transcendent, active, agitated, spiritual, as we are. Nature is no more
immediately accessible than society or the crossed-out God. Instead of
TRNSCENDENCE$ ABOUND
1 29
the subtle play of the moderns among three entities each of which was at
once transcendent and immanent, we get a single proliferation of
transcendences. A polemical term invented to counter the supposed
invasion of immanence, the word has to change meaning if there is no
longer an opposite term.
I call this transcendence that lacks a contrary 'delegation' . The
utterance, or the delegation, or the sending of a message or a messenger,
makes it possible to remain in presence - that is, to exist. When we
abandon the modern world, we do not fall upon someone or something,
we do not land on an essence, but on a process, on a movement, a
passage - literally a pass, in the sense of this term as used in ball games.
We start from a continuous and hazardous existence - continuous
because i t is hazardous - and not from an essence; we start from a
presenting, and not from permanence. We start from the vinculum itself,
from passages and relations, not accepting as a starting point any being
that does not emerge from thi s relation that is at once collective, real and
discursive. We do not start from human beings, those latecomers, nor
from language, a more recent arrival still. The world of meaning and the
world of being are one and the same world, that of translation,
substitution, delegation, passing. We shall say that any other defnition of
essence is 'devoid of meaning' ; i n fact, it i s devoid of the means to remain
in presence, to last. All durability, all solidity, all permanence will have to
be paid for by its mediators. It is this exploration of a transcendence
without a contrary that makes our world so very ummodern, with all
those nuncios, mediators, delegates, fetishes, machines, fgurines, instru­
ments, representatives, angels, lieutenants, spokespersons and cherubim.
What sort of world i s it that obliges us to take into account, at the same
time and in the same breath, the nature of things, technologies, sciences,
fctional beings, religions large and small, politics, j urisdictions,
economies and unconsciousnesses ? Our own, of course. That world
ceased to be modern when we replaced all essences with the mediators,
delegates and translators that gave them meaning. That is why we do not
yet recognize it. It has taken on an ancient aspect, with all those
delegates, angels and lieutenants. Yet it does not resemble the cultures
studied by ethnologists, either, for Western ethnologists had never
undertaken the symmetrical work of bringing delegates, mediators and
translators back home, into their own community. Anthropology had
been built on the basis of science, or on the basis of society, or on the
basis of language; it always alternated between universalism and cultural
relativism, and in the end i t may have taught us as little about 'Them' as
about 'Us' .
5
D
REDISTRIBUTION
5. 1 The Impossible Moderiztion
After sketching out the modern Constitution and the reasons it had been
invincible for so long; after showing why the critical revolution had been
overwhelmed by the emergence of quasi-obj ects that obliged us to see the
modern together with the nonmodern dimension; after reestablishing
symmetry among collectives and thus measuring their differences in size
while settling the question of relativism at the same time, I can now
conclude thi s essay by tackling the most diffcult question: the question
of the nonmodern world that we are entering, I maintain, without ever
having really left it.
Modernization, although it destroyed the near-totality of cultures and
natures by force and bloodshed, had a clear objective. Modernizing
fnally made it possible to distinguish between the laws of external nature
and the conventions of society. The conquerors undertook this partition
everywhere, consigning hybrids either to the domain of objects or to that
of society. The process of partitioning was accompanied by a coherent
and continuous front of radical revolutions in science, technology,
administration, economy and religion, a veritable bulldozer operation
behind which the past disappeared for ever, but in front of which, at
least, the future opened up. The past was a barbarian medley; the future,
a civilizing distinction. To be sure, the moderns have always recognized
that they too had blended objects and societies, cosmologies and
sociologies. But this was in the past, while they were still only
premodern. By increasingly terrifying revolutions, they have been able to
tear themselves away from that past. Since other cultures still mix the
constraints of rati onality with the needs of their societies, they have to be
helped to emerge from that confusion by annihilating their past.
THE IMPOSSIBLE MODERNIZTION
I ll
Modernizers know perfectly well that even i n their own midst islands of
barbarianism remain, in which technological effcacity and social
arbitrariness are excessively intertwined. But before long they will have
achieved modernization, they will have liquidated those islands, and we
shall all inhabit the same planet; we shall all be equally modern, all
equally capable of profting from what, alone, forever escapes the
tyranny of social interest: economic rationality, scientifc truth, technolo­
gical effciency.
Certain modernizers continue to speak as if such a fate were possible
and desirable. However, one has only to express it to see how self­
contradictory this claim is. How could we bring about the purifcation of
sciences and societies at last, when the modernizers themselves are
responsible for the proliferation of hybrids thanks to the very Constitu­
tion that makes them proliferate by denying their existence? For a long
time, this contradiction was hidden by the moderns' very increase.
Permanent revolutions in the State, and sciences, and technologies, were
supposed to end up absorbing, purifying and civilizing the hybrids by
incorporating them either into society or into nature. But the double
failure that was my starting point, that of socialism - at stage left - and
that of naturalism - at stage right - has made the work of purifcation
less plausible and the contradiction more visible. There are no more
revolutions in store to impel a continued forward flight. There are so
many hybrids that no one knows any longer how to lodge them in the old
promised land of modernity. Hence the postmoderns' abrupt paralysis.
Modernization was ruthless toward the premoderns, but what can we
say about postmodernization? Imperialist violence at least offered a
future, but sudden weakness on the part of the conquerors is far worse
for, always cut off from the past, it now also breaks with the future.
Having been slapped in the face with modern reality, poor populations
now have to submit to postmodern hyperreality. Nothing has value;
everything is a refection, a simulacrum, a foating sign; and that very
weakness, they say, may save us from the invasion of technologies,
sciences, reasons. Was it really worth destroying everything to end up
adding this insult to that inj ury? The empty world in which the
postmoderns evolve is one they themselves, and they alone, have
emptied, because they have taken the moderns at their word. Postmod­
ernism is a symptom of the contradiction of modernism, but it is unable
to diagnose this contradiction because it shares the same upper half of the
Constitution - the sciences and the technologies are extrahuman - but it
no longer shares the cause of the Constitution's strength and greatness ­
the proliferation of quasi-objects and the multiplication of intermediaries
between humans and nonhumans allowed by the absolute distinction
between humans and nonhumans.
l l2
REDISTRIBUTION
However, the diagnosis is not very diffcult to make, now that we are
obliged to consider the work of purifcation and the work of mediation
symmetrically. Even at the worst moments of the Western imperium, it
was never a matter of clearly separating the Laws of Nature from social
conventions once and for all. It was always a matter of constructing
collectives by mixing a certain type of nonhumans and a certain type of
humans, and extracting in the process Boyle-style objects and Hobbes­
style subjects (not to mention the crossed-out God) on an ever-increasing
scale. The innovation of longer networks is an interesting peculiarity, but
it is not suffcient to set us radically apart from others, or to cut us off for
ever from our past. Modernizers are not obliged to continue their
revolutionary task by gathering their forces, ignoring the postmoderns'
predicament, gritting their teeth, and continuing to believe in the dual
promises of naturalism and socialism no matter what, since that
particular modernization has never got off the ground. It was never
anything but the offcial representation of another much more profound
and different work that had always been going on and continues today
on an ever-increasing scale. Nor are we obliged to struggle against
modernization - in the militant manner of the antimoderns or the
disillusioned manner of the postmoderns - since we would then be
attacking the upper half of the Constitution alone, which we would
merely be reinforcing while remaining unaware of what has always been
the source of its vitality.
But does this diagnosis allow any remedy for the impossible moderniz­
ation? If, as I have been saying all along, the Constitution allows hybrids
to proliferate because it refuses to conceptualize them as such, then it
remains effective only so long as it denies their existence. Now, if the
fruitful contradiction between the two parts - the offcial work of
purifcation and the unoffcial work of mediation - becomes clearly
visible, won't the Constitution cease to be effective? Won't moderniz­
ation become impossible? Are we going to become - or go back to being
- premodern? Do we have to resign ourselves to becoming antimodern?
For lack of any better option, are we going to have to continue to be
modern, but without conviction, in the twilight zone of the postmods?
5.2 Final Examinations
To answer these questions, we must frst sort out the various positions
I have outlined in the course of this essay, to bring the nonmodern to
terms with the best those positions have to offer. What are we going to
retain from the moderns ? Everything, apart from exclusive confdence in
the upper half of their Constitution, because this Constitution will need
FINAL EXAMINATIONS
Ill
to be amended somewhat to include its lower half too. The moderns'
greatness stems from their proliferation of hybrids, their lengthening of a
certain type of network, their acceleration of the production of traces,
their multiplication of delegates, their groping production of relative
universals. Their daring, their research, their innovativeness, their
tinkering, their youthful excesses, the ever-increasing scale of their
action, the creation of stabilized objects independent of society, the
freedom of a society liberated from objects - all these are features we
want to keep. On the other hand, we cannot retain the illusion (whether
they deem it positive or negative) that moderns have about themselves
and want to generalize to everyone: atheist, materialist, spiritualist,
theist, rational, effective, objective, universal, critical, radically different
from other communities, cut off from a past that is maintained in a state
of artifcial survival due only to historicism, separated from a nature on
which subjects or society would arbitrarily impose categories, denoun­
cers always at war with themselves, prisoners of an absolute dichotomy
between things and signs, facts and values.
Westerners felt far removed from the premoderns because of the
External Great Divide - a simple exportation, as I have noted, of the
Internal Great Divide. When the latter is dissolved, the former dis­
appears, to be replaced by differences in size. Symmetrical anthropology
has redistributed the Great Divide. Now that we are no longer so far
removed from the premoderns - since when we talk about the
premoderns we have to include a large part of ourselves - we are going to
have to sort them out as well. Let us keep what is best about them, above
all: the premoderns' inability to differentiate durably between the
networks and the pure poles of Nature and Society, their obsessive
interest in thinking about the production of hybrids of Nature and
Society, of things and signs, their certainty that transcendences abound,
their capacity for conceiving of past and future in many ways other than
progress and decadence, the multiplication of types of nonhumans
different from those of the moderns. On the other hand, we shall not
retain the set of limits they impose on the scaling of collectives,
localization by territory, the scapegoating process, ethnocentrism, and
fnally the lasting nondifferentiation of natures and societies.
But the sorting seems impossible and even contradictory i n the face of
what I have said above. Since the invention of longer networks and the
increase in size of some collectives depends on the silence they maintain
about quasi-objects, how can I promise to keep the changes of scale and
give up the invisibility that allows them to spread? Worse still, how could
I reject from the premoderns the lasting nondifferentiation of natures and
societies, and reject from the moderns the absolute dichotomy between
natures and societies? How can size, exploration, proliferation be
l l< REDISTRIBUTION
maintained while the hybrids are made explicit? Yet this is precisely the
amalgam I am looking for: to retain the production of a nature and of a
society that allow changes in size through the creation of an external
truth and a subject of law, but without neglecting the co-production of
sciences and societies. The amalgam consists in using the premodern
categories to conceptualize the hybrids, while retaining the moderns'
fnal outcome of the work of purifcation - that is, an external Nature
distinct from subj ects. I want to keep following the gradient that leads
from unstable existences to stabilized essences - and vice versa. To
accomplish the work of purifcation, but as a particular case of the work
of mediation. To maintain all the advantages of the moderns' dualism
without its disadvantages - the clandestineness of the quasi-objects. To
keep all the advantages of the premoderns' monism without tolerating its
limits - the restriction of size through the lasting confusion of knowledge
and power.
The postmoderns have sensed the crisis of the moderns and attempted
to overcome it; thus they too warrant examination and sorting. It is of
course impossible to conserve their irony, their despair, their discourage­
ment, their nihilism, their self-criticism, since all those fne qualities
depend on a conception of modernism that modernism itself has never
really practised. As soon, however, as we add the lower part of the
Constitution to the upper part, many of the intuitions of postmodernism
are vindicated. For instance, we can save deconstruction - but since i t no
longer has a contrary, it turns into constructivism and no longer goes
hand in hand with self-destruction. We can retain the deconstructionists'
refusal of naturalization - but since Nature itself is no longer natural, this
refusal no longer distances us from the sciences but, on the contrary,
brings us closer to sciences in action. We can keep the postmoderns'
pronounced taste for refexivity - but since that property is shared among
all the actors, it loses its parodic character and becomes positive. Finally,
we can go along with the postmoderns in rejecting the idea of a coherent
and homogeneous time that would advance by goose steps - but without
retaining their taste for quotation and anachronism which maintains the
belief in a truly surpassed past. Take away from the postmoderns their
illusions about the moderns, and their vices become virtues - nonmodern
virtues !
Regrettably, in the antimoderns I see nothing worth saving. Always on
the defensive, they consistently believed what the moderns said about
themselves and proceeded to affx the opposite sign to each declaration.
Antirevolutionary, they held the same peculiar views as the moderns
about time past and tradition. The values they defended were never
anything but the residue left by their enemies; they never understood that
the moderns' greatness stemmed, in practice, from the very reverse of
From the
moders
From the
premoders
From the
post
moders
FINAL EXAMINATIONS
What is retained
-long nerworks
-size
-xperimentation
-relative universals
-fnal separation
berween objective
nature and free society
-non-separability of things
and signs
-transcendence without
a contrary
-multiplication of nonhumans
-temporality by intensity
-multiple times
-constructivism
-reflexivity
-denaturalization
What is rejected
-separation berween
nature and society
-clandestineness of the
practices of mediation
-xternal Great Divide
-ritical denunciation
-universality,
rationality
-bligation always to link the
social and natural orders
-scapegoating mechanism
• ethnocentrism
• territory
-limits on scale
-belief in modernism
-ritical deconstruction
-ironic refexivity
-anachronism
Figure 5.1 What is retained and what is rejected
1 35
what the antimoderns attacked them for. Even in their rearguard
combats, the antimoderns never managed to innovate, occupying the
minor role that was reserved for them. It cannot even be said in their
favour that they put the brakes on the moderns' frenzy - those moderns
for whom the antimoderns were always, in effect, the best of stooges.
The balance sheet of this examination is not too unfavourable. We can
keep the Enlightenment without modernity, provided that we reintegrate
the objects of the sciences and technologies into the Constitution, as
quasi-obj ects among many others - obj ects whose genesis must no longer
be clandestine, but must be followed through and through, from the hot
events that spawned the objects to the progressive cool-down that
transforms them into essences of Nature or Society.
Is it possible to draw up a Constitution that would allow us to
recognize this work offcially? We must do this, since old-style
modernization can no longer absorb either other peoples or Nature;
such, at least, i s the conviction on which this essay is based. For its own
good, the modern world can no longer extend itself without becoming
once again what it has never ceased to be in practice - that is, a
nonmodern world like all the others. This fraternity is essential if we are
to absorb the two sets of entities that revolutionary modernization left
behind: the natural crowds that we no longer master, the human
multitudes that no one dominates any longer. Modern temporality gave
the impression of continuous acceleration by relegating ever-larger
masses of humans and nonhumans together to the void of the past.
1 36 REDISTRIBUTION
Irreversibility has changed sides. If there is one thing we can no longer get
rid of, it is those natures and multitudes, both equally global. The
political task starts up again, at a new cost. It has been necessary to
modify the fabric of our collectives from top to bottom in order to absorb
the citizen of the eighteenth century and the worker of the nineteenth. We
shall have to transform ourselves j ust as thoroughly in order to make
room, today, for the nonhumans created by science and technology.
5.3 Humanism Redistributed
Before we can amend the Constitution, we frst have to relocate the
human, to which humanism does not render suffcient j ustice. Here are
sQme of the magnifcent fgures that the moderns have been able to depict
and preserve: the free agent, the citizen builder of the Leviathan, the
distressing visage of the human person, the other of a relationship,
consciousness, the cogito, the hermeneut, the inner self, the thee and thou
of dialogue, presence to oneself, intersubjectivity. But all these fgures
remain asymmetrical, for they are the counterpart of the obj ect of the
sciences - an object that remains orphaned, abandoned in the hands of
those whom epistemologists, like sociologists, deem reductive, objective,
rational. Where are the Mouniers of machines, the Levinases of animals,
the Ricoeurs of facts ? Yet the human, as we now understand, cannot be
grasped and saved unless that other part of itself, the share of things, is
restored to it. So long as humanism is constructed through contrast with
the object that has been abandoned to epistemolog, neither the human
nor the nonhuman can be understood.
Where are we to situate the human? A historical succession of quasi­
objects, quasi-subj ects, it is impossible to defne the human by an essence,
as we have known for a long time. Its history and its anthropology are
too diverse for it to be pinned down once and for all. But Sartre's clever
move, defning it as a free existence uprooting itself from a nature devoid
of signifcance, is obviously not one we can make, since we have invested
all quasi-objects with action, will, meaning, and even speech. There is no
longer a practico-inert where the pure libert of human existence can get
boged down. To oppose it to the crossed-out God (or, conversely, to
reconcile it with Him) is equally impossible, since it is by virtue of their
common opposition to Nature that the modern Constitution has defned
all three. Must the human be steeped in Nature, then? But if we were to
go looking for specifc results of specifc scientifc disciplines that would
clothe this robot animated with neurons, impulses, selfsh genes,
elementary needs and economic calculations, we would never get beyond
monsters and masks. The sciences multiply new defnitions of humans
HUMANI SM REDISTRIBUTED 1 17
without managing to displace the former ones, reduce them to any
homogeneous one, or unify them. They add reality; they do not subtract
it. The hybrids that they invent in the laboratory are still more exotic
than those they claim to break down.
Must we solemnly announce the death of man and dissolve him in the
play of language, an evanescent refection of inhuman structures that
would escape all understanding? No, since we are no more in Discourse
than we are in Nature. In any event, nothing is suffciently inhuman to
dissolve human beings in it and announce their death. Their will, their
actions, their words are too abundant. Will we have to avoid the question
by making the human something transcendental that would distance us
for ever from mere nature ? Thi s would amount to falling back on j ust
one of the poles of the modern Constitution. Will we have to use force to
extend some provisional and particular defnition inscribed in the rights
of man or the preambles of constitutions ? This would amount to tracing
out once again the two Great Divides, and believing in modernization.
If the human does not possess a stable form, i t is not formless for all
that. If, instead of attaching it to one constitutional pole or the other, we
move it closer to the middle, it becomes the mediator and even the
intersection of the two. The human is not a constitutional pole to be
opposed to that of the nonhuman. The two expressions 'humans' and
'nonhumans' are belated results that no longer suffce to designate the
other dimension. The scale of value consists not in shifting the defnition
of the human along the horizontal line that connects the Object pole to
the Subject pole, but in sliding it along the vertical dimension that defnes
the nonmodern world. Reveal its work of mediation, and it will take on
human form. Conceal i t again, and we shall have to talk about
inhumanity, even i f it is draping itself in the Bill of Rights. The expression
'anthropomorphic' considerably underestimates our humanity. We
should be talking about morphism. Morphism is the place where
technomorphisms, zoomorphisms, phusimorphisms, ideomorphisms,
theomorphisms, sociomorphisms, psychomorphisms, all come together.
Their alliances and their exchanges, taken together, are what defne the
anthropos. A weaver of morphisms - isn't that enough of a defnition?
The closer the anthropos comes to this distribution, the more human it is.
The farther away it moves, the more it takes on multiple forms in which
its humanity quickly becomes indiscernible, even if its fgures are those of
the person, the individual or the self. By seeking to isolate its form from
those it churns together, one does not defend humanism, one loses it.
How could the anthropos be threatened by machines ? It has made
them, it has put itself into them, it has divided up its own members
among their members, it has built its own body with them. How could it
be threatened by objects ? They have all been quasi�subjects circulating
1 38
REDISTRIBUTION
within the collective they traced. It is made of them as much as they are
made of it. It has defned itself by multiplying things. How could it be
deceived by politics ? Politics is its own making, in that it reconstructs the
collective through continual controversies over representation that allow
it to say, at every moment, what it is and what it wants. How could it be
dimmed by religion? It is through religion that humans are linked to all
their fellows, that they know themselves as persons. How could it be
manipulated by the economy? Its provisional form cannot be assigned
without the circulation of goods and obligations, without the continuous
distribution of social goods that we concoct through the goodwill of
things. Ecce homo: delegated, mediated, distributed, mandated, uttered.
Where does the threat come from? From those who seek to reduce it to
an essence and who - by scorning things, objects, machines and the
social, by cutting off all delegations and senders - make humanism a
fragile and precious thing at risk of being overwhelmed by Nature,
Society, or God.
Modern humanists are reductionist because they seek to attribute
action to a small number of powers, leaving the rest of the world with
nothing but simple mute forces. It is true that by redistributing the action
among all these mediators, we lose the reduced form of humanity, but we
gain another form, which has to be called irreducible. The human is in
the delegation itself, in the pass, in the sending, in the continuous
exchange of forms. Of course it is not a thing, but things are not things
either. Of course it is not a merchandise, but merchandise is not
merchandise either. Of course i t is not a machine, but anyone who has
seen machines knows that they are scarcely mechanical. Of course it is
not of this world, but this world is not of this world either. Of course it is
not in God, but what relation is there between the God above and the
God · below? Humanism can maintain itself only by sharing itself with all
these mandatees. Human nature is the set of its delegates and its
representatives, its fgures and its messengers. That symmetrical universal
is worth at least as much as the moderns' doubly asymmetrical one. This
new position, shifted in relation to the subj ect/society position, now
needs to be underwritten by an amended Constitution.
5.4 The Nonmodern Constitution
In the course of this essay, I have simply reestablished symmetry between
the two branches of government, that of things - called science and
technology - and that of human beings. I have also shown why the
separation of powers between the two branches, after allowing for the
proliferation of hybrids, could no longer worthily represent this new
THE NONMODERN CONSTITUTION
1 39
third estate. A constitution is j udged by the guarantees it offers. The
moderns' Constitution - as we recall from Section 2. 8 ¯ included four
guarantees that had meaning only when they were taken together but
also kept strictly separate. The frst one guaranteed Nature its transcen­
dent di mension by making it distinct from the fabric of Society - thus
contrary to the continuous connection between the natural order and the
social order found among the premoderns. The second guaranteed
Society its immanent dimension by rendering citizens totally free to
reconstruct it artifcially - as opposed to the continuous connection
between the social order and the natural order that kept the premoderns
from being able to modi fy the one without modifying the other. But as
that double separation allowed in practice for the mobil ization and
construction of Nature (Nature having become immanent through
mobilization and construction) - and, conversely, made it possible to
make Society stable and durable (Society having become transcendent
owing to the enrolment of ever more numerous nonhumans), a third
guarantee assured the separation of powers, the two branches of
government being kept in separate, watertight compartments: even
though it is mobilizable and constructed, Nature will remain without
relation to Society; Society, i n turn, even though it is transcendent and
rendered durable by the mediation of objects, will no longer have any
relation to Nature. In other words, quasi -obj ects will be offcially
banished - should we say taboo? - and translation networks will go into
hiding, offering to the work of purifcation a counterpart that will
nevertheless continue to be followed and monitored - until the
postmoderns obliterate it entirely. The fourth guarantee of the crossed­
out God made i t possi ble to stabilize this dualist and asymmetrical
mechanism by ensuring a function of arbitration, but one without
presence or power (see Section 2. 9) .
In order to sketch in the nonmodern Constitution, it suffces to take
into account what the modern Constitution left out, and to sort out the
guarantees we wish to keep. We have committed ourselves to providing
representation for quasi-objects. It is the third guarantee of the modern
Constitution that must therefore be suppressed, since that is the one that
made the conti nuity of their analysis impossible. Nature and Society are
not two distinct poles, but one and the same production of successive
states of societies-natures, of collectives. The frst guarantee of our new
draft thus becomes the nonseparability of quasi-objects, quasi-subjects.
Every concept, every institution, every practice that interferes with the
continuous deployment of collectives and their experimentation with
hybrids will be deemed dangerous, harmful, and - we may as well say it ­
immoral. The work of mediation becomes the very centre of the double
power, natural and soci al. The networks come out of hiding. The Middle
1 4
REDISTRIBUTION
Kingdom is represented. The third estate, which was nothing, becomes
everything.
As I have suggested, however, we do not wish to become premoderns
all over again. The nonseparability of natures and societies had the
disadvantage of making experimentation on a large scale impossible,
since every transformation of nature had to be in harmony with a social
transformation, term for term, and vice versa. Now we seek to keep the
moderns' major innovation: the separability of a nature that no one has
constructed - transcendence - and the freedom of manruvre of a society
that is of our own making - immanence. Nevertheless, we do not seek to
inherit the clandestineness of the inverse mechanism that makes it
possible to construct Nature - immanence - and to stabilize Society
durably - transcendence.
Can we retain the frst two guarantees of the old Constitution without
maintaining the now-visible duplicity of its third guarantee? Yes,
although at frst this looks like squaring the circle. Nature's transcend­
ence, its objectivity, and Society's immanence, its subjectivity, stem from
the work of mediation without depending on their separation, contrary
to what the Constitution of the moderns claims. The work of producing a
nature or producing a society stems from the durable and irreversible
accomplishment of the common work of delegation and translation. At
the end of the process, there is indeed a nature that we have not made,
and a societ that we are free to change; there are indeed indisputable
scientifc facts, and free citizens, but once they are viewed in a
nonmodern light they become the double consequence of a practice that
is now vi sible in its continuity, instead of being, as for the moderns, the
remote and opposing causes of an invisi ble practice that contradicts
them. The second guarantee of our new draft thus makes it possible to
recover the frst two guarantees of the modern Constitution but without
separating them. All concepts, all institutions, all practices that interfere
with the progressive objectivization of Nature - incorporation into a
black box - and simultaneously the subjectivization of Society - freedom
of manruvre - will be deemed harmful, dangerous and, quite simply,
immoral. Without this second guarantee, the networks liberated by the
frst would keep their wild and uncontrollable character. The moderns
were not mistaken in seeking objective nonhumans and free societies.
They were mistaken only in their certainty that that double production
required an absolute distinction between the two terms and the continual
repression of the work of mediation.
Historicity found no place in the modern Constitution because it was
framed by the only three entities whose existence it recognized.
Contingent history existed for humans alone, and revolution became the
only way for the moderns to understand their past - as I have shown in
THE NON
MODERN CONS
TITUTION 1 41
Section 3. 8, above - by breaking totally with it. But time i s not a smooth,
homogeneous flow. If time depends on associations, associations do not
depend on time. We are no longer going to be confronted with the
argument of time that passes for ever based on a regrouping into a
coherent set of elements that belong to all times and all ontologies. If we
want to recover the capacity to sort that appears essential to our morality
and defnes the human, i t is essential that no coherent temporal fow
comes to limit our freedom of choice. The third guarantee, as important
as the others, is that we can combine associations freely without ever
confronting the choice between archaism and modernization, the local
and the global, the cultural and the universal, the natural and the social.
Freedom has moved away from the social pole it had occupied
exclusively during the modern representation into the middle and lower
zones, and becomes a capacity for sorting and recombining sociotech­
nological imbroglios. Every new call to revolution, any epistemological
break, any Copernican upheaval, any claim that certain practices have
become outdated for ever, will be deemed dangerous, or - what is still
worse in the eyes of the moderns -outdated!
Modem Constitution
1st guarantee: Nature is
transcendent but mobilizable
(immanent).
2nd guarantee: Society is
immanent but it infnitely
surpasses us (transcendent)
3rd guarantee: Nature and
Society are totally distinct,
and the work of purifcation
bears no relation to the work
of mediation.
4th guarantee: the crossed-out
God is totally absent but
ensures arbitration between the
two branches of government.
Nonmodem Constitution
1st guarantee: nonseparabilit of
the common production of societies
and natures.
2nd guarantee: continuous
following of the production of
Nature, which is objective, and
the production of Society, which
is free. In the last analysis, there is
indeed a transcendence of Nature and
an immanence of Society, but the two
are not separated.
3rd guarantee: freedom is
redefned as a capacity to sort the
combinations of hybrids that no
longer depend on a homogeneous
temporal flow.
4th guarantee: the production of
hybrids, by becoming explicit and
collective, becomes the object of
an enlarged democracy that
regulates or slows down its cadence.
Figure 5.2 Modern/nonmodern constitutions
But if I am right in my interpretation of the modern Constitution, if it has
really allowed the development of collectives while offcially forbid­
ding what it permits in practice, how could we continue to develop quasi­
objects, now that we have made their practice visi ble and offcial ? By
offering guarantees to replace the previous ones, are we not making
REDISTRIBUTION
impossible this double language, and thus the growth of collectives ? That
is precisely what we want to do. This slowing down, this moderation,
this regulation, is what we expect from our morality. The fourth
guarantee - perhaps the most important - is to replace the clandestine
proliferation of hybrids by their regulated and commonly-agreed-upon
production. It is time, perhaps, to speak of democracy again, but of a
democracy extended to things themselves. We are not going to be caught
by Archimedes' coup again.
Do we need to add that the crossed-out God, in this new Constitution,
turns out to be liberated from the unworthy position to which He had
been relegated? The question of God is reopened, and the nonmoderns
no longer have to try to generalize the improbable metaphysics of the
moderns that forced them to believe in belief.
5.5 The Parliament of Things
We want the meticulous sorting of quasi-objects to become possible - no
longer unoffcially and under the table, but offcially and in broad
daylight. In this desire to bring to light, to incorporate into language, to
make public, we continue to identif with the intuition of the
Enlightenment. But this intuition has never had the anthropology it
deserved. It has divided up the human and the nonhuman and believed
that the others, rendered premoderns by contrast, were not supposed to
do the same thing. While it was necessary, perhaps, to increase
mobilization and lengthen some netorks, this division has now become
superfuous, immoral, and - to put it bluntly - anti-Constitutional ! We
have been modern. Very well. We can no longer be modern in the same
way. When we amend the Constitution, we continue to believe in the
sciences, but instead of taking in their objectivity, their truth, their
coldness, their extraterritoriality - qualities they have never had, except
after the arbitrary withdrawal of epistemology - we retain what has
always been most interesting about them: their daring, their experimen­
tation, their uncertainty, their warmth, their incongruous blend of
hybrids, their crazy ability to reconstitute the social bond. We take away
from them only the mystery of their birth and the danger their
clandestineness posed to democracy.
Yes, we are indeed the heirs of the Enlightenment, whose asymmetrical
rationality is j ust not broad enough for us. Boyle's descendants had
defned a parliament of mutes, the laboratory, where scientists, mere
intermediaries, spoke all by themselves in the name of things. What did
these representatives say? Nothing but what the things would have said
on their own, had they only been able to speak. Outside the laboratory,
THE PARLIAMENT OF THINGS 1 43
Hobbes's descendants had defned the Republic in which naked citizens,
unable to speak all at once, arranged to have themselves represented by
one of their number, the Sovereign, a simple intermediary and spokes­
person. What did this representative say? Nothing but what the citizens
would have said had they all been able to speak at the same time. But a
doubt about the quality of that double translation crept in straight away.
What if the scientists were talking about themselves instead of about
things ? And if the Sovereign were pursuing his own interests instead of
reciting the script written for him by his constituents ? In the frst case, we
would lose Nature and fall back into human disputes; in the second, we
would fall back into the State of Nature and into the war of every man
against every man. By defning a total separation between the scientifc
and political representations, the double translation-betrayal became
possible. We shall never know whether scientists translate or betray. We
shall never know whether representatives betray or translate.
During the modern period, the critics will continue to sustain
themselves on that double doubt and the impossibility of ever putting an
end to it. Modernism consisted in choosing that arrangement, neverthe­
less, but in remaining constantly suspicious of its two types of
representatives without combining them into a single problem. Epistemo­
logists wondered about scientifc realism and the faithfulness of science
to things; political scientists wondered about the representative system
and the relative faithfulness of elected offcials and spokespersons. All
had in common a hatred of intermediaries and a desire for an immediate
world, emptied of its mediators. All thought that this was the price of
faithful representation, without ever understanding that the solution to
their problem lay in the other branch of government.
In the course of this essay, I have shown what happened once science
studies re-examined such a division of labour. I have shown how fast the
modern Constitution broke down, since it no longer permitted the
construction of a common dwelling to shelter the societies-natures that
the moderns have bequeathed us. There are not two problems of
representation, j ust one. There are not two branches, only one, whose
products can be distinguished only late in the game, and after being
examined together. Scientists appear to be betraying external reality only
because they are constructing their societies and their natures at the same
time. The Sovereign appears to be betraying his constituents only because
he is churning together both citizens and the enormous mass of
nonhumans that allow the Leviathan to hold up. Suspicion about
scientifc representation stemmed only from the belief that without social
pollution Nature would be immediately accessible. 'Elimi nate the social
and you will fnally have a faithful representation,' said some. ' Eliminate
objects and you will fnally have a faithful representation,' declared
. ..
REDISTRIBUTION
others. Their whole debate arose from the division of powers enforced by
the modern Constitution.
Let us again take up the two representations and the double doubt
about the faithfulness of the representatives, and we shall have defned
the Parliament of Things. In its confnes, the continuity of the collective is
reconfgured. There are no more naked truths, but there are no more
naked citizens, either. The mediators have the whole space to themselves.
The Enlightenment has a dwelling-place at last. Natures are present, but
with their representatives, scientists who speak in their name. Societies
are present, but with the objects that have been serving as their ballast
from time immemorial. Let one of the representatives talk, for instance,
about the ozone hole, another represent the Monsanto chemical industry,
a third the workers of the same chemical industry, another the voters of
New Hampshire, a ffth the meteorology of the polar regions; let still
another speak in the name of the State; what does it matter, so long as
they are all talking about the same thing, about a quasi-object they have
all created, the object-discourse-nature-society whose new properties
astound us all and whose network extends from my refrigerator to the
Antarctic by way of chemistry, law, the State, the economy, and
satellites. The imbroglios and networks that had no place now have the
whole place to themselves. They are the ones that have to be represented;
it is around them that the Parliament of Things gathers henceforth. 'It
was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone' (Mark
1 2: 10) .
However, we do not have t o create this Parliament out of whole cloth,
by calling for yet another revolution. We si mply have to ratify what we
have always done, provided that we reconsider our past, provided that
we understand retrospectively to what extent we have never been
modern, and provided that we rej oin the two halves of the symbol
broken by Hobbes and Boyle as a sign of recognition. Half of our politics
is constructed in science and technology. The other half of Nature is
constructed in societies. Let us patch the two back together, and the
political task can begin again.
Is it asking too little simply to ratify in public what is already
happening? Should we not strive for more glamorous and more
revolutionary programmes of action, rather than underlining what is
already dimly discernible in the shared practices of scientists, politicians,
consumers, industrialists and citizens when they engage in the numerous
sociotechnological controversies we read about daily in our newspapers ?
As we have been discovering throughout this essay, the offcial
representation is effective; that representation is what allowed, under the
old Constitution, the exploration and proliferation of hybrids. Modern­
ism was not an illusion, but an active performing. If we could draft a new
THE PARLIAMENT OF THI NGS 1 45
Constitution, we would, similarly, profoundly alter the course of quasi­
objects. Another Constitution will be j ust as effective, but it will produce
different hybrids. Is that too much to expect of a change in representation
that seems to depend only on the scrap of paper of a Constitution? It may
well be; but there are times when new words are needed to convene a
new assembly. The task of our predecessors was no less daunting when
they invented rights to give to citizens or the integration of workers into
the fabric of our societies. I have done my j ob as philosopher and
constituent by gathering together the scattered themes of a comparative
anthropology. Others will be able to convene the Parliament of Thi ngs.
We scarcely have much choice. If we do not change the common
dwelling, we shall not absorb in it the other cultures that we can no
longer dominate, and we shall be forever incapable of accommodating i n
it the environment that we can no longer control. Neither Nature nor the
Others will become modern. It is up to us to change our ways of
changing. Or else it will have been for naught that the Berlin Wall fell
during the miraculous year 1 989, offering us a unique practical lesson
about the conjoined failure of socialism and naturalism.
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Shapin, Steven and Simon Schaffer ( 1 985) , Leviathan and the Air-Pump:
Hobbes, Boyle and the experimental life, Princeton, NJ: Princeton University
Press.
Smith, Crosbie and Norton Wise ( 1 989) , Energy and Empire: A biographical
study of Lord Kelvin, Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Stengers, Isabelle ( 1 983) ,
E
tats et processus, doctoral thesis, Brussels: Universite
Libre de Bruxelles.
Stocking, G.W., (ed. ) . ( 1 983) , Observers Observed. Essays on ethnographic
feldwork, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Stocking, G.W., ed. ( 1 986) , Objects and Others: Essays on museums and
material cultures, Madison: University of Wisconsin Press.
Strum, Shirley and Bruno Latour ( 1 987) , 'The meanings of social: from baboons
to humans', Information sur les Sciences Sociales/Social Science Information
26: 783-802.
Thevenot, Laurent ( 1 989) , ' Equilibre et rationalite dans un univers complexe',
Revue
E
conomique 2: 1 47-97.
Thevenot, Laurent ( 1990), 'L' action qui convient: Les formes de l'action', Raison
pratique 1 : 39-69.
Tile, Mary ( 1 984), Bache/ard. Science and Objectivity, Cambridge: Cambridge
University Press.
Traweek, Sharon ( 1 988) , Beam Times and Life Times: The world of high energy
physicists, Cambridge, MA. : Harvard University Press.
Trevor-Roper, Hugh ( 1 983) , 'The Highland tradition of Scotland', in The
Invention of Tradition, ed. Eric Hobsbawm, pp. 15-41 , Cambridge: Cam­
bridge University Press.
Tuzin, Donald F. ( 1 980), The Voice of the Tambaran: Truth and illusion in the
Iharita Arapesh religion, Berkeley: University of California Press.
BIBLIORPHY
I Sl
Vatimo, Gianni ( 1 987) , La fn de Ia modernite: Nihilisme et hermeneutique dans
Ia culture postmoderne, Paris: Le Seuil.
Warwick, Andrew ( 1 992) , 'Cambridge mathematics and Cavendish physics:
Cunningham Campbell and Einstein's relativity 1 905-1 9 1 1 . Part 1 : The uses
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Weber, Max ( [ 1 920] 1 958), The Protestant Ethic and the Spirit of Capitalism
(with an introduction by Antony Giddens), New York: Charles Scribner's
Sons.
Wilson, Bryan R., ed. ( 1 970), Rationality, Oxford: Blackwell.
Woolgar, Steve ( 1 988) , Science: The ver idea, London: Tavistock.
Zimmerman, Michael E. ( 1 990) , Heidegger's Confontation with Modernity:
Technology, politics and art, Bloomington: Indiana Universit Press.
Zona bend, Fran�oise ( 1 989) , La presqu'ie au nucleaire, Paris: Odile Jacob.
INDEX
Achuar, 14, 42
air pump, 1 7, 42-3, 70-1, 72-3, 79-81 ,
83, 86-7, 89
Althusser, 36
anthropology, 7, 14-15, 91-, 96, 1 00-3,
1 04, 1 1 3-14, 1 1 6, 127-9
antimoderns, 9, 47, 72, 73, 1 16, 123-4,
134-5
Archimedes, 1 09-1 1
Arendt, 125
asymmetry, 26, 55, 71, 91, 1 09-1 1
Auge, 1 00-1
Authier, 109
Bachelard, 1 8, 58-9, 92-3
Barnes, 15, 54
Barthes, 63
Bastide, 64
Baudrillard, 46, 62
Beaumarchais, 68
Being, 88-90, 127-8
Berlin Wall, 8-10
Bijker, 1 1 7
Bloor, 15
Boltanski, 44-
Bourdieu, 5, 51 , 54
Boyle, 1 5-35, 56, 81 , 83, 84
Braudel, 121
Callon, 3-5, 94, 96, 1 1 1, 1 1 3
Canguilhem, 92-3, 95
cause, 83-5
Chandler, 121
collective, 4, 1 07
Collins, 24, 93-
Conklin, 7
Constitution
defnition of, 14, 1 5
its efcacy, 144-5
the modern Constitution, 29-5
the non-modern one, 138-2
its use, 50, 70, 88, 89, 96, 103, 1 07, 132
what i t clarifes and what i t obscures,
39-43
Contextualists, 21
Copans, 1 14
Copernican counter-revolution, 76-9
critical stance, 5-8, 1 1, 35-7, 43-6, 88-9,
122-7
culture, 91 , 96-100, 103-6
Cussins, 85
Dagognet, 1 1 5
Darwin, 92-3
delegation, 129, 138
Deleuze, 1 17, 125
democracy, 12, 142-5
denunciation, 43-6, 51-
Derrida, 5
Descola, 14, 42
Desrosieres, 1 22
dialectic, 55, 57
Diderot, 92-3
discourse, 1 1 , 62-4, 88-90, 127-8
disenchantment, 1 14-16, 123-
Douglas, 100
Durkheim, 52, 54, 101
Eco, 63
Edinburgh school, 15, 25, 54-5
Edison, 3-5
Eisenstein, 33
Enlightenment, 12, 35-6, 61 , 70, 135, 142,
144
1 5
essence, 86-8, 129, 134
ethnoscience, 7
event, 81 , 85-7
Fabian, 1 1 4
Favret-Saada, 100
frst and second guarantee, 30-2, 139-0
fourth guarantee, 32-5, 142
freedom, 141
French Revolution, 40-1, 79
Funkenstein, 18
Furet, 40, 44
Garfnkel, 121
Geertz, 100, 1 1 8
Girard, 45
God (crossed-out), 32-5, 39, 127-8,
138-9, 142
Goody, 1 1 2
Great Divide, 12, 39, 56, 97-103, 104,
107-9, 1 1 3, 1 16, 137
Greimas, 63
Guillemin, 3-5
Habermas, 60-1
Hacking, 21
Haraway, 47, 100
Haudricourt, 101
Hegel, 57
Heidegger, 65-7
Hennion, 78, 82
Heraclitus, 65-7
history, 140-1
of science, 70-, 79-82, 93
Hobbes, 15-35, 56, 81 , 84
Hollis, 1 04
Horton, 42
Hughes, 3-5, 122
Hugo, 68
humanism, 136-8
Hutcheon, 61, 74
Hutchins, 94
hybrids, 1 0, 30, 34, 41-3, 78, 1 12, 131
142
'
ideology, 36
immanence, 128-9
intermediaries, 56-7, 63, 77-82
Jameson, 61
Jonsen, 46
Kant, 56-7, 60, 63, 78-9
INDEX
Kidder, 1 15
Knorr-Cetina, 21 , 101
laboratory, 20-2, 28, 142
Lacan, 59
Lagrange, 9 3
Lavoisier, 70-1
Law, 24, 120
Levi-Strauss, 42, 97-8, 105
Leviathan, 1 9, 28, 30, 1 101 1203
Levy, 1 19
'
Lynch, 24
Lyotard, 46, 61-2
Machiavelli, 26
MacKenzie, 3-5, 54
market, 121-2
Marxism, 36, 126-7
Mauss, 1 00, 101
Mayer, 47, 1 25
mediation, 3 1-2, 34, 50-1 56-7 67 69
78-82, 86, 87, 89-90, 126, 134
'
137
'
mediators, 63, 77-82
metrology, 1 19-20
modern,
defnition of, 9, 13, 76
selection of, 1 32-6
use of, 10, 1 1 , 33, 34-5, 43, 62, 84, 96
1 1 2, 129
'
modernization, 71-, 76, 77, 1 302
135-6
'
moralist, 123-7
morality, 139-1
morphism, 137-8
Moscovici, 1 5
Nature, 1 1, 77, 79-81 , 85, 87, 94-6, 97,
98-1 00, 104-6, 127-8, 139-0
nature-culture, 7, 96, 105-9
network, 3, 6, 7, 1 1 , 24, 47, 48, 77, 89,
103, 104, 1 1 7-20, 121-2
Nietzsche, 12, 69
non-modern, 46-8, 78, 88, 91, 127-9
non-modern Constitution, 138-2
nonhuman, 23, 1 1 1
organisation, 120-2
Parliament of Things, 1445
Pasteur, 3-5
Pavel, 63-4
Peguy, 45, 68-9, 72, 75
phenomenology, 57-8
Pickering, 21, 945, 1 02
Pinch, 24
I NDEX
1 57
Plutarch, 109-1 1
politics, 27-9, 1 10-1
postmodern, 9, 10, 43-, 46-8, 61-2,
64-5, 67, 69, 74, 90, 123, 1 31 ,
134-6
pre-modern, 12, 37-9, 41-3, 72-5, 91,
97-100, 101, 103, 1 1 2, 128, 133-6
'pre-postmodern', 59-60
principle of symmetry, 92-, 96, 107-8
purifcation, 10-1 1, 30, 3 1-2, 39-3,
50-1, 67, 78-9, 87, 1 31
quasi-object, 5 1-5, 82-5, 89-90, 108, 139
relationism, 1 14, 1 1 8
relativism, 12, 104-9, 1 1 1-14, 1 1 7-20
representation, 27-9
revolution, 48, 67, 69-72, 76, 126-7,
130-1
Rogoff, 94
Royal Society, 20
scale, 22, 32, 43, 49, 72, 84-5, 106-9,
1 1 1-19, 1 1 7-23, 126, 132, 133-4,
140
Schaffer, 15-35, 82, 1 1 9
science, 27-9, 84, 98-1 00, 1 1 1, 1 18-20
science studies, 3, 14, 15, 24, 54-5, 70,
124, 143
semiotic turns, 62-4
Serres, 5 1, 75, 82-5, 94, 1 10
Shapin, 15-35, 54, 82, 1 1 9
Smith, 1 22
society, 4, 1 1 , 26, 77, 79-81, 85, 87, 94-6,
1 07, 1 1 1 , 127-8, 139-0
spokespersons, 29, 143
stabilization, 85-8, 107
Stengers, 1 1 8
Stocking, 1 14
Strum, 1 1 1
subject/society, 57
symmetry, 24, 27, 32-5, 103-
temporality, 68, 73-5
territories, 1 1 6-20
Thevenot, 44, 122
third constitutional guarantee, 3 1-2, 34,
139, 141
Tile, 59
time, 1 0, 35-6, 67-77, 8 1-2, 130-1 ,
140-1
totalization, 125-7
transcendance, 128-9
translation, 3, 10-1 1 , 39-3, 1 1 3, 127
Traweek, 21, 102
Tuzin, 1 15
universality, 24, 71, 105, 1 1 2-14, 1 1 7-20,
124
Vatimo, 123
Warwick, 1 1 9
Weber, 33
Wilson, 5, 59, 104
Wise, 122
Woolgar, 18, 24
Zimmerman, 65
Zonabend, 100
I
9
1
0 0 0
9 7 8 0 6 7 4 9 4 8 3 9 6

We Have Never Been Modern
Bruno Latour
translated by Catherine Porter

Harvard University Press Cambridge, Massachusetts

This translation © 1993 by Harvester Whearsheaf and the President and Fellows of Harvard College All rights reserved Printed in the United States of America

Originally published as Nous n 'avons jamais ete modernes:

Essais d'anthropologie symmetrique.
Copyright © 1991 La Decouverte
Library of Congress Cataloging-in-Publication Data

Latour, Bruno. [Nous n'avons jamais ete modernes. English] We have never been modern I Bruno Latour : translated by Catherine Porter. p. em. Translation of: Nous n'avons jamais ete moderns. Includes bibliographical references and index. ISBN 0-674-94838-6 . - ISBN 0-674-94839--4 (pbk.) 1. Science-Social aspects. 2. Technology-Social aspects. 3. Science-Philosophy. 4. Science-History. I. Title. Q175.5.L3513 1993 93-15226 303.48'3--dc20 CIP

For Charis and Adrian .

14 Leviathan Scientific Representation and Political Representation The Constitutional Guarantees of the Modern The Fourth Guarantee: The Crossed-out God The Power of the Modern Critique The Invincibility of the Moderns What the Constitution Clarifies and What It Obscures The End of Denunciation We Have Never Been Modern vii .8 2.1 The Modern Constitution 2.11 2.2 Retying the Gordian Knot 1.CONTENTS Acknowledgements CRISIS 1.1 The Proliferation of Hybrids 1.13 2.5 What Does It Mean To Be A Modern ? 2 IX 1 1 3 5 8 10 13 13 15 18 20 22 24 27 29 32 35 37 39 43 46 CONSTITUTION 2.5 The Testimony of Nonhumans 2.12 2.3 The Crisis of the Critical Stance 1.9 2.4 1989: The Year of Miracles 1.2 Boyle and His Objects 2.4 The Mediation of the Laboratory 2.7 2.6 The Double Artifact of the Laboratory and the 2.3 Hobbes and His Subjects 2.10 2.

5 There Are No Cultures 4.14 Variable Ontologies 3.9 Small Mistakes Concerning the Disenchantment of the World 4.4 Anthropology Comes Home from the Tropics 4.2 What Is a Quasi-Object? 3.10 Even a Longer Network Remains Local at All Points 4.1 The Moderns.4 The Nonmodern Constitution 5.2 The Principle of Symmetry Generalized 4.9 The End of the Passing Past 3.8 The Revolutionary Miracle 3.13 Accusation.15 Connecting the Four Modern Repertoires RELATIVISM 4.5 The Parliament of Things 49 49 51 55 59 62 65 67 70 72 74 76 79 82 85 88 91 91 94 97 100 103 106 109 111 114 117 120 122 125 127 130 130 132 136 138 142 146 15 4 4 5 Bibliography Index .12 A Perverse Taste for the Margins 4.3 Philosophies Stretched Over the Yawning Gap 3.1 How to End the Asymmetry 4. 8 Absolute Relativisim and Relativist Relativism 4.7 The Beginning of the Past 3.viii CONTENTS 3 REVOLUTION 3.7 Archimedes' coup d'etat 4.1 The Impossible Modernization 5.12 From Intermediaries to Mediators 3. Victims of Their Own Success 3.10 Triage and Multiple Times 3.5 Semiotic Turns 3.3 The Import-Export System of the Two Great Divides 4.11 The Leviathan is a Skein of Networks 4.13 Avoid Adding New Crimes to Old 4.3 Humanism Redistributed 5. 6 Sizeable Differences 4.4 The End of Ends 3.11 A Copernican Counter-revolution 3.6 Who Has Forgotten Being? 3.14 Transcendences Abound REDISTRIBUTION 5. Causation 3. 2 Final Examinations 5.

Gerard de Vries.. in E. pp. ed. Eliza­ beth Claverie. Some of the arguments in Chapter 3 have appeared in a different form in 'One more turn after the social turn : easing science studies into the non­ modern world'. I have abstained from giving empirical examples in order to retain the speculative . I am trying here to bring the emerging field of science studies to the attention of the literate public through the philosophy associated with this domain. ix . simply amodern : steps towards an anthropology of science. added section 3 . An essay review'. Many people have tried to make this essay less unreasonable. Jim Griesemer.2 and qualified or clarified the argument without modifying its main structure.and. Among them I especially thank Luc Boltanski. Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science 21: (1990) 145-71. 272-92. Notre Dame : Notre Dame University Press. McMullin. Fran\ois Geze and Isabelle Stengers. Ernan McMullin.character of this essay. I thank Harry Collins. The Social Dimensions of Science. Clifford Geertz and Peter Galison for allowing me to present the arguments of this essay in their seminars. Many case studies. Parts of Chapter 2 have been published in 'Postmodern ? No. Francis Chateauraynaud. Michel Izard. including several by myself.A CKNO WLEDG EMENTS In many places the English text differs from the French. I am afraid. Having written several empirical books. I have modified the figures. will be found in the bibliography. 1992. very Gallic! .

Third World countries and ecologists add their grain of salt and talk about international treaties. I discover that the meteorologists don't agree with the chemists . the actors . however. caught up in the same story. The heads of state are also holding back. The horizons. On page six. companies that are modifying their assembly lines in order to replace the innocent chlorofluorocarbons. I turn from upper-atmosphere chemists to Chief Executive Officers of Atochem and Monsanto. A single thread links the most esoteric sciences and the most sordid politics. the time frames. the rights of future gener­ ations. A few paragraphs later. the stakes. solemnly sworn not to go back over the history of that .none of these is commensurable. moratoriums. I come across heads of state of major industrialized countries who are getting involved with chemistry. Should we wait? Is it already too late? Toward the bottom of the page. So now the industrial­ ists don't know what to do. accused of crimes against the ecosphere. aerosols and inert gases. I learn that the Paris AIDS virus contaminated the culture medium in Professor Gallo's laboratory. But at the end of the article. yet there they are. Reading on. that Mr Chirac and Mr Reagan had. dangers on a global scale and the impending local elections or the next board meeting. and the right to development.D CRISIS 1.1 The Proliferation of Hybrids On page four of my daily newspaper. The same article mixes together chemical reactions and political reactions. the most distant sky and some factory in the Lyon suburbs. I learn that the measurements taken above the Antarctic are not good this year: the hole in the ozone layer is growing ominously larger. refrigerators. they're talking about cyclical fluctuations unrelated to human activity.

All of culture and all of nature get churned up again every day. Once again. that the epidemic is spreading in sub-Saharan Africa. thinkers. For the others are multiplying. Fortunately. French bishops. the number of lines on high-definition television bring together Mr Delors. Religion and Local Events remain in place as if there were nothing odd going on. tissue cultures. that has just been classified as an ecological preserve because of the rare flora it has been fostering! On page twelve. that the chemical industry is not moving fast enough to market medications which militant patient organizations are vocally demanding. the EEC.2 CRISIS discovery. The smallest AIDS virus takes you from sex to the unconscious. the mountain ranges of Lyon. hundreds of engineers and dozens of CEOs go down the drain. millions of television sets. DNA and San Francisco. those hybrid articles that sketch out imbroglios of science. the Pope. If reading the daily paper is modern man's form of prayer. commissions on standardiz­ ation. chemists. fiction. then it is a very strange man indeed who is doing the praying today while reading about these mixed-up affairs. Yet no one seems to find this troubling. economy. Books. Culture. law. biologists. on page nine. there is a slag heap in northern France. and Texas fundamentalists gather in a strange cohort around a single contraceptive. a symbol of the exploitation of workers. there is a story about computers and chips controlled by the Japanese. the Fallopian tubes. only social phenomena. . Science. . but the analysts. and then maybe to the . about the right to keep frozen embryos. Press the most innocent aerosol button and you'll be heading for the Antarctic. on page ten. Monsanto. there are whales wearing collars fitted with radio tracking devices. on page eleven. the paper includes a few restful pages that deal purely with politics (a meeting of the Radical Party). journalists and decision-makers will slice the delicate network traced by the virus for you into tidy compartments where you will find only science. On page fourteen. you don't') . about a forest burning. its columns of smoke carrying off rare species that some naturalists would like to protect. only sex. also on page eleven. only local news. Thomson. politics. and from there to the University of California at Irvine. then to Africa. heads of state. Change the screen standard by a few lines. On page eight. Headings like Economy. desperate patients and industrialists find themselves caught up in a single uncertain story mixing biology and society. the chemistry of inert gases. and billions of francs. only sentiment. and television film producers. technology. We would be dizzy without these soothing features. Politics. and there is also the literary supplement in which novelists delight in the adventures of a few narcissistic egos ('I love you . the Japanese again. thousands of hours of film. only economy. religion.

we have chosen to follow the imbroglios wherever they take us. we rely on the notion of translation. philosophers or anthropol­ ogists. let us not mix up knowledge. they have put knowledge of things. 1988b) or Roger Guillemin's brain peptides (Latour and Woolgar. technology and society'. 'But these imbroglios do the mixing. when I describe the anthrax bacterium modified b y Louis Pasteur (Latour. By all means. When Donald MacKenzie describes the inertial guidance system of intercontinental missiles (MacKenzie. they seem to say. .let us say nature and culture. more historical than the notion of structure. the divide that separates exact knowledge and the exercise of power . the idea of network is the Ariadne's thread of these interwoven stories. 1. the critics imagine that we are talking about science and technology. 1989) .' you'll say. The shaft is broken: on the left. on the right. installed lopsidedly within scientific institutions. For lack of better terms. 1990) . They have cut the Gordian knot with a well-honed sword. when Thomas Hughes describes the filament of Edison's incandescent lamp (Hughes. justice and power. 1991) without having sought the role.2 Retying the Gordian Knot For twenty years or so. More supple than the notion of system. Whatever label we use. because it is segmented into three components corresponding to our critics' habitual categories. Yet our work remains incomprehensible. 1983 ) . more empirical than the notion of complexity.' the analysts reply. But to these venerable disciplinary labels we always add a qualifier: 'of science and technology'. power and human politics. or at best manifestations of pure instrumental and calculating thought. interest. To shuttle back and forth. [1979] 1986). 'Science studies'. the global stage and the local scene. we call ourselves sociologists. Since these are marginal topics. we are always attempting to retie the Gordian knot by crisscrossing. politics or discourse. 'they weave our world together!' 'Act as if they didn't exist. 'tiers instruits' (Serres. as Anglo­ Americans call it. as often as we have to. or network. Hybrids ourselves. half engineers and half philosophers. historians. my friends and I have been studying these strange situations that the intellectual culture in which we live does not know how to categorize. when Michel Calion describes fuel cell electrodes (Calion.RETYING THE GORDIAN KNOT l United Nations. but this fragile thread will be broken into as many segments as there are pure disciplines. They turn it into nature. political scientists. people who are interested in politics or in souls feel justified in paying no attention. Let us not mix up heaven and earth. or 'science. economists. the human and the nonhuman.

and this is why I will use the word 'collective' to describe the association of humans and nonhumans and 'society' to designate one part only of our collectives. instruments. The Navy's organization is profoundly modified by the way its offices are allied with its bombs. . the psychologists or the economists tell us about the social context or about the subject in order to apply them to the hard sciences . practices . but with the way all these things are tied to our collectives and to subjects. MacKenzie mobilizes the entire American Navy. and technical efficiency to mere strategical manreuvres?' Here is the second misunderstanding. Hughes reconstructs all America around the incandescent filament of Edison's lamp. but about their involvement with collectives and objects. with things-in­ themselves. theories and neurons. we picture them differently depending on whether their dry brain is discharging neurotransmitters or their moist brain is secreting hormones. None of our studies can reutilize what the sociologists. We are talking not about instrumental thought but about the very substance of our societies. the divide invented by the social sciences. and it becomes impossible to understand brain peptides without hooking them up with a scientific community. Yet science studies are talking not about the social contexts and the interests of power. then it seems that they are immediately reduced to pure local contingency and sterile machinations. the social context of the nineteenth century is altered according to whether it is made up of wretched souls or poor people infected by microbes. EDF and Renault take on a completely different look depending on whether they invest in fuel cells or the internal combustion engine . The delicate networks traced by Ariadne's little hand remain more invisible than spiderwebs. America before electricity and America after are two different places. so the human sciences cannot be expected to recognize the power games of their militant adolescence in these collectives full of things we are lining up. Calion mobilizes the French electric utility (EDF) and Renault as well as great chunks of French energy policy to grapple with changes in ions at the tip of an electrode in the depth of a laboratory . to talk about his inertial guidance system .all impedimenta that bear very little resemblance to rules of method. and even Congress. the whole of French society comes into view if one tugs on Pasteur's bacteria.CRISIS Yet this research does not deal with nature or knowledge. If the facts do not occupy the simultaneously marginal and sacred place our worship has reserved for them. 'But then surely you're talking about politics ? You're simply reducing scientific truth to mere political interests. Just as epistemologists no longer recognize in the collectivized things we offer them the ideas. The context and the technical content turn out to be redefined every time. concepts or theories of their childhood. as for the unconscious subjects stretched out on 'the analyst's couch.

Yet rhetoric. while it is not reducible to the one or the other. he is talking about arrangements that can kill us all. when Calion follows a trail set forth in scientific articles. the third group.THE CRISIS OF THE CRITICAL STANCE 5 'But if you are not talking about things-in-themselves or about humans-among-themselves. when I describe the invention-discovery of brain peptides. not simply their representation in Professor Guille­ min's laboratory. Yet when MacKenzie examines the evolution of inertial guidance systems. It is true that those who bracket off the external referent . may each be of interest. Wilson. he is talking about industrial strategy as well as rhetoric (Calion et al. writing.. the internal world of Menlo Park is about to become the external world of all America (Hughes. we are no longer understood. unthinkable. when Hughes analyzes Edison's notebooks. the moral law in our hearts. textual strategies.and the speaker . socialization and deconstruction. language. Offer the established disciplines some fine sociotechnological network. representation. the autonomous text.horresco referens . rhetorics. 1986).the pragmatic or social context .as emblematic figures of these three tacks. When I describe Pasteur's domestication of microbes. semiotics .3 The Crisis of the Critical Stance The critics have developed three distinct approaches to talking about our world: naturalization. Epistemology. and Jacques Derrida . then you must be talking j ust about dis­ course. souls and moral law . 1983). industry. unseemly.all have their privileged vantage point. the social sciences. Pierre Bourdieu. the sciences of texts .O.the nature of things . If the creatures we are pursuing cross all three spaces. Our intellectual life is out of kilter. In the eyes of our critics the ozone hole above our heads. provided that they remain separate. When the first speaks of . the second group will erase the social and political dimensions. some lovely translations. will retain our discourse and rhetoric but purge our work of any undue adherence to reality . I am really talking about the peptides themselves. not just the semiotics of a great man's texts. texts. but only separately. finally. but in a new form that has a simultaneous impact on the nature of things and on the social context. Let us use E. That a delicate shuttle should have woven together the heavens.this remains uncanny.or to power plays. 1 . and the first group will extract our concepts and pull out all the roots that might connect them to society or to rhetoric. staging. and purify our network of any object. I am mobilizing nineteenth-century society.' This is the third misunderstanding.can talk only about meaning effects and language games. texts.all these are really at stake.a bit unfairly .

subjects. texts. but nothing would be at stake but meaning effects that project the pitiful illusions of a nature and a speaker? Such a patchwork would be grotesque. the scientific facts are indeed constructed. the critique of each group feeding on the weaknesses of the other two. ar. and discursive. When the third speaks of truth effects. Our intellectual life remains recognizable as long as epistemologists. play power games or make fun of the belief in a reality. Can anyone imagine a study that would treat the ozone hole as simultaneously naturalized. and the contents of activities disappear.emerges out of a set of practices that the notion of deconstruction grasps as badly as possible. those objects are real but they look so much like social actors that they cannot be reduced to the reality 'out there' invented by the philosophers of science. and collective. but we must not mix these three caustic acids. the Iraqis and the Turks. narrated. and they do cross the borders of the great fiefdoms of criticism : they are neither objective nor social. The agent of this double construction . or are we to abandon them while endorsing the common sense of the critical tripartition ? The tiny networks we have unfolded are torn apart like the Kurds by the Iranians. like nature. then socrettes.science with society and society with science . we bearers of bad news. Each of these forms of criticism is powerful in itself but impossible to combine with the other two. nor are they effects of discourse. but they cannot be reduced to the social dimension because this dimension is populated by objects mobilized to construct it. Yes.d . When the second speaks of fields of power. then science. and all forms of discourse vanish. We may glorify the sciences. or the networks are as we have described them. The ozone hole is too social and too narrated to be truly natural. like discourse. Either the networks my colleagues in science studies and I have traced do not really exist. they slip across borders to get married. Either we have to disappear. technology.would betray enormous naivete. the strategy of industrial firms and heads of state is too full of chemical reactions to be reduced to power and interest. Is it our fault if the networks are simultaneously real. even though they are real. and the critics are quite right to marginalize them or segment them into three distinct sets : facts. then to believe in the real existence of brain neurons or power plays . sociologists and deconstructionists remain at arm's length. like society? Are we to pursue them while abandoning all the resources of criticism.6 CRISIS naturalized phenomena. once night has fallen. and collective. or criticism itself has to face a crisis because of these networks it cannot swallow. the discourse of the ecosphere is too real and too social to boil down to meaning effects. Yes. Now we cannot have it both ways. power and discourse. sociologized and decon­ structed? A study in which the nature of the phenomena might be firmly established and the strategies of power predictable.

It is even because they remain incapable of studying themselves in this way that ethnographers are so critical.but then the very definition of the modern world has to be altered. We too have to take laws. genealogies. Our fabric is no longer seamless. We too are afraid that the sky is falling. there is not .an anthropology of the modern world (Latour. If the analyst is subtle. We pass from a limited . when they go off to the tropics to study others.5 ) . and it is impossible to do with our own culture. and so distant. even the most rationalist ethnographer is perfectly capable of bringing together in a single monograph the myths.there cannot be. power and morality into account in order to understand what our sciences are telling us about the chemistry of the upper atmosphere. 1 988a) . Why? Because we are modern. Either it is impossible to do an anthropological analysis of the modern world . she will retrace networks that look exactly like the sociotechnical imbroglios that we outline when we pursue microbes. techniques. since it is a bit more and a bit less than a culture (see Section 4.THE CRISIS OF THE CRITICAL STANCE 7 they dream of a commo n homeland that would be carved out of the three countries which have divided them up. Once she has been sent into the field. religions. Analytic continuity has become impossible. and you will get a single narrative that weaves together the way people regard the heavens and their ancestors.what can be done elsewhere. 19 83). or it is possible to do an anthropological analysis of the modern world . social and narrated. It is only because they separate at home that ethnographers make so bold as to unify abroad: The formulation of the dilemma is now modified . political forms. the way they construct their government and their cosmology. you will not find a single trait that is not simultaneously real. but we are not savages. epics and rites of the people she is studying. Yes. We too associate the tiny gesture of releasing an aerosol spray with taboos pertaining to the heavens. no anthropologist studies us that way. science cannot. For traditional anthropologists. ethnosciences.or should I say nature­ culture ? . In works produced by anthropo­ logists abroad. The ethnosciences can be connected in part to society and to discourse (Conklin. missiles or fuel cells in our own Western societies.and then there is every reason to ignore those voices claiming to have a homeland to offer the sociotechnological networks. This would be a hopeless dilemma had anthropology not accustomed us to dealing calmly and straightforwardly with the seamless fabric of what I shall call 'nature-culture'. with others. The critical tripartition protects them because it authorizes them to reestablish continuity among the communities of the premoderns. the Koreans or the Chinese. there should not be . Send her off to study the Arapesh or the Achuar. the way they build houses and the way they grow yams or manioc or rice.

and that suddenly informs us that we have invented ecocides as well as large-scale famine. . If the modern world in its turn is becoming susceptible to anthropological treatment. But the triumph is short-lived. dominates us in an equally global fashion. It is a strange dialectic that brings the exploiter back to life and buries the gravedigger. Fortunately. capitalism magnified both beyond measure.why do the networks remain elusive? Why are science studies ignored ? .to a broader and more classical problem: what does it mean to be modern? When we dig beneath the surface of our elders' surprise at the networks that .lt has won the Cold War. businesses and factories. Ever since Madame de Guermantes's salon. nature. 1 . over which we were supposed to gain absolute mastery. and with a vengeance: the multitudes that were supposed to be saved from death fall back into poverty by the hundreds of millions. By seeking to reorient man's exploitation of man toward an exploitation of nature by man. The repressed returns. we are being assisted by some major events that are burying the old critical mole in its own burrows. this same glorious year 1989 witnesses the first conferences on the global state of the planet: for some observers they symbolize the end of capitalism and its vain hopes of unlimited conquest and total dominion over nature.4 1 989: The Year of Miracles All dates are conventional. While seeking to abolish man's exploitation of man. of capitalism. London and Amsterdam.8 CRISIS problem .as we see it . we have known that it took a cataclysm like the Great War for intellectual culture to change its habits slightly and open its doors to the upstarts who had been beyond the pale before. this is because something has happened to it. 'The triumph of liberalism.weave our world. In Paris. in whose name the avant-garde of the proletariat had reigned. For everyone today. The liberal West can hardly contain itself for joy. we discover the anthropological roots of that lack of understanding. socialism had magnified that exploitation immeasurably. the fall of the Berlin Wall symbolizes the fall of socialism. but 1989 is a little less so than some. It is a strange dialectic that turns the slave into man's owner and master. of the Western democracies over the vain hopes of Marxism' : such is the victory communique issued by those who escaped Leninism by the skin of their teeth. becomes a people once again. The repressed returns. and with a vengeance: the exploited people. having given the world lessons in large-scale civil war. the voracious elites that were to have been dispensed with return at full strength to take up their old work of exploitation in banks. and threatens us all.

in one of two ways. or both. we must no longer try to dominate nature. The various manifestations of socialism destroyed both their peoples and their ecosystems. or technology. they all say. Let us be resolutely antimodern. one in the political arena and the other in the domain of science and technology. those who reject ecological obscurantism or antisocialist obscurantism. waiting for the end of the millennium. the postmoderns are also careful not to reject them totally. . They continue to believe in the promises of the sciences. The West thinks it is the sole possessor of the clever trick that will allow it to keep on winning indefinitely. or politics. whereas the powers of the North and the West have been able to save their peoples and some of their countrysides by destroying the rest of the world and reducing its peoples to abject poverty. the West thinks it has escaped both problems and believes it has lessons for others even as it leaves the Earth and its people to die. Finally. say others. whereas it has perhaps already lost everything. The will to be modern seems hesitant. They remain suspended between belief and doubt. We must no longer try to put an end to man's domination of man. Should we not have tried to put an end to man's exploitation of man ? Should we not have tried to become nature's masters and owners ? Our noblest virtues were enlisted in the service of these twin missions. From a different vantage point. or economics. along the fa�ades of apartment buildings and inside international organizations.1989: THE YEAR OF MIRACLES 9 The perfect symmetry between the dismantling of the wall of shame and the end of limitless Nature is invisible only to the rich Western democracies. Yet their faith in modernization no longer rings quite true in art. or science. Hence a double tragedy: the former socialist societies think they can solve both their problems by imitating the West. After seeing the best of intentions go doubly awry. we moderns from the Western world seem to have lost some of our self-confidence. Yet we are prepared to look back on our enthusiastic and right-thinking youth as young Germans look to their greying parents and ask: 'What criminal orders did we follow?' 'Will we say that we didn't know ?' This doubt about the well-foundedness of the best of intentions pushes some of us to become reactionaries. decide to carry on as if nothing had changed: they intend to remain resolutely modern. the vague expression of postmodern­ ism aptly sums up the incomplete scepticism of those who reject both reactions. you can feel that the heart is gone. Unable to believe the dual promises of socialism and 'naturalism'. and are unable to settle for the scepticism of the postmoderns. In art galleries and concert halls. say some. or in those of emancipation. sometimes even outmoded.

an acceleration. To go back a few steps: we have to rethink the definition of modernity. nor can we award a prize to the winners. The adjective 'modem' designates a new regime. the Heavens and the Earth. The second. creates two entirely distinct ontological zones: that of human beings on . When the word 'modern'. or 'modernity' appears. in one way or another. Hence the scepticism that is oddly called 'post'modern even though it does not know whether or not it is capable of taking over from the Moderns. a rupture. The first set of practices. but have recently begun to be confused. to the passage of time. the word is always being thrown into the middle of a fight. by 'translation'. modern or postmodern. To make a place for the networks of sciences and technologies. But we take up the threads of thought if we consider the year precisely to be a double debacle. Ancients and Moderns. a revolution in time. 1 . in a quarrel where there are winners and losers. and understand why we are no longer committed heart and soul to the double task of domination and emancipation. hybrids of nature and culture.10 CRISIS Whether we are antimodern. we are all called into question by the double debacle of the miraculous year 1989. yet all its definitions point.5 What Does it Mean To Be a Modem? Modernity comes in as many versions as there are thinkers or journalists. interpret the symptom of postmodernity. two lessons whose admirable symmetry allows us to look at our whole past in a new light. The networks would have a place of their own. exactly. and nothing allows us to say whether revolutions finish off the old regimes or bring them to fruition. 'Modern' is thus doubly asymmetrical: it designates a break in the regular passage of time. an archaic and stable p ast. In the countless quarrels between Ancients and Moderns. And what if we had never been modern? Comparative anthropology would then be possible. Furthermore. if we qualify it with prepositions. do we really have to move heaven and earth ? Yes. and it designates a combat in which there are victors and vanquished. creates mixtures between entirely new types of beings. we are defining. The hypothesis of this essay is that the word 'modern' designates two sets of entirely different practices which must remain distinct if they are to remain effective. by 'purification'. it is because we feel less confident in our ability to maintain that double asymmetry: we can no longer point to time's irreversible arrow. by contrast. the former come out winners as often as the latter now. If so many of our contemporaries are reluctant to use this adjective today. 'modernization'.

we immediately stop being wholly modern. Relativism.1 Purification and translation So long as we consider these two practices of translation and purification separately. syncretism all the problems that anthropologists summarize under the loose . the second to what I shall call the modern critical stance. or even ruled out. and a discourse that i s independent o f both reference and society. The first. the anxieties of ecologists. the practices of purification would be fruitless or pointless.the tortuous relations that we have maintained with the other nature-cultures would also be transformed. the second would establish a partition between a natural world that has always been there. The first set corresponds to what I have called networks. imperialism.at least in the way criticism tells the story . Our past begins to change. we willingly subscribe to the critical project. Finally. As soon as we direct our attention simultaneously to the work of purification and the work of hybridiza­ tion. if we have never been modern . the preoccupations of heads of state.WHAT DOES IT MEAN TO BE A MODERN? II the one hand. even though that project is developed only through the proliferation of hybrids down below. for example. and our future begins to change. domination. that of nonhumans on the other. Without the first set. would link in one continuous chain the chemistry of the upper atmosphere. Without the second. At the same time we stop having been modern. because we become retrospectively aware that the two sets of practices have always already been at work in the historical period that is ending. false consciousness. scientific and industrial strategies. we are truly modern . a society with predictable and stable interests and stakes. limited.that is. the work of translation would be slowed down. ��� ��mans u o First dichotomy O Hybrids Networks H�����s WORK OF PURIFICATION 2 WORK OF TRANSLATION Figure 1.

is too coarse .would be explained differently. why would it weaken itself today by preventing us from being truly modern ? Hence the final question. what are we going to become? Can we aspire to Enlightenment without modernity? My hypothesis . The third question has to do with the current crisis: if modernity were so effective in its dual task of separation and proliferation. It is this disparity that would explain the Great Divide between Them .all the other cultures .the westerners . I shall have to sort out the premoderns. The second question has to do with premoderns.is that by devoting themselves to conceiving of hybrids. and even the postmoderns in order to distinguish between their durable characteristics and their lethal ones. with the other types of culture. if we can no longer separate the work of proliferation from the work of purification.and would make it possible finally to solve the insoluble problem of relativism. which the exceptional situation in which we find ourselves today allows us finally to grasp. thereby modifying comparative anthropology. My hypothesis . as I am well aware.such is the paradox of the moderns.which.is that we are going to have to slow down. Will a different democracy become necessary ? A democracy extended to things? To answer these questions. the other cultures have excluded their proliferation. reorient and regulate the proliferation of monsters by representing their existence officially.which remains too crude . the more possible their interbreeding becomes .and Us . like the previous ones. Too many questions. . which is also the most difficult one: if we have stopped being modern.12 CRISIS expression of 'Great Divide' .is that the second has made the first possible: the more we forbid ourselves to conceive of hybrids. for an essay that has no excuse but its brevity. What link is there between the work of translation or mediation and that of purification? This is the question on which I should like to shed light. the moderns. My hypothesis once again too simple . Nietzsche said that the big problems were like cold baths: you have to get out as fast as you got in.

the intersecting influences. Modernity arises first from the conjoined creation of those three entities. 1 The Modem Constitution Modernity is often defined in terms of humanism. The modern divide between the natural world and the social world has the same constitutional character. and then from the masking of the conjoined birth and the separate treatment of the three communities while. either as a way of saluting the birth of 'man' or as a way of announcing his death. As soon as one outlines the symmetrical space and thereby reestablishes the common understanding that organizes the separation of natural and political powers.2 D CONSTITUTION 2. no one has taken on the task of studying scientists and politicians in tandem.things. underneath. with one difference: up to now. relegated to the sidelines. because it remains asymmetrical. These separations could be compared to the division that distinguishes the judiciary from the executive branch of a government. It overlooks the simultaneous birth of 'nonhumanity' . one ceases to be modern. or objects.and the equally strange beginning of a crossed-out God. the continual negotiations between judges and politicians. This division is powerless to account for the multiple links. ll . In one sense. The double separation is what we have to reconstruct: the separation between humans and nonhumans on the one hand. But this habit itself is modern. or beasts . hybrids continue to multiply as an effect of this separate treatment. the fundamental articles of faith pertaining to the double separation have been so well drawn up that this separation has been viewed as a double ontological distinction. Yet it would be a mistake to deny the effectiveness of the separation. and between what happens 'above' and what happens 'below' on the other. since no central vantage point has seemed to exist.

Who is to write the full constitution? As far as foreign collectives are concerned. Granted. which thus lead a mechanical. She will write a single book. since they do not explain the work of purification that is carried out above them and accounts for the proliferation of hybrids. Who is drafting such a text? For political constitutions. The inability to communi­ cate is often ascribed to a lack of soul [wakan] that affects certain living species: most insects and fish. the procedures for reaching agreements. stand those things deprived of speech that inhabit parallel. plant and animal taxonomies. every ethnologist is capable of including within a single monograph the definition of the forces in play. poultry. Opposite beings endowed with language [aents]. plants and spirits which other Amerindian societies place in the realm of nature. cosmology. inaccessible worlds. But the absence of communi­ cation is sometimes due to distance: the souls of stars and meteors. and numerous plants. . anthropology has been pretty good at tackling everything at once. it is the scientists' task. Incomparably smaller than the realm of culture. gods. this little piece of nature includes the set of things with which communication cannot be established. The Achuar do not. For the work of translation. and nonhumans.. the cultural sphere is all-encompassing. ancestors. yet another with practices. as when we talk about amendments to the American constitution. but so far they have done only a third of the work. property rights.. In fact. the connections between religion and power. The ethnologist will certainly not write three separate books: one dealing with knowledge. share this antinomy between two closed and irremediably opposed worlds: the cultural world of human society and the natural world of animal society. but they have done only another third of the work. as we have seen. For the nature of things. another with power. therefore. . and they have denied that hybrids have any role to play even as they multiply them. like the magnificent one in which Philippe Descola attempts to sum up the constitution of the Achuar of the Amazon region (Descola. inconsequential existence. since in it we find animals. And yet there is nevertheless a certain point at which the continuum of sociability breaks down. [1986] 1993): Yet the Achuar have not completely subdued nature by the symbolic networks of domesticity. but science students have fulfilled only half of their contract. yielding to a wild world inexorably foreign to humans. writing the constitution is the task of those who study those strange networks that I have outlined above. CONSTITUTION The common text that defines this understanding and this separation is called a constitution. the distribution of powers among human beings. since they have pretended to forget about political power. since they have left out both scientific power and the work of hybrids. the task falls to j urists and Founding Fathers. of which humans are the most perfect incarnation.

better equipped than I. [1976] 1991) and of a great body of work in the social history of science (Shapin.BOYLE AND HIS OBJECTS IS infinitely far away and prodigiously mobile. 1979. their properties and their relations.matter.or not defining . 1977): 'questions of epistemology are . their abilities and their groupings.defines humans and nonhumans. 2. without using modern metaphys­ ics as a vantage point. may want to pursue. and in explaining how and why these branches diverge as well as accounting for the multiple arrangements that bring them together. another as mechanical.which I shall spell with a capital C to distinguish it from the political ones . this book does nothing more than exemplify what has been the slogan of the Edinburgh school of science studies (Barnes and Shapin.those that make it possible to define one entity as animal or material and another as a free agent. [p. law.2 Boyle and His Objects A book by Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer (Shapin and Schaffer. actions and abilities are distributed . Bloor. along with their descendants and disciples. as a way of summarizing a much longer story . when the natural philosopher Robert Boyle and the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes were arguing over the distribution of scientific and political power. How can this Constitution be described? I have chosen to concentrate on an exemplary situation that arose at the very beginning of its drafting. 399] If an anthropology of the modern world were to exist its task would consist in describing in the same way how all the branches of our government are organized. At first glance. including that of nature and the hard sciences. The ethnologist of our world must take up her position at the common locus where roles. so this Constitution . Our ethnologist must even compare the always different ways of defining .one that I cannot retrace here but one that others. in the middle of the seventeenth century. Just as the constitution of jurists defines the rights and duties of citizens and the State. 1982) and in the sociology of knowledge (Moscovici. remain deaf to human words. and still another as unconscious and incompetent. Such a choice might appear arbitrary if a remarkable book had not just come to grips with this double creation of a social context and a nature that escapes that very context. one as endowed with consciousness. 1985) marks the real beginning of a comparative anthropology that takes science seriously. consciousness and animals' souls. I shall use Boyle and Hobbes. the working of justice and the transfer of power.

Far from 'situating Boyle's scientific works in their social context' or showing how politics 'presses in upon' scientific doctrines. The experimental community [set up by Boyle] vigorously developed and deployed such boundary-speech. p. It is impossible to do justice to either question if the two are separa ted. What we cannot do if we want to be serious about the historical nature of our inquiry is to use such actors' speech unthinkingly as an explanatory resource. and a demarcation between the two. they behaved with respect to the items thus allocated. and second. We find ourselves standing against much current sentiment in the history of science that holds that we should have less talk of the 'insides' and 'outsides' of science. they examine how Boyle and Hobbes fought to invent a science. one assigned to departments of philosophy and the other to departments of sociology or political science. we have not yet begun to understand the issues involved. a context.which had been neglected by historians of science because they preferred to conceal their hero's organizational efforts. since neither existed in this new way before Boyle and Hobbes reached their respective goals and settled their differences. We have not referred to politics as something that happens solely outside of science and which can. The beauty of Shapin and Schaffer's book stems from their success in unearthing Hobbes's scientific works . Instead of setting up an asymmetry.and in rescuing from oblivion Boyle's political theories .which had been neglected by political scientists. 342) In this long passage the authors do not show how the social context of England might justify the development of Boyle's physics and the failure of Hobbes's mathematical theories. They come to grips with the very basis of political philosophy. They are not prepared to explain the content by the context. by ruining the privilege given to the social context in explaining the sciences. The language that transports politics outside of science is precisely what we need to understand and explain. We still need to understand how such boundary-conventions developed: how. and we have sough t to situate this speech historically and to explain why these conventionalized ways of talking developed. scientific actors allocated items with respect to their boundaries (not ours). Nor should we take any one system of boundaries as belonging self-evidently to the thing that is called 'science. as a matter of historical record. because they were embarrassed by the wild mathematical imaginings of their hero . Far from it.' (Shapin and Schaffer.first by displacing the historical beginning of this very divide between epistemology and sociology.16 CONSTITUTION also questions of social order'. that we have transcended such outmoded categories. But Shapin and Schaffer push this general programme to the limit . as a matter of record. so to speak. in part unwittingly. instead of distributing science to Boyle and political theory . press in upon it. 1 985. and how.

if. by getting one of his technicians (who were invisible [Shapin. The quadrant would be uninteresting if the ideas of our two heroes were too far apart . for the period . Then. Boyle undertook dozens of experiments within the confined chamber of his air pump. The great advantage of Boyle's installations was that they made it possible to see inside the glass walls and to introduce or even manipulate samples. so Boyle had to push technological research far enough. complication and novelty . Boyle carefully refrained from talking about vacuum pumps. from political argument and above all from the air pump. he claimed to be investigating only the weight of the air without taking sides in the dispute between plenists and vacuists. Hobbes has a political theory and a science. they agree on almost everything. a Parliament. Boyle chose a method of argument . to be able to carry out the experiment he cared about most: that of the vacuum within a vacuum. for example. one were a philosopher after the fashion of Paracelsus and the other a Bodin-style lawmaker. the real hero of the story. But even though both are thoroughgoing rationalists. or to suffocate small animals and put out candles . from scientific reasoning. But by good fortune. and they are fervent subscribers to mechanistic philosophy. or to explain the cohesiveness of marble cylinders. for instance.that was held in contempt by the oldest . the thick glass containers and the gaskets were not of adequate quality.BOYLE AND HIS OBJECTS 17 t o Hobbes.in terms of cost. The apparatus he developed (modelled on Otto von Guericke's) that would permanently evacuate the air from a transparent glass container was. 1989] ) to work the pump. To put some order into the debates that followed the discovery of the Toricellian space at the top of a mercury tube inverted in a basin of the same substance.these experiments were later popularized by eighteenth­ century parlour physics.that of opinion . which descended nearly to the level of the mercury in the basin. make them the ideal laboratory material. The disagreements between the two men. This was already Big Science. starting with attempts to detect the ether wind postulated by his adversaries. he suppressed the weight of the air enough to bring down the level of the column. their opinions diverge as to what can be expected from experimentation. He enclosed a Torricelli tube within the pump's glass enclosure and thus obtained an initial space at the top of the overturned tube. who agree on everything else. Shapin and Schaffer outline a rather nice quadrant: Boyle has a science and a political theory. the perfect fruit flies for the new anthropology. a docile and unified Church. They want a king. owing to a series of ingeniously constructed lock chambers and covers. While a dozen civil wars were raging. The pistons of the pump.the equivalent of a major piece of equipment in contemporary physics.

Instead of seeking to ground his work in logic. 89).is precisely the question that Boyle raised and resolved. Like Boyle. 'Les faits sont faits': 'Facts are fabricated. 1 990) . The level does descend in the Torricelli tube that has been inserted into the transparent enclosure of a pump operated by breathless technicians. the key question of the constructivists . Hobbes was obsessed by the unity of the Person who . religion. We know the nature of the facts because we have developed them in circumstances that are under our complete control. Boyle relied on a parajuridical metaphor: credible. But he meant to reach his goal by a unification of the Body Politic. whatever may happen elsewhere in theory. but rather their observation of a phenomenon produced artificially in the closed and protected space of a laboratory (Shapin. just like Hobbes. [ 1 65 1] 1947.into a decisive advantage: these facts will never be modified.3 Hobbes and His Subjects Hobbes rejected Boyle's entire theatre of proof. politics or logic. But are facts that have been constructed by man artifactual for that reason ? No: for Boyle. even if they do not know its true nature. Boyle did not seek these gentlemen's opinion. trustworthy. God knows things because He creates them (Funkenstein. This doxa was not the raving imagination of the credulous masses. Our weakness becomes a strength. Hobbes too wanted to bring an end to the civil war. to which we owe. he too wanted to abandon free interpretation of the Bible on the part of clerics and the people alike. Once again.are facts thoroughly constructed in the laboratory ? (Woolgar. the facts are indeed constructed in the new installation of the laboratory and through the artificial intermediary of the air pump. 1. is only the representative of the multitude. metaphysics. 1 9 8 8 ) .18 CONSTITUTION scholastic tradition. Yes. well-to-do witnesses gathered at the scene of the action can attest to the existence of a fact. 19 86). 'that Mortall God. but a new mechanism for winning the support of one's peers. 1 984). Boyle and his colleagues abandoned the certainties of apodeictic reasoning in favour of a doxa. that maketh the Person One' (p. under the Immortal God. our peace and defence' (Hobbes. Boyle turns a flaw . So he invented the empirical style that we still use today (Shapin. p. mathematics or rhetoric. not the Unity of the Represented. 85). Ironically. 'For it is the Unity of the Representer. the matter of fact. The Sovereign created by the contract.we produce only matters of fact that are created in laboratories and have only local value . extends God's 'constructivism' to man.' as Gaston Bachelard would say. provided that we limit knowledge to the instrumen­ talized nature of the facts and leave aside the interpretation of causes.

to God and King is no longer possible if all people can petition God directly. the only method of argument capable of compelling everyone's assent. matter. Civil wars will rage as long as there exist supernatural entities that citizens feel they have a right to petition when they are persecuted by the authorities of this lower world. or designate their own King. like Plato's King. or even to mathematical Ideas. or to Power by Divine Right. Hobbes wanted to wipe the slate clean of all appeals to entities higher than civil authority. This reductionism does not lead to a totalitarian State. Power is Knowledge. since Hobbes applies it to the Republic itself: the Sovereign is never anything but an Actor designated by the social contract. to which people appeal against the judgements of civil power. no recourse to God. observation or revelation but by a mathematical demonstration. He arrives at all his scientific results not by opinion. Hobbes even rules out turning his own science of the State into an invocation of. Even the famous social contract is only the sum of a calculation reached abruptly and simultaneously by all the terrorized citizens who are seeking to liberate themselves from the state of nature. Inert and mechanical matter is as essential to civil peace as a purely symbolic interpretation of the Bible. Antigone might be dangerous when she proclaims the superiority of piety over Creon's 'reasons of State'. God. He wanted to rediscover Catholic unity while at the same time closing off any access to divine transcendence. everything is cut down to size: the Sovereign. the Actor of which w e citizens are the Authors. and the multitude.transcendence. The loyalty of the old medieval society . In this new regime in which Knowledge equals Power. which amounts to saying that there can exist only one Knowledge and only one Power if civil wars are to be brought to an end. For Hobbes. I t i s because of this unity that there can b e n o transcendence. the egalitarians. the Mechanical Brain. Such is Hobbes's generalized constructivism designed to end civil war: no transcendence whatsoever. but by using a purely computational instrument.which the Sovereign does not fully control. In both cases. a s h e puts it. This is why the major portion of Leviathan is devoted to an exegesis of the Old and New Testaments.Nature or God . There is no divine law or higher agency that the Sovereign might invoke in order to act as he wishes and dismantle the Leviathan. a computer before its time. phantoms or souls.HOBBES AND HIS SUBjECTS 19 is. One of the great dangers for civil peace comes from the belief in immaterial bodies such as spirits. the Levellers and the Diggers are much more so when they invoke the active powers of matter and the free interpretation of the Bible in order to disobey their legitimate princes. it behoves us to avoid at all costs the possibility that the factions may invoke a higher Entity . or to active matter. . and he accomplishes this demonstration not by making transcendental calculations.

Miracles and Morality are translated. over which the State has no control. Knowledge and Power will be separated once more. political and cultural context of science. And when these troublemakers find themselves in agreement. and if these allow the vacuum to be infiltrated into the air pump and. all ideas pertaining to God. before Shapin and Schaffer. No one. After Hobbes has reduced and reunified the Body Politic. it is not on the basis of a mathematical demonstration that everyone would be compel­ led to accept. along comes the Royal Society to divide everything up again: some gentlemen proclaim the right to have an independent opinion.as if Hobbes had not had enough trouble getting rid of phantoms and spirits! And here we are again. but we are going to have to put up with this new clique of scholars who are going to start challenging everyone's authority in the name of Nature by invoking wholly fabricated laboratory events ! If you allow experi­ ments to produce their own matters of fact. Worse still. For the first time in science studies.20 CONSTITUTION All the elements are now in place for the confrontation between Hobbes and Boyle. Before Shapin and Schaffer. Any good historian of ideas could have done the same job. the laboratory. other historians of science had studied scientific practice. into natural philosophy. But in three decisive chapters our authors leave the confines of intellectual history and pass from the world of opinions and argument to the world of practices and networks. Hobbes worries. who challenged the King's authority in the name of their personal interpretation of God and of the properties of matter (they have been properly exterminated). had been capable of doing both at once. Matter. Such are the warnings he addresses to the King in denouncing the goings-on of the Royal Society. in a closed space. experiments that remain inexplicable and inconclusive. but on the basis of experiments observed by the deceptive senses. 2. transcribed. this new coterie chooses to concentrate its work on an air pump that once again produces immaterial bodies. then you will divide authority again: the immaterial spirits will incite everyone to revolt by offering a court of appeal for frustrations. the King. other historians had studied the religious. and forced to pass through the practice of making an instrument work. You will 'see double'.4 The Mediation of the Laboratory This political interpretation of Hobbes's plenism does not suffice to make Shapin and Schaffer's book a solid foundation for comparative anthro­ pology. Just as Boyle succeeds in transforming his tinkering about with a jerry­ built air pump into the partial assent of gentlemen with respect to facts . right in the middle of a civil war! We are no longer to be subjected to the Levellers and the Diggers. as Hobbes put it. from there. the vacuum .

1 983). philosophers of science and historians of ideas would like to avoid the world of the laboratory. reflects. Revolution. 1 992. Shapin and Schaffer. the Church . God. and some bird suffocating in the transparent closed chamber of a pump whose air is being removed by means of a crank operated by a technician. The pump leaks. on the bench. the King. transport. But they never explain the prior establishment of a link connecting God. since Boyle's day. the air's spring. are not anthropologists. a particular gasket in the air pump. Capitalism. they anchor the indisputable reality of science 'down there'. eludes them: we live in communities whose social bond comes from objects fabricated in laboratories. along with all the manipulations and practices that objects require. and the entire context? Hobbes indeed seeks to get round everything that has to do with experimental work. Traweek. in such a way that those who master the pump also master the King. Their book is not empirical simply because of its abundant details. for what has constituted the most fundamental aspect of our culture. apodeictic reasoning by a controlled doxa.THE MEDIATION OF THE LABORATORY 21 that have become indisputable. But rather than speaking of the external reality 'out there'. s o Shapin and Schaffer manage to explain how and why discussions dealing with the Body Politic. the dynastic quarrel. The lovely order that Hobbes was trying to recover . like Ian Hacking (Hacking. God and His miracles. has repercussions for. 1 992. Those who are incapable of explaining the irruption of objects into the human collective. do in a quasi-ethnographic way what philosophers of science now do scarcely at all: they show the realistic foundations of the sciences. displace. and universal agreement by groups of colleagues. that repugnant kitchen in which concepts are smothered with trivia (Cunningham and Williams. vacuums. gaskets and cranks of his machine. have to be translated through the air pump. ideas have been replaced by practices. on a certain leak. The practice of fabricating objects is restored to the dominant place it had lost with the modern critical stance. Latour and Woolgar. and Torricelli tubes. distort all the other con­ troversies. The experiments don't go very well. but Boyle forces the discussion to proceed by way of a set of sordid details involving the leaks. It has to be patched up. Shapin and Schaffer force their analyses to hinge on the object.and that this context in some way influences. it is empirical because it undertakes the archaeology of that new object that is born in the seventeenth century in the laboratory. [ 1 979] 1986. Pickering. Contextualists start from the principle that a social macro-context exists . Parliament. In the same way. Knorr. matter and its power. How can the bird's experience translate. forms. This mystery has never been cleared up by those seeking a contextualist explanation for the sciences. 1 98 8 ) . and exercises pressure on 'ideas about' matter. Merchants. 1 98 1 .England.

facts that have been fabricated by man yet are no one's handiwork. Now what does Boyle do in response? He chooses. and his theories are to be refuted by a feather in a glass chamber inside Boyle's mansion! Of course. According to Boyle. In other words.of the ether wind postulated by Hobbes in the hope of invalidating his detractor's theory (Shapin and Schaffer. to make his experiment more sophisticated. Hobbes asks indignantly. because he refuses to admit that the phenomenon he is talking about can be produced on a scale other than that of the Republic as a whole. he demands a macroscopic response to his 'macro-'arguments. to show the effect on a detector . and Boyle draws the conclusion that Hobbes is wrong. a demonstration that would prove that his ontology is not necessary.n CONSTITUTION is annihilated by the multiplication of private spaces where the transcendental origin of facts is proclaimed . Now Hobbes rejects the possibility of the vacuum for ontological and political reasons of primary philosophy. the big questions concerning matter and divine power can be subjected to experimental resolution. and this resolution will be partial and modest. 1. on the contrary. However. on the pathetic foundation of matters of fact? He is particularly annoyed by the relative change in the scale of phenomena. He denies what is to become the essential characteristic of modern power: the change in scale and the displace­ ments that are presupposed by laboratory work (Latour. even when Boyle's worker is too out of breath to operate his pump.5 The Testimony of Nonhumans Boyle's innovation is striking. Against Hobbes's judgement. Ridiculous! Hobbes raises a fundamental problem of political philosophy. a new Puss in Boots. now has only to pounce on the Ogre.a mere chicken feather! . Hobbes cannot be wrong. p. who has just been reduced to the size of a mouse. that the vacuum is politically acceptable. 1983). As Shapin and Schaffer write: Sprat and Boyle appealed to 'the practice of our courts of justice here in England' to sustain the moral certainty of their conclusions and to support the argument that the multiplication of wimesses allowed 'a concurrence of . 1 82). How can a society be made to hold together peacefully. but he does so in order to apply them to the testimony of the things put to the test in the laboratory. that there is no ether wind. 1 985. the feather doesn't move at all. facts that have no causality yet can be explained. Boyle. and he continues to allege the existence of an invisible ether that must be present. he takes possession of the old repertoire of penal law and biblical exegesis.

and the concurring voices of many witnesses put the extremists to flight. and sectaries found their stories challenged. incapable of will and bias but capable of showing. So the legal and priestly models of authority through witnessing were fundamental resources for the experimenters.never inspired or written by nonhumans. jurists and scribes had been developing all those resources for a millennium and more. the latter contribute to a new form of text. and scribbling on laboratory instruments before trustworthy witnesses.THE TESTIMONY OF NONHUMAN$ 23 such probabilities. humans are better off appealing to nonhumans. Hobbes challenged the basis of this practice: once again. whom prejudicate opinions may much sway.' Boyle used the provision of Clarendon's 1661 Treason Act. that they may easily give occasion to mistakes.never nonhuman. monks. signing. Boyle's repertoire does not contribute much that is new.never affairs that called into question the behaviour of nonhumans in a laboratory transformed into a court of justice. a hybrid between the age-old style of biblical exegesis . is their point of application. 2 1 8 ] Here in Boyle's text we witness the intervention of a new actor recognized by the new Constitution: inert bodies. lacking souls but endowed with meaning.' [Shapin and Schaffer. however. The law courts had seen countless human and divine trials come and go . According to the Constitution. 327) At first glance. These nonhumans. (Shapin and Schaffer. and sometimes disagreeing accounts of ignorant divers. What is new. which are not capable of prepossessions. and whose very sensations. 1 985. as those of other vulgar men. atheists. Endowed with their new semiotic powers. Reliable witnesses were ipso facto the members of a trustworthy community: Papists. The texts had been written by men or inspired by God . the witnesses had always been human or divine .which has previously been applied only to the . to whom will is attributed but who lack the capacity to indicate phenomena in a reliable way. or giving us partial informations. than the suspicious. he displayed the form of life that sustained witnessing as an ineffective and subversive enterprise. Scholars. 1 985. two witnesses were necessary to convict. may be influenced by predispositions. Earlier. and so many other circumstances. p. the social status of a witness sustained his credibility. he said. Yet for Boyle. will have much more weight with unprejudiced persons. laboratory experiments carry more authority than unconfirmed depositions by honourable witnesses: 'The pressure of the water in our recited experiment' [on the diver's bell] having manifest effects upon inanimate bodies. are even more reliable than ordinary mortals. the experimental science article. writing. in case of doubt. in which. p.

1 9 8 8 .24 CONSTITUTION Scriptures and classical texts . laboratories. The old hermeneutics will persist. Law and Fyfe. 1 986) offers a striking example of the fruitfulness of the new science studies. the overturning is possible only if all connections with the political and religious branches of government become impossible. and changes of scale to its extreme consequences. and if it takes place within the private space of the experimental community. At first sight. 1985.and the new instrument that produces new inscriptions. Shapin and Schaffer pursue their discussion of objects.not. into a cheap black box that gradually becomes standard equipment in every labora­ tory. but universal in the old sense? Never. This expansion is brilliantly demonstrated in a chapter which. witnesses will pursue their discussions around the air pump in its enclosed space. By following the reproduction of each prototype air pump throughout Europe. it seems that Hobbes and his disciples created the chief resources that are available to us for speaking about power ('representa- . 1 990). and the progressive transformation of a piece of costly. not very reliable and quite cumbersome equipment. the authors bring the universal application of a law of physics back within a network of standardized practices. Unquestionably.6 The Double Artifact of the Laboratory and the Leviathan How far does the symmetry hold between Hobbes's invention and Boyle's ? Shapin and Schaffer are not clear on this point. but it will add to its parchments the shaky signature of scientific instruments (Latour and De Noblet. 1 985) or Trevor Pinch (Pinch. If science is based not on ideas but on a practice. With a law court thus renewed. competences and equipment can become sufficiently routine for produc­ tion of the vacuum to become as invisible as the air we breathe. discussions about the meaningful behaviour of nonhumans. and this is what makes Hobbes so upset. Owing to the extension of this network. in the epistemologists' terms! Its network is extended and stabilized. No science can exit from the network of its practice. From this point on. Lynch and Woolgar. The weight of air is indeed always a universal. however.but its speed of propagation is exactly equivalent to the rate at which the community of experimenters and their equipment develop. capacities. all the other powers will be overthrown. however. like the work of Harry Collins (Collins. Boyle's interpretation of the air's spring is propagated . at least. then how does it reach 'everywhere' ? How does it become as universal as 'Boyle's laws' or 'Newton's laws' ? The answer is that it never become universal . if it is located not outside but inside the transparent chamber of the air pump. but a universal in a network. 2.

spirit. the descending mercury are not our own creations.DOUBLE ARTIFACT: LABORATORY AND LEVIATHAN 25 tion'. laboratories and networks.or whatever name one wants to give this side: society. this is because. they are not made out of thin air. or a mixture of the two ? Part object and part subject? Or is it necessary to invent a new position for this strange generation of both a political context and a scientific content? The authors do not give us a definitive answer to these questions as if they had failed to do justice to their own discoyery. The suffocating bird. But it cannot be situated. language game. however. The last chapters of the book waver between a Hobbesian explanation of the authors' own work and a Boylian point of view. to Hobbes. brain. who agree on everything. disagree on how to deal with the 'social' context . not of human categories. After having had the stroke of genius that led them to compare the experimental practice and political organization of two major figures from the very beginning of the modern era. since they differ by only a few traits. Shapin and Schaffer consider Hobbes's macro-social explanations relative to Boyle's science more convincing than Boyle's arguments refuting Hobbes! Trained in the framework of the social study of sciences. they back off and hesitate to treat Hobbes and his politics in the same way as they had treated Boyle and his science. 'property'. is not the conclusion drawn by Shapin and Schaffer. 'sovereign'. 'fact'. a division of power between the two protagonists. either. This tension only makes their work more interesting. they seem to adhere more steadfastly to the political repertoire than to the scientific one.that is. on the side of the subject . Strangely enough. 'evidence'. while Boyle and his successors developed one of the major repertoires for speaking about nature ('experiment'. the social context contains as one of its subsets the . since the facts are fabricated. Hobbes's symmetrical invention of a human capable of being represented. 'citizens'). the authors. 'contract'. the sciences. then where is it to be situated? Certainly not on the side of things-in-themselves. not of social relations. the marble cylinders. 'colleagues'). they seem to accept the limitations imposed by the Edinburgh school: if all questions of epistemology are questions of social order. Just as Hobbes and Boyle agree on everything except how to carry out experiments. epistemes or culture. the politics and to Boyle. Yet Shapin and Schaffer unintentionally displace the traditional centre of reference of the modern critique downward. when all is said and done. practices. This. It should thus seem also clear that we are dealing not with two separate inventions but with only one. If science is based on forms of life. and it supplies the anthropology of science with a new line of ideally suited fruit flies. Must we then place the practice of science right in the middle of the line that connects the Object Pole to the Subject Pole? Is this practice a hybrid.

nor the constitution of our society.more precisely . Yet who invented these words. as much as the State. [p. is the product of human actions'. Hobbes invents the naked calculating citizen. we put ourselves in a position to realize that it is ourselves and not reality that is responsible for what we know. Such an asymmetry renders Shapin and Schaffer less well equipped to deconstruct the macro-social context than Nature 'out there'. but that is precisely why Boyle's political invention is much more refined than Hobbes's sociology of science. How could he have been right. when he was the one who invented the monist society in which Knowledge and Power are one and the same thing? How can such a crude theory be used to explain Boyle's invention of an absolute dichotomy between the production of knowledge of facts and politics? Yes. criticizing science but swallowing politics as the only valid source of explanation. nor traditional statements about the connections between our society and our knowledge are taken for granted any longer. Or . he offers a set of terms for analyzing human interests which.they do not manage to settle the question. cancelling out in their conclusion what they had demonstrated in Chapter 7. Knowledge. Hobbes was wrong. and walking sideways. as much as the State. whose rights are limited to possessing and to being represented by the artificial construction of the Sovereign. Now who offers us this asymmetric way of explaining . 344] No. They use the words 'power'. is the product of human actions. remains the basic vocabulary for all of sociology today. 'knowledge. along with Machiavelli's. and that it accounts for the failure of Hobbes's programme. 'interest' and 'politics' in all innocence (Chapter 7). He also creates the language according to which Power equals Knowledge. In other words. As we come to recognize the conventional and artifactual status of our forms of knowing. Hobbes was right. with their modern meaning? Hobbes! Our authors are thus 'seeing double' themselves. They seem to believe that a society 'up there' actually exists. If we are to understand the final obstacle separating us from an anthropology of science. we have to deconstruct Hobbes's constitutional invention according to which there is such a thing as a macro-society much sturdier and more robust than Nature.16 CONSTITUTION definition of what counts as good science. and cancelling out their own argument yet again in the very last sentence of the book: Neither our scientific knowledge. Furthermore. even though Shapin and Schaffer take great care to use the expression 'scientific fact' not as a resource but rather as a historical and political invention. an equation that is at the root of the entire modern Realpolitik. they take no such precautions where political language itself is concerned.

2. All of them had to 'see double' from Hobbes's and Boyle's day on. .unless one adopts some authors' asymmetrical posture and agrees to be simultaneously constructivist where nature is concerned and realist where society is concerned (Collins and Yearley. The link between epistemology and social order now takes a completely new meaning. while Hobbes is imagining a scientific politics from which experimental science has to be excluded. The two branches of government that Boyle and Hobbes develop. Boyle is creating a political discourse from which politics is to be excluded. unlike Shapin and Schaffer themselves. Boyle is not simply creating a scientific discourse while Hobbes is doing the same thing for politics. Why. but Hobbes speaks only of the representation of naked citizens. In other words. each on his own side. then neither are history and sociology . So it is not at all by oversight that political philosophers have ignored Hobbes's science. The word 'representation' is the same. we understand the symmetry of the work achieved simultaneously by Hobbes and Boyle. The authors offer a masterful deconstruction of the evolution.SCIENTIFIC AND POLITICAL REPRESENTATION 17 knowledge through power? Hobbes again. between the artificiality of facts and the artificiality of the Body Politic. a world in which the representation of things through the intermediary of the laboratory is forever dissociated from the representation of citizens through the intermediary of the social contract. they are inventing our modern world. Boyle's science is impotent without a precise delimitation of the . . we pursue the logic of their book to the end. possess authority only if they are dearly separated: Hobbes's State is impotent without science and technology. and not establish direct relations between the representation of nonhumans and the representation of humans. and we might locate the practice of science that they have described.7 Scientific Representation and Political Representation If. but the controversy between Hobbes and Boyle renders any likeness between the two senses · of the word unthinkable. diffusion and popularization of the air pump. diffusion and popularization of 'power' or 'force' ? Is 'force' less problematic than the air's spring? If nature and epistemology are not made up of transhistoric entities. now that we are no longer entirely modern. with his construction of a monist macro-structure in which knowledge has a place only in support of the social order. Today. 1992) ! But it is not very probable that the air's spring has a more political basis than English society itself . do they not deconstruct the evolution. these two senses are moving closer together again. while historians of science have ignored Boyle's positions on the politics of science. then.

a mortal god. The facts are produced and represented in the laboratory. Scientists are scrupulous representa­ tives of the facts. an artificial creature. or in the name of those who empower him ? This is an insoluble question with which modern political philosophy will grapple endlessly. but also their authorized spokespersons. and despite the small number of trained and reliable witnesses.28 CONSTITUTION religious. He translates them. they are recognized and vouched for by the nascent community of witnesses. then. beyond all question. forces. calculations. nature or human beings ? This is another insoluble question with which the modern philosophy of science will wrestle over the course of three centuries. powers. but politics is not allowed to have any relation to the nonhumans produced and mobilized by science and technology. it is made up of nothing but social relations. agreements or disputes. their personification. The Republic is a paradoxical artificial creature composed of citizens united only by the authorization given to one of them to represent them all. He invents the laboratory within which artificial machines create phenomena out of whole cloth. Who is speaking when they speak? The facts themselves. societies. costly and hard to reproduce. Who is acting when that one acts ? We are. He becomes their spokesperson. but it is the citizens who are speaking through him. Even though they are artificial. On what does the Leviathan depend ? On the calculation of human atoms that leads to the contract that decides on the irreversible composition of the strength of all in the hands of a single one. their persona. the representation of citizens belongs to politics. but science is not allowed to appeal to politics. Hobbes and Boyle quarrel in order to define the two resources that we continue to use unthinkingly. It is indeed the Sovereign who speaks. natural forces . we who have definitively delegated our power to him. They are like a pair of Founding Fathers. political and scientific spheres. in scientific writings. and that is why he makes such an effort to counteract Hobbes's monism. But Boyle defines an even stranger artifact. In themselves. . Who is speaking. In what does this strength consist? In the authorization granted by all naked citizens to a single one to speak in their name. thanks to Hobbes and his successors. They empower him: therefore they may impeach him. and the intensity of their double battle is highly indicative of the novelty of what they are inventing. Or rather. Does the Sovereign speak in his own name. In short. facts are mute. Hobbes defines a naked and calculating citizen who constitutes the Leviathan. we are beginning to understand what is meant by social relations. these facts indeed represent nature as it is. therefore he may betray them . acting in concert to promote one and the same innovation in political theory : the representation of nonhumans belongs to science. The Leviathan is made up only of citizens.

the object of science. Soon the word 'representation' will take on two different meanings. In their common debate. the subject of law. In his writing and his correspondence. what the properties of matter are. On the one hand. theol­ ogy. Yet the scientists declare that they themselves are not speaking. Only a little effort is now required for their common origin to become invisible. law. With Boyle and his successors. biblical exegesis and political science. Together. 2. and they testify to each other that they are not betraying but translating the silent behaviour of objects. Hobbes's and Boyle's descendants offer us the resources we have used up to now: on the one hand. they describe how God must rule. rather. writing. psychol­ ogy. natural force and mechanism. according to whether elected agents or things are at stake. what the boundaries of scientific or political discussion must be.8 The Constitutional Guarantees of the Moderns If the modern Constitution invents a separation between the scientific power charged with representing things and the political power charged with representing subjects. the two camps are still arguing through spokespersons. the symmetry is still visible. and the hermeneutics of facts. who cannot all speak at once. Epistemology and political science will go their opposite ways. scientific politics. the latter translate their constituents. In his Leviathan. social force and power. let us not draw the conclusion that from now on subjects are far removed from things. In the seventeenth century. facts speak for themselves. for there to be no more spokesperson except on the side of human beings. each accusing the other of multiplying the sources of conflict. how to keep the lower orders on . signifying within the artificial chamber of the laboratory or inside the even more rarefied chamber of the vacuum pump. on the other. who are mute from birth. how nature is to be interrogated. On the contrary. The former can betray. The political spokespersons come to represent the quarrelsome and calculating multitude of citizens. Little groups of gentlemen take testimony from natural forces.THE CONSTITUTIONAL GUARANTEES OF THE MODERNS 29 are brute mechanisms. theology. The former translate their principals. how the spirits or the angels should act. Hobbes simultaneously redraws physics. on the other. how the new King of England must legislate. an object that is mute but endowed or entrusted with meaning. Boyle simultaneously redesigns scientific rhetoric. These mute entities are thus capable of speaking. the scientific spokespersons come to represent the mute and material multitude of objects. and for the scientists' mediation to become invisible. so can the latter. we begin to conceive of what a natural force is.

this one has to be measured by the guarantees it offers. If. what the rights and duties of women are. what is to be expected of mathematics. the power that allows mute objects to speak through the intermediary of loyal and disciplined scientific spokespersons. we are only discovering its secrets. Symmetrically. then. the Leviathan. What is the intimate relation between their two movements? Is purification necessary to allow for proliferation? Must there be hundreds of hybrids in order for a simply human politics and simply natural things to exist? Is an absolute distinction required between the two movements in order for both to remain effective ? How can the power of this arrangement be explained ? What. and they do not yet establish any separation between a pure social force and a pure natural mechanism. offers a significant guarantee: it is not men who make Nature. a speculative exercise imagining that such a Constitution has indeed been drafted by conscious agents trying to build from scratch a functional system of checks and balances. To do so I have none of the historical skills of my colleagues and I will have to rely on what is. they are situated within the old anthropological matrix. While both Boyle and Hobbes are meddling in politics and religion and technology and morality and science and law. then.)0 CONSTITUTION a tight rein. if society is made only by and for humans. If Nature is not made by or for human beings. and only human beings. who says only what they say. they are also dividing up the tasks to the extent that the one restricts himself to the science of things and the other to the politics of men. of necessity. It is the relation between these two tasks that I am seeking to understand. If we consider hybrids. of which Hobbes and Boyle wrote only one of the early drafts. The political power that Hobbes and his many political descendants define in opposition to Boyle has citizens speak with one voice through the translation and betrayal of a sovereign. if we consider the work of purification. we confront a total separation between nature and culture. . In practice. Nature has always existed and has always already been there. The natural power that Boyle and his many scientific descendants defined in opposition to Hobbes. we consider these two guarantees separately. then it remains foreign. is the secret of the modern world? In an attempt to grasp the answers. they remain incomprehensible. are the ones who construct society and freely determine their own destiny. or renders it inaccessible. Nature's very transcendence overwhelms us. Here lies the entire modern paradox. we are dealing only with mixtures of nature and culture. forever remote and hostile. we have to generalize the results achieved by Shapin and Schaffer and define the complete Constitution. As with any Constitution. This power offers an equally significant guarantee: human beings. after the fashion of modem political philosophy. they divide up the capacities of things and people.

nevertheless. as if the first assured the nonhumanity of Nature and the second the humanity of the social sphere. cannot stand up. immanence. . Boyle and his descendants are not simply saying that the Laws of Nature escape our grasp. Despite their artificial construction inside the vacuum pump (such is the phase of mediation or translation). there shall exist a total separation between the work of hybrids and the work of purification. nevertheless. They are nothing but the two branches of a single new government. the Leviathan infinitely surpasses the humans who created it. not only mutually but internally. But these two guarantees are contradictory. They reinforce each other. for they add a third constitutional guarantee: there shall exist a complete separation between the natural world (constructed. it mobilizes the countless goods and objects that give it consistency and durability. The first two guarantees are contradictory only as long as the third does not keep them apart for ever. for in its pores. massive and powerful. not separately. by things). as long as it does not turn an overly patent symmetry into two contradictory asyrr:metries that practice resolves but can never express. that it mobilizes commerce. inventions. by man) and the social world (sus­ tained. Its very immanence destroys it at once in the war of every man against every man. Hobbes and the newly defined citizens go on and on constructing the Leviathan by dint of calculation and social force. as checks and balances. its vessels. but they recruit more and more objects in order to make it last. Despite its human construction. Are they lying? Deceiving themselves? Deceiving us ? No. we note that the guarantees are reversed. If we now consider them together. They were created together. secondly. since each plays simultaneously on transcendence and . and the arts. they are also fabricating these laws in the laboratory. Yet despite the solidity procured by the mobilization of things (as revealed by the work of mediation). But these two constitutional guarantees must not be taken separately. but that the Leviathan is durable and solid. the facts completely escape all human fabrication (such is the phase of purifica­ tion). and that the Sovereign holds the well-tempered steel sword and the golden sceptre in his hand. The first and second guarantees serve as counterweight to one another. Boyle and his countless successors go on and on both constructing Nature artificially and stating that they are discovering it.THE CONSTITUT IONAL G UARANTEES OF TH E MODERNS 31 a n artificial creature o f which we are a t once the form and the matter. we alone are the ones who constitute it freely by the sheer force of our reasoning ­ we poor. naked. Hobbes and his descendants are not declaring simply that men make their own society by sheer force. its tissues. unarmed citizens (as demonstrated by the work of purification) .

the transcendence of Nature will not prevent its social immanence. many more institutions. however. we did not construct it. But the overall structure is now easy to grasp: the three guarantees taken together will allow the moderns a change in scale. the immanence of the social will not prevent the Leviathan from remaining transcendent. construction in the laboratory. ' 2. it is transcendent and s urpasses it is immanent. it is transcendent and it is immanent to our action. which would have prevented that duo from giving its all. A fourth guarantee had to settle the question of God by removing Him for ever from the dual social and . Society is as if we did construct it. Third guarantee: Natu re and Society must remain absolutely distinct: the work of p urification must remain absolu tely distinct from the work of mediation. CONSTITUTION First guarantee: even thou gh we Second g uarantee: even though we construct Nature. 1 The paradoxes of Nature and Society It will take many more authors.32 CONSTITUTION FIRST PARADOX Natu re is not our construction. to avoid seeing an overly perfect symmetry between the two guarantees of the Constitution. Figure 2. . SECOND PARADOX Nature is our artificial Society is not our construction. as people used to say. on the other. . us infinitely.9 The Fourth Guarantee: The Crossed-out God It was necessary. Natu re is as if do not construct Society. They are going to be able to make Nature intervene at every point in the fabrication of their societies while they go right on attributing to Nature its radical transcendence. On the one hand. We must admit that this is a rather neat construction that makes it possible to do everything without being limited by anything. while they go right on making their society hold together by mobilizing Nature. Society is ou r free construction. they are going to be able to become the only actors in their own political destiny. It is not surprising that this Constitution should have made it possible. many more rules. to complete the movement sketched out by the exemplary dispute between Hobbes and Boyle. su rpasses us infinitely. to 'liberate productive forces .

FOURTH GUARANTEE: THE CROSSED-OUT GOD 33 natural construction. and no one would have been able to decide. as for statesmen. the conjoined invention of scientific facts and citizens (Eisenstein. without needing to bring God into either. Scientific power 'no longer needed this hypothesis'. Reinterpretation of the ancient Christian theological themes made it possible to bring God's transcendence and His immanence into play simultaneously. in case of conflict between the two branches of government. But an overly thorough distancing would have deprived the moderns of a critical resource they needed to complete their mechanism. they could fabricate the 'mortal god' of the Leviathan without troubling themselves further about the immortal God whose Scripture was now interpreted only figuratively by the Sovereign. The Nature-and-Society twins would have been left hanging in the void. Modern men and women could thus be atheists even while remaining religious. while leaving Him presentable and usable neverthe­ less. so that He disturbed neither the free play of nature nor that of society. but the right was nevertheless reserved to appeal to that transcendence in case of conflict between the laws of Nature and those of Society. His transcendence distanced Him infinitely. But this lengthy task of the sixteenth-century Reforma­ tion would have produced very different results had it not got mixed up with the task of the seventeenth century. They could invade the material world and freely re-create the social world. which one should win out over the other. the latter by ridding Society of any divine origin. Worse still. their symmetry would have been excessively obvious. No one is truly modern who does not agree to keep God from interfering with Natural Law as well as with the laws of the Republic. God becomes the crossed-out God of metaphysics. as different from the premodern God of the Christians as the Nature constructed in the laboratory is from the ancient phusis or the Society invented by sociologists from the old anthropological collective and its crowds of nonhumans. The moderns could now be both secular and pious at the same time (Weber. Spirituality was re­ invented: the all-powerful God could descend into men's heart of hearts without intervening in any way in their external affairs. but without experiencing the feeling of an orphaned demiurge abandoned by all. This last constitutional guarantee was . [ 1 920] 195 8 ) . A wholly individual and wholly spiritual religion made it possible to criticize both the ascendancy of science and that of society. 1 979) . Hobbes's and Boyle's followers succeeded in carrying out this task ­ the former by ridding Nature of any divine presence. foresight and cunning I could say that everything happens as if the moderns had applied the same doubling to the crossed-out God that they had used on Nature and Society. If I am allowed to go on with the convenient fiction that this Constitution is drafted by some conscious agent endowed with will.

they have not made either.l. The essential point of this modern Constitution is that it renders the work of mediation that assembles hybrids invisible. There is no way we can understand the moderns if we do not see that the four guarantees serve as checks and balances for one another. Who could have resisted such a construction ? Truly exceptional events must have weakened this powerful mechanism for me to be able to describe it today . whose very possibility. A threefold transcendence and a threefold immanence in a crisscrossed schema that locks in all the possibilities: this is where I locate the power of the moderns. unthinkable. which separates.yet His absence did not prevent people from calling on Him at will in the privacy of their own hearts. CONSTITUTION expanded proliferation of the hybrids whose existence. objectify the social. His position became literally ideal. the moderns can mobilize Nature. it denies. On the contrary (and here the beauty of the mechanism comes to light) . with the emergence of the sciences. modernity has nothing to do with the invention of humanism. for the modern world would immediately cease to function. with the secularization of society. If I am right in this outline of the Constitution. even while firmly maintaining that Nature escapes us. be too obvious ? No. since He was bracketed twice over. the modern Constitution allows the alternation between transcendence and immanence. The third guarantee rules out any contamination between what belongs to Nature and what belongs to politics. By playing three times in a row on the same given not by a supreme God but by an absent God . and that God no longer intervenes. The first two make it possible to alternate the sources of power by moving directly from pure natural force to pure political force. Like all other collectives it lives on that blending. they have not made Society. Its originality and its strength come from the conjoined production of these three pairings of transcendence and immanence. they make Nature. Might the contradiction between the third. and the first two. or with the mechanization of the world. and vice versa. even though the first two guarantees allow a rapid alternation between the two.. They have not made Nature. across a long history of which I have presented only one stage via the figures of Hobbes and Boyle. they have made everything. because the fourth constitutional guarantee establishes as arbiter an infinitely remote God who is simultaneously totally impotent and the sovereign j udge. which alternate. once in metaphysics and again in spirituality. God has made everything. unrepresentable. they make Society. but He remained effective and helpful within the spirit of humans alone. God has made nothing. Does this lack of representation limit the work of mediation in any way ? No. that Society is our own work. and feel the spiritual presence of God. He would no longer interfere in any way with the development of the moderns.

This was the second Enlightenment. or symbols. 2. The obscurity of the olden days. Freed from religious bondage. from its Old Regime. that of the nineteenth century. This time. 1 0 The Power of the Modem Critique At the very moment when the moderns' critical capacities are waning. one last time. Or rather. signs and things.. precise knowledge of society and its laws made it possible to criticize not only the biases of ordinary obscurantism but also the new biases created by the natural sciences. of their prodigious efficacity. turning to the newly founded social sciences in order to destroy the excesses of naturalization. It soon began to move in the other direction. it became possible to distinguish the truly scientific component of the other sciences from the component attributable to ideology. All the ideas of yesteryear. But the modern critique did not simply turn to Nature in order to destroy human prejudices. one after the other.THE POWER OF THE MODERN CRITIQUE 35 with an ethnologist's detachment for a world that is in the process of disappearing. The natural sciences at last defined what Nature was. a 'yesteryear' absolutely different from today. the moderns could criticize the obscurantism of the old powers by revealing the material causality that those powers dissimulated . which illegitimately blended together social needs and natural reality. became inept or approximate. and each new emerging scientific discipline was experienced as a total revolution by means of which it was finally liberated from its prescientific past. All the ideas of . the unconscious. the second group too often saw an unacceptable blend that needed to be purified by carefully separating the part that belonged to things themselves and the part that could be attributed to the functioning of the economy. In the hybrids of the first Enlightenment thinkers. No one who has not felt the beauty of this dawn and thrilled to its promises is modern. meanings and mechanisms. The Laws of Nature allowed the first Enlightenment thinkers to demolish the ill-founded pretensions of human prejudice. by contrast. it is useful to take the measure. language. Sorting out the kernels of science from the chaff of ideology became the task for generations of well­ meaning modernizers. Applying this new critical tool.even as they invented those very phenomena in the artificial enclosure of the laboratory. interests or ignorance. simply applying the modern Consti­ tution was enough to create. With solid support from the social sciences. they no longer saw anything in the hybrids of old but illegitimate mixtures that they had to purify by separating natural mechanisms from human passions. gave way to a luminous dawn that cleanly separated material causality from human fantasy.

along with all those of the second. The exclusive transcendence of a Nature . and even though their critical capital has now been disseminated into the hands of millions of small shareholders. express indignation at and denounce irrational beliefs. Marxism realized . denounce and express indignation at irrational beliefs and unjustified dominations. No one who has not waited for that dawn and thrilled to its promises is modern. still remain the two principal sources of modern indignation today. The invincible moderns even found themselves able to combine the two critical moves by using the natural sciences to debunk the false pretensions of power and using the certainties of the human sciences to uncover the false pretensions of the natural sciences.l6 CONSTITUTION yesteryear . as was soon to become clear .and finished off. 1992) . by contrast. Anyone who has never felt this dual power vibrate within. and of scientism.became inept or approximate. a succession of radical revolutions created an obscure 'yesteryear' that was soon to be dissipated by the luminous dawn of the social sciences.including those of certain pseudo-sciences . and the unjustified domination of the experts who claim to have staked out the limits of action and freedom. Marxism made it possible to retain the portion of truth belonging to the natural and social sciences even while it carefully eliminated their condemned portion. Anchor point Transcendence of nature Immanence of Nature Immanence of Society Transcendence of Society Critical possibility We can do nothing against Nature's laws We have unlimited possibilities We are totally free We can do nothing against Society's laws Figure 2. has never been modern. If it seemed impossible. between false ideology and true science. anyone who has never been obsessed by the distinction between rationality and obscurantism. The traps of naturalization and scientific ideology were finally dispelled. The first distinction between material causality and the illusions of obscurantism. even though our contemporaries can no longer close off discussion in Marxist fashion. for so long. the biases of ideologies.all the hopes of the first Enlightenment. like the second distinction between science and ideology. Or rather.2 Anchor points and critical possibilities Solidly grounded in the transcendental certainty of nature's laws. and bound them together for all time (Althusser. their ideology. the modern man or woman can criticize and unveil. to get past Marxism. Total knowledge was finally within reach. this was because Marxism interwove the two most powerful resources ever developed for the modern critique. the modern man or woman can criticize and unveil. Solidly grounded in the certainty that humans make their own destiny.

even though we construct Society through and through. translation and networks. is the free society of speaking. it is as transcendent as Nature. collections. even as they render its laws ineluctable. collections. Nature remains mobilizable. they will show you that they never confuse the Laws of Nature with imprescriptible human freedom. 1 1 The Invincibility of the Modems Because it believes in the total separation of humans and nonhumans. Conversely. centres of calculation and of profit. If you believe them and direct your attention elsewhere. it lasts.THE INVINCIBILITY OF THE MODERNS 37 that is not our doing. there. values and of signs. laboratories. Every day. For every day. on the right. It is the unthinkable. humanizable. the unconscious of the moderns. who would appear too impotent in the face of things and too powerful within society. that science is a mere intermediary allowing access to Nature. thinking subjects. would nevertheless paralyze the moderns. they will take advantage of this to transfer thousands of objects from Nature into the social body while procuring for this body the solidity of natural things. everything happens by way of mediation. even as they leave Nature infinitely remote from human beings. as if they hadn't budged: here. and the exclusive immanence of a Society that we create through and through. and that they keep their hands off. socializable. and transform human relations into durable objects that no one has made. research bureaus and scientific institutions stake out the limits to the freedom of social groups. as in the children's game 'Mother. the Constitu­ tion has made the moderns invincible. If you object that they are being duplicitous. If you turn round suddenly. it dominates us. centres of calculation and of profit. The critical power of the moderns lies in this double language: they can mobilize Nature at the heart of social relationships. laboratories. may 1 ? '. they are free to make and unmake their society. 2. If you criticize them by saying that Nature is a world constructed by human hands. research bureaus and scientific institutions blend it with the multiple destinies of social groups. What an enormous advantage to be able to reverse the principles without even the appearance of contradiction! In spite of its transcendence. it has its own laws. they will freeze. they will show you that it is transcendent. everything passes between the two. and because it simultaneously cancels out this separation. looking innocent. If you tell them that we are free and that our destiny is in our own hands. it surpasses us. What . necessary and absolute. on the left. it has no place. but this space does not exist. are things themselves. they will tell you that Society is transcendent and its laws infinitely surpass us. Everything happens in the middle.

or immanent Nature. By separating the relations of political power from the relations of scientific reasoning while continuing to shore up power with reason and reason with power. What is more. they might have resisted. or transcendent Society. You call yourself religious? The modern critique will have a hearty laugh at your expense! How could the other cultures-natures have resisted? They became premodern by contrast. Such a superiority. You are indignant that the world is being mechanized? The modern critique will tell you about the creator God to whom everything belongs and who gave man everything.l8 CONSTITUTION better way to extend collectives than by bringing them into alliance both with Nature's transcendence and with all of human freedom. the moderns have always had two irons in the fire. Native Americans were not mistaken when they accused the Whites of having forked tongues. each one appealing to different foundations. But they seemed to be separate. . yet that contradiction had no influence whatsoever either on the diversity of the sources of power or on their hidden unity.construction. but how could they resist the combination of all six? Or rather. in conflict with one another.and its opposite. You think that the spirits of the ancestors hold you forever hostage to their laws? The modern critique will show you that you are hostage to yourselves and that the spiritual world is your own human­ too human . They could have stood up against transcendent Nature. You are stuck in a traditional economy? The modern critique will show you that physical mechanisms can upset the progress of human affairs by mobilizing huge productive forces. You think that thunder is a divinity? The modern critique will show that it is generated by mere physical mechanisms that have no influence over the progress of human affairs. blending incom­ patible branches of government. or a remote God. You are indignant that society is secular? The modern critique will show you that spirituality is thereby liberated. They have become invincible. You then think that you can do everything and develop your societies as you see fit? The modern critique will show you that the iron laws of society and economics are much more inflexible than those of your ancestors. of purification were contradicted at once by the practice of mediation. all these critical resources. and that a wholly spiritual religion is far superior. or society made by human hands. while at the same time incorporating Nature and imposing absolute limits on the boundaries of freedom? This makes it possible to do anything. or an intimate God. such an originality. made the moderns think they were free from the ultimate restrictions that might limit their expansion. if the six resources of the modern critique had been visible together in a single operation such as I am retracing today.

the poor premodern collectives were accused of making a horrible mishmash of things and humans. they will tell you that He speaks in the privacy of the heart. and that despite their sciences and their politics they have never stopped being moral and devout. invincible. unquestion­ ably. they have been. Or rather. . while their accusers finally separated them totally . But the price the moderns paid for this freedom was that they remained unable to conceptualize themselves in continuity with the premoderns. If you ask to read those judgements. Yes. they will speak to you of an all-powerful God who is infinitely remote in the great beyond. As the moderns also extended this Great Divide in time after extending it in space.and its opposite. or that religion is a social construct. . since the double play of each of the three agencies between immanence and transcendence makes it possible to do anything . If you tell them they are atheists. If you express astonishment at a religion that has no influence either on the way the world goes or on the direction of society. but they displace them from case to case with such rapidity that they can never be caught redhanded. all the critical possibilities. they have believed they were.WHAT THE CONSTITUTION CLARIFIES AND OBSCURES 39 Century after century.to remix them at once on a scale unknown until now . If you say that this crossed-out God is something of a foreigner. . then ? They hold all the sources of power. they have almost been. . they had to invent the Great Divide because the entire work of mediation . they felt themselves absolutely free to give up following the ridiculous constraints of their past which required them to take into account the delicate web of relations between things and people. 1 2 What the Constitution Clarifies and What It Obscures Yet the modern world has never happened. of objects and signs. But at the same time they were taking into account many more things and many more people . in the sense that it has never functioned according to the rules of its official Constitution alone: it has never separated the three regions of Being I have mentioned and appealed individually to the six resources of the modern critique. colonial empire after colonial empire. or the effect of neurons! What will you tell them. 2. The practice of translation has always been different from the practices of purification. . They had to think of themselves as absolutely different. You cannot even accuse them of being nonbelievers. this difference itself is inscribed in the Constitu­ tion. they are. they will object that religion infinitely surpasses science and politics and it does not influence them. they will tell you that it sits in judgement on both. Never has a Constitution allowed such a margin for manreuvre in practice.

it is much more than an illusion and much less than an essence.CONSTITUTION escapes the constitutional framework that simultaneously outlines it and denies its existence. taking my turn in a long queue of debunkers and critics. Since the 1970s. I would play a very modern role indeed. to probe their unconscious belief. It is a force added to others that for a long time it had the power to represent.innovate on a large scale in the production of hybrids .and the two revisions amount to one and the same. Worse still. Similarly. language and practice. to uncover their real practice. French historians have finally understood that the revolutionary reading of the French Revolution had been added to the events of that time. but it no longer defines what has happened to us. False consciousness would force the moderns to imagine a Constitution that they can never apply. the Revolution as 'modality of historical action' is to be distinguished from the Revolution as 'process'. The revision I am proposing is similar to the revision of the French Revolution that has been undertaken during the last twenty years or so in France . modernity is not the false consciousness of moderns. that it had organized historiography since 1 789. As Fran�ois Furet proposes. So. by proposing to debunk their illusions. like the idea of Revolution. [ 1 978] 1 98 1 ) . The events of 1 789 were no more revolutionary than the modern world has been modern. the modern predicament looks like a plot that I am about to unveil. illusion and reality. I am not claiming that the moderns are unaware of what they do. and we have to be very careful to grant the Constitution. They have to practise the top and the bottom halves of the modern Constitution. since the moderns are explicit about the two tasks. The modern world would thus be populated by liars and cheaters. Expressed in this way. But the relation between the work of purification and that of mediation is not that of conscious and unconscious. and the scientific revolutions still await their Fran�ois Furet. formal and informal. So is modernity an illusion? No. The only thing I add is the relation between those two different sets of practices. and to influence their own fate. There is no false consciousness involved. a dichotomy which is itself possible only because they never consider the work of purification and that of mediation together. Modernity still awaits its Tocqueville. to accelerate.a power that it no longer entirely holds. to reveal their double talk. I am simply saying that what they do . The actors and chroniclers of 1789 used the notion of revolution to understand what was happening to them. or to summarize . the modern Constitution exists and indeed acts in history. They would practise the very things that they are not allowed to say. but that it no longer defines the events themselves (Furet.is possible only because they steadfastly hold to the absolute dichotomy between the order of Nature and that of Society. . as we shall see further on.

and so long as the work of mediation multiplies hybrids.if we are to believe the anthropologists dwell endlessly and obsessively on those connections between nature and culture. the premoderns . . they simply could not appear as one single and coherent configuration. these three ideas make it possible to capitalize on a large scale. whereas those who choose to ignore them by insulating them from any dangerous consequences develop them to the utmost. .as they thought . I am simply adding the bottom half to the upper half.WHAT THE CONSTITUTION CLARIFIES AND OBSCURES . While the moderns insure themselves by not thinking at all about the consequences of their innovations for the social order. Just as the idea of Revolution led the revolutionaries to take irreversible decisions that they would not have dared take without it. Far from eliminating the work o f mediation.by the separation of humans and nonhumans but. and by the absence of all divinity (provided that God speaks to the heart) . So are the moderns aware of what they are doing or not? The solution to the paradox may not be too hard to find if we look at what anthropologists tell us of the premoderns. To put it crudely: those who think the most about hybrids circumscribe them as much as possible. In saying this I am not unveiling a practice hidden beneath an official reading. The second one consists in bracketing off entirely the work of hybridization on the one hand and the dual social and natural order on the other. The moderns think they have succeeded in such an expansion only because they have carefully separated Nature and Society (and bracketed God). without bracketing anything and without ruling out any combination! The link between the work of purification and the work of mediation has given birth to the moderns. So long as their contraries remain simultaneously present and unthinkable. The first consists in thoroughly thinking through the close connections between the social and the natural order so that no dangerous hybrid will be introduced carelessly. the Constitution provided the moderns with the daring to mobilize things and people on a scale that they would otherwise have disallowed. but as long as we were modern. i t has allowed this work to expand. To undertake hybridization. There are two ways of taking this precaution. This modification of scale was achieved not . They are both necessary together. it is always necessary to believe that it has no serious consequences for the constitutional order. whereas they have succeeded only because they have mixed together much greater masses of humans and nonhumans. but they credit only the former with their success. by the idea of free Society (provided that it remains transcendent). by the amplification of their contacts. This growth is in turn facilitated by the idea of transcendent Nature (provided that it remains mobilizable). on the contrary. The premodems are all monists in the constitution of their nature-cultures.. its own effectiveness. 'The native is a logical hoarder'.

one might postulate that when a society transforms its material base. the moderns allowed the practice of mediation to recombine all possible monsters without letting them have any effect on the social fabric. emphasis added) If. human and natural elements with concepts. and the settlement of disputes in England at the time of the Glorious Revolution. p. cleaning and purifying the arena that is opened in the central space defined by their three sources of power. might seem to be a rather frightening chimera. whether physical.41 CONSTITUTION writes Claude Levi-Strauss. . It is the impossibility of changing the social order without modifying the natural order . with the natural order. {Descola. than the effect of the inertia effect of a thought system unable to represent the process of socializing nature in any way other than through the categories that dictate the way real society should function. the premoderns limit the practical expansion of these mixes. for example. [ 1 962] 1 966. Every monster becomes visible and thinkable and explicitly poses serious problems for the social order. on the contrary.that has obliged the premoderns to exercise the greatest prudence. the action of God. sweeping. our Constitution authorizes anything. 405 . because it never allows them to appear as elements of 'real society' . [ 1986] 1993. with which Clastres credited 'savages' {Clastres. they posed no problem because they did not exist publicly and because their monstrous consequences remained untraceable. point for point. it is surely the accelerated socialization of nonhumans. or divine laws (Horton. . the cosmos. unceasingly turning over all the aspects of reality. What the premoderns have always ruled out the moderns can allow. or even any contact with it. p. Running counter to the overhasty technical determinism with which evolutionist theories are often imbued. From now on the English seventeenth century will go on to construct Royalty. Boyle's air pump. 'he is forever tying the threads. since the social order never turns out to correspond. Bizarre as these monsters may be. 1 974) . By saturating the mixes of divine. The air's spring will . since it produces a laboratory vacuum artificially. 1 982).and vice versa . By rendering mixtures unthinkable. a vacuum that simultaneously permits the definition of the Laws of Nature. this is conditioned by a prior mutation of the forms of social organization that comprise the conceptual framework of the material mode of producing. 267). Descola writes about the Achuar: The homeostasis of the 'cold societies' of Amazonia would be less the result of the implicit rejection of political alienation. social or mental' (Levi-Strauss. 1967. by emptying. savage thought would have conjured away its dangers at once. Nature and theology with the scientific community and the laboratory. According to Robin Horton.

they would no longer have the strength to believe in the . then it is the very foundation of the modern critique that turns out to be ill-assured. I am thus trying the tricky move to unveil the modern Constitution without resorting to the modern type of debunking. 1 3 The End of Denunciation To be sure. To do so I am accounting for this vague and uneasy feeling that we have recently become as unable to denounce as to modernize. since nothing more has been done than to discover the Laws of Nature. The more science is absolutely pure. has to be unaware of what it allows. sometimes to God. if it is to be effective. join the actors that inhabit England. So long as we adhered willingly to the Constitution. But if the Constitution as a whole now appears as only one half that no longer allows us to understand its own other half. the moderns had found the mainspring of their indignations well wound up. since nothing monstrous has been produced. as I indicated earlier. What kind of a modern could no longer fall back on the transcendence of nature to criticize the obscurantism of power? On the immanence of Nature to criticize human inertia ? On the immanence of Society to criticize the submission of humans and the dangers of naturalism? On the transcendence of society to criticize the human illusion of individual liberty ? On the transcendence of God to appeal to the judgement of humans and the obstinacy of things? On the immanence of God to criticize established Churches.THE END OF DENUNCIATION the impossibility of directly conceptualizing its relations with the social order.but does not allow their conceptualization.which differ. The upper ground for taking a critical stance seems to have escaped us. the more they blend. but one that no longer bears upon the same objects as the modern critique and is no longer triggered by the same mainsprings. and by constantly opposing the transcendence of each one of these three terms to its immanence. I am practising an unveiling. Yet by appealing sometimes to Nature. since there is no chimera. from societies made up only of social relations . The less the moderns think they are blended. it allowed us to settle all disputes and served as a basis for the critical spirit. by affirming that the Constitution. The scope of the mobilization is directly proportional to 2. Yet this recruitment of a new ally poses no problem. The modern Constitution accelerates or facilitates the deployment of collectives . the more it is intimately bound up with the fabric of society. or else a postmodern: still inhabited by the violent desire to denounce. providing individuals with justification for their attacks and their operations of unveiling. naturalist beliefs and socialist dreams ? It would be a pretty pathetic kind of modern. sometimes to Society.

we now experience the work of denunciation as a 'historical modality' which certainly influences our . thanks to this little gap opened up by systematic study. or the true interests underlying the false calculations. It is impossible for the human sciences to be scandalized. They too are made part of the analysis (Chateauraynaud. do we not have the impression that we are losing the best of ourselves? Was it not the origin of our energy. they too bring issues to justice. we can no longer fully adhere to the spirit of the modern critique.the Cities that supply the various principles of justice . the grammar of our indignations. The denouncer is the brother of the ordinary people that he claimed to be denouncing. Suddenly. In losing our wholehearted adherence to the Constitution. in a book as important for my own essay as Shapin and Schaffer's. To reveal the true calculations underlying the false conscious­ nesses. of bringing an affair to justice. They show how we all go about accusing one another. beneath his unconscious actions.CONSTITUTION legitimacy of any of these six courts of appeal. To strip moderns of their indignation is to deprive them. critical unmasking appeared to be self-evident. 199 1 ) . 'The French Revolution is over. the critical spirit becomes a topic. They do not unmask anyone. of all self-respect. Instead of practising a critical sociology the authors quietly begin a sociology of criticism.and by interweaving the thousand and one ways we have. Luc Boltanski and Laurent Thevenot have done away with modern denunciation. the reality that is to be brought to light (Boltanski. the task of us moderns. To unmask: that was our sacred task. and become indignant and criticize. Instead of really believing in it. 1 990).the human sciences are no longer the ultimate reservoir that would make it possible at last to discern the real motives beneath appearances. Who is not still foaming slightly at the mouth with that particular rabies? Now Boltanski and Thevenot have invented the equivalent of an anti-rabies vaccine by calmly comparing all sources of denunciation . To strip critical intellectuals of the six bases for their denunciations is apparently to rob them of all reason to live. Instead of a resource. in France today. The tradition of the human sciences no longer has the privilege of rising above the actor by discerning. our ethics? However. They do not denounce others.' he wrote. 1 990). our moral strength. It was only a matter of choosing a cause for indignation and opposing false denunciations with as much passion as possible. one competence among others. without henceforth occupying one of the boxes in our colleagues' grid. Up to that point. They have done for the work of critical indignation what Fran�ois Furet did earlier for the French Revolution. in the same vein the subtitle of Economies de Ia grandeur could have been 'The modern denunciation is over' (Boltanski and Thevenot. it seems. How can we still make wholehearted accusations when the scapegoating mechan­ ism has become obvious? Even .

since the reason for their series of crimes is precisely that they are never able to make a genuine accusation of a truly guilty party (Girard. they do not count. that adorns objects with a value that is not their own. they are nothing. the accused person who was sacrificed in public by the crowd had to be actually guilty (Girard. It is scorned because it does not allow indignation. 1 9 8 3 ) . but it is active and generous because it follows the countless meanderings of situations and networks. we are caught up in the illusion of mimetic desire. The shift from sacrifice to scapegoat thus voids accusation. and he sees in this hard­ won scorn the highest proof of morality (Girard. and this desire alone. 1989). But Girard does not see that he himself is thus making a more serious allegation. Here is a denouncer and a half. If the victim became a scapegoat. do not scorn objects. but Boltanski and Thevenot. the mechanism of accusation became visible: some fall guy innocent of any crime was wrongly accused. But he prolongs the tendency of moderns to scorn objects even further . he claims. This evacuation does not soften the moderns. another moral judgement has always functioned by triage and selection. In order for the mechanism of victim-formation to function. but also negotiation or compromise. unlike Girard. combinazione. like Boltanski and Thevenot. By revealing the process of accusation. forever exhausts our aptitude to accuse. In themselves. however. It is scorned because it takes into account the objects that are no more the arbitrary stakes of our desire alone than they are the simple receptacle for our mental categories. 1 961 b). Today. since he accuses objects of not really counting. with no reason except to reconcile the community at his expense.and Girard tenders that accusation wholeheartedly. Charles Peguy used to say that a supple morality is infinitely more exigent than a rigid morality (Peguy.TH E END OF DENUNCIATION 45 affairs but does not explain them any more than the revolutionary modality explained the process of the even ts of 1 789. Are we devoid of any moral foundation once denunciation has been exhausted ? But underneath moral judgement by denunciation. So long as we imagine objective stakes for our disputes. combine. denuncia­ tion and revolution have both gone stale. The greatness of Boltanski and Thevenot's book comes from the fact that they exhaust denunciation even as they put the object engaged in tests of judgement at the heart of their analyses. he really believes it. combination. It is called arrangement. Girard. Boltanski and Thevenot's work completes the movement predicted and described by Rene Girard according to which moderns can no longer make sincere accusations. [1 978] 1 987). Just as the modern Constitution scorns the hybrids . It is this desire. The same holds true for the unofficial morality that constantly selects and distributes the practical solutions of the moderns.

We then discover that we have never been modern in the sense of the Constitution. what it clarifies and what it obfuscates. Underneath moral grandeur there is the meticulous triage of circumstan ces and cases (Jonsen and Toulmin. not a fresh solution.or else I study both the work of mediation and that of purification . thus they can divide up eras only in terms of successive revolutions. since the postmoderns no longer believe in the reasons that would allow them to denounce and to become indignant. official morality scorns practical arrangements and the objects that uphold it. though without believing in its foundations (Lyotard. but with the disagreeable sentiment that there is no more 'after'. by asserting that the critical mechanism has outlived its usefulness. and this is why I am not debunking the false consciousness of people who would practise the contrary of what they . 2. What remains? Disconnected instants and groundless denun­ ciations. but it no longer believes in the guarantees the Constitution offers. there is the whirlwind of the mediators. am I behaving as though we were entering a new era that would follow the era of the moderns? Would I then be. 'No future': this is the slogan added to the moderns' motto 'No past'. Instead of moving on to empirical studies of the networks that give meaning to the work of purification it denounces. It lives under the modern Constitution. 1 9 8 8 ) . postmodern ? Postmodernism is a symptom. Disappointed rationalists. but they continue to accept its way of dividing up time. as soon as we study in detail the work of production of hybrids and the work of elimination of these same hybrids. by proposing to reveal the practices that allow it to exist. By claiming that the modern Constitution does not permit itself to be understood. 1992). Underneath the opposition between objects and subjects. A different solution appears as soon as we follow both the official Constitution and what it forbids or allows.but I then cease to be wholly modern. 1 979).and I myself serve as a purifier and a vigilant guardian of the Constitution . It senses that something has gone awry in the modern critique. its adepts indeed sense that modernism is done for.CONSTITUTION that it shelters. or I study both what this Constitution allows and what it forbids. They feel that they come 'after' the moderns. Either I defend the work of purification . but it is not able to do anything buf prolong that critique. 1 4 We Have Never Been Modem I now have a choice: either I believe in the complete separation between the two halves of the modern Constitution. literally. postmodernism rejects all empirical work as illusory and deceptively scientistic (Baudrillard.

they claim to come after a time that has not even started! This retrospective attitude. sorts out instead of debunking. that we have never really left the old anthropological matrix behind. that we have never been modern. and that this has always been the case. on the contrary we no longer have to continue the headlong flight of the post-post-postmodernists. and that it could not have been otherwise. At the very moment when the twin Enlightenments of Marxism seemed to have explained everything. 199 1 ) whose explanation it abandons ­ are just about everything. Hence the hint of the ludicrous that always accompanies postmodern thinkers. even deeper into the 'era of suspicion'. nothing at all. fraternizes instead of denouncing.what Donna Haraway calls 'cyborgs' and 'tricksters' (Haraway. that there has never been a yesteryear or an Old Regime (Mayer. No. illegitimately called premodern. the idea of a time that passes irreversibly and annuls the entire past in its wake. or the past. 'merely residue. at the very moment when the failure of their total explanation leads the postmoderns to founder in the despair of self­ criticism. Modernity has never begun. Only the sign and the direction of their indignation vary. . The antimoderns even accept the chief oddity of the moderns. or society.WE HAVE NEVER BEEN MODERN claim. 1 982). monsters . of a rereading of our history. we no longer seek to be even cleverer. we are no longer obliged to cling to the avant­ garde of the avant-garde. The Constitution explained everything. but only by leaving out what was in the middle. Whether one wishes to conserve such a past or abolish it. or God. A nonmodern is anyone who takes simultaneously into account the moderns' Constitution and the populations of hybrids that that Constitution rejects and allows to proliferate. The use of the past perfect tense is important here. as if these entities really existed and actually had the form that the official part of the modern Constitution granted them.' it said of the networks. but accepts it fully. the idea that revolution is possible.' Now hybrids. in either case the revolutionary idea par excellence. which deploys instead of unveiling. for it is a matter of a retrospective sentiment. I characterize as nonmodern (or amodern). they compose not only our own collectives but also the others. There has never been a modern world. or liberty. 'It's nothing. or critical. or spirit. To notice that we have never been modern and that only minor divisions separate us from other collectives does not mean that I am a reactionary. I am not saying that we are entering a new era. or rationality. adds instead of subtracting. No one has ever been modern. or universality. even more critical. instead we discover that we have never begun to enter the modern era. we discover that the explanations had not yet begun. Antimoderns want to defend localities. The antimodern reaction struggles fiercely against the effects of the Constitution.

a tiny extension of societies. have accepted their adver­ saries' playing field. irreversible good or bad fortune. . but they no longer suffice as the stuff of saga.much broader. since revolution is only one resource among many others in histories that have nothing revolutionary. slight accelerations in the circulation of knowledge. 'In potentia' the modern world is a total and irreversible invention that breaks with the past. much less polemical ­ has opened up before us : the field of nonmodern worlds. however. Today. like revolutions. like the postmoderns. as vast as China and as little known. The antimoderns. When we see them as networks. nothing irreversible. It is the Middle Kingdom. permits scarcely anything more than small extensions of practices. that very idea strikes us as exaggerated. the modern world. Seen as networks. Western innovations remain recognizable and important. Another field . a vast saga of radical rupture.CONSTITUTION is maintained. just as 'in potentia' the French or Bolshevik Revolutions were midwives at the birth of a new world. about them. fatal destiny. small modifications of old beliefs. minuscule increases in the number of actors.

psychotropic drugs. submerged by the mixtures that it tolerated as material for experimentation because it simultaneously dissimulated their impact upon the fabric of society. they could still be subsumed under two classes. when a few years ago it was the deployment of networks that appeared absurd and scandalous ? Let us say that the moderns have been victims of their own success. that of natural laws and that of political representations. why are they hesitating over their own destiny today ? If the effectiveness of the Constitution depended precisely upon its obscure half. Victims of Their Own Success If the critical apparatus of the moderns has made them invincible. 1 The Modems. When the only thing at stake was the emergence of a few vacuum pumps. sensor­ equipped robots. It is a crude explanation. yet it would appear that the scope of the mobilization of collectives had ended up multiplying hybrids to such an extent that the constitutional framework which both denies and permits their existence could no longer keep them in place. digital machines. The third estate ends up being too numerous to feel that it is faithfully represented either by the order of objects or by the order of subjects. The modern Constitution has collapsed under its own weight.3 D RE VOLUTION 3. expert systems. hybrid corn. audience . but when we find ourselves invaded by frozen embryos. whales outfitted with radar sounding devices. If we can no longer adhere wholeheartedly to the tasks of modernization. data banks. I admit. unforeseen obstacles must have interfered with the mechanism. What has happened that makes the work of purification unthinkable. why can I now relate it to its luminous half? The bond between the two sets of practices must indeed have changed for me to be able to follow both the practices of purification and those of translation. gene synthesizers.

50 REVOLUTION analyzers. we also need to identify them by means of a latitude. they are no easier to situate. sociology. and when none of these chimera can be properly on the object side or on the subject side.the horizontal line we need to add the practices of mediation . Their Constitution could absorb a few counter-examples.indeed. something has to be done. Is the demographic time bomb local or global? Both. the two constitutional guarantees of the moderns . But where are we to classify the ozone hole story. or even in between. The diagnosis of the crisis with which I began this essay is now . The purification system has become as clogged as our judicial system. Instead of following the multiplication of hybrids by projecting them on to their longitude alone.can no longer be recognized either on the side of Nature or on the side of the Social. It is as if the two poles of the Constitution had been conflated in the end precisely because of the practice of mediation that this Constitution at once liberates and disavows.the vertical line. It is as if there were no longer enough judges and critics to partition the hybrids. it thrived on them. then. Are they local or global? Both.the universal laws of things. because it fills the median zone that the Constitution claimed to empty. and the inalienable rights of subjects . Are they natural? Natural because they are not our doing. In order to accommodate those exceptions. and so on. As for the human masses that have been made to multiply as a result of the virtues and vices of medicine and economics. a few exceptions . it still vaguely resembled the constitutional pole of tradition. distant enough. But it is helpless when the exceptions proliferate. and science could still be seen as a mere intermediary to uncover it. So long as Nature was remote and under control. transcendent. ethics. The destiny of the starving multitudes and the fate of our poor planet are connected by the same Gordian knot that no Alexander will ever again manage to sever. when the third estate of things and the Third World join together to invade all its assemblies en masse. that the moderns have caved in. we need to outline a space that is no longer the space of the modem Constitution. yet the laws of demography and economics are infinitely beyond us. Nature seemed to be held in reserve. sociobiology? This is our own doing. To the practice of purification . Thus. natural history. or global warming or deforestation ? Where are we to put these hybrids ? Are they human ? Human because they are our work. when our daily newspapers display all these monsters on page after page. Perhaps the modern framework could have held up a little while longer if its very development had not established a short circuit between Nature on the one hand and human masses on the other. In what world are these multitudes to be housed ? Are we in the realm of biology. Let us say. which are hardly any different from those of savage thought (see below). inexhaustible.

we may be able to accommodate the hybrids and give them a place. a home. an ontology and. quite clear: the proliferation of hybrids has saturated the constitutional framework of the moderns. the attraction of fashion. By deploying both dimensions at once. Ordinary people imagine that the power of gods. we simply have to follow the little comic strip in Figure 3 . 1992) . following Michel Serres ( 1 987). I hope. but they have never been explicit about the relation between the two sets of practices. the longitude and the latitude. come from some objective properties intrinsic to the nature of things. we may now be able to locate the position of these strange new hybrids and to understand how come that we had to wait for science studies in order to define what. quasi-subjects. the beauty of art. a philosophy. 1 Purification and mediation dimensions in practice.2.WHAT IS A QUASI-OBJECT? 51 Nature Pole The Modem The Multiplication of Hybrids The Nonmodem Dimension Figure 3. a new constitution. they have always been explicit about each of them. and still not lapse into postmodernism. social scientists know better and they show that . I shall call quasi-objects. Social scientists have for long allowed themselves to denounce the belief system of ordinary people.2 What Is a Quasi-Object? Using the two dimensions at once. Fortunately. a name. Nonmoderns have to stress the relations beteen them if they are to understand both the moderns' successes and their recent failures. To do so. The moderns have always been using both 3. They call this belief system 'naturalization' (Bourdieu and Wacquant. the objectivity of money.

-- ...- · ·�di - -- r.2 4 . ..... from society to the objects. ........ --.. _ _ _ __ . 1 . . 2 Denunciation no.2 What is a quasi-object? the arrow goes in fact in the other direction.. Nature no.. [ 1 9 15] 1 9 65). -.... is to reconcile this form of denunciation with a nother one in which the directions of the arrows are exactly reversed. I 'soft' . ��ety 'soft' .. But fortunately. mere social actors..... fashion and art offer only a surface for the projection of our social needs and interests. At least since Emile Durkheim.. ._ _ _ _ _ _ . Ordinary people. _ _ _ .. . money.l ' hard' no. Gods... however. Nature no. .. 1 .Q � . The difficulty. social scientists .. believe that they are free and that they can modify their desires..... -- Nature no. 'soft' ...2 -- . .. ..... that they are mere receptacles for human ca tegories. average citizens. To become a social scientist is to realize that the inner properties o f objects do not count...2 .2 3 Belief no.. _ _ _ __ .. their motives and their ra tional strategies at will.. Society 5 Dialectic The locus of the quasi-object 6 Figure 3. 1 Belief no. such has been the price of entry into the sociology profession (Durkheim...... ... -- Narure no. ... Society no... The arrow of their beliefs now goes from the Subject/Society pole to the Nature pole.52 REVOLUTION The double denunciation Denunciation no. Society no..� � � --.2 'hard' J VP ' . I 'soh' ........... Nature Quasi-object .. .. . l 'hard' ty no.2 'hard' e'� Dualism and its destruction � --..

informs and moulds the soft and pliable wills of the poor humans. Society is either too powerful or too weak vis-a-vis objects which are alternatively too powerful or too arbitrary. It is so originary that it is able to mould and shape what is nothing more than an arbitrary and shapeless matter. works of art are either too weak or too strong. 'Naturalization' is no longer a bad word but the shibboleth that allows the social scientists to ally themselves with the natural sciences. it has become powerless. Social scientists will happily alternate from one to the other showing without any trouble that for instance gods are mere idols shaped by the requirements of social order. it is called dualism. . consumer goods. shaped in turn by the powerful objective forces that completely determine its action. In the first denunciation. the 'soft' list of the nature pole gathering all the things social scientists happen to despise . First. however. it has no more cause than the transcendental ego it replaces. But still stranger are the successive roles given to society.the sui generis social factors . consumption. things. and debunk and ridicule this naive belief in the freedom of the human subject and society. they are just there to be used as the white screen on to which society projects its cinema. When the two critical resources are put together we now understand why it is so difficult for social scientists to reach agreement on objects.screens for projecting social categories . and they denounce.while the 'hard' list is made of all the sciences they naively believe in at the time . biology. The same partition will be made on the Subject/ Society pole: there will be its 'harder' components . The solution to this double contradictory denunciation is so pervasive that it has been providing social scientists with most of their common sense.economics.religion. genetics. They too 'see double'. the lists are made haphazardly.that is the indisputable results of the sciences .determined by the forces discovered by sciences and technologies. Objects. But in the second. objects count for nothing.while the second list will include all its 'harder' parts causes for determining the fate of human categories: that is.and its 'softer' components . society is so powerful that it is sui generis. This time they use the nature of things . this alternation is not very convincing. The Nature pole will be partitioned into two sets: the first list will incude its 'softer' parts .WHAT IS A QUASI-OBJECT? 53 are standing guard. To be sure. All the sciences (natural and social) are now mobilized to tum the humans into so many puppets manipulated by objective forces which only the natural or social scientists happen to know.to show how it determines. popular culture and politics . In the second form of denunciation. In the first denunciation. while the social construction of the sciences that have produced them remains invisible. while the rules of society are determined by biology. the sciences and the technologies. they are so powerful that they shape the human society.

REVOLUTION

linguistics, or brain sciences. Second, it is not clear why society needs to be projected on to arbitrary objects if those objects count for nothing. Is society so weak that it needs continuous resuscitation ? So terrible that, like Medusa's face, it should be seen only in a mirror? And if religion, arts or styles are necessary to 'reflect', 'reify', 'materialize', 'embody' society - to use some of the social theorists' favourite verbs - then are objects not, in the end, its co-producers ? Is not society built literally - not metaphorically - of gods, machines, sciences, arts and styles? But then where is the illusion of the 'common' actor in the bottom arrow of Figure 3.2. 1 ? Maybe social scientists have simply forgotten that before projecting itself on to things society has to be made, built, constructed ? And out of what material could it be built if not out of nonsocial, non­ human resources ? But social theory is forbidden to draw this conclusion because it has no conception of objects except the one handed down to it by the alternative 'hard' sciences which are so strong that they simply determine social order which in turn becomes flimsy and immaterial. Dualism may be a poor solution, but it provided 99 per cent of the social sciences' critical repertoire, and nothing would have disturbed its blissful asymmetry if science studies had not upset the applecart. Up to that point, dualism had seemed to work, since the 'hard' part of society was used on the 'soft' objects, while the 'hard' objects were used only on the 'soft' part of society (Bourdieu and Wacquant, 1 992). Social scientists could denounce the practices they did not believe in by using the solid science of society they had concocted and embracing the sciences they had complete confidence in so as to establish the social order. It is the glory of the Edinburgh school of social studies of science to have attempted a forbidden crossover (Barnes, 1 974; Barnes and Shapin, 1 979; Bloor, [1 976] 1 99 1 ; MacKenzie, 1 98 1 ; Shapin, 1992). They used the critical repertoire that was reserved for the 'soft' parts of nature to debunk the 'harder' parts, the sciences themselves! In short, they wanted to do for science what Durkheim had done for religion, or Bourdieu for fashion and taste; and they innocently thought that the social sciences would remain unchanged, swallowing science as easily as religion or the arts. But there was a big difference, invisible until then. Social scientists did not really believe in religion and popular consumption. They did believe in science, however, from the bottom of their scientistic hearts. Thus this breach of the dualists' game immediately bankrupted the whole enterprise. What had started as a 'social' study of science could not succeed, of course, and this is why it lasted only a split second - just long enough to reveal the terrible flaws of dualism. By treating the 'harder' parts of nature in the same way as the softer ones - that is, as arbitrary constructions determined by the interests and requirements of a

PHILOSOPHIES . . . OVER THE YAWNING GAP

55

sui generis society - the Edinburgh daredevils deprived the dualists - and
indeed themselves, as they were soon to realize - of half of their resources. Society had to produce everything arbitrarily including the cosmic order, biology, chemistry, and the laws of physics! The implausibility of this claim was so blatant for the 'hard' parts of nature that we suddenly realized how implausible it was for the 'soft' ones as well. Objects are not the shapeless receptacles of social categories neither the 'hard' ones nor the 'soft' ones. By disturbing the dualist pack of cards, the social students of science, revealed the complete asymmetry of the first and second denunciations, and they also revealed - at least negatively - how badly constructed were the social theory as well as the epistemology that went with those denunciations. Society is neither that strong nor that weak; objects are neither that weak nor that strong. The double position of objects and society had to be entirely rethought. To resort to dialectical reasoning was no way to exit out of the difficulty into which 'science studies' had put the social sciences. Linking the two poles of nature and society by as many arrows and feedback loops as one wishes does not relocate the quasi·objects or quasi·subject that I want to take into account. On the contrary, dialectics makes the ignorance of that locus still deeper than in the dualist paradigm since it feigns to overcome it by loops and spirals and other complex acrobatic figures. Dialectics literally beats around the bush. Quasi-objects are in between and below the two poles, at the very place around which dualism and dialectics had turned endlessly without being able to come to terms with them. Quasi-objects are much more social, much more fabricated, much more collective than the 'hard' parts of nature, but they are in no way the arbitrary receptacles of a full-fledged society. On the other hand they are much more real, nonhuman and objective than those shapeless screens on which society - for unknown reasons - needed to be 'projected'. By trying the impossible task of providing social explanations for hard scientific facts - after generations of social scientists had tried either to denouce 'soft' facts or to use hard sciences uncritically - science studies have forced everyone to rethink anew the role of objects in the construction of collectives, thus challenging philosophy.

3.3 Philosophies Stretched Over the Yawning Gap How have the major philosophies attempted to absorb both the modern Constitution and the quasi-objects, that Middle Kingdom which kept on expanding? By simplifying considerably, we can identify three principal strategies. The first consists in establishing a great gap between objects

56

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and subjects and continually increasing the distance between them; the second, known as the 'semiotic turn', focuses on the middle and abandons the extremes; the third isolates the idea of Being, thus rejecting the whole divide between objects, discourse and subjects. Let me undertake a rapid survey of the first group. The more quasi­ objects multiply, the more the major philosophies treat the two constitutional poles as incommensurable, even while they assert that there is no task more urgent than their reconciliation. So these philosophies illustrate the modern paradox in their own fashion by forbidding what they allow and allowing what they forbid. Each of these philosophies is, of course, infinitely more subtle than my inadequate summary; each one is by definition nonmodern since modernism has never really begun; thus each explicitly addresses the same problem I am awkwardly attempting to address; but their official and popularized interpretations nevertheless attest, on this point, to an astonishing consistency in the way they define their task: how to multiply quasi­ objects without accepting them, in order to maintain the Great Divide that separates us both from our past and from other nature-cultures. Hobbes and Boyle, as we have seen, fought so much only because they were just barely managing to separate the. pole of natural mute nonhumans from the pole of conscious speaking citizens. The two artifacts were still so similar and so close to their common origin that the two philosophers could do no more than make a small cut through the hybrids. It is with Kantianism that our Constitution receives its truly canonical formulation. What was a mere distinction is sharpened into a total separation, a Copernican Revolution. Things-in-themselves become inaccessible while, symmetrically, the transcendental subject becomes infinitely remote from the world. The two guarantees remain clearly symmetrical, however, since knowledge is possible only at the median point, that of phenomena, through an application of the two pure forms, the thing-in-itself and the subject. Hybrids are indeed accepted, but solely as mixtures of pure forms in equal proportion. To be sure, the work of mediation remains visible, since Kant multiplies the stages needed to pass from the remote world of things to the still more remote world of the Ego. These mediations, however, are accepted only as simple inter­ mediaries, which merely betray or transmit pure forms - the only recognizable ones. Multiplying layers of intermediaries make it possible to accept the role of the quasi-objects, but without giving them an ontology that would call the 'Copernican Revolution' back into question. This Kantian formulation is still visible today every time the human mind is credited with the capacity to impose forms arbitrarily on amorphous but real matter. To be sure, the Sun King around which objects revolve will be overturned in favour of many other pretenders - Society,

The end of history is followed by history no matter what. one last time. intersubjectivity. One can hardly be more modern than this. over the middle. But quasi-objects continue to proliferate: those monsters of the first. The dialecticians were incontestably our greatest modernizers. denied. Or rather. The greatness of dialectics derives from its attempt to traverse the complete circle of the premoderns. then an even more complete contradiction in the nineteenth. Subject/Society. cultural categories. social and natural beings. since their very opposition is retained and abolished . in order to avoid the Kantianist contradiction between the role of purification and that of mediation. it imagines that it has gone beyond Kant! Dialectics speaks of nothing but mediations. which I have called. but since it surmounts and abolishes this abyss in the end. in its left-wing version. dialectics thought it would absorb the second by resolving the first. it is the pole of Nature and the pole of Spirit. Hegel brought the separation even more fully to life. but it did not see the one between the whole of the modern Constitution that was establishing itself and the proliferation of quasi-objects . if there is a pair that no one can reconcile. but this time with less ballast: it jettisoned the two poles of pure consciousness and pure object and spread itself. How could the modern paradox be better illustrated? Dialectics further enlarges the abyss that separates the Object pole from the Subject pole. for that reason. or of matter. phenomenology was to establish the great split. by encompassing all divine. yet the countless mediations with which it peoples its grandiose history are only intermediaries that transmit pure ontological qualities . those socialized facts and these humans turned into elements of the natural world. The seventeenth-century distinction becomes a separation in the eighteenth century.that is to say. but these palace revolutions will not alter the focal point. one last time. In the end. second and third industrial revolutions. mental structures.PHILOSOPHIES 0 0 0 OVER THE YAWNING GAP 57 epistemes.either of the spirit. He raised it to the level of a contradiction. No sooner are totalities closed in on themselves than they start cracking all over. literally. Yet by believing that he was abolishing Kant's separation between things-in-themselves and the subject.a proliferation that marked the nineteenth century. then made it the driving force of history. lan­ guage. It did manage to identify the one between the Subject pole and the Object pole. however. But dialectics picked the wrong contradiction. all the more powerful in that they seemed in fact to have gathered up the totality of knowledge and the past and brought to bear all the resources of the modern critique. pushed it to the limit and beyond. It became the mainspring of the entire plot. in its right-wing version. Again. in an attempt to cover the now gaping hole that it sensed it could no . as much as it has marked our own.

but they are nevertheless .which further exaggerates the objectivity of the sciences by dint of breaking with common sense.3 The modern paradox longer absorb. Yet like so many anxious modernizers. and symmetrically exaggerates the objectless power of the imaginary by dint . The phenomenologists have the impression that they have gone further than Kant and Hegel and Marx. The notion of intentionality transforms a distinction.5I REVOLUTION hyper-incommensurability (postmoderns) incommensurability (Habermas) WORK OF PURIFICATION Nature Pole WORK OF MEDIATION The more the quasi-objects multiply. the greater grows the distinction between the two poles Nonmodern Dimension Multiplication of quasi-objects Figure 3. since they no longer attribute any essence either to pure subjects or to pure objects. They really have the impression that they are speaking only of a mediation that does not require any pole to hold fast. Pheno­ menologists had to cave in . The hopes of dialectics are abandoned.indeed.and they did. all the more .in place. Pure objectivity and pure consciousness are missing. since this tension offers no resolution. The 'consciousness of something' becomes nothing more than a slender footbridge spanning a gradually widening abyss. Gaston Bachelard's dual enterprise . a separation. During the same period. they no longer trace anything but a line between poles that are thus given the greatest importance. into an insurmountable tension between object and subject. a contradiction. Once again the modern paradox is taken further.

to the level of an incommensurability. All these thinkers were passionately interested in the exact sciences. in technologies and economies.offers the perfect symbol for this impossible crisis. Wilson and his genes on one side. because they recognized in them both the risk and the possibility of salvation. all these great philosophical movements were profound and serious. by multiplying mediators in the guise of intermediaries. by measuring humans and things alike with the same yardsticks.4 The End of Ends The sequel to this story takes an involuntarily comic turn.THE END OF ENDS 59 of epistemological breaks . 3.that there must not be . scientists and technocrats take the symmetrical attitude. or that speaking subjects ought to become so if they are not incommensurable enough already. the more the whole business looks like a tightrope walker doing the splits. what are we to call them ? Modern ? No. this drawing and quartering (Bachelard. Tile. which practises only hybridization. The more hermeneutics spins its web. the worst is still to come. 1 967. they wanted to believe. 19 84). The modern Constitution as a whole had already declared that there is no common measure between the world of subjects and the world of objects. The pre-postmoderns. since they comply with the half of the Constitution that speaks of purity but neglect the other half. the more naturalism does the same. they invent speech. The further the great gap is stretched. for their part. Up to this point. and they let the world of things drift slowly in its void. They raise what had been only a distinction. that these objects could be swallowed up and digested. but that same Constitution at once cancelled out the distance by practising the contrary. On the other side of the mirror. then a separation. But this repetition of the divisions of history becomes a caricature: E. in spite of everything.any mediators. they accompanied the prodigious development of quasi-objects. But what can be said of the philosophies that came later? And in the first place. truly believe that speaking subjects are incommensurable with natural objects and with technological efficacy. they established. then an insurmountable tension. they explored. Postmodern? Not yet. By speaking only of purity. Thus they cancel out the modern project while claiming that they are restoring it. they were aiming only at grasping the work of the hybrids. because they no longer attempt to hold on to both ends of the chain. Lacan and his analysands on the other. hermeneutics and meaning. They imagine that there are not . since they no longer make the . This pair of twins is no longer faithful to the modern intention. of course. 0. Let us call them pre­ postmodern. then a contradiction. On the subject side. to indicate that they are transitional.

There is nothing of the sort when technological reason has to be kept as remote as possible from the free discussion of human beings. at the very moment when quasi-objects are multi­ plying to such an extent that it appears impossible to find a single one that more or less resembles a free speaking subject or a reified natural object. it is surely this displaced twentieth-century Kantianism that attempts to widen the abyss between the objects known by the subject on the one hand. It is worse still when the modern project is defended against the threat of disappearance. yet it was a bit late to bring off a radical separation between the third estate and the nobility! In the same way.60 REVOLUTION effort to think through the paradox that consists in multiplying below the hybrids whose existence is precluded above. how could Habermas manage it after the sixth or seventh revolution? And even so. If anyone has ever picked the wrong enemy. Jiirgen Habermas ( 1 987) makes one of the most desperate attempts. But Habermas wants to make the two poles incommensurable. Habermas and his disciples hold on to the modern project only by abstaining from all empirical inquiry .not a single case study in the five hundred pages of his master work (Habermas. and in imagining impossible relations between the two. Is he going to show at last that nothing has ever profoundly separated things from people? Is he going to take up the modern project once again? Will he demonstrate the practical arrange­ ments that underlie the justifications of the Constitution and finally accept the masses of hybrids as de Gaulle and Nixon finally recognized mainland China? Quite the contrary: he judges that the supreme danger arises from the confusion of speaking and thinking subjects with the pure scientific and technical rationality that is allowed by the old philosophy of consciousness! 'I have already suggested that the paradigm of the knowledge of objects has to be replaced by the paradigm of mutual understanding between subjects capable of speech and action' (p. Kant multiplied the layering of intermediaries that allowed him to re-establish the transitions between things-in-themselves and the transcendental Ego. such an inquiry would bring the third estate to light too quickly. The pre-postmoderns have something in common with the feudal reaction at the very end of the Old Regime: never was the sense of honour more prickly nor the calculation of degrees of nobility more precise. Kant was already unable to bring it off in the middle of the Industrial Revolution. and communicational reason on the other. [198 1 ] 1 9 8 9 ) . whereas the old consciousness had at least the merit of aiming at the object. it is a bit too late to carry off the coup of the Copernican Revolution and make things revolve around intersubjectivity. and thus of recalling the artificial origin of the two constitutional poles. 295-6). and would be too intimately mixed up with the poor .

THE END OF ENDS 61 speaking subjects. and continue to believe in the usefulness of philosophers. I have not found words ugly enough to designate this intellectual movement . a reminder.' replies Jean-Fran�ois Lyotard. 1 9 9 1 ) . 'As a philosopher. xxxviii) To the scientists who are surprised by this disastrous reckoning. or the echo of the nineteenth-century Critique. (Lyotard. a scar arising from the very impossibility of bringing off such a separation. Even in this obsession with separating objectivity from communication we can grasp a trace. Lyotard replies lugubriously: 'I think you have a long time to wait!' But the debacle is that of postmodernism. But this has nothing to do with the emancipation of human beings. or because they relish only in the hybrid character of free floating networks and collages . these discip­ lines are already working toward preserving that complexity under conditions of life independent of life on Earth. Even in the caricature of the modern project we can still recognize the faded splendour of the eighteenth-century Enlightenment. genetic engineering.thus forgetting the bottom half of the modern Constitution. I am convinced that that is what you people [scientists !] are in the process of doing. The postmoderns believe they are still modern because they accept the total division between the material and technological world on the one hand and the linguistic play of speaking subjects on the other . . established in a given period in precise locations on this planet. With the postmod­ erns. who was being asked by some well-meaning scientists to conceptualize the bond that links science to the human community: I simply maintain that there is nothing human about scientific expansion. Perhaps our brain is only the temporary bearer of a process of complexification. he remains honest and respectable. Let the networks perish. the abandonment of the modern project is consummated. provided that communicational reason appears to triumph. Nevertheless. this intellectual immobility through which humans and non­ humans are left to drift. I don't doubt for a second that this 'a-human' process may have some useful fringe benefits for humanity alongside its destructive effects. Habermas would say. Computer science. physics and astrophysics. if by human we mean collectivities with their cultural traditions. Jameson. astronautics. But I do not see in what respect this is human. I offer a balance sheet of disaster. p. 1 98 8 .or rather. robotics. A single modern example will illustrate the abdication of thought as well as the self-inflicted defeat of the postmodern project. 1 98 9 . not that of philosophy (Hutcheon. I call it 'hyper-incommensurability'.thus forgetting the upper half of that same Constitution. It would then be a matter of detaching this process from what has supported it up to now.

or in the separation between the work of hybridization and that of purification? Will we have to imagine some super-hyper-incommensurability ? The 'postmods' are the end of history. and between the practice of purification and the practice of mediation on the other. this strategy concentrated on one of its mediations. by definitively taking away the mainspring that had been the source of its tension.62 REVOLUTION But they are mistaken. indeed. the end of ways of ending and of moving on that led to the succession. of ever more radical and revolutionary critiques. Whether they are called 'semiotics'. that matter is immaterial. This autonomization . It is the double contradiction that is modern.5 Semiotic Turns While the modernizing philosophies were doing the splits between the two poles of the Constitution in order to absorb the proliferation of quasi-objects. No. that politics is pure simulacrum the postmoderns in fact finish off modernism. There is only one positive thing to be said about the postmoderns: after them. But it is no more in their power to end history than it is not to be naive. whose dimensions were continuing to expand. By believing in the total separation of the three terms. and let us move on to other things. Far from being the last word. 'semiology' or 'linguistic turns'. by really believing that scientists are extraterrestrials. let us retrace our steps. because true moderns have always surreptitiously multiplied intermediaries in order to try to conceptualize the massive expansion of hybrids as well as their purification. Let us stop moving on.' Baudrillard and Lyotard delight in saying. that technology is ahuman. at an ever more vertiginous rate. And to make quite clear that they are not naive.that is. language. How could we go further in the absence of tension between Nature and Society. Let them sleep till the end of the millennium. The sciences have always been as intimately linked to communities as Boyle's pump or Hobbes's Leviathan. the object of all these philosophies is to make discourse not a transparent intermediary that would put the human subject in contact with the natural world. and the most amusing part is that they really believe it. but a mediator independent of nature and society alike. they claim to be delighted with that end! 'You have nothing to expect from us. Or rather. They are simply stuck in the impasse of all avant-gardes that have no more troops behind them. Instead of concentrating on the extremes of the work of purification. there is nothing. another strategy was being put in place to seize the middle ground. they mark the end of ends . the contradiction between the two constitutional guarantees of Nature and Society on the one hand. as Baudrillard advocates. 3.

'writing'. 'discourse' . The text becomes primary . but because they themselves have limited their enterprise to discourse alone. Speaking subjects are transformed into so many fictions generated by meaning effects. the 'text'. 1986). discourse or texts were occupying the middle ground that had been left vacant.to expand Barthes's title (Barthes. 'narratives'. however. the question of reference to the natural world and. While modernizing philosophers were increas­ ingly reviving the distance that separated objects from subjects by making them incommensurable. the 'signifier'. In order to produce natures and societies they need only themselves. fashion and mythology. 1 979) . language still occupies that median space of modern philosophy (for Kant. it is not because they have 'forgotten man'. the 'play of language'.even the unconscious itself (Barthes. 1 976. the signifieds bustle about in the vicinity without retaining any special privilege. [ 1 985] 1 98 8 ) . more or less faithful or more or less treacherous. they even produce references internal to discourse and to the speakers installed within discourse (Greimas. Greimas and Courtes. i s to render more difficult the connections between an autonomized discourse and what . a law governing itself and its own world. the concepts that give the mediators their dignity .SEMIOTIC TURNS 63 of the sphere of meaning has occupied the best minds of our time for the past half-century. and. the meeting point of phenomena) . [1 970] 1 982). or 'abandoned reference'. he is no longer anything but the artifact of his own writings (Eco. thinking themselves far removed from the natures and societies that they had bracketed off (Pavel. The objects being spoken of become reality effects gliding over the surface of the writing. on the one hand. as for the author. For them. The great weakness of these philosophies. as the modernist reaction is declaring today. the identity of speaking and thinking subjects. If they too have led us into an impasse. protected from the dual tyranny of referents and speaking subjects. it has taken over the entire space. or vice versa. These philosophies have deemed it impossible to autonomize meaning except by bracketing off. Language has become a law unto itself. The greatness of these philosophies was that they developed. but instead of making it more or less transparent or more or less opaque.these are some of the terms that designate the Empire of Signs . Given the primacy of the signifier. what it expresses or conveys is secondary. by a strange bootstrapping operation they extract their principle of reality from other narrative forms.mediators that are no longer simple intermediaries or simple vehicles conveying meaning from Nature to Speakers. 'textuality'. politics . Everything becomes sign and sign system: architecture and cooking. on the other. 1 982). The 'system of language'. philosophies of language. Texts and language make meaning.

From this crucial turning point. If one autonomizes discourse by turning nature over to the epistemologists and giving up society to the sociologists. naturalization. society and discourse without even trying to connect them. and to that end they went off in search of the old sociology.on Nature's side . They belong to nature.on the side of society/subject. science studies played their disturbing role. and like Alexander's it was carved up and parcelled out to its generals (Pavel. discursive.REVOLUTION they had provisionally shelved: the referent . Others retained the original impetus of the Empire and set about deconstructing themselves. . Sociologization. the autonomization of discourse appeared as an artifice (Bastide. But by avoiding the double problem of connections to the referent and connections to the context. Some wanted to render the autonomous system of language more plausible by reestablishing the speaking subject or even the social group. When they applied semiotics to scientific discourse. the choice is never very broad. are simultaneously real. in press) . and social. As for rhetoric. Once again. as I have said. the image of the modern world they give is indeed terrifying: a nature and a technology that are absolutely sleek. quasi-subjects? The various forms of semio­ tics offer an excellent tool chest for following the mediations of language. to the collective and to discourse. we have learned that the only way to escape from the parallel traps of naturalization and sociologization consists in granting language its autonomy. a discourse that is speaking all by itself. to the point of autodissolution. autono�ous glosses on autonomous glosses. how could we deploy that median space between natures and societies so as to accommodate quasi-objects. one makes it impossible to stitch these three resources back together.nature. These latter. the physics of subatomic particles to a text. Others sought to make semiotics less absurd by reestablishing contact with the referent. Without it. 1 9 8 7). a society made up solely of false consciouness. a play of signifiers without signifieds. subway systems to rhetorical devices. all social structures to discourse. It is hard to reduce the entire cosmos to a grand narrative. If they are kept distinct. 1 989). The Empire of Signs lasted no longer than Alexander's. When we are dealing with science and technology it is hard to imagine for long that we are a text that is writing itself. and not only to literatures of fiction. they prevent us from following the quasi­ objects to the end.and the speaker . and they chose the world of science or that of common sense in order to anchor discourse once again. The postmodern condition has recently sought to juxtapose these three great resources of the modern critique . and if all three are separate from the work of hybridization. it changed its meaning entirely when it had truth and proof to absorb instead of conviction and seduction (Latour.

WHO HAS FORGOTTEN BEING? 65 simulacra and illusions. the philosopher does assert the existence of an articula­ tion between metaphysical purification and the work of mediation. They are absent from politics. The gods cannot reside in technology . too. and counts its - . 1977b). Precisely this keeps us from it' (Heidegger. 233 ) . history . masters of the absurd. However.that they had forgotten Being. 'Auch hier niimlich wesen Gotter an.which is the history of Being. he himself indicates the reason for this. indeed. 'What is strange in the thinking of Being is its simplicity. a third strategy added to that of the modernizing philosophers and to that of linguistic turns. since he and his epigones do not expect to find Being except along the Black Forest Holzwege.' said Heraclitus to visitors who were astonished to see him warming his poor carcass like an ordinary mortal (Heidegger. remote from subjects and objects alike. postmoderns would never have reached this degree of derision and dereliction had they not believed . a discourse consisting only in meaning effects detached from everything. they do not belong to language. this omphalos. Why? Ironically. 'Thinking is on the descent to the poverty of its provisional essence. Quasi-objects do not belong to Nature. there is desert. Thinking gathers language into simple saying. 242). 'Einai gar kai entautha theous' 'here. Here is the cause of the postmoderns' flippant despair. or to the subject. as the clouds are the clouds of the sky' (p. They are not to be sought in science. either. the gods are present. Every­ where. that supreme danger [Gefahr].6 Who Has Forgotten Being? In the beginning. the idea of the difference between Being and beings seemed a fairly good means of harbouring the quasi-objects. Martin Heidegger designates the central point where everything holds together. or to Society. psychol­ ogy. that ineluctable fate [Geschick]. 1990) of being [Ge-Stell]. sociology. Enough. 1 977a). But immediately the philosopher loses this well-intentioned simplicity. the modern Constitution taken in its isolation from the work of hybridization).to cap it all . either. 1977b. In this way language is the language of Being. since science has no other essence but that of technology (Heidegger. though. in an apologue on Heraclitus who used to take shelter in a baker's oven.' But Heidegger is taken in as much as those naive visitors. p. and this whole world of appearances keeps afloat other disconnected elements of networks that can be combined haphazardly by collage from all places and all times. 3. one that has taken over from the angst of their predecessors. to make one contemplate jumping off a cliff.that pure Enframing (Zimmerman. Being cannot reside in ordinary beings. By deconstruct­ ing metaphysics (that is. anthropology. By revolving around this navel.

its mark. As for machines. its trace of Being? This is never in anyone's power. Purity everywhere ! They claim this. Look around you : scientific objects are circulating simultaneously as subjects objects and discourse. Networks are full of Being. Thus Heidegger treats the modern world as the visitors treat Heraclitus: with contempt. since what they are asserting is only half of the modern world. 'We don't know anything empirical. no one ever has. then the sciences of language. otherwise Nature would be truly available as a pure 'stock' . But what is missing is you yourself. however. technologies. science pure Enframing and pure Stamping [Das Ge-Stell].66 REVOLUTION epochs in millennia. scorning empiricism. but that doesn't matter. in agribusiness as well as in timeworn landscapes. since your world is empty of Being. religion or fiction have lost the traces of Being that are distributed everywhere among beings. The moderns indeed declare that technology is nothing but pure instrumental mastery. and you. otherwise we should have to imagine that we have truly been modern.'here too the gods are present' : in a hydroelectric plant on the banks of the Rhine. The gods cannot reside in economics . And yet . then the human sciences. either. since we have Being. and you hunker down in your forest . We are keeping the little flame of Being safe from everything. who have all the rest. 'the barbarian is first and foremost the man who believes in barbarism.that pure calculation forever mired in beings and worry. But why do those philosophers no longer recognize them? Because they believe what the modern Constitution says about itself! This paradox should no longer astonish us. have nothing. economics. How could a being lose its difference. As Levi-Strauss says. or in ontology. then traditional philosophy. in shopkeepers' calculations as well as in Holderlin's heartrending verse. and we have never lost track of the difference between Being . but we must be careful not to take them at their word. the subject pure consciousness. Those who have failed to undertake empirical studies of sciences.' On the contrary: we have everything. its incompleteness. you opt out of the exact sciences. the work of purification that distils what the work of hybridization supplies. Who has forgotten Being? No one. law. 1 2) .then you will indeed feel a tragic loss. capitalism pure reproduction. actually forgotten Being? Yes: anyone who really thinks that Being has really been forgotten. They are not to be found in philosophy. Has someone.' (Levi-Strauss. in subatomic particles. in Adidas shoes as well as in the old wooden clogs hollowed out by hand. p. If. and beings. not the world! Heidegger's epigones have converted that glaring weakness into a strength. we should be taken in by the upper half of the modern Constitution. they are laden with subjects and collectives. that econo­ mics is pure calculation. [ 1 952] 1 987. politics.500 years ago. both of which lost sight of their destiny 2.

but they must be pieced together and put to work in shadowing quasi-objects or networks. in a series of catastrophic upheavals. discursivization. metaphysics. given that they have emerged only as a result of their disputes with one another? We have to retrace our steps. We are carrying out the impossible project undertaken by Heidegger. Four different resources allow the modern critique to develop these acids: naturalization. in order to deploy an intellectual space large enough to accommodate both the tasks of purification and the tasks of mediation . No single one of these resources makes it possible to understand the modern world. since there has never been a modern world. pre-Cartesian. the autonomization of language or meaning. who believed what the modern Constitution said about itself without understanding that what is at issue there is only half of a larger mechanism which has never abandoned the old anthropological matrix. In order to exit from the postmoderns' paralysis. If they are put together but kept separate. Heraclitus is a surer guide than Heidegger: 'Einai gar kai entautha theous. itself succeeded the premodern eras ? Hasn't history already ended ? By seeking to harbour quasi-objects at the same time as their Constitution. We have always remained pre-Socratic. we are obliged to consider the temporal framework of the moderns. for their results lead only to the ironic despair whose symptom is postmodernism. the two halves of the modern world. it suffices to reutilize all these resources. and finally the forget­ ting of Being. Since we .things-in-themselves . or. the deconstruction of Western metaphysics. finally. the ever-increasing separation between the pole of Nature .and that of Society or the subject people-among-themselves. so there is no need for reactionary counter­ revolutions to lead us back to what has never been abandoned. Yes. by the same token. which. No one can forget Being. second. pre-Kantian.7 The Beginning of the Past The proliferation of quasi-objects was thus greeted by three different strategies: first. No radical revolution can separate us from these pasts. But how are we to make these critical resources work together. pre-Nietzschean. All these critical resources share the failure to follow both the work of the proliferation of hybrids and the work of purification.' l. sociologization. the situation is still worse.that is.THE BEGINNING OF THE PAST 67 and beings. But how can we retrace our steps? Isn't the modern world marked by the arrow of time? Doesn't it consume the past ? Doesn't it break definitively with the past? Doesn't the very cause of the current prostration come precisely from a 'post' modern era that would inevitably succeed the preceding one.

but historicity situates the same events with respect to their intensity. 'That theory of progress amounts essentially to a theory of savings banks. automatic. A secret trembling alerts me to the fact that I have heard. and universally. but that they are separated by Copernican revolutions. original emphasis) The modern passage of time is nothing but a particular form of historicity. And I know quite well what I am being told. 'I do not know them. The moderns have a peculiar propensity for understanding time that passes as if it were really abolishing the past behind it. epistemological breaks. Anthropology is here to remind us: the passage of time can be interpreted in several ways . as a fall or as instability. son of Hatto (bastard). 'Overall. They do not feel that they are removed from the Middle Ages by a certain number of centuries.' says Clio. I learn nothing. it creates an enormous universal savings bank for the entire human community. then I really learn something.' she [Clio] says. we cannot propose to return to a nonmodern world that we have never left. for the whole human community. They all take themselves for Attila. a huge intellectual savings bank. No one has expressed this better than Charles Peguy in his Clio. I shall never know them. automatic in the sense that humanity would make deposits in it and would never withdraw from it. without a modification in the passage of time itself. This is what the muse of history drolly explains in comparing Victor Hugo's terrible play Les Burgraves an accumula­ tion of time without historicity .a perfect example of historicity without history: - 'When I am told that Hatto. the Burgrave of Nollig. as a return or as a continuous presence.68 REVOLUTION refuse to pass 'after' the postmods. in order to distinguish it carefully from time.to a little phrase of Beaumarchais . general and even universal. 276 . oh. 1 977) . a longitude and a latitude. in a swift storming of a fort to which he had not been assigned. Calendar time may well situate events with respect to a regulated series of dates. see also Latour. We are led from the definition of quasi-objects to that of time. in whose footsteps no grass grows back.' (p.as a cycle or as decadence. a stunning meditation on the brewing of history (Peguy. Burgrave of Sareck. is the father of Gorlois. it presupposes. But when I am told that Cherubino is dead. the son of Magnus. Let us call the interpretation of this passage temporality. 1 96 1 a. epistemic ruptures so radical that nothing of that past survives in them nothing of that past ought to survive in them. Where do we get the idea of time that passes? From the modern Constitution itself. and time too has a modern and a nonmodern dimension. the Marquis of Verona. And in the sense that the .

which have broken radically with their own past. technology. of course.elements that are all equally outdated and outmoded. we're going to fall back into the Dark Ages. But are we as far removed from our past as we want to think we are ? No. detail by detail. a practice that has always mixed up epochs. the moderns indeed sense time as an irreversible arrow.as for their antimodern enemies. p. They view it as an archaism. but then one has to break with the modernizing avant-gardes. . on their own initiative. If I explain that revolutions attempt to abolish the past but cannot do so. all the more carefully inasmuch as it has been swallowed up for ever. I again run the risk of being taken for a reactionary. Such is the theory of progress. as if there no longer existed any public dump where we could pile up the repressed material behind us. As Nietzsche observed long ago. If there is one thing we are incapable of carrying out. one can choose to go backward. And such are its blueprints. This is because for the modems . Maniacal destruction is counterbalanced by an equally maniacal conservation. politics or philosophy. it is a revolution. but then one must break with the past.THE BEGINNING OF THE PAST 69 contributions would keep on depositing themselves.' they think. But we are still modern when we interpret this fact as a disappointment. This diktat organized modern thought until the last few years .' (Peguy. But since this temporality is imposed upon a temporal regime that works quite differently. as well as for their false postmodern enemies . we now know. the more they capitalize. the symptoms of discord are multiplied. the more they save. Historians reconstitute the past. Now this resurgence is incomprehensible to the moderns. Thus they treat it as the return of the repressed. date everything. tirelessly. They want to keep everything. whether it be in science.' Historical reconstitution and archaism are two symp­ toms of the moderns' incapacity to eliminate what they nevertheless have to eliminate in order to retain the impression that time passes. because modern temporality does not have much effect on the passage of time. and even returns. 129} Since everything that passes is eliminated for ever. the moderns suffer from the illness of historicism. and ideas as heterogeneous as those of the premoderns. 'we're going to return to the past. We are still postmodern when we attempt to rise above this disappoint­ ment by juxtaposing in a collage elements from all times . the more they put on display in museums. having any effect on the practice of mediation.time's arrow is unambiguous: one can go forward.without. as if archaism had invaded everything. genres. The more they accumulate revolutions. 1 9 6 1 a. because they think they have definitively broken with their past. A stepladder. as capitalization. The past remains. therefore. 'If we aren't careful. as progress.

since the great scientist eradicated all the traces of his construction and cut all the ties that bound him to his predecessors.on a certain conception of science that suppresses the ins and outs of Nature's objects and presents their sudden emergence as if it were miraculous. and in the name of the same obscurantist Enlightenment. is a sinister irony of . 1 985 ) . philosophy or anthropol­ ogy. the restoration of English Royalty.8 The Revolutionary Miracle What is the connection between the modern form of temporality and the modern Constitution. In order to explain what becomes a great mystery. once again. has been offered by the daring foray of science studies into history. as it is embedded into the discipline of history depends . And. the absorption of sciences forced them to reconsider most of the hidden assumptions of 'normal' history exactly as it had done for the assumptions of sociology. which tacitly links the two asymmetries of Nature and Society and allows hybrids to proliferate underneath? Why does the modern Constitution oblige us to experience time as a revolution that always has to start over and over again ? The answer.70 REVOLUTION 3. you are going to have to construct an image of time that is adapted to this miraculous emergence of new things that have always already been there. It emerges fully armed. if you eliminate the work of constructing the pump. and to human fabrications that no human has ever made.strangely enough . There are good reasons for thinking that the idea of political revolution was borrowed from the idea of scientific revolution (Cohen. once again. We can understand why. Modern time is a succession of inexplicable apparitions attributable to the distinction between the history of sciences or technologies and just plain history. how are you going to account for Boyle's discovery? The air's spring comes from nowhere. historians believed that it would be an easy task simply adding a new wing to the castle of history. The idea of radical revolution is the only solution the moderns have imagined to explain the emergence of the hybrids that their Constitution simultaneously forbids and allows. Once again. If you suppress Boyle and Hobbes and their disputes. The modern conception of time. The social history of science tried to apply the usual tools of cultural history no longer to the soft contingent local human events but to the hard necessary and universal phenomena of Nature. whom he relegated to obscurity? That he should have been executed with the same guillotine he had used on his elders. How could Lavoisier's chemistry not have been an absolute novelty. the domestication of colleagues. and in order to avoid another monster: the notion that things themselves have a history. the invention of a crossed-out God.

secularizing each incarnation in the history of transcendent sciences.the labours and passion of humans. the presence of God). the laws of gravity. people even go to the extent of speaking of a 'Judaeo­ Christian conception of time'. The present is outlined by a series of radical breaks. to avoid a scandal. fortunately. Through this distinction between the contingent and the necessary. since neither Jewish mystics nor Christian theologians have had any inclination whatsoever for the modern Constitution. is going to remain contingent. the atomic bomb. The genesis o f scientific o r technologi­ cal innovations is so mysterious in the modern Constitution only because the universal transcendence of local and fabricated laws becomes unthinkable. Lavoisier's chemistry. 1 989). It is a projection of the Middle Kingdom on to a line transformed into an arrow by the brutal separation between what has no h istory but emerges nevertheless in history . nothing durable either. or microchips. the other focusing on the more or less contingent or more or less durable agitation of poor human beings detached from things. Modern temporality arises from a super­ position of the difference between past and future with another difference. and not around the emergence of the vacuum. lacking any historicity but that of total revolutions or epistemo­ logical breaks. or DNA.the things of nature . between mediation and purifica­ tion. the steam engine. agitated by sound and fury.the Pythagorean theorem. the future is what will no longer confuse them. Modern temporality has nothing 'Judaeo-Christian' about it and. They have con­ structed their regime of time around Presence (that is. From now on there will thus be two different histories: one dealing with universal and necessary things that have always been present. what depends on things and what belongs to signs.and what never leaves history . whereas that notion is an anachronism. for its part. and has to remain so. Modernization consists in continually exiting from an obscure age that mingled the needs of society with scientific truth. heliocentrism. With the vocal tremors that often accompany declarations on the modern destiny. the computer . or automated factories .and on each occasion time will be reckoned starting from these miraculous beginnings. Pasteur's vaccination. in order to enter into a new age that will finally distinguish clearly what belongs to a temporal nature and what comes from humans. The asymmetry between nature and culture then becomes an asymmetry between past and future. People are going to distinguish the time ' sc ' and 'AC' with respect to computers as they do the years 'before Christ' and 'after Christ'. revolutions. the historical and the atemporal. the history of the moderns will be punctuated owing to the emergence of the nonliumans . . so much more important. The h istory of human beings.THE REVOLUTIONARY MIRACLE 71 history (Bensaude-Vincent. The past was the confusion of things and men. . .

A whole supplementary work of sorting out. a succession of catastrophes.the King of England. and the replacement of these elements by others rendered just as coherent in the subsequent period. However.n REVOLUTION which constitute so many irreversible ratchets that prevent us from ever going backward.calendar time. with the aid of these objects. or as an invasion of barbarians. but nothing in their mobilization implies an ordered and systematic passage of time.9 The End of the Passi ng Past The mobilization of the world and of communities on an ever-larger scale multiplies the actors who make up our natures and our societies. progress. toward decadence. the moderns will order the proliferation of new actors either as a form of capitalism. which gives us the impression of time that passes. and the two have the same origin. some of whom are fresh and novel . 3. In order to wipe out progress or degeneracy. an accumulation of conquests. In itself. On each of these three lines . combines and redeploys countless actors. The vacuum pump in itself is no more modern than it is revolutionary. a repetition that in itself has nothing temporal about it (Deleuze. thanks to their quite peculiar form of temporality. the weight of air but not all of whom can be seen as new. If we place . Entities have to be made contemporary by moving in step and have to be replaced by other things equally well aligned if time is to become a flow. the Vacuum. Yet it is on to this line that the moderns will project the multiplication of quasi-objects and. and the other downward. It associates. cleaning up and dividing up is required to obtain the impression of a modernization that goes in step with time. decadence . will trace two series of irreversible advances: one upward. of a continuous flow going from the future toward the past .it will be possible to locate the antimoderns. It is their systematic cohesion. they want to return toward the past . this line is as empty as the scansion of a metronome. Modern temporality is the result of a retraining imposed on entities which would pertain to all sorts of times and possess all sorts of ontological statuses without this harsh disciplining.of a stepladder. 1968 ) ? The impression of passing irreversibly is generated only when we bind together the cohort of elements that make up our day-to-day universe. who accept modern temporality but reverse its direction.as if there were a past! What is the source of the very modern impression that we are living a new time that breaks with the past? Of a liaison. Their cohesiveness is not sufficient to allow a clean break with the past. toward progress. as Peguy says. Progress and decadence are their two great resources.

This beautiful order is disturbed once the quasi-objects are seen as mixing up different periods. Instead of a fine laminary flow. The proliferation of quasi-objects has exploded modern temporality along with its Constitution. Just as they eliminate the ins and outs of all the hybrids. of which the moderns declare themselves the avant­ garde and the antimoderns the rearguard while the premoderns are left on the sideline of complete stagnation. whose proliferation the moderns cannot explain. ontologies or genres. Modernizing progress is thinkable only on condition that all the elements that are contemporary according to the calendar belong to the same time. this does not bother the moderns. there were the skyscrapers of postmodern architecture - . so the moderns interpret the heterogeneous rearrangements as systematic totalities in which everything would hold together. irrational or conservative. perhaps last year. if we connect them with those of Galileo and Descartes by linking them in a 'scientific method'. At first. The moderns' flight into the future ground to a halt perhaps twenty years ago. we then get the impression of a radically new modern time. it becomes impossible to speak of archaism. If they proliferate too much. perhaps ten. finally. Thus there must not be too many counter-examples. Then. or of a return of the repressed. we will most often get a turbulent flow of whirlpools and rapids. Irreversibility in the course of time is itself due to the transcendence of the sciences and technologies. time forms a continuous and progressive flow. They consider everything that does not march in step with progress archaic. these elements have to form a complete and recognizable cohort. which indeed escape all comprehension for the moderns. and only then. The notion of an irreversible arrow .progress or decadence . First. Then a historical period will give the impression of a great hotchpotch. and if. And as there are antimoderns who are delighted to play the reactionary role that the modern scenario has prepared for them. For this to be the case. with the multiplication of exceptions that nobody could situate in the regular flow of time.stems from an ordering of quasi-objects. the impression of an ordered front of entities sharing the same contemporary time has to remain credible. for the greater pleasure of the spectators.T HE END OF THE PASSING PAST 73 Boyle's discoveries in eternity and they now fall suddenly upon England. we reject Boyle's belief in miracles as archaic. since the two halves of their Constitu­ tion are never specified together. It is a classificatory device for dissimulating the inadmissible origin of the natural and social entities from the work of mediation down below. But if the modernizing temporality is to continue to function. Time becomes reversible instead of irreversible. the great dramas of luminous progress struggling against obscurantism (or the anti drama of the mad revolutionaries against reasonable conservatives) can be deployed. all the same.

the postmoderns recognize to what extent these citations are truly outdated. As always. atemporal. It is this whirlpool in the temporal flow that the postmoderns have sensed so early and with so much sensitivity in the two avant-garde movements of fine arts and politics (Hutcheon. repetition or revisiting of a past that . No one can now categorize actors that belong to the 'same time' in a single coherent group. for or against continual degeneration. 1 0 Triage and Multiple Times Fortunately. kolkhozes.74 REVOLUTION (architecture is at the origin of this unfortunate expression) . has never disappeared. Moreover. Slovak nationalism. The postmoderns are right about the dispersion. cold fusion. and that forces us to shelve the totality of the human and nonhuman third worlds. relativity. its antimoderns who return to what they think is the past. every contemporary assembly is polytemporal. Modern discipline has reassembled. nonexistent. Bolshevism. it is because they are outmoded that the postmoderns dig them up. commer­ cial sailboats. partridge hunting. futuristic. the anti-smallpox vaccine. Time is not a general framework but a provisional result of the connection among entities. 3. labour unions. or permanent. Star Wars. however. nothing obliges us to maintain modern temporality with its succession of radical revolutions. and so on. 1 989). the exceptions have popped up without cease. Let us not bemoan the fact. postmodernism is a symptom. By mixing elements of the past together in the form of collages and citations. But it is a long way from a provocative quotation extracted out of a truly finished past to a reprise. are outmoded. From then on. We are not attached for ever to this temporality that allows us to understand neither our past nor our future. hooked . aerosols. the French Revolution. But they are wrong to retain the framework and to keep on believing in the requirement of continual novelty that modernism demanded. No one knows any longer whether the reintroduction of the bear in Pyrenees. not a solution. the Green Revolution. then Khomeini's Islamic revolution. for or against continual progress. up to date. and its double concert of praise and complaint. for our real history had only the vaguest of relations with the Procrustean bed that the modernizers and their enemies imposed on it. service industries. It would be better to say that modern temporality has stopped passing. which no one managed to peg as revolutionary or reactionary. The postmoderns retain the modern framework but disperse the elements that the modernizers grouped together in a well-ordered cluster. in order to shock the former 'modernist' avant-gardes who no longer know at what altar to worship. the Muslim religion.

'we are exchangers and brewers of time' (Serres and Latour.anything but elements that elude the system. protected. but the future takes the form of a circle expanding in all directions. others 3 million. I may use an electric drill. If we can no longer progress in the fashion of the moderns. Will you see me as a DIY expert 'of contrasts' because I mix up gestures from different times? Would I be an ethnographic curiosity ? On the contrary: show me an activity that is homogeneous from the point of view of the modern time. since a temporality. in itself. It is a means of connecting entities and filing them away. plastic buckets and animal-skin vessels. It is not only the Bedouins and the !Kung who mix up transistors and traditional behaviours. What country could not be called 'a land of contrasts'? We have all reached the point of mixing up times. objects whose date and duration are uncertain. There are no longer . surrounded. The idea of a stable tradition is an illusion that anthropologists have long since set to rights. elements that are quite contemporary. This attempt has failed. It is this exchange that defines us. must we regress in the fashion of the antimoderns ? No. The immutable traditions have all budged . then ? Not that either. Such a temporality does not oblige us to use the labels 'archaic' or 'advanced'. As Peguy's Clio said. others 1 00. become quite remote if we traverse a spoke. for example. recombined. 1 992).there have never been . our actions are recognized at last as polytemporal. Elements that appear remote if we follow the spiral may turn out to be quite nearby if we compare loops. Are we traditional.TRIAGE AND MULTIPLE TIMES 75 together. repeated. In such a framework. reinterpreted and reshuffled. it has always failed. we get a different temporality on the basis of the same events. not the calendar or the flow that the moderns had constructed for us.the day before yesterday. Go down sideways to grab hold of the event of Cherubino's death in its intensity. We do have a future and a past. Most . Some of my genes are 500 million years old. We have all become premodern again. The former is thirty-five years old.000 years. and you will still not have time. systematized the cohort of contemporary elements to hold it together and thus to eliminate those that do not belong to the system. and time will be given unto you. If we change the classifica­ tion principle. has nothing temporal about it. if we judge by the line. the latter hundreds of thousands. and my habits range in age from a few days to several thousand years. and as Michel Serres repeats. and the past is not surpassed but revisited. Pile up the burgraves one behind the other. that we are going to regroup the contemporary elements along a spiral rather than a line. but I also use a hammer. we have to pass from one temporality to the other. Let us suppose. since every cohort of contemporary elements may bring together elements from all times. Conversely.

Modernization has never occurred. modernization. the former innovate constantly. There is no tide.was only the provisional result of a selection made by a small number of agents in the name of all. 1 986). One is not born traditional. We have never moved either forward or backward. one chooses to become traditional by constant innovation. We cannot return to the past. and quarrel of the Classics against the Moderns. But the repressed has returned. in the East as well as in the South. permanent revolution.like its anti. What are we to do.and post­ modern corollaries . 3. 1 983). It is the sorting that makes the times. The human masses are here again. whose millennia} ritual is not fifty years old. return to the multiple entities that have always passed in a different way. We are not emerging from an obscure past that confused natures and cultures in order to arrive at a future in which the two poles will finally separate cleanly owing to the continual revolution of the present. if we can move neither forward nor backward? Displace our attention. because these great immobile domains are the inverted image of the earth that is no longer promised to us today: progress.76 REVOLUTION ancestral folklores are like the 'centenary' Scottish kilt. We have always actively sorted out elements belonging to different times. the latter are forced to pass and repass indefinitely through the same rituals of revolutions. epistemological breaks.a freedom that. 1 1 A Copernican Counter-revolution If we had been able to keep the human multitudes and the nonhuman environment repressed behind us longer. We have never plunged into a homogeneous and planetary flow arriving either from the future or from the depths of time. we have never really lost. that would be flowing again today. The idea of an identical repetition of the past and that of a radical rupture with any past are two symmetrical results of a single conception of time. we will rediscover the freedom of movement that modernism denied us . to repetition.that is. We can still sort. forward flight. we would probably have been able to continue to believe that modern times were really passing while eliminating everything in their path. There has never been such a tide. In practice. long in rising. If there are more of us who regain the capacity to do our own sorting of the elements that belong to our time. Modernism . and the . to tradition. not the times that make the sorting. in fact. invented out of whole cloth at the beginning of the nineteenth century (Trevor-Roper. or the Chevaliers du Tastevin of my little town in Burgundy. 'Peoples without history' were invented by those who thought theirs was radically new (Goody. We can go on to other things .

they recognized their existence but emptied it of any relevance by turning full-blown mediators into mere intermediaries. we have to deploy the latitude and longitude that will allow us to draw maps adapted both to the work of mediation and to the work of purification. we can no longer believe it possible. transfers.simply transports. The moderns knew perfectly well how to conceive of this Kingdom. Like a great ocean liner that slows down and then comes to a standstill in the Sargasso Sea. to beings and their relationships. They did not make quasi-objects disappear by eradication and denial. They can no longer be surpassed. Eastern peoples can no longer be reduced to their proletarian avant-gardes. nothing will circumscribe them. But how can the principle for classifying entities be changed? How can the illegitimate multitudes be given a representation.A COPERNICAN COUNTER-REVOLUTION 77 infinite variety of nonhuman masses have arrived from Everywhere. There is nothing greater than the nature surrounding us. They can no longer be exploited. The connections among beings alone make time. those beings whose topology is so odd and whose ontology is even more unusual. as if they wanted to simply repress them. An intermediary . because nothing surpasses them any longer. the moderns' time has finally been suspended. On the contrary. Now that this laminary flow has become turbulent. we have to trace both the modern dimension and the nonmodern dimension. a lineage. the capacity to produce both time and space? How are we to conceptualize the Middle Kingdom ? As I have said.although recog­ nized as necessary . transmits energy from one of the poles of the Constitution. a civil status ? How can this terra incognita that is nevertheless so familiar to us be explored ? How can we go from the world of objects or that of subjects to what I have called quasi-objects or quasi-subjects ? How can we move from transcendent/immanent Nature to a nature that is still just as real. but extracted from the scientific laboratory and then transformed into external reality? How can we shift from immanent/transcendent Society toward collectives of humans and nonhumans ? How can we go from the transcendent/immanent crossed-out God to the God of origins who should perhaps be called the God below? How are we to gain access to networks. we thought we could do it. How can we absorb them? The moderns raise the question in anguish. beings that possess both the capacity to connect and the capacity to divide . as for the Third World masses. we can give up analyses of the empty framework of temporality and return to passing time . How can they all be modernized? We might have done it. It was the systematic connection of entities in a coherent whole that constituted the flow of modern time. to the networks that construct irreversibility and rever­ sibility. But time has nothing to do with it.that is. It is void in itself and can only be .that is.

A mediator. since purification is considered as a useful work requiring instruments. 1 9 9 1 ) . The modern explanations consisted in splitting the mixtures apart in order to extract from them what came from the subject (or the social) and what came from the object. This is why I can say without contradicting myself that no one has ever been modern. the belief in the existence of a modern world was inescapable. but from the centre toward the extremes.and reconstructing them awkwardly under the name of intermediaries .thus no one except the postmods really believes in the two extreme poles of Nature and Society radically distinct from free-floating and disconnected networks . The whole difference hinges on the apparently small nuance between mediators and intermediaries (Hen­ nion. according to the model proposed by Antoine Hennion. specified and silenced.this explanatory model allows us instead to integrate the work of purification as a particular case of mediation. Instead of denying the existence of hybrids . recognized and denied. How did the modern manage to specify and cancel out the work of mediation both at once ? By conceiving every hybrid as a mixture of two pure forms. is an original event and creates what it translates as well as the entities between which it plays the mediating role. The latter are no longer reality's point of attachment. but so many provisional and partial results. The point of separation and conjunction . Next they multiplied the intermediaries in order to reconstruct the unity they had broken and wanted none the less to retrieve through blends of pure forms. institutions and know-how whereas in the modern para- . In this way the middle was simultaneously maintained and abolished. and a progressive reblend­ ing. The layering of intermediaries is replaced by chains of mediators. The explanations no longer proceed from pure forms toward phenomena. The necessity of multiplying intermediaries to reconstruct the lost unity has always been recognized .the place of phenomena in Kant's great narrative.78 REVOLUTION less faithful or more or less opaque.becomes the point of departure. So these operations of analysis and synthesis always had three aspects: a preliminary purification. I f w e seek to deploy the Middle Kingdom for itself. The only difference between the modern and nonmodern conception is therefore breached. nonmodern. a divided separation.but as long as those intermediaries were seen as mixtures made of pure forms. however. which was first the separation point and then the conjunction point for opposing resources . exactly the same world composed of exactly the same entities cease being modern and becomes what it has never ceased to be . and that we have to stop being so. The critical explanation always began from the poles and headed toward the middle. we are obliged to invert the general form of the explanations. If we simply restore this mediating role to all the agents.that is.

1 2 From Intermediaries to Mediators As soon as we bring about the Copernican counter-revolution and place the quasi-object in a position below and equidistant from the former things-in-themselves and the former humans-among-themselves. counting the crossed-out God) . At last the Middle Kingdom is represented. scientists and epistemolog­ ists will describe the physics of the vacuum without paying the slightest attention to England. Is the vacuum pump that has served as our example hitherto a new ontological variety in its own right? We cannot use asymmetrical historians to answer this question. This reversal may be likened to the French Revolution with which it is linked: they are excellent tools for making time irreversible. The Subject does revolve. as we have seen. and will have no interest whatsoever in the pump except to make it emerge miraculously from the Heaven of Ideas to establish their chronology. Let us set aside these asymmetrical tasks. 3. morality and theology. by making the object revolve around a new focus [foyer] and multiplying the intermediaries to cancel out distance between the two poles little by little. It revolves around the collective out of which people and things are generated. The explanations we seek will indeed obtain Nature and Society. but not around the Subject/Society. since they will be unable to locate the common ontological problem. but only as a final outcome. or even to Boyle. we notice that there is no longer any reason to limit the ontological varieties that matter to two (or three. But nothing obliges us to take that revolution as a decisive event that sets us for ever on the sure path of science.or rather this shift of the extremes centreward and downward. but not around Nature. offers a perfected model for modernizing explanations.FROM INTERMEDIARIES TO MEDIATORS 79 digm there was no explicit function and no apparent necessity in the work of mediation. not as a beginning. when we return to our usual practice. On the other side. but they are not irreversible in themselves. We do not need to attach our explanations to the two pure forms known as the Object or Subject/Society. Kant's Copernican Revolution. It revolves around the collective that produces things and people. Nature does revolve. on the contrary. Natures and societies are its satellites.a Copernican counter-revolution. one of which ignores nonhumans and the other . because these are. I call this reversed reversal . partial and purified results of the central practice that is our sole concern. Some will be historians only of seventeenth-century England. a movement that makes both object and subject revolve around the practice of quasi-objects and mediators .

Intermediaries exist. Does nature abhor a . we were to pass from the global context to the local context. If we bring about the Copernican counter-revolution we are then obliged to take the work of the intermediaries much more seriously. that the wealthy English gentlemen's 'representations' made it possible to 'interpret' air pressure and to 'accept' the existence of a vacuum. Society always comprises the same resources. and suppose symmetrical historians who will compare the two balance sheets when using mediators or int�rmediaries. Their competence is not their own. convey. Then. similarly. Nature has always been unchanging. or obtuse. If we now enumerate the entities endowed with autonomous status. We were to say that the laboratory pump 'reveals' or 'represents' or 'materializes' or 'allows us to grasp' the Laws of Nature. on the contrary. Nature and Society allow explanation because they themselves do not have to be explained. they are brutes or slaves. its leaks and its aberrations. the same interests. By moving closer to the point of separation and conjunction. they may do a bad job of the transporting. since that is what proves. but they establish links only because they themselves lack any ontological status. we simply plunged a hand alternately either into the urn that contains for all eternity the beings of Nature. But their lack of faithfulness does not give them any importance in their own right. To explain our air pump. There are dozens. the same passions. and since they nevertheless all produce the same reality effects. and we were to show how Boyle's gestures and the pressure of the Royal Society allowed them to understand the defects of the pump. transfer the power of the only two beings that are real. we were to have ended up reconnecting the two parts that were at first infinitely distant from Nature and from the Social. nothing essential has happened. By multiplying intermediary terms. At worst. this still empty place where the two poles have to be stitched back together.80 REVOLUTION humans. they are loyal servants. or into the one that contains the sempiternal mainsprings of the social world. at best. since it is no longer their task to transmit the power of Nature and that of Society. Nature and Society. while we would mark the place of the phenomenon. and their role is precisely to establish the link between the two. a second part would move leftward and become 'seventeenth-century English society'. To be sure. They merely transport. we find far more than two or three. they may be unfaithful. their intermediary status. by multiplying intermediaries. According to such an explanation. In the modern world of the Copernican Revolution there will be no new entities. We were to say. In the modern perspective. since we are supposed to split it in two dividing its originality among the two poles: a first part would head toward the right and would become 'Laws of Nature'. of course. we were supposed to take what we had just separated and bring them closer together.

as soon as we take the essence accumulated at the two extremes and redistribute it to the whole set of intermediaries. or could some subtle ether have slipped in? How are the Royal Society's witnesses going to account for the leaks in the air pump ? How is the King of England going to consent to let people go back to talking about the properties of matter and reestablishing private cliques just when the question of absolute power is finally about to be resolved ? Is the auth�nticity of miracles supported by the mechanization of matter or not? Is Boyle going to become a respected experimenter if he devotes himself to pursuing these vulgar experimental tasks and abandons the deductive explanation.that is. There was indeed a contingent history. These metamorphoses become explicable. to redefine it. in which everything had to be contained between the poles of Nature and Society. a new theology of miracles. intermediaries. but for humans alone. a new scholarly sociability. since they all redefine what Nature may be and what Society is. but Boyle and Hobbes will also change in the same degree. if we redistribute essence to all the entities that make up this history. more or less faithful. and the laboratory. Nature and Society. have existed from time immemorial. History does something. Nature was merely discovered.FROM INTERMEDIARIES TO MEDIATORS 81 vacuum or not ? Is there a real vacuum in the pump. we will refill these urns. Each entity is an event. the passage of time becomes more comprehensible again. or if the first remains eternal while the second alone is stirred up by history. as soon as we elevate the latter to the status of full-fledged mediators. a new Society that will henceforth include the vacuum. Such metamorphoses are incomprehensible if only two beings. In the world of the Copernican Revolution. We shall no longer explain the innovation of the air pump by reaching alternately into the two urns of Nature and Society. actors endowed with the capacity to translate what they transport. or Society was deployed. scholars. On the contrary. history did not really count. Around the work of the air pump we witness the formation of a new Boyle. The serfs have become free citizens once more. Nature and Society are no longer explanatory terms but rather something that requires a conjoined explanation. redeploy it. As soon as we start from the middle. detached from the necessity of natural things. and so will English society. and also to betray it. By offering to all the mediators the being that was previously captive in Nature and in Society. on the contrary. But then they stop being simple. as soon as we invert the arrows of the explanation. Phenomena were nothing but the encounter of already-present elements. Nature will emerge altered from Boyle's laboratory. then . a new Nature. the only one worthy of a scholar ? All these questions are no longer caught between Nature and Society. They become mediators . or at least profoundly modify their contents. or one was applied to the other.

and Hobbes's. or epistemes) construct the object. History is no longer simply the history of people.Kant's Copernican Revolution is only one in a long line of examples. All the essences become events. and because the noise of discourse drovvns out ':vhat happened in that utter silence' (p. to the air's spring.82 CONSTm. to the King. Modern science \Vas born.g by the same token as the death of Cherubino.JTION history in fact becomes possible. 1987). do. They all come out changed. Iiow does the object come to what is human?' (Serres. to block all access to it.. or intersubjectivity. not only of tools or beautiful statues. 216). Something does in fact happen to Boyle. Yer .13 Accusation. The people of Israel chant psalms before the dismantled Wailing Wall: of the temple.. Causation This Copernican counter-revolution amounts to modifying the place of the object to ren1ove it fron1 things-in-themselves and bring it to the con1n1unity. The witnesses to this second half of history are constituted not by texts or languages but by silent. but nothing about the tacit practice of the air pump or on the dexterity it required. ontologically speaking.�. the Black Stone is preserved. it becomes the history of natural things as well. stones and statues. he encounters the same silence. but of things in general. the air's sprin. but for real. Michel Serres's work is no less important than Shapin and Schaffer's or Bennion's for achieving this displacement or descent. to the vacuum. to Hobbes. because books are vvritten to entomb this very experi­ ence. Shapin and Schaffer have access to thousands of archival pages on Boyle's ideas. Even though Serres's archaeology is situated several levels below that of the air pump. Time is there not for naught.rhere. in the Kaaba. in a time as ren1ote for us as the time o f Cheops was for him? Why did he invent geometry by this pile of stones? All Islam dreams of traveling to lvlecca v.. 'Xlhat did the \vise Th4Jeaes see. to the air pump. from the study of fallin g bodies: stones fall to the ground. not one stone remains standing on another.e have nothing that recounts the other aspect of the story: ho�r objects construct the subject. We possess hundreds of myths describing the way subjects (or the collective. Why did Jesus establish the Christian Church on a man called Peter? I an1 . by the Egyptian pyramids. but \\"ithout bringing it closer to society. and thi�k. As Serres writes in one of his best books: 'We want to describe the emergence of the object. brute remainders such as pumps. 3. But his problem is that he 'can't find anything in books that recounts the prin1itive experience during which the objecr as such constituted the human subject. in the Renaissance.

the word 'thing'. p. 2 1 3 ) Why should we take seriously such a hasty generalization of all these petrifications. Boyle wondered how to put an end to civil wars. science is a branch of the j udiciary: In all the languages of Europe. A thing emerges there. The word 'cause' designates the root or origin of the word 'thing' : causa. (Serres. so that. 1 1 1 ) Thus in Latin the word for 'thing' is res. 294) Thus with three citations Serres generalizes the results that Shapin and Schaffer brought together with so much difficulty: causes. 'deliberately mixing religion and sciences in these examples of inauguration' of modern science and politics. As i f the only human reality came from tribunals alone. (p. politics. For Boyle as for Serres. stones and facts never occupy the position of the thing-in-itself. by constructing a new closed space in a container where the existence of the vacuum would become manifest. whatever its form. chose. (p. one that mixes up a black religious stone with Galileo's falling bodies ? For the same reason that I have taken Shapin and Schaffer's work seriously. This invention of facts is not. No ad hominem accusation will prevail any longer. however. of word and object. 307) Here we shall see the miracle and find the solution to the ultimate enigma. Language wants the world to stem from language alone. . The tribunal stages the very identity of cause and thing. or the passage of one to the other by substitution. p. has as its root or origin the word 'cause'. They had ballasted epistemology with an unknown new actor.ACCUSATION. handmade air pump. only nonhuman indicators and instruments observed by gentlemen will be considered trustworthy. At least this is what it says . by asking God not to be directly present. The stubborn accumulation of matters of fact will establish the foundations of the pacified collective. cosa. They all do it for the same anthropological reason: science and religion are linked by a profound reinterpretation of what it means to accuse and put to the test. (Serres. a leaky. CAUSATIO N 8l deliberately mixing religion with science in these examples of inauguration. pieced­ together. by renouncing the condemnation of witnesses for their opinions. or criticism generally speaking. silent things. By compelling matter to be inert. 1987. . the accused bore the name reus because the magistrates were suing him. north and south alike. no human witness will be believed. . Boyle said . a . Serres ballasts epistemology with an unknown new actor. taken from the realm of law. As if objects themselves existed only according to the debates of an assembly or after a decision issued by a jury. for the Ancients. from which we get reality. or Ding . . . the object of judicial procedure or the cause itself. 1 987.

or study the sciences. at the origin.scientific. Boyle concentrates all the dissension of civil wars on an air pump: he finds himself with the facts. p. This anthropological situation is not limited to our prescientific past. We have no idea of the aspect things would have outside the tribunal. 1 9 87. Serres proceeds not by metamorphosis or dialectics. it is finally liberating itself from the hell of social relationships. we have testimony. a rapid whirlwind in which the transcendental constitution of the object by the subject would be nourished. returning to the origin . traces or narratives. it is an anthropological creation that redistributes God. The collective in . displacements and translations mobilize peoples and things on an ever-increasing scale. I imagine. but because. nonsocial. Thus we live in a society that is modern not because. they are still there. However far back we go in talkative history or silent prehistory. Serres makes precisely the same point. a constitutive condition of the subject through the appearance of the object as object in general. Of the inverse or symmetrical condition on the whirling cycle. or Hegel's. But of the direct constitutive condition on the basis of the object we have witnesses that are tangible. visible. will. Each loop in the spiral defines a new collective and a new objectivity. matter-of-factual. Hobbes constructs a political body on the basis of animated naked bodies: he finds himself with the gigantic artificial prosthesis of the Leviathan. in his so-unmodern work. Contemporary science is a way of prolonging what we have already done.j udiciary. and we cannot assign causes to phenomena.REVOLUTION discovery of the things that are out there. by the symmetrical constitution of the subject by the object. hatred and justice. transform. Nowhere can on � observe an object and a subject. written in the labile languages . There exists a transcendental objective. (Serres. social . . unlike all the others. j ust like all the others. recounts a pragmatogony that is as fabulous as Hesiod's old cosmogony. but by substitutions. . Those who follow networks.by a cause . concrete. in crushing semi cycles that are endlessly begun anew. Without accusation we have no causes to plead. beyond our civil wars. it is redistributing the accusations that replace a cause . . formidable. one society that would be primitive and another that would be modern. from the obscurantism of religion. since it belongs more to our scientific present. However. Series of substitutions. are only documenting the nth loop in the spiral whose fabulous beginning Serres sketches for us. as in return. and outside our trials and our courtrooms. love. . . from the tyranny of politics. 209) Serres. The new sciences that deviate. collective. . tacit. are simply latecomers in that long mythology of substitutions. knead the collective into things that no one has made.

3. . To classify the entire set of entities along the single line that runs from Nature to Society would amount to drawing cartographic maps on the basis of longitude alone. which is more difficult).the latitude . The analysts who head left will be called realists. I would say that it has to be defined as a gradient that registers variations in the stability of entities from event to essence. we are still in the world's infancy.the longitude (see Cussins. Still. or the product of the two opposite constraints of Nature and Society. will try to naturalize Society by integrating it into Nature (Hull. They become convenient and relative reference points that moderns use to differentiate intermediaries. 1 992). Nature and Society have no more existence than West and East. Others. The degree of stabilization . 1 992. or the representation of English Society. [ 1 976] 1 99 1 ) (or by the Subject. more imperialistic or more one-sided. for another and more precise mapping device). thereby reducing them to a single line! The second dimension makes it possible to give every latitude to the entities and to deploy the map that registers. Pickering.is as important as the position on the line that runs from the natural to the social . We have never left the anthropological matrix . 1 4 Variable Ontologies As soon as we grant historicity to all the actors so that we can accommodate the proliferation of quasi-objects. We still need to be told whether what is at stake is the air pump as a seventeenth-century event or the air pump as a stabilized essence of the eighteenth century or the twentieth century.we are still in the Dark Ages or. these reference points and discussions remain one-dimensional. while still others are termed 'purely natural' and others 'purely social'. We still know nothing at all about the air pump when we say that it is the representation of the Laws of Nature. How will we define this equivalent of North and South ? Mixing my metaphors. or to socialize Nature by getting it digested by Society (Bloor. and yet others are considered 'not only' natural 'but also' a little bit social. 1 9 88). some of which are called 'natural' and others 'social'. 1 992b. while those who head right will be called constructivists (Latour. Those who want to maintain a position plumb in the middle will invent countless combina­ tions in order to mix Nature with Society (or subjects).VARIABLE ONTOLOGIES 85 permanent renewal that is organized around things in permanent renewal has never stopped evolving. both the modern Constitution and its practice. alternating the 'symbolic dimension' of things with the 'natural dimension' of societies. if you prefer. as I have said.

In order to trace them. What Sartre said of humans .has to be said of all the actants: of the air's spring as well as society. of matter as well as consciousness. we shall be able to choose between the two only once they are stabilized. 1 . What is a vacuum. we cannot say whether it is natural or social. then? None of these positions. Or rather. We do not have to choose between vacuum no. the air's spring has a history. 1 longitude Existence Figure 3. 3.86 REVOLUTION Nature Pole C' Essence A' B' Subject/Society Pole latitude No.4 The modern Constitution and its practice The ontology of mediators thus has a variable geometry.5 D" E vacuum E" D vacuum No. which begins to become a reality that eludes humans. The essence of the vacuum is the trajectory that links them all. About the very unstable vacuum no. In other words. 5. only that it emerges artificially in the laboratory. we do not have to form any hypotheses about the essence of Nature or the essence of Society. unless it is transmuted into vacuum no.2 A vacuum No.that their existence precedes their essence . Each of the actants possesses a unique signature in the space deployed in this way. and vacuum no. a representation that Western thinkers have taken centuries to define. Vacuum no. 2 may be an artifact made by human hands. 3 C vacuum B vacuum B" t----' No. . in Boyle's la boratory. 4. a reality of external nature whose essence does not depend on any human.4 '-----i C " No .

E ' ). E") . With this single line. in the work of mediation.but only much later . and that we should view essences as events and trajectories ? We now have a better understanding of the paradox of the moderns. they were playing simultaneously on the transcendence and the immanence of the two entities. D". .much later and much farther off. C. B'. C". Nature and Society.the two continental plates on which our feet are firmly planted. C ' . B. Like the geophysicians. All the points (A. . we note that there are not four regions but three. . we too have to go down and approach the places where the mixtures are made that will become . Now if we draw the map of the ontological varieties. we have to go down into those searing rifts where the magma erupts and on the basis of this eruption are produced . realists and constructivists will be able to quarrel over the interpretation of the vacuum for centuries : the former will declare that no one has fabricated this real fact. 'Nature' and 'Society'. since it is nothing but the meeting point of the two extremes of Nature and Society in which resides the whole of reality. Nature and Society are not two opposite transcendences but one and the same growing out .precisely where. with the central point A localized at the site of the former phenomena . the latter that our hands alone fashioned this social fact. D. in order to summarize and purify. everything becomes hopelessly confused.VARIABLE ONTOLOGIES 87 Superpose all the signatures and you will have the shapes of what the moderns wrongly call. The double transcendence of Nature on one side and Society on the other corresponds to one single set of stabilized essences. the advocates of the middle ground will waver between the two senses of the word 'fact'.aspects of Nature or of the Social. . That gave them four contradictory resources which allowed them an unusual freedom of movement.for better or for worse . but also . '. visible only if we also take into account the degree of stabilization (B". using . but never representing the two together. But if we project all these trajectories on to the single line that connects the former 'Nature' pole with the former 'Society/Subject' pole. By using both the work of mediation and the work of purification. by cooling and progressive stacking .the formula 'not only . Is it too much to ask of our discussions that from now on we should spell out the latitude of the entities we are talking about as well as their longitude. This is because the fabrication is below the line. The great masses of Nature and Society can be compared to the cooled-down continents of plate tectonics. in the modern scenario. E) will be projected along the single latitude (A'. If we want to understand their movement. nothing is supposed to happen. D ' . For each state of Society there exists a corresponding state of Nature.

These resources are incompatible only in the official version of the Constitution. by operating this Copernican counter-revolution. but this abyss becomes . On the other hand. 1 5 Connecting the Four Modern Repertoires By setting up the two dimensions. the middle is what fills up. We understand why the nonmoderns are not the successors to the moderns. 3. modern and nonmodern. with the great narratives that dominate us infinitely. with the ordeals they undergo.88 REVOLUTION of the work of mediation. even though the presence of Being is distributed among beings. we finally understand retrospectively what we had always done. with the adventures they live through. The fourth.a society that surpasses us all. which exists outside ourselves and has neither our passions nor our desi res.owing to the very proliferation of hybrids . with the actants that make up the stories we tell ourselves . that of the work of mediation. The only abyss that counts separates the work of mediation from the constitutional formatting. The modern Constitution is therefore correct: there is indeed an abyss between Nature and Society. their very historicity. the immanence of naturing-natures and collectives corresponds to a single region : that of the instability of events. The second deals with the social bond. with the tropes and genres that organize them. with what attaches human beings to one another. and the extremities are emptied. 'hot' or unstable version. by making object and subject both slide centreward and downward. even though they are at the same time merely texts and discourses. perhaps we shall now be able to capitalize on the best resources of the modern critique. speaks of Being and deconstructs what we invariably forget when we concern ourselves with beings alone. stable version of the Constitution its unofficial. We . finally. with the personified forces that structure society . The moderns have developed four different repertoires. The third deals with signification and meaning. In practice. which they see as incompatible. we have trouble telling the four apart. with the pas�ions and desires that move us. is coextensive with their very existence. even though it is of our own making. If we add to the official. even though we are capable of mobilizing and constructing it. but this abyss is only a delayed result of stabilization.a continuous gradient that we are able to traverse as soon as we become once again what we have never stopped being: nonmoderns. to accommodate the proliferation of quasi-objects. The first deals with the external reality of a nature of which we are not masters. The former only make official the latter's denied practice. At the price of a little counter-revolution. on the contrary.

Society and Being surpass us infinitely. sometimes as a narrative. but it also sketches in seventeenth-century society and likewise defines a new literary genre. In following the pump. Our vacuum pump traces the spring of air. language. which would be at first neither object. They are real. can we not write as if they ought to be in continuous connection with one another ? . which maintains our constitutional guarantees. without ever being reduced to a mere being. the moderns. do we have to pretend that everything is rhetorical. or that everything is socially constructed. quasi-subjects. because they circulate in our hands and define our social bond by their very circulation. they are narrated. and never forget Being. The linkage is impossible as long as we remain truly modern. They are wrong only in believing that these sets are forever contradictory. Instead of always analyzing the trajectory of quasi-objects by separating these resources. who artificially divided a unique trajectory. we shall simply say that they trace networks. and we humans have not made them. from the modern dimension to the nonmodern dimension. quite real. This liaison of the four repertoires in the same networks once they are officially represented allows us to construct a dwelling large enough to house the Middle Kingdom. But they are collective because they attach us to one another. As soon as we are on the trail of some quasi-object. They are unstable and hazardous. nor pure being? What if the separation of the four repertoires were applied only to stabilized and later stages ? Nothing proves that these resources remain incompatible when we move from essences to events. Discourse. or that everything is stamped and stocked? Do we have to suppose that the same pump is in its essence sometimes an object. But continuity becomes possible if we add to the guarantees the practice of mediation that the Constitution allows because it denies it. They are discursive. it appears to us sometimes as a thing.CONNECTING THE FOUR MODERN REPERTOIRES 89 shamelessly confuse our desires with natural entities . and sometimes discourse ? Or that it is a bit of each ? That sometimes it is a mere being. The moderns are quite right to want reality. and peopled with actants of autonomous forms. historical. sometimes a social bond.that is. society and being all at once. sometimes as a social bond. from revolution to the Copernican counter-revolution. or that everything is natural. Of quasi-objects. nor subject. the authentic common home of the nonmodern world as well as its Constitution. however. and because these four sets are defined only by their separation. from purification to mediation. with the socially constructed sciences which in turn very much look like discourses and trace our society. and sometimes it is marked by the ontological difference between Being and beings ? And what if it were we ourselves. passionate. that of the account of a laboratory experiment. nor meaning effect. existential. since Nature.

or imprisoned in social representations alone. Real as Nature. for things too have to be elevated to the dignity of narrative. and simply true. more naturalized. which is supposed to hold up solely through the repetition of the words 'power' and 'legitimacy' because sociologists cannot cope either with the contents of objects or with the world of languages that nevertheless construct society? Our collectives are more real. Are you not a little tired of those sociologies constructed around the Social only. while we simply become once more what we have never ceased to be: amoderns. more socialized than the tiresome things-in-themselves led us to expect. and with the eternal scepticism of the deconstruction of meaning? Discourse is not a world unto itself but a population of actants that mix with things as well as with societies. Interest in texts does not distance us from reality. and hold on to them both. Doesn't external reality abound right here among us? Do you not have more than enough of being continually dominated by a Nature that is transcendent. existential as Being: such are the quasi-objects that the moderns have caused to proliferate. as so many social scientists would like you to be? We want to gain access to things themselves. more productive. Are you not fed up at finding yourselves forever locked into language alone. . to markets. to things. it is accessible in all the objects mobilized throughout the world. unknowable. does not distance us any more from the difference of Being with beings than from society. of living in a base world emptied of all its substance. uphold the former and the latter alike. why deny them the grandeur of forming the social bond that holds us together? Are you not tired of being accused of having forgotten Being.90 REVOLUTION We might well escape from the postmodern prostration itself caused by an overdose of the four critical repertoires. rather. more discursive than the tiresome humans-among­ themselves led us to expect. As such it behoves us to pursue them. to technologies. exact. all its sacredness and its art? In order to rediscover these treasures. scientific and social world in which we live ? To apply oneself to the sciences. politics. or language. peopled with entities that lie dormant like the Sleeping Beauty until the day when scientific Prince Charmings finally discover them ? The collectives we live in are more active. The real is not remote. As for texts. do we really have to give up the historical. collective as Society. not only to their phenomena. narrated as Discourse. Are you not fed up with language games. inaccessible.

But if we link together in one single picture the work of purification and the work of mediation that gives it meaning. that this model was not readily usable. I quickly recognized. the impossibility I mentioned above. then no anthropology of the modern world is possible. I needed to understand what we meant by modern.4 D RELATI VISM 4. since it did not apply to science and technology. we discover. It thus remains asymmetrical. retrospectively. If anthropology is to become comparative. since anthropology alone seemed capable of linking up the strange trajectory of quasi-objects as a whole. As a result. concepts and questions. If we understand modernity in terms of the official Constitution that has to make a total distinction between humans and nonhumans on the one hand and between purification and mediation on the other. limiting the extent of its inquiries exclusively to cultures. the anthropology that has been stumbling over science and technology up to now could once again become the model for description that I have been seeking. anthropology has internalized. they were unable to do so for the exact sciences. Shaped by moderns studying people who were said to be premodern. that we have never been truly modern. While ethnographers were quite capable of retracing the links that bound the ethnosciences to the social world. In order to understand why it was so difficult to apply the same freedom of tone to the sociotechnological networks of our Western world. 1 How to End the Asymmetry At the beginning of this essay I proposed anthropology as a model for describing our world. Unfortunately. it is not easy to reutilize anthropology as it stands. however. It rules out studying objects of nature. Unable to compare premoderns to moderns. it could compare them both to nonmoderns. if it is . in its practices.

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to be able to go back and forth between moderns and nonmoderns, it must be made symmetrical. To this end, it must become capable of confronting not beliefs that do not touch us directly - we are always critical enough of them - but the true knowledge to which we adhere totally. It must therefore be made capable of studying the sciences by surpassing the limits of the sociology of knowledge and, above all, of epistemology. The first principle of symmetry upset traditional sociology of know­ ledge by requiring that error and truth be treated in the same terms (Bloor, [ 1 976] 1 99 1 ). In the past, the sociology of knowledge, by marshalling a great profusion of social factors, had explained only deviations with respect to the straight and narrow path of reason. Error, beliefs, could be explained socially, but truth remained self-explanatory. It was certainly possible to analyze a belief in flying saucers, but not the knowledge of black holes; we could analyze the illusions of parapsychol­ ogy, but not the knowledge of psychologists; we could analyze Spencer's errors, but not Darwin's certainties. The same social factors could not be applied equally to both. In this double standard we recognize the split in anthropology between sciences, which were not open to study, and ethnosciences, which were. The presuppositions of the sociology of knowledge would not have intimidated ethnologists for long, if epistemologists - especially in the French tradition - had not erected as a founding principle this same asymmetry between true and false sciences. Only the latter - the 'outdated' sciences - can be related to the social context. As for the 'sanctioned' sciences, they become scientific only because they tear themselves away from all context, from any traces of contamination by history, from any naive perception, and escape even their own past. Here is the difference, for Bachelard and his disciples, between history and the history of sciences (Bachelard, 1 967; Canguilhem, [ 1 968] 1 98 8 ) . History may be symmetrical, but that hardly matters, because it never deals with real science; the history of science, on the other hand, must never be symmetrical, because it deals with science and its utmost duty is to make the epistemological break more complete. A single example will suffice to show to what lengths the rejection of all symmetrical anthropology can be taken when epistemologists have to treat true sciences differently from false beliefs. When Georges Canguil­ hem distinguishes scientific ideologies from true sciences, he asserts not only that it is impossible to study Darwin - the scientist - and Diderot ­ the ideologue - in the same terms, but that it must be impossible to lump them together: 'Distinguishing between ideology and science prevents us from seeing continuities where in fact there are only elements of ideology preserved in a science that has supplanted an earlier ideology. Hence such

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a distinction prevents us from seeing anticipations of the Origin of Species in [Diderot's] Dream of d'Alembert' (Canguilhem, [ 1 968] 1 98 8 p. 3 9 ) . Only what breaks for ever with ideology is scientific. I t i s difficult indeed to pursue the ins and outs of quasi-objects while following such a principle. Once they have passed into the hands of such epistemologists, they will be pulled out by the roots. Objects alone will remain, excised from the entire network that gave them meaning. But why even mention Diderot or Spencer? Why take an interest in error? Because without it the truth would shine too brightly! 'Recognizing the connections between ideology and science should prevent us from reducing the history of science to a featureless landscape, a map without relief' (p. 3 9 ) . For such epistemologists, 'Whiggish' history is not a mistake to be overcome but a duty to be carried out with utmost rigour. The history of science should not be confused with history (Bowker and Latour, 1 987). The false is what makes the true stand out. What Racine did for the Sun King under the lofty name of historian, Canguilhem does for Darwin under the equally usurped label of historian of science. The principle of symmetry, on the contrary, reestablished continuity, historicity, and - we may as well say it - elementary justice. David Bloor is Canguilhem's opposite number, j ust as Serres is Bachelard's. 'The only pure myth is the idea of a science devoid of all myth,' writes the latter as he breaks with epistemology (Serres, 1 974). For Serres, as for actual historians of science, Diderot, Darwin, Malthus and Spencer have to be explained according to the same principles and the same causes; if you want to account for the belief in flying saucers, make sure your explanations can be used, symmetrically, for black holes ( Lagrange, 1 990). If you claim to debunk parapsychology, can you use the same factors for psychology (Collins and Pinch, 1 982) ? If you analyze Pasteur's successes, do the same terms allow you to account for his failures (Latour, 1 988b) ? Above all, the first principle of symmetry proposes a slimming treatment for the explanations of errors offered by social scientists. It had become so easy to account for deviation! Society, beliefs, ideology, symbols, the unconscious, madness - everything was so readily available that explanations were becoming obese. But truths ? When we lost our facile recourse to epistemological breaks, we soon realized, we who study the sciences, that most of our explanations were not worth much. Asymmetry organized them all, and simply added insult to inj ury. Everything changes if the staunch discipline of the principle of symmetry forces us to retain only the causes that could serve both truth and falsehood, belief and knowledge, science and parascience. Those who weighed the winners with one scale and the losers with another, while shouting 'vae victis!' (woe to the vanquished), like Brennus, made that

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discrepancy incomprehensible up to now. When the balance of symmetry is reestablished with precision, the discrepancy that allows us to understand why some win and others lose stands out all the more sharply.

4.2 The Principle of Symmetry Generalized The first principle of symmetry offers the incomparable advantage of doing away with epistemological breaks, with a priori separations between 'sanctioned' and 'outdated' sciences, or artificial divisions between sociologists who study knowledge, those who study belief systems, and those who study the sciences. Formerly, when the anthropologist returned from his remote land to discover sciences that had been tidied up by epistemology at home, he could establish no continuity between ethnoscience and scientific knowledge. Thus with good reason he abstained from studying nature, and settled for analyzing cultures. Now when he returns and discovers studies - becoming more numerous by the day - that focus on his own sciences and technologies at home, the abyss is already narrower. He can move without too much difficulty from Trobriand navigators to those of the United States Navy (Hutchins, 1 980) ; from calculators in West Africa to arithmeticians in California (Rogoff and Lave, 1 984) ; from technicians in the Ivory Coast to a Nobel laureate in La Jolla (Latour and Woolgar, [1 979] 1 986) ; from sacrifices to the god Baal to the Challenger explosion (Serres, 1 987) . He is no longer required to limit himself to cultures, since Nature - or, rather, natures - have become similarly accessible to study (Pickering, 1 992). However, the principle of symmetry defined by Bloor leads rapidly to an impasse. If it requires an iron discipline in its explanation, the principle itself is asymmetrical, as the following diagram will make clear. Epistemologists and sociologists of knowledge explained truth through its congruence with natural reality, and falsehood through the constraint of social categories, epistemes or interests. They were asymmetrical. Bloor's principle seeks to explain truth and falsehood alike through the same categories, the same epistemes and the same interests. But what terms does it choose ? Those that the sciences of society offer social scientists - that is, Hobbes and his many successors. Thus it is asymmetrical not because it separates ideology and science, as epistemo­ logists do, but because it brackets off Nature and makes the 'Society' pole carry the full weight of explanation. Constructivist where Nature is concerned, it is realistic about Society (Calion and Latour, 1 992; Collins and Yearley, 1 992) . But Society, as we now know, is no less constructed than Nature, since it is the dual result of one single stabilization process. For each state of

or symmetrical in Bloor's).THE PRINCIPLE OF SYMMETRY GENERALIZED 95 Nature Pole Subject/Society 0 0 Truth is explained by Nature � � � --0 Falsehood is explained by Society Pole ASYMMETRICAL EXPLANATIONS Nature explains neither truth or falsehood Truth and falsehood are both explained by Society 0 FIRST PRINCIPLE OF SYMMETRY O���o explamed GENERALIZED PRINCIPLE OF SYMMETRY � The explanation starts from quasi-objects . The appearance of explanation that Nature and Society provide comes only in a late phase.after the work of purification. we have to be realist in the other.and transcendent . Or rather. Nature and Society are part of the problem. it has to do more than take in the first principle of symmetry .in the work of mediation . then we have to be constructivist for both. Nature and Society do not offer solid hooks to which we might attach our interpretations (which should be asymmetrical in Canguilhem's sense. we must be able to understand simultaneously how Nature and Society are imman­ ent .which puts a stop to only the most flagrant injustices of epistemology. therefore. Figure 4. If anthropology is to become symmetrical. not part of the solution. If we are to be realist in the one case. objects of external reality on the one hand. but are what is to be explained. after cleavage. when stabilized quasi-objects have become. if we are constructivist in one instance. 1 The principle of symmetry Nature there exists a corresponding state of society. It has to absorb what Michel . as our investigation of the two modern practices has shown. subjects of Society on the other.

external and universal. 1 987). a nonplace. for its part. But if we superpose the two positions . Are they comparable ? Are they similar ? Are they the same ? We can now. .the one that the ethnologist occupies effortlessly in order to study cultures and the one that we have made a great effort to define in order to study our own nature . it was impossible to occupy this central place from which the symmetry between Nature and Society becomes visible at last. 1 986). perhaps. solve the insoluble problem of relativism. No longer unthinkable. instead of constantly and exclusively alternating between one pole of the modern dimension and the other. So long as we were modern. from the nature of plants to their cultural representation. In the same way. the ethnologist draws the courage to deploy this seamless web from her profound conviction that she is dealing merely. was the phenomenon. it becomes the terrain of all the empirical studies carried out on the networks. setting aside its own.96 RELATIVISM Callon calls the principle of generalized symmetry: the anthropologist has to position himself at the median point where he can follow the attribution of both nonhuman and human properties (Callan. or to use power games to account for what shapes external reality. proliferate in it. The unthinkable nonplace becomes the point in the Constitution where the work of mediation emerges. the one the ethnologist occupies so effortlessly today when she sets out to study other cultures? Indeed. in order to keep the two original asymmetries even while concealing the weaknesses of the one under those of the other (Latour. Hitherto this point has remained a no­ man's-land. from mythic structures to ethnophysics or to hunting techniques. which through some astonishing privilege possesses a unique access to universal Nature. It is far from empty: quasi-objects. It no longer compares cultures. if not easy. But isn't this place the one that anthropology prepared so painstak­ ingly over the course of a century. with representations. we move down along the nonmodern dimension. from political organization to ethnomedicine. To be sure. from meteorology to the kinship system. quasi­ subj ects. as we have already seen. and solely. He is not allowed to use external reality to explain society. Everything changes when. because it did not exist! The only central position recognized by the Constitution. we can watch her move.then comparative anthropology becomes possible. he is of course forbidden to alternate natural realism and sociological realism by using 'not only' Nature 'but also' Society. remains unique. the meeting point where the Nature pole and the Subject pole were applied to one another. Nature. It compares natures-cultures. without modifying her analytical tools.

They do not claim merely that they differ from others as the Sioux differ from the Algonquins. or the Baoules from the Lapps. In effect. in the name of cultural relativism. But no. 269). or at least as it is known to the sciences . is not a culture. and without isolating them in their separate prisons (Levi-Strauss. not merely a culture. they invented science.and Them . as we have recently come to know. Why does the West see itself this way ? Why would the West and only the West not be a culture ? In order to understand the Great Divide between Us and Them. Whatever they do. p. from the China seas to the Yucatan. Westerners bring history along with them in the hulls of their caravels and their gunboats. but always as a destiny. the way the other societies do.everyone else. If Westerners had been content with trading and conquering.Occidentals . they would not distinguish themselves radically from other tradespeople and conquerors.THE IMPORT -EXPORT SYSTEM . but Nature as it is. we have to go back to that other Great Divide between humans and nonhumans that I defined above. Thus at the heart of the question of relativism we find the question of science. an activity totally distinct from conquest and trade. from the Inuit to the Tasmanian aborigines .. We do not mobilize an image or a symbolic representation of Nature. We Westerners cannot be one culture among others. since the latter all have in common the fact that they are precisely cultures among others. Even those who have tried. unstudiable. They bear this white man's burden sometimes as an exalting challenge.has not ceased to obsess us. since we also mobilize Nature. miraculously con­ flared with Nature itself. the first is the exportation of the second. to defend the continuity of cultures without ordering them in a progressive series.such is the moderns' victory cry.. In Westerners' eyes the West. arrives at the world of communication by the detour of the physical [modern science]' (Levi-Strauss. sometimes as a tragedy. 4.which remain in the background. [ 1 962] 1 966. and that which. writes Levi­ Strauss in The Savage Mind. politics and morality.3 The Import . but that they differ radically. .Export System of the Two Great Divides 'We Westerners are absolutely different from others! ' . and the West alone. looting and dominating. to the extent that Westerners can be lined up on one side and all the cultures on the other. 'for the crossing of long separated paths: that which arrives at the physical world by the detour of communication [the savage mind]. unstudied. [ 1 952] 1 987). think they can do this only by bringing them as close as possible to the sciences. in the cylinders of their telescopes and the pistons of their immunizing syringes. The Great Divide between Us . 'We have had to wait until the middle of this century'. or protracted lament. absolutely.

electronic microscopes and telecommunication networks. In treating the sensible properties of the animal and plant kingdoms as if they were the elements of a message.there has been a total asymmetry between the cultures that took Nature into account and those that took into account only their own culture or the . computers and electron microscopes.namely. a generous defence lawyer.they already discerned 'as through a glass darkly' principles of interpretation whose heuristic value and accordance with reality have been revealed to us only through very recent inventions: telecommunications. . always extrahuman. ahuman. The abyss that was to supposed to be narrowing opens up again. . But. though as our own is only when it is applied to knowledge of a universe in which it recognizes physical and semantic properties simultaneously . The savage mind is as logical in the same sense and the same fashion as ours. and in ours alone. not theirs. molecular biology and physics. Italian physics. . p. 268) Levi-Strauss. men [those with savage minds] have made mistakes of identification: the meaningful element was not always the one they supposed. this new scientific knowledge lies entirely outside culture. German chemistry. and the majority of French intellectuals). The very sciences that are used for this promotion are now off limits.that makes it possible to relativize all cultures. that is constructed through biology. RELATIVISM The false antimony between logical and prelogical mentality was sur­ mounted at the same time.with the one caveat. these sciences remain objective and external. (Levi-Strauss. imagines no mitigating circum­ stances other than making his clients look as much like scientists as possible! If primitive peoples do not differ from us as much as we think.in them. Girard. Lyotard. an unheard-of transcendence has manifested itself: Nature as it is. It will be objected that there remains a major difference between the thought of primitives and our own: Information Theory is concerned with genuine messages whereas primitives mistake mere manifestations of physical determinism for messages . and they will think exactly as we do. .. theirs and ours alike . it is because they anticipate the newest conquests of information theory. Derrida. It is the transcendence of science . .conflated with Nature . . without perfected instruments which would have permitted them to place it where it most often is . but with inadequate instruments and 'errors of identification'. Since this event occurred . Somewhere in our societies.and so signs . sometimes inhuman. that it is precisely our culture. at the microscopic level . Give the primitives a microscope. Conceived in the fashion of epistemology. American nuclear engineering or Belgian thermodynamics . of course.. and in discovering 'signatures' .whether one situates it in Greek mathematics. quasi-objects purged of their networks. Is there a better way to finish off those one wants to save from condemnation ? For Levi-Strauss (as for Canguilhem. [1 962] 1 966. .

The others have only representations of Nature that are more or less disturbed or coded by the cultural preoccupations of the humans that occupy them fully and fall only by chance .THE IMPORT . they will always remain blinded by this confusion.cannot really separate what is knowledge from what is Society. however criminal. The internal partition between humans and nonhumans defines a second partition .2 The two Great Divides So the Internal Great Divide accounts for the External Great Divide: we are the only ones who differentiate absolutely between Nature and Culture. Those who invent sciences and discover physical determinisms never deal exclusively with human beings. however adapted. between Science and Society. regulated and functional they may be. For Them. Whatever they do. Nature and Society. The First Great Divide: Internal The Modern Partition (as practised but denied by the moderns) The Premodern Overlap (as seen by the modems) The Second Great Divide: External Figure 4. however imperialistic we may be. except by accident.through which the moderns have set themselves apart from the premoderns. what is sign from what is thing.EXPORT SYSTEM " distorted versions that they might have o f matter. .'as through a glass darkly' . what comes from Nature as it is from what their cultures require. they are prisoners of the social and of language alike. whereas in our eyes all the others ­ whether they are Chinese or Amerindian. signs and things. we escape from the prison of the social or of language to gain access to things themselves through a providential exit gate.an external one this time . that of scientific knowledge. Azande or Barouya .on things as they are. Whatever we do.

it does so at first with caution. or the realms beyond rationality. it has to sacrifice exoticism. she nevertheless claimed to be reconstituting the centre of those cultures: their belief system. intimidated this time by the evidence of his own marginality in the face of Western . but not at great cost. their power plays. 1 975 ). But back at home he has limited himself to studying the most superficial aspects of the metro (Auge. 1 986).that is.is not yet raised. their economies . of science . the representations ordinary people have of technical risks (Douglas. 1 989). [ 1 923] 1 967). witchcraft in the Bocage (Favret-Saada. it thinks it can apply its methods only when Westerners mix up signs and things the way savage thought does. If she remained marginal by vocation and method. she loses all the hard-won advantages of anthropology. For Us they should never be. At first. peasant life in the shadow of nuclear power plants (Zonabend. 1 97 1 ) . and out of necessity. 1 989). psychologists or historians. 4. However. their technologies. since anthropology maintains its critical distance by studying only the margins and fractures of rationality. In fact. sought to understand the entire social phenomenon revealed by sorcery (Auge. Even though we might still recognize in our own societies some fuzzy areas in madness. To be sure. the anthropologist did not settle for studying the margins of other cultures (Geertz. 1 980). His marginality did not hinder him from grasping the full social fabric of Alladian culture. their ethno­ sciences. economists.all these can be excellent field study topics. popular culture and women's bodies (Haraway. animals.4 Anthropology Comes Home from the Tropics When anthropology comes home from the tropics in order to rejoin the anthropology of the modern world that is ready and waiting. In the tropics. children. not to say with pusillanimity. 1 98 3 ) . It will therefore look for what most resembles its traditional terrains as defined by the External Great Divide. the great repatriation cannot stop there. the totality of their existence (Mauss.in short. the ethnologist loses what constituted the very originality of her research as opposed to the scattered studies of sociologists. by sacrificing exoticism. For example Marc Auge when he resided among the lagoon-dwellers of the Ivory Coast. we believe our duty is to extirpate ourselves from those horrible mixtures as forcibly as possible by no longer confusing what pertains to mere social preoccupations and what pertains to the real nature of things.1 00 RELATIVISM are virtually coextensive. because the question of Nature . If she comes back home but limits herself to studying the marginal aspects of her own culture. Popular medicine. interpreting some graffiti on the walls of subway corridors.

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economics, technologies and science. A symmetrical Marc Auge would have studied the sociotechnological network of the metro itself: its engineers as well as its drivers, its directors and its clients, the employer­ State, the whole shebang - simply doing at home what he had always done elsewhere. Western ethnologists cannot limit themselves to the periphery; otherwise, still asymmetrical, they would show boldness toward others, timidity toward themselves. Back home anthropology need not become the marginal discipline of the margins, picking up the crumbs that fall from the other disciplines' banquet table. In order to achieve such freedom of movement and tone, however, one has to be able to view the two Great Divides in the same way, and consider them both as one particular definition of our world and its relationships with the others. Now these Divides do not define us any better than they define others; they are no more an instrument o f knowledge than is the Constitution alone, o r modern temporality alone (see Section 3 .7). To become symmetrical, anthropology needs a complete overhaul and intellectual retooling so that it can get around both Divides at once by believing neither in the radical distinction between humans and nonhumans at home, nor in the total overlap of knowledge and society elsewhere. Let us imagine an ethnologist who goes out to the tropics and takes along with her the Internal Great Divide. In her eyes, the people she studies continually confuse knowledge of the world - which the investigator, as a good scientistic Westerner, possesses as her birthright ­ and the requirements of social functioning. The tribe that greets her thus has only one vision of the world, only one representation of Nature. To go back to the expression Marcel Mauss and Emile Durkheim made famous, this tribe projects its own social categories on to Nature (Durkheim and Mauss, [ 1 903] 1 967; Haudricourt, 1 962). When our ethnologist explains to her informers that they must be more careful to separate the world as it is from the social representation they provide for it, they are scandalized or nonplussed. The ethnologist sees in their rage and their misunderstanding the very proof of their premodern obsession. The dualism in which she lives - humans on one side, nonhumans on the other, signs over here, things over there - is intolerable to them. For social reasons, our ethnologist concludes, this culture requires a monist attitude. 'We traffic in ideas; [the savage mind] hoards them up' (Levi­ Strauss, [ 1 962] 1 966, p. 267) . But let us suppose now that our ethnologist returns to her homeland and tries to dissolve the Internal Great Divide. And let us suppose that through a series of happy accidents she sets out to analyze one tribe among others - for example, scientific researchers or engineers ( Knorr­ Cetina, 1 992). The situation turns out to be reversed, because now she

1 02

RELATIVISM

applies the lessons of monism she thinks she has learned from her earlier experience. Her tribe of scientists claims that in the end they are completely separating their knowledge of the world from the necessities of politics and morality (Traweek, 1 98 8 ) . In the observer's eyes, however, this separation is never very visible, or is itself only the by­ product of a much more mixed activity, some tinkering in and out of the laboratory. Her informers claim that they have access to Nature, but the ethnographer sees perfectly well that they have access only to a vision, a representation of Nature that she herself cannot distinguish neatly from politics and social interests (Pickering, 1 980). This tribe, like the earlier one, projects its own social categories on to Nature; what is new is that i t pretends i t has not done so. When the ethnologist explains to her informers that they cannot separate Nature from the social representa­ tion they have formed of it, they are scandalized or nonplussed. Our ethnologist sees in their rage and incomprehension the very proof of their modern obsession. The monism in which she now lives - humans are always mixed up with nonhumans - is intolerable to them. For social reasons, our ethnologist concludes, Western scientists require a dualist attitude.

'Us for Us'

'Them for Us'
2 VIEWED BY "US"

3

VIEWED BY "THEM"

'Us for Them '

'Them for Them'
Figure 4.3 Them and Us

However, her double conclusion is incorrect, for she has not really heard what her informers were saying. The goal of anthropology is not to scandalize twice over, or to provoke incomprehension twice in a row: the

THERE ARE NO CULTURES

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first time by exporting the Internal Great Divide and imposing dualism on cultures that reject it; the second time by cancelling the External Great Divide and imposing monism on a culture, our own - that rejects it absolutely. Symmetrical anthropology must realize that the two Great Divides do not describe reality - our own as well as that of others - but define the particular way Westerners had of establishing their relations with others as long as they felt modern. 'We', however, do not distinguish between Nature and Society more than 'They' make them overlap. If we take into account the networks that we allow to proliferate beneath the official part of our Constitution they look a lot like the networks in which 'They' say they live. Premoderns are said never to distinguish beween signs and things, but neither do 'We' (Figure 4.3 .3 and the bottom of 4.3 . 1 look very much alike). If, through an acrobatic thought experiment, we could go further and ask 'Them' to try to map on to their own networks our strange obsession with dichotomies and to try to imagine, in their own terms, what it could mean to have a pure Nature and a pure Society they would draw, with extreme difficulty, a provisional map in which Nature and Society would barely escape from the networks (Figure 4.3.4). But what does this picture represent, this picture in which Nature and Culture appear to be redistributed among the networks and to escape from them only fuzzily as if in dotted lines ? It is exactly our world as we now see it through nonmodern eyes! It is exactly the picture I have tried to offer from the beginning, in which the upper and lower halves of the Constitution gradually merge. Premoderns are like us. Once they are considered symmetrically, they might offer a better analysis of the Westerners than the modernist anthropology offered of the premoderns! Or, more exactly, we can now drop entirely the 'Us' and 'Them' dichotomy, and even the distinction between moderns and premoderns. We have both always built communities of natures and societies. There is only one, symmetrical, anthropology.

4.5 There Are No Cultures Let us suppose that anthropology, having come home from the tropics, sets out to retool itself by occupying a triply symmetrical position. It uses the same terms to explain truths and errors (this is the first principle of symmetry) ; it studies the production of humans and nonhumans simultaneously (this is the principle of generalized symmetry); finally, it refrains from making any a priori declarations as to what might distinguish Westerners from Others. To be sure, it loses exoticism, but it gains new fields of study that allow it to analyze the central mechanism of all collectives, including the ones to which Westerners belong. It loses its

by their official Constitution. for which scientific practice still remains off camera. The question of relativism is already becoming less difficult. and these offer the only possible basis for comparison. 1 970).can now be superimposed. since it brackets off Nature. The two positions I have been staking out since the beginning of this essay . It is Nature revisited and corrected by epistemology. · any network. Network analysis extends a hand to anthropology. it suffices. What reason complicates. Rationalists will insist on the common aspects of all these viewpoints. which is more subtle. As for cultural relativism.and have thereby artificially created the scandal of the others. and the one the analyst of the sciences was striving toward with great difficulty . any society. the total separation of humans and nonhumans . Within this tradition. a third model is always secretly used : a . to change the conception of scientific practices in order to dispel the artificial difficulties. It is the peculiar trait of Westerners that they have imposed. as is often the case. any construction.do not exist.lo-t RELATIVISM exclusive attachment to cultures alone . we discover that the moderns do not separate humans from nonhumans any more than the 'others' totally superimpose signs and things. Cultures .the one the ethnologist is now occupying effortlessly. still others under clear skies. There are only natures-cultures. Absolute relativism presupposes cultures that are separate and incom­ mensurable and cannot be ordered in any hierarchy.the Internal Great Divide . as soon as Nature comes into play without being attached to a particular culture. any mobilization. Nature comes into play. any more than Nature does. others see it through thick fog. I can now compare the forms of relativism according to whether they do or do not take into account the construction of natures as well. relativists will insist on the irresistible distortion that social structures impose on all perception. the latter will lose ground if it can be proved that the categories are superimposed (Hollis and Lukes.but it gains a priceless acquisition. the cultures are thus distributed as so many more or less accurate viewpoints on that unique Nature. In practice. hors champ. 1 982.different or universal . Wilson. but in order to exist it does not presuppose any scientific work. and offers it the job that has been ready and waiting.or to cultural dimensions alone . The former will be undone if it can be shown that cultures do not superimpose their categories. Certain societies see it 'as through a glass darkly'. As soon as we take practices of mediation as well as practices of purification into account. networks explicate. 'How can one be a Persian?' How can one not establish a radical difference between universal Nature and relative culture? But the very notion of culture is an artifact created by bracketing Nature off. If science as conceived along the epistemologists' lines made the problem insoluble. however. there is no use talking about it. natures.

In Levi-Strauss's eyes. The first half of the argument allows for modest relativism (we are just one interpretation among others). however.THERE ARE NO CULTURES lOS ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM Culture without hierarchy and without contacts. and it alone. Nature is bracketed CULTURAL RELATIVISM Nature is present but outside cultures. from that Nature itself.defines the general framework of Nature with respect to which the others are situated. precisely because our Constitution. but the ·second permits the surreptitious return of arrogant universalism . allows us to distinguish society A 1. only the scale of the mobilization varies Figure 4. miraculously known to our society. made up of humans. composed of nonhumans but forever removed from the first one! The .4 Relativism and universalism type of universalism that I would call 'particular'. One society . from society A2. which has a specific inter­ pretation of Nature.and it is always the Western one . This is Levi-Strauss's solution: he distinguishes Western society. cultures all have a more or less precise point of view toward Nature 1 A (society part) Society Nature Pole Subject/Society Pole PARTICULAR UNIVERSAUSM One of the cultures (A) has a privileged access to Nature which sets it apart from the others SYMMETRICAL ANIHROPOLOGY All the collectives similarly constitute natures and cultures. all incommensurable. there is no contradiction between the two halves.we remain absolutely different.

and especially not our own . divinities and nonhumans. in constructing ours. and the coagulated blood of sacrifice. we mobilize genetics. they have to reduce all scientific results to products of local and contingent social constructions in order to deny science any universality. horrified at this confusion. whatever the relativists (who never relativize anything but cultures) may say. DNA and universal gravitation. But to imagine billions of people imprisoned in distorted views of the world since the beginning of time is as difficult as it is to imagine neutrinos and quasars. lions. since universal science defines it. since they limit their consideration precisely to cultures. 'But those are sciences!' the moderns will exclaim. the problem of relativism has not been solved. From cultural relativism we move on to 'natural' relativism. conversely. All of them sort out what will bear signs and what will not. The relativists have never been convincing on the subject of the equality of cultures. None of them . All natures-cultures are similar in that they simultaneously construct humans. In constitut­ ing their collectives. 'They have to escape the representations of society to the greatest possible extent! ' Yet the presence of the sciences does not suffice to break the symmetry. The solution appears along with the dissolution of the artifact of cultures. some mobilize ancestors. And Nature? According to them. it is surely that we construct both our human collectives and the nonhumans that surround them. zoology. 4. British or Burgundian social productions. It is as impossible to universalize nature as it is to reduce it to the narrow framework of cultural relativism alone.1 06 RELATIVISM contradiction stands out today only in the eyes of symmetrical anthropology. and that is why the great debates over relativism never lead anywhere. such is the discovery of comparative anthropology. fixed stars.lives in a world of things. If there is one thing we all do.6 Sizeable Differences Still. as Texan. We now find ourselves confronting productions of natures- . The first led to absurdities. it is the same for all. In order to get out of this contradiction. cosmology and hrematology. The two responses are equally absurd. This latter model is the common stock of the other two. they then either have to limit all peoples to a representation of the world by locking them up for ever in the prison of their own societies or. Only the confusion resulting from the bracketing off of Nature has been provisionally eliminated. None of them inhabits a world of signs or symbols arbitrarily imposed on an external Nature known to us alone. the second will allow us to fall back on common sense.

since it is added to the long list of differential traits that define us in the eyes of comparative anthropology. In the view of comparative anthropology these collectives are all alike. after stabilization. . and no less. .things-in­ themselves. in the mobilization they consider acceptable. and there is no longer a Great Divide to take one apart from all the others. It may satisfy our sense of justice. as I have said.men-among-themselves . in the properties they attribute to them. which is only one aspect of collectives.SIZEABLE DIFFERENCES 107 cultures that I am calling collectives . we are as different from the Achuar as they are from the Tapirape or the Arapesh.which would then simply have to be rechristened 'Human and Nonhuman Relations Area Files' ! In our distribution of variable-geometry entities.as they are from the Nature imagined by epistemologists . the role of citizens to another. a scope that issimultaneously the consequence of modernism and the cause of its demise. These differences constitute countless small divides. the function of an arbitrary and powerless God to a third and cuts off the work of mediation from that of purification.and at understanding the practical means that allow some collectives to . All collectives are different from one another in the way they divide up beings. Among these small divides.but at registering differences . in that they distribute both what will later. . Such a comparison. respects only the conjoined production of one nature-culture. there is one that we are now capable of recognizing as such. Those traits could be transcribed as a set of entries in the huge data base of anthropology departments . the one we have never abandoned. This is because the principle of symmetry aims not only at establishing equality . in the final analysis. become elements of Nature and elements of the social world. Such is the ancient anthropological matrix. This is our Constitution. In itself this Constitution does not separate us significantly from others.which is only the way to set the scale at zero . from the society construed by sociologists .as different. But this common matrix defines only the point of departure of comparative anthropology. but in various ways it encounters the same difficulty as absolute relativism. along with bodies and souls. however. one that has distinguished the official version of certain segments of certain collectives for three centuries. powers and beliefs. No more so. which attributes the role of nonhumans to one set of entities. gods and ancestors. property and law.that is. It does not allow us to account for that other aspect of what I have been pursuing since the beginning of this essay ­ the scope of the mobilization. No one has ever heard of a collective that did not mobilize heaven and earth in its composition. it should be recalled. asymmetries . since it immediately abolishes differences by rendering them all equally different. beasts and fictional beings .

needs genes and quasars. If you want Hobbes and his descendants. the weighing is complete. and to imprison all others in social categories from which they will escape only by becoming scientific. but they are only of size. I f you want the Leviathan. since they are obliged to offer access to Nature to Westerners alone. Even though they might be similar in the principle of their co-production. In other words. collectives may differ in size. the ever-increasing lengths to which it . with their hesitant trajectories. And universalists on the other hand. A much greater degree of subjectivity requires a much greater degree of objectivity. more eccentric. the scope of the enlistments it will bring about. this is not yet enough to break the symmetry. the differences are sizeable. or the sky that may fall on our heads. like the successive helixes of a single spiral. measurable only because the scales have first been calibrated by the principle of symmetry. This i s the stance that makes it possible to respect the differences (the dimensions of the helixes do vary) while at the same time respecting the similarities (all collectives mix human and nonhuman entities together in the same way). both forms of nature and forms of society. have to be recognized as well. modern and Westernized. weighs no more than a wood fire. The extension of the spiral. who strive to put all cultures on an equal footing by viewing all of them as equally arbitrary codings of a natural world whose production is unexplained. Relativists. but they are not disproportionate (and the error of universalism is that it sets them up as a Great Divide). 1 987) . and for reasons entirely different from those the epistemologists provide (Latour. or spirits visible in the heavens. When. a nuclear power plant.but because they multiply the nonhumans enrolled in the manufacturing of collectives and because they make the community that we form with these beings a more intimate one.1 08 RELATIVISM dominate others. They are important (and the error of cultural relativism is that it ignores them). In each case these quasi-objects trace. or a cart. are incapable of understanding the deep fraternity of collectives. except for their size. or a satellite network. or a map of the human genome. The fact that one of the collective needs ancestors and fixed stars while another one. however. or a rubber-tyred metro train.they gain these properties in addition. Sciences and technologies are remarkable not because they are true or efficient . or a cosmogony. A much larger number of objects requires a much larger number of subjects. The collectives are all similar. As I said above. At the beginning of the weighing-in process. the first lot outlines an entirely different collective from the second. you have to have the air pump too. is explained by the dimensions of the collective to be held together. or a hole in the ozone layer. do not succeed in respecting the efforts collectives make to dominate one another. or a genealogy. you have to take Boyle and his as well. or a cluster of galaxies. These new differences.

� and pistons. by the strength of his demonstration. (Plutarch. Sciences and technologies. electricity. Marcellus' Life. as we are told. and without any great effort. there is no more striking emblem than an impossible experiment recounted by Plutarch Michel Authier has called it 'the canon of the savant' (Authier. There are indeed differences. Archimedes therefore fixed upon a three-masted merchantman of the royal fleet. and he could go to it. second-degree equations. which had been dragged ashore by the great labours of many men. then. allows us to detect? The relative size of collectives will be profoundly modified by the enlistment of a particular type of non­ humans. Hiero was astonished and begged him to put his proposition into execution. stars. and it is as striking as Boyle's air pump : Archimedes.still less in culture. who was a kinsman and friend of King Hiero. he declared that if there were another Earth. wrote to him that with any given force it was possible to move any given weight. for 'Us'. he could move this one. of subjects and objects alike. he seated himself at a distance from her. No one is fiddling with mirrors. as though she were gliding through the water. not some epistemological break that would cut them off for ever from their prescientific past. the King persuaded Archimedes to prepare for him offensive and defensive engines to be used in every kind of siege warfare. Not only the air pump but also microbes. and after putting on board many passengers and the customary freight. Modern knowledge and power are different not in that they would escape at last the tyranny of the social. xiv. but quietly setting in motion with his hand a system of compound pulleys. miJI. drew her towards him smoothly and evenly. a new translation of quasi-objects gives new impetus to the redefinition of the social body. and comprehending the power of his art. 1 989). and show him some great weight moved by a slight force. transl. do not reflect society any more than Nature reflects social structures for 'Them'. and emboldened. but they are differences in size. the unconscious and neurotransmitters. At each turn in the spiral.7 Archimedes' coup d'etat What explains this new asymmetry which the principle of symmetry. It is a matter of constructing collectives themselves on scales that grow larger and larger. To help us understand this variation in size. generalized. atoms. There are no differences in nature . 7-9. automatons and robots. are what characterize the modern sciences. but in that they add many more hybrids in order to recompose the social /ink and extend its scale. 4.ARCHIMEDES' COUP O'tTA T 1 09 goes to recruit these beings. Amazed at this. Bernadotte Perrin) .

between the reduced model and the life-size application. . The first moment produced an unknown hybrid thanks to which the weaker became the stronger through the alliance he established between political forms and the laws of proportion. vulgar politics. Even treatises have to disappear without trace. but in the conjunction of the two: how are we to undertake politics with new means rendered suddenly commensurable. the subtlety and charm of which are not affected by the claims of necessity. the Sovereign represented the masses whose spokesperson he was. But if you add the lever of technology to the play of political representation alone. xvii. so profound a soul. he also reversed political relations by offering the king a real mechanism for making one man physically stronger than a multitude.1 10 RELATIVISM Not only did Archimedes overturn power relations through the inter­ mediary of the compound pulley. even more decisive moment: And yet. This first moment through which Archimedes makes (physical) force commensurable with (political) force owing to the relation of proportion between large and small. It is not surprising that Hiero was 'amazed' at the power of technology (sunnoesas tes tecnes ten dunamin) . the power of mathematics is supernatural. It had not occurred to him. liaison between the two moments are now effaced. but he had no greater strength as a result. is coupled with a second. Up to that time. he would not consent to leave behind him any treatise on this subject. Without geometry and statics. he devoted his earnest efforts only to those studies. the empire of men and the empyrean of mathematics. The second moment purifies politics and science. then you can become stronger than the multitude . the Sovereign had to reckon with social forces that infinitely overpowered him. The Archimedean point is to be sought not in the first moment. you can attack and defend yourself. mere applications. 4-5 ) Mathematical demonstrations remain incommensurable with lowly manual trades. 1 989). All vestiges of composition. and renders them incomparable (Serres. and such a wealth of scientific theory. Archimedes [after equipping Syracuse with war machines] possessed such a lofty spirit. until then. Archimedes is divine. that although his inventions had won for him a name and fame for superhuman sagacity. Archimedes procured a different principle of composition for the Leviathan by transforming the relation of political representation into a relation of mechanical proportion. but regarding the work of an engineer and every art that ministers to the needs of life as ignoble and vulgar. t o bring political power into relation with the compound pulley. alliance. connection. (Plutarch. But Plutarch's lesson goes still further.

Latour. By learning of Archimedes' coup (or rather. j ust as the social context of seventeenth-century England could be obtained only by the preliminary exclusion of the air pump and the nascent science of physics. RELATIVIST RELATIVISM Ill while rejecting any link between absolutely incommensurable activities ? The balance sheet is doubly positive : Hiero defends Syracuse with the machines whose dimensions we know how to calculate through proportions. A new collective is constituted by enlisting geometry and denying that it has done so. leaving the empyrean of mathematics as a resource of fresh forces.8 Absolute Relativism and Relativist Relativism The question of relativism is not closed. never visible. without air pumps. its durability and its solidity no longer have a cause. of this commensurability. files and palaces (Calion and Latour. pulleys and swords. 1 98 1 . size is related to the modern Constitution. In fact. that the mobilization of these quasi-objects can take on an unprecedented amplitude. the scope of the mobilization of these collectives. It is only when we remove the nonhumans churned up by the collective that the residue. which we call society. since it is a new geometry-based society that begins to defend the walls of Syracuse against Marcellus. disappears for ever. invoices. Symmetrical anthropology thus has to . science is indeed politics pursued by other means. 1 98 8c.ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM. 1 987). either into objects of external nature or into subjects of society. 1 990b) . One might as well sustain the Leviathan with naked citizens and the social contract alone. It is not a matter of trying to find out how geometry 'reflects' Hiero's interests. Strum and Latour. 4. as I have indicated several times. sword. becomes incomprehensible.the old anthropological matrix . Society cannot explain geometry. The social link does not hold without the objects that the other branch of the Constitution permits us both to mobilize and to render forever incommensurable with the social world. Politics-based society is an artifact obtained by the elimination of walls and levers. because its size. or how Syracusan society 'is constrained' by the laws of geometry. and the collective also grows proportionally. however. Plutarch's) we identify the entry point of a new type of nonhumans into the very fabric of the collective.and the difference in size. even if we take into account simultaneously the profound likeness of natures-cultures . blade. It is precisely because the Constitution guarantees that quasi-objects will be absolutely and irreversibly transformed. Yes. means that are powerful only because they remain radically other ( Latour. but the origin of this variation in scale. computers. always available.

They are the tricksters of comparative anthro­ pology. unique and transcendental measuring instrument exists. all rites equally respectable. between an Archime­ des who meddles in politics and a divine Archimedes with his head in the celestial Heavens of Ideas. and thereby neutralized. 1 977. constructor of the social. 1 990a) . without adding to it any epistemological break. The first locked cultures away in exoticism and strangeness. expelled from the social world. The first is absolute. bearer of law and morality. In their eyes. then all languages are untranslatable. the great narrative of the West. Boyle's air pump. all intimate emotions incommunicable. are such objects. a floating subject. 'hot' ones and 'cold' ones. then a third (why are we so exceptional ? ) . summarized and amplified by the Great Divide. this difference in constitutional representation would not matter very much. not divine . This feature generates a cascade of small differences that will be collected. Moderns do differ from premoderns by this single trait: they refuse to conceptualize quasi-objects as such. since it would not suffice to set moderns apart from others. because it accepted the universalists' viewpoint while refusing to rally round it: if no common. in contrast. any Great Metaphysical Divide. Nothing keeps us from reopening the question of how to establish relationships among collectives by defining two relativisms that have hitherto been conflated. producers of natures and constructors of subjects. all paradigms incommensurable. These new nonhumans possess miraculous properties because they are at one and the same time both social and asocial. Whereas universalists declare that this common . Pasteur's microbes. attributed to a transcendent world that is. however.I ll RELATIVISM do justice to this peculiarity. because this very refusal leads to the uncontrollable proliferation of a certain type of being: the object. hybrids present the horror that must be avoided at all costs by a ceaseless. There are as many purification processes as there are collectives. relativism offers no more significant difficulties. even maniacal purification. Once this feature has been pinpointed. Archimedes' pulleys. By itself.a world that produces. Through this opening. The whole challenge of the exercise is to generate a maximum of differences by a minimum of means (Goody. any difference between prelogical and logical societies. But the machine for creating differences is triggered by the refusal to conceptualize quasi-objects. the second is relative. Latour. set radically apart from all cultures. The first miracle gives rise to a second (why don't the others do the same ?). There is no arguing about tastes or colours. sciences and technologies will emerge in society in such a mysterious way that this miracle will force Westerners to see themselves as completely different from others.

To establish relations. when there are hundreds of institutions that never stop totalizing them? Anthropology itself . like its enemy brother rationalism. the word 'absolute'. RELATIVIST RELATIVISM I ll yardstick does exist. point out what instruments and what chains serve to create asymmetries and equalities. to extend calibrated networks .via military and scientific expeditions. but it is a universal in networks that has no more mysterious properties. The universalists defined a single hierarchy. Yet all measures. forgets that measuring instruments have to be set up. 1 992). The absolute relativists made all hierarchies equal. to 'size them up' by rendering them commensurable and by creating measuring standards that did not exist before . when translation is the very soul of the process of relating? How can one say that worlds are dispersed.one discipline among many . are also measuring measures. in hard and soft science alike. more modest but more empirical. Relativist relativism restores the compatibility that was assumed to have been lost. Absolute relativism. to draw up dictionaries of correspondences. either reducible or irreducible to anything else. by itself. to regulate measuring instruments. a lot brings us back. to set up and negotiate valorimeters . But if we are to understand this task of measuring. one can no longer understand anything about the notion of commensurability itself. which compensates for the noun's apparent foolishness. hierarchies and differences (Calion.these are some of the meanings of the word 'relativism' (Latour. By ignoring the work of instrumentation. To be sure. practice and controversy. This amounts to not taking the practice of relativism. A little relativism distances us from the universal. to institute metrological chains. Worlds appear commensurable or incommensurable only to those who cling to measured measures. Never by itself. very seriously. to render them commensurable. it continues to the end and rediscovers. How can one claim that worlds are untranslatable.that is. Instead of stopping midway. absolute relativists are delighted that there is no such thing. but always through the mediation of another. relativist relativism has to abandon what constituted the common argument of the universalists as well as the earliest cultural relativists . 1 9 88d). Their attitudes may differ. to discuss the compatibility of norms and standards. in the form of work and montage. Nothing is. but both groups agree in asserting that the reference to some absolute yardstick is essential to their dispute. conquest and domination. the process of establishing relations. or even the word relativism. we need to reinforce the noun with the adjective 'relativist'. The relativist relativists.ABSOLUTE RELATIVISM. by conflating science with nature. and they construct a commensurability that did not exist before their own calibration. They neglect even more thoroughly the enormous efforts Westerners have made to 'take the measure' of other peoples.

1 978. comparative anthropology has to measure these effects of size with precision. RELATIVISM others. 1 9 86). Ethnology is one of those measuring measures that resolves the question of relativism in practical terms by constructing a certain commensurab­ ility.presents no difficulty in principle. expeditions and investigators. or the end of the civilizations that we now know are mortal.participates in the work of relating. which the Constitution cannot indicate without ceasing to be operative. Except in the matter of dimension. but we must not situate the differences where the now-closed question of relativism had located them. Unfortunately. which is itself caused by small differences in the distribution of entities. Stocking. relativist relativism . the European Krisis. 1 9 8 3 .. and filing systems (Copans and Jamin. Rightly . They like to frighten themselves with their own destiny.9 Small Mistakes Concerning the Disenchantment of the World We are indeed different from others. the difficulty of relativism does not arise only from the bracketing off of Nature. 1 98 3 . and by way of self-punishment. to put it more elegantly. and thus to sort them more freely.. If we cease to be completely modern. Why do we get so much pleasure out of being so different not only from others but from our own past? What psychologist will be subtle enough to explain our morose delight in being in perpetual crisis and in putting an end to history ? Why do we like to transform small differences in scale among collectives into huge dramas ? In order to bypass completely the modern pathos that prevents us from recognizing the fraternity of collectives. If the question of relativism is insoluble. maps. questionnaires. Their voices quaver when they contrast Barbarians to Greeks. it is also out of despair. It stems also from the related belief that the modern world is truly disenchanted. we can recognize a continuous gradient between premoderns and nonmoderns. or the Centre to the Periphery. Now the modern Constitution requires that the scaling effects of our collectives be confused with their causes. . Relationism will serve as an organon for planetary negotiations over the relative universals that we are groping to construct. of sending missions. or when they celebrate the Death of God. . As collectives. relationism will become one of the essential resources for relating the collectives that will no longer be targets for modernization. of constructing catalogues and museums. we are all brothers. one institution among many others . anomie. relation ism . 4. It is not only out of arrogance that Westerners think they are radically different from others. imperialism. Fabian. or the Death of Man.or.

full of thinking reeds and of subjects who are themselves inhabited by things (Pickering. Latour.SMALL MISTAKES 1 15 astounded by the size of the effects. when every matter we invent possesses new properties that no single matter allows us to unify (Dagognet. we have never abandoned the old anthropological matrix. once symmetry has been reestablished and once both the work of purification and the work of translation have been taken into account. And as the only causes recognized by the Constitution appear miraculous because they are reversed. 1 992a) ? How could we be chilled by the cold breath of the sciences. and what even greater pleasure we take in postmodern nonsense ! However. technologized Westerner becomes a Spock-like mutant. acculturated. when every day our laboratories and our factories populate the world with hundreds of hybrids stranger than those of the day before ? Is Boyle's air pump any less strange than the Arapesh spirit houses (Tuzin. We have never stopped building our collectives with raw materials made of poor humans and humble nonhumans. when the sciences are hot and fragile. How could we be capable of disenchanting the world. Haven't we shed enough tears over the disenchantment of the world ? Haven't we frightened ourselves enough with the poor European who is thrust into a cold soulless cosmos. that the production of universal science depended on . They believed that the production of bureaucratic rationalization presupposed rational bureaucrats. lost in cement and formica ? Haven't we felt sorry enough for the consumer who leaves the driver's seat of his car only to move to the sofa in the TV room where he is manipulated by the powers of the media and the postindustrialized society ? ! How we do love to wear the hair shirt of the absurd. the moderns clearly have to imagine themselves as different from ordinary humanity. when we still don't see beyond the tip of our own noses? How could we be materialists. human and controversial. the uprooted. In their hands. 19 80) ? Does it contribute any less to constructing seventeenth-century England? How could we be victims of reductionism. Americanized. The moderns confused products with processes. when machines are made of subjects and never succeed in settling into more or less stable systems (Kidder. 1 989) ? How could we be victims of a total technological system. 1 992) ? The error the moderns make about themselves is easy enough to understand. wandering on an inert planet in a world devoid of meaning ? Haven't we shivered enough before the spectacle of the mechanized proletarian who is subject to the absolute domination of a mechanized capitalism and a Kafkaesque bureaucracy. scientifized. abandoned smack in the middle of language games. when each scientist multiplies new entities by the thousands in order to be reductionist for a few of them ? How could we be rationalists. the moderns believe that they require prodigious causes. 19 8 1 .

1 16 RELATIVISM universalist scientists. we are able to follow them. 'abstraction'. that lead from the local to the global and return to the local ? Is anthropology forever condemned to be reduced to territories. 'economy'. but they make lousy adjectives and terrible adverbs. 'complexity'. 'rationality'. unable to follow networks ? . know this perfectly well. but as soon as they set out to reflect on what they do. and you will be lucky to find a dozen. 'universal'. we know more about the Achuar. and 'universality' designate many real effects that we must indeed respect and for which we have to account. Look for the ones that try to explain the nouns 'abstraction'. with their strange topology. 'organization'. Why would we no longer be capable of following the thousand paths. this mythology unravels as well. These words are good nouns. technologies. whereas in all other scientific domains they seek small causes for large effects. Open books on social science and epistemology. that the production of abstraction was itself abstract. Reductionism has never been applied to the modern world. Paradoxically. the Arapesh or the Alladians than we know about ourselves. However. Hobbes's descendants. that the production of effective technologies led to the effectiveness of engineers. As soon as the work of mediation is taken into account simultaneously with the work of purification. 'totality'. ordinary humanity and ordinary inhumanity must come back in. or the equivalent adverbs. put in their mouths. 'total'. As long as small local causes lead to local differences. 'scientific'. 'system'. 'organized'. 'systematic'. they pronounce the words that sociologists and epistemologists. that the production of formalism was itself formal. The paradox of the moderns (and the antimoderns) is that from the outset they have accepted massive cognitive or psychological explana­ tions in order to explain equally massive effects. 'rational'. and you will see how they use the adjectives and adverbs 'abstract'. ' universal'. 'science'. 'organization'. 'formalism'. without ever using the corresponding adjectives. Boyle's descendants. 'complex'. whereas it was supposed to have been applied to everything! Our own mythology consists in imagining ourselves as radically different. even before searching out small differences and small divides. Science does not produce itself scientifically any more than technology produces itself technologically or economy economically. we then discover that we know very little about what causes sciences. as soon �s the double Great Divide disappears. Scientists in the lab. But in no case do they designate the causes of these same effects. 'technology'. We might just as well say that a refinery produces oil in a refined manner. organizations and economies. or that a dairy produces butter in a butterly way ! The words 'science'. To our great surprise.

They are composed of particular places. or the little Staffordshire village of Market Drayton. it would have had no trouble understanding this relative universal that is its greatest claim to glory. Is a railroad local or global ? Neither. a subscription and a decoder if I am to get CNN (Cable News Network). Since this enlistment of new beings had enormous scaling effects by causing relations to vary from local to global. The secular explanation of the effects of size proper to the West is easy to grasp in technological networks (Bijker and others. However. since it takes you from Madrid to Berlin or from Brest to Vladivostok. The sewer system may be comprehensive. It is local at all points. aligned by a series of branchings that cross other places and .EVEN A LONGER N ETWORK REMAINS LOCAL 1 17 4. that we call machines and facts. It may be that the telephone has spread everywhere. But by multiplying the hybrids. There are continuous paths that lead from the local to the global. and you have stations and automatic ticket machines scattered along the way. we tend to transform the lengthened networks of Westerners into systematic and global totalities. If relativism had been applied there first. in the case of technological networks. 1 0 Even a Longer Network Remains Local at All Points To take the precise measure of our differences without reducing them as relativism used to do. To dispel this mystery. and without exaggerating them as modernizers tend to do. but nothing guarantees that the tissue I drop on my bedroom floor will end up there. since you always find sleepers and railroad workers. from the circumstantial to the universal. 1 987). half object and half subject. from the contingent to the necessary. let us say that the moderns have simply invented longer networks by enlisting a certain type of nonhumans. we have no difficulty reconciling their local aspect and their global dimension. The railroad model can be extended to all the technological networks that we encounter daily. Yet it is global. collectives have changed their topography. it is not universal enough to be able to take you j ust anywhere. but we continue to think about them in terms of the old opposite categories of universal and contingent. and to look at networks of facts and laws rather as one looks at gas lines or sewage pipes. It 'is impossible to reach the little Auvergnat village of Malpy by train. because it would have threatened the maintenance of territories (Deleuze and Guattari. Thus. but I still have to have an antenna. Electromagnetic waves may be everywhere. [ 1 972] 1 98 3 ) . but we still know that we can die right next to a phone line if we aren't plugged into an outlet and a receiver. only so long as the branch lines are paid for. The network­ lengthening process had been interrupted in earlier periods. it suffices to follow the unaccustomed paths that allow this variation in scale.

Planck's constants legislate everywhere and are constant everywhere. They are connected lines. their cost is no longer so well documented. it can be spread out in time as well as in space. forever imprisoned within the narrow confines of their regional peculiarities and their local knowledge (Geertz. Only the idea that we have had of science up to now rendered absolute a dominion that might have remained relative. global or systematic. All the subtle pathways leading continuously from . every alignment. that the humble Achuar or the poor Arapesh or the unfortunate Burgundians appear desperately contingent and arbitrary. they seem so universal that they may even escape this world here below to rejoin the works of the divine Archimedes. So the ancient philosophical category of the universal radically different from the contingent circumstances is applied to them. For ideas. Genoan or American merchants. no television set. The tracers become more difficult to follow. Certain ideas appear to be local. which always renews and totalizes and fills the gaping holes left by the networks in order to turn them into sleek. if we had had only telephones and television. we are convinced of it. nothing at all: no train. the model of the technological network seems inadequate to those who are highly impressed by the effects of diffusion. since it generates tracers. knowledge. every connection can be documented. however. and skills. and extend a very long way. The work of relative universalization remains an easy-to-grasp category that relationism can follow in a thoroughgoing way. Every branching. others global. that ideas and knowledge can spread everywhere without cost. and one risks losing sight of the bumpy path that leads from the local to the global. and only these. no telephone. railroads and sewers. even though they embrace surfaces without covering them. Mariotte's laws. then. Universal gravitation appears to be active and present everywhere. unified surfaces that are absolutely universal. no intake pipe. Boyle's laws. yet without filling time and space (Stengers. not surfaces. since it is in relation to these universals. and every one of them has a cost. But there is science. 1 97 1 ) . as the name indicates. They are by no means comprehensive. Between the lines of the network there is. Technological networks. It seems. If we had had only the world-economies of the Venetian. strictly speaking. those who believe what epistemol­ ogy says about the sciences. and they retain only a few scattered elements of those spaces. Western domination would never have appeared as anything but the provisional and fragile extension of some frail and tenuous networks. It is here that the old relativism and its enemy brother rationalism begin to show their faces. As for Pythagoras' theorem and transfinite numbers. are nets thrown over spaces. laws.1 18 RELATIVISM require other branchings in order to spread. It can be extended almost everywhere. 1 9 8 3 ) .

Shapin and Schaffer. the most trivial law. and we have found ourselves with pitiful contingencies on one side and necessary Laws on the other . but they do not exit from their worlds any more than the Achuar leave their villages.EVEN A LONGER NETWORK REMAINS LOCAL 1 19 circumstances to universals have been broken off by the epistemologists. The belief in rationalization is a simple category mistake. provided that one hooks up to an air pump that spreads little by little throughout Europe owing to the multiple transformations of the experimenters (Shapin and Schaffer. The air's spring can be verified everywhere. without subscribing to the multiple metrological networks. The universal in networks produces the same effects as the absolute universal. It is possible to verify gravitation 'everywhere'. being able to conceptualize their relations. our demonstrations and our theorems. Try to verify the tiniest fact. it is harder to go on picturing universal thought as a spirit hovering over the waters (Levy.without. One branch of mathematics has been confused with another! The itinerary of ideas. but very badly for networks and topology. subscriptions and decodings. When information is measured in bytes and bauds. 1 98 5 . however briefly. the assimilation is made easier not only by the end of epistemology but also by the end of the Constitution. 1 990). the latter territories or loops: the difference is important and must be respected. machines and instruments. to be sure. Reason today has more in common with a cable television network than with Platonic ideas. but let us not . the humblest constant. The Pythagorean theorem and Planck's constant spread into schools and rockets. as concepts. thanks to the materialization of the spirit that thinking machines and computers allow. but remain within well-laid-out metrological networks from which they are incapable of exiting . as stabilized objects that circulate widely. 1 9 8 5 ) . 1 99 1 . we might compare scientific facts to frozen fish: the cold chain that keeps them fresh must not be interrupted.except through branchings. but at the price of the relative extension of the networks for measuring and interpreting. Fortunately. and by the technological transformations that it authorizes without including them. knowledge or facts would have been understood with no trouble if we had treated them like technological networks (Schaffer. The former constitute lengthened networks. 'local' and 'global' work well for surfaces and geometry. Warwick. to laboratories and instruments. Now. 1 992). It thus becomes much less difficult than it was in the past to see our laws and our constants. 1 9 88. when one subscribes to a data bank. but it no longer has the same fantastic causes. To speak in popular terms about a subject that has been dealt with largely in learned discourse. when one can plug into (or unplug from) a network of distributed intelligence. of course. The itinerary of facts becomes as easy to follow as that of railways or telephones.

classes. they missed the originality of their own inventions twice over: a new topology that makes it possible to go almost everywhere. the traditional objects of social theory . any calculation. They thought themselves revolutionary because they invented the universality of sciences that were torn out of local peculiarities for all time. is the size of IBM. Without the countless objects that ensured their durability as well as their solidity. but these are respectable beliefs that comparative anthropology is no longer obliged to share. any decoding. What. or the French Ministry of Education. and because they invented gigantic rationalized organizations that broke with all the local loyalties of the past. but they likewise flagellated themselves for sins they are quite incapable of committing (rationalization again) ! In both cases. 1992. 1 1 The Leviathan is a Skein of Networks Just as the moderns have been unable to keep from exaggerating the universality of their sciences (by pulling away the subtle network of practices. the West may believe that universal gravitation is universal even in the absence of any instrument. States . laws. any laboratory.become so many mysteries (Law. They thought there really were such things as people. organizations. And indeed. just as the Bimin-Kuskumin of New Guinea may believe that they comprise all of humanity.1 20 RELATIVISM use it to j ustify transforming the former into universals and the latter into localities. and for the same reasons. or the Red Army. The mediators that have been effaced had contained everything. Their amplitude must . 1 98 8 ) . they mistook length or connection for differences in level. 4. while the extremes. Law and Fyfe. professions. They believed that there were contexts and other situations that enjoyed the mysterious property of being 'decontextualized' or 'delocalized'. for example. 1986. yet without occupying anything except narrow lines of force and a continuous hybridization between socialized objects and societies rendered more durable through the proliferation of nonhumans. rules that were global. these are all actors of great size. they have been unable to do anything but exaggerate the size and solidity of their own societies. or the world market ? To be sure. instruments and institutions that paved the way from contingencies to necessities). To be sure. The moderns got excited about virtues they are incapable of possessing (rationalization). since they mobilize hundreds of thousands or even millions of agents. ideas. it becomes j ust as difficult to grasp society as scientific truth. are no longer anything at all. if the intermediary network of quasi-objects is not reconstituted. symmetrically. once isolated.empire. In so doing. situations that were local and organizations.

Either they remain at the 'micro' level. as for the salespeople. However. (The same physicists had a good laugh with Galileo at that ontological distinction . but decontextualized and depersonalized rationalities. or they move abruptly to the 'macro' level and no longer deal with anything. the building superintendent always has his territory well staked out. 1990) is not the Organization described by Kafka. 1990). that of interpersonal contacts. The capitalism of Karl Marx or Fernand Braudel is not the total capitalism of the Marxists (Braudel. The only difference stems from the fact that they are made up of hybrids and have to mobilize a great number of objects for their description. An organization. from the human to the nonhuman. 1 98 5 ) . are not supralunar objects made of a different matter from our poor local sublunar relations (Cambrosio et al. we never leave the local level. if we follow the chains of command of the Red Army. they go on and on giving change and filling out their invoices. if we wander about inside IBM. telephones. the moderns have imposed an ontological difference as radical as the sixteenth-century differentiation between the supralunar worlds that knew neither change nor uncer­ tainty. the directors' conversations sound just like those of the employees. Instead of the continual progression of an inquiry.THE LEVIATHAN IS A SKEIN OF NETWORKS Ill therefore stem from causes that absolutely surpass the small collectives of the past. It is the thread of networks of practices and instruments. like that of the pure and perfect marketplace. offers the mirror-image of the myth of universal scientific laws. one never crosses the mysterious limes that should divide the local from the global. they believe. We are always in interaction with four or five people. an institution. of documents and translations. It is a skein of somewhat longer networks that rather inadequately embrace a world on the basis of points that become centres of profit and calculation. The myth of the soulless. It is . Could the macro-actors be made up of micro­ actors (Garfinkel. agentless bureauracy.but then they rushed to reestablish it in order to protect the laws of physics from social corruption ! ) Yet there i s a n Ariadne's thread that would allow us t o pass with continuity from the local to the global. The organization of American big business described by Alfred Chandler ( Chandler. or universal constants. 1 977. a market. How can one be connected without being either local or global ? Modern sociologists and economists have a hard time posing the problem. if we inquire in the corridors of the Ministry of Education. 1 967) ? Could IBM be made up of a series of local interactions ? The Red Army of an aggregate of conversations in the mess hall ? The Ministry of Education of a mountain of pieces of paper? The world market of a host of local exchanges and arrangements ? We rediscover the same problem as that of trains. if we study the process of selling and buying a bar of soap. In following it step by step.

the global and the local are intrinsically distinct. when the two couples of opposition are paired: in the middle there is nothing thinkable . never require us to leave the particularities of the laboratory. or the electricity market as described by Tom Hughes (Hughes. and vice versa. no network. 1 989. The very size of a totalitarian State is obtained only by the construction of a network of statistics and calculations. Yet these 'networks of power' and these 'lines of force' do extend across the entire world. 1 98 3 ) . are much less interesting than the intermediary arrangements that we are calling networks. The natural and the social are not composed of the same ingredients. 1 2 A Perverse Taste for the Margins Just as the adjectives 'natural' and 'social' designate representations o f collectives that are neither natural nor social in themselves.no collective. 1 990). The aggregates are not made from some substance different from what they are aggregating (Thevenot. of offices and inquiries. the meeting room or the control centre. even though none of the causes of that regulation and that aggregation is itself either global or total. We poor subject-objects. which in no way corresponds to the fantastic topography of the total State (Desrosieres. no mediation. local procedures and special arrangements. 1 989). The scientifico-technological empire of Lord Kelvin described by Norton Wise (Smith and Wise. So the strength of the error that the modern world makes about itself is now understandable. we .1 22 RELATIVISM a braid of networks materialized in order slips and flow charts. we define the local only by contrast with what we think we have to attribute to the global. What I have called modern exoticism consists in taking these two pairs of oppositions as what defines our world and what would set us apart from all others. 1 990) . Similarly. Yet we know nothing about the social that is not defined by what we think we know about the natural. but are more or less long and more or less connected. which permit it to spread to an entire continent so long as it does not cover that continent. all conceptual resources are accumulated at the four extremes. local and global. we humble societies-natures. The two extremes. 4. s o the words 'local' and 'global' offer points of view on networks that are by nature neither local nor global. No visible or invisible hand suddenly descends to bring order to dispersed and chaotic individual atoms. So four different regions are thus created. One can follow the growth of an organization in its entirety without ever changing levels and without ever discovering 'decontextualized' rational­ ity. The markets described by the Economy of conventions are indeed regulated and global. and vice versa.

by branchings and calibrations. then ? Well. if we recall that these four terms are representations without any direct relation to the collectives and the networks that give them meaning. when they are confronted with this shipwreck ? They take on the courageous task of saving what can be saved: souls. accept the idea that the situation is indeed catastrophic. there is almost everything. The tragedy becomes more painful still when the antimoderns. The antimoderns firmly believe that the West has rationalized and disenchanted the world. Surely not from societies whose size varies only so long as material entities characterized by variable ontology proliferate. An admirable mission. Except for the plus or minus sign.there is nothing except purified agencies that serve as constitutional guarantees for the whole. albeit painful. hermeneutics. local specificities. as one of them affirms in his own inimitable style: 'The Vermindung of metaphysics is exercised as Vermindung of the Ge-Ste/1' (Vatimo. day after day. moderns and antimoderns share all the same convictions. want to save something from what looks to them like a shipwreck.which according to the moderns house the origin of all forces. Universality and Locality . the margins and the peripheries. minds. that it has definitively transformed the premodern cosmos into a mechanical interaction of pure matters. and from their accomplices the moderns. the symbolic dimension. human warmth. who frighten each other and add gigantic causes to the effects of size. where nothing is supposed to be happening. Now where does the threat come from ? Surely not from collectives incapable of abandoning their fragile and narrow networks populated with souls and objects. What do the antimoderns do. conquests . 'You are disenchanting the . emotions. 1 84). interpersonal relations. Nature and Society. The postmoderns. p. instruments and alignments.A PERVERSE TASTE FOR THE MARGINS I ll modest locals-globals. in part from the antimoderns themselves. But such a tragedy is not inevitable. then. always perverse. And at the extremes . are literally quartered among ontological regions that define each other mutually but no longer resemble our practices. Where does it come from. that it has truly peopled the social with cold and rational monsters which saturate all of space.the antimoderns see the situation as an unparalleled catastrophe. taking what the moderns say about themselves at face value. This quartering makes it possible to unfurl the tragedy of modern man considering himself as absolutely and irremediably different from all other humanities and all other naturalities. 1 9 87. but they maintain that it is to be acclaimed rather than bemoaned ! They claim weakness as their ultimate virtue. Surely not from sciences whose relative universality has to be purchased. But instead of seeing these processes as the modernizers do . In the middle. but one that would be more admirable still if all those sacred vessels were actually threatened.as glorious.

I shall maintain the rights of the spirit!' 'You want to maintain the spirit? Then we shall materialize it!' 'Reductionists ! ' ' Spiritualists !' The more the antireductionists. But if universality stems from a series of places in which warm flesh-and-blood bodies are suffering everywhere. because 'where danger is. organizations and bureaucracies are the only proofs always offered by moderns and antimoderns of that unparalleled catastrophe. the one it has is taken away . and it is precisely through them that science studies can demonstrate the permanence of the old anthropological matrix best and most directly. Are not most ethicists busy with those two opposite but symmetrical tasks: defending the purity of science and rationality from the polluting influence of passions and interests. the romantics. But if the centre and its totality are illusions. and you will almost always find them among those who claim to be countering modernism with the impenetrable barrier of the spirit. the materialists imagine that they possess objects. the scientistics. It is fine to want to defend the claims of the suffering body and human warmth against the cold universality of scientific laws. The more the latter boast. Now sciences and technologies. grows the saving power also'. such a protection is merely absurd (Ellul. But it is rather perverse to seek to profit brazenly from a crisis that has not yet commenced! Look for the origins of the modern myths. the wilder the former become.1 24 RELATIVISM world. the more they frighten the former. the spiritualists seek to save subjects.the one it had. 1 967) . defending the unique values and rights of human subjects against the domination of scientific and technical objectivity? The defence of marginality presupposes the existence of a totalitarian centre. the one it was quite incapable of losing. with a cry of desperation. To be sure. and we have broken radically with our own past. the subject. the innovation of lengthened networks 1s important. but this programme is idiotic if matter is not at all material and machines are not at all mechanical. but it is hardly a reason to make such a great fuss. the more the reductionists. . or the margins. of emotion. That subtraction and that addition are the two operations that allow the moderns and the antimoderns to frighten each other by agreeing on the essential point: we are absolutely different from the others. In the effort to offer a supplement of soul to the modern world. at the very moment when technological Ge-Stell seems to dominate everything. but if the machines are full of h uman beings who find their salvation there. acclaim for the margins is somewhat ridiculous. is not this defence grotesque ? Protecting human beings from the domination of machines and technocrats is a laudable enterprise. It is admirable to seek to save Being. the more the latter believe that they themselves are indeed terrifying. It is admirable to demonstrate that the strength of the spirit transcends the laws of mechanical nature.

but that they too are quite ordinary ? Our misdeeds can be compared to our access to Nature: we must not exaggerate their causes even as we measure their effects. we do not need to credit scientific truth and technological efficacity with transcendence. Take some small business-owner hesitatingly .correctly . even if it is critical. With misdeeds as with domination. as well as crimes against the self whose scope and intentions seem indeed without precedent. what we need to understand is the ordinary dimension : the small causes and their large effects (Arendt. But totalization participates. Every totalization. but that they remain ordinary. helps totalitarianism. Let us not add power to force. with capitalisms as with sciences. A world that has totally forgotten Being will be saved by no one. A totally systematic technological system cannot be reshuffled by anyone. Cultures imprisoned for ever in arbitrary. because its starting point is a sentiment that is respectable in itself: the awareness of having committed irreparable crimes against the rest of the natural and cultural worlds. 1 3 Avoid Adding New Crimes to Old It is quite difficult. All these supplements of totality are attributed by their critics to actors who did not ask for them. to soothe the modern sense of dereliction. for that exaggeration itself would be the cause of greater crimes. also absolute. also total. Demonizing may be more satisfying for us because we still remain exceptional even in evil. A Kafkaesque society cannot be renegotiated. A system that is total and sleek does not get divided up. Mayer. in what it claims to abolish. and rationality. A transcendental and homogeneous nature does not get recombined. 1 98 8 ) . that our virtues are great. A West radically cut off from other cultures-natures is not open to discussion. we remain cut off from all others and from our own past. complete and consistent representations cannot be evaluated. It renders its practitioners powerless in the face of the enemy. We need not add absolute deterritorialization to capitalism. modern at least for the worst after thinking we were modern for the best. [ 1 972] 1 983). We need not grant total imperialism to real imperialism. A 'deterritorializing' and absolutely schizophrenic capital­ ism will never be redistributed by anyone.AVOID ADDING NEW CRIMES TO OLD 1 25 4.that our crimes are frightful. which is also quite real enough ( Deleuze and Guattari. however. in devious ways. 1 963 . whom it endows with fantastic properties. We need not add total domination to real domination. How can moderns be restored to ordinary humanity and inhumanity without being too hastily absolved of the crimes that they are right to seek to expiate ? How can we claim . Similarly. A past from which we are forever separated by radical epistemologi­ cal breaks cannot be sorted out again by anyone at all.

then. On the basis of the fragile heterogeneous networks that collectives have always formed.should we admit it? . but they tried it anyway. with the black camps and then the red camps behind us. the nuclear apocalypse over our heads. what a lovely paradox! By means of the critical spirit. and the equally total failure to carry out that revolution . turn the critics loose on them. In the first scenario. More than earlier generations. the actors were still quite close to the modest work of fragile and modifiable mediations. medical. since they have always constituted our world. How could the totalizers' 'Noli me tangere' still be passed off as a proof of morality? Might the belief in a radical and total modernity then lead to immorality ? Perhaps it would be less unjust to speak of a generational effect.a failure that leaves them in total postmodern despair! Isn't this the cause of many of the crimes with which we reproach ourselves? By considering the Constitu­ tion instead of the work of translation. some poor scientist tinkering in his lab. science. they are not. now they are purified. reshuffling. in the second. Because v:e . We were born after the war. in the second. but it is still more difficult to believe unhesitatingly in the incomparable virtues of the political.all equally absolute. with such absolute totalities? Turn them inside out all at once. they are not modern in the banal sense of the word. the total revolution to put an end to the system. Yet we were born amid sciences. subvert them. systematic. imperialism. and they are all equally formidable. The actors in the first scenario could be defeated. For us. the actors were trembling. of course. totalitarian. and perhaps socialized them. some stuttering and fearful politician. with such sleek. the critics have imagined that we were incapable of tinkering.the technologies and consumer objects that the philosophers and moralists of earlier generations advise us to abhor. with famines below us. technologies are not new. the moderns have invented at one and the same time the total system. crossbreeding and sorting. And because this subversion was impossible. they no longer can. revolutionize them . integrated. a lowly engineer piecing together a few more or less favourable relationships of force. technology. ours has digested. filled-in surfaces. Oh. they have gone from one crime to another. In the first scenario. the critics have elaborated homogeneous totalities that could not be touched unless they were totally revolutionized.such was the strategy of those modernists par excellence. and what do you get? Capitalism. What is to be done. and we love . we have known only peace and prosperity. It is indeed difficult for us to deny the effects of scale. and the global destruction of the planet ahead of us. some conqueror trembling with fever. scientific or economic revolutions. the Marxists.1 26 RELATIVISM going after a few market shares. domination .

or the history of Being. or the fatality of capitalism. Nature and Society. Are they in society ? Not there either. Perhaps it is easier today to give up the belief in our own strangeness. If on the contrary. transcendent. every history. since society is only the symmetrical artifact of nature. what is left when all objects are removed. Nature.TRANSCENDENCES ABOUND 1 27 are the first who believe neither in the virtues nor in the dangers of science and technology. since discourse is another artifact that has meaning only when the external reality of the referent and the social context are both bracketed off. and if we are not premodern either. They are like us. but share their vices and virtues without seeing either heaven or hell in them. or the destiny of Europe. then ? Impossible. we ended up only with relativism and an impossible modernization. then on what basis are we going to establish the comparison of collectives? As we now know. we have to add the unofficial work of mediation to the official Constitution. and we dispel the false problems of absolute relativism. or universal rationality. in what common space do all collectives. we compare the translation work of collectives. for the metaphysical entity that bears this name merely occupies the place of a remote referee so as to maintain as much distance as possible between two symmetrical entities. the others are not exotic either. since sleek. they have never stopped being our brethren. Let us not add to the crime that of believing that we are radically different to all the others. and the mysterious transcendence of the Leviathan is produced. Discourse . When we compared the Constitu­ tion to the cultures described by the asymmetrical anthropology of the past.not to mention the crossed-out God. what is left over after every science. every technology. 1 4 Transcendences Abound If we are no longer entirely modern. This is the ultimate difficulty of relativism : now that comparison has become possible. As a result. producers of natures and societies. . it is perhaps easier for us to look for their causes without appealing to the white man's burden. We are not exotic but ordinary. through an astonishing paradox. But we also deprive ourselves of the resources developed by the moderns: the Social. Are they in language. 4. Are they in Being? That is even less likely since. Are they in God ? That is not very probable. find themselves equally immersed ? Are they in nature ? Certainly not. every society. we make symmetrical anthropology possible. external nature is the relative and belated consequence of collective production. the thought of Being has become precisely a residue.

the maintenance in presence by the mediation of a pass. from the moderns' viewpoint the modern world appeared disenchanted. Who told us that transcendence had to have a contrary ? We have never abandoned transcendence . we do not fall from Nature into the Social. we do not come to rest in anything particularly homogeneous. perhaps. We do not need to fill in blanks. we are unmistakably in the modern world. socialization. one society among other societies. we do not fall into immanence alone. Those agencies had a constitutional role to play only so long as they remained distinct. agitated. These forces are as transcendent. Moderns were always struck by the diffuse aspect of active or spiritual forces in other so-called premodern cultures. agents. rather. from the Social into Discourse. None of them forms a common basis on which collectives. fill. as we are. from God into Being. from Discourse into God. obsessed with the construction of one immanence [immanere: to reside in] or the deconstruction of another.to use the old word . we let mediators produce natures and societies. dominated by the sleek forces of pure immanence on which we humans alone imposed some symbolic dimension and beyond which there existed. texts among other texts. spiritual. actants. we reverse the direction of the modernizing transcendences. every theology. no one of them can serve to describe the work of mediation and translation. we cannot be disenchanted. In contrast. within an infra-physics. Now if there is no immanence. were blended in at every point. We do not need a mysterious ether for them to propagate themselves.all these '-izations' are equally implausible. No. Humans are not the ones who arbitrarily add the 'symbolic dimension' to pure material forces. being among beings ? Not that either. No one of them can cover. since networks are immersed in nothing. We remain. might repose. the transcendence of the crossed-out God. discursivization. Nowhere were pure matters. Natures and societies become the relative products of history.that is. thus rendered comparable. instead of attaching poor phenomena to the solid hooks of Nature and Society. if there are only networks. Are we immanent. It is the conception of the terms 'transcendence' and 'immanence' that ends up being modified by the moderns' return to nonmodernity. subsume the others. pure mechanical forces. then. Nature is no more immediately accessible than society or the crossed-out God. put into play. has been abandoned to the pure expansionism of beings. for if. ontologization . Now by traversing these networks. However. gods and ancestors. Where are we. Naturalization.1 28 RELATIVISM every language. then ? Where do we land ? As long as we keep asking that question. Spirits and agents. divinization.within metaphysics. active. drained of its mysteries. Instead of . one force among others. We still remain .

not accepting as a starting point any being that does not emerge from this relation that is at once collective. delegation. delegates. and in the end it may have taught us as little about 'Them' as about 'Us'. machines. fetishes. the word has to change meaning if there is no longer an opposite term.TRANSCENDENCE$ ABOUND 1 29 the subtle play of the moderns among three entities each of which was at once transcendent and immanent. a more recent arrival still. we do not land on an essence.that is. or the sending of a message or a messenger. in fact. it always alternated between universalism and cultural relativism. politics. I call this transcendence that lacks a contrary 'delegation' . It has taken on an ancient aspect. religions large and small. a passage . Yet it does not resemble the cultures studied by ethnologists. The world of meaning and the world of being are one and the same world. all solidity. from passages and relations. . but on a process. in the sense of this term as used in ball games. to exist. passing. representatives. substitution. angels and lieutenants. mediators. makes it possible to remain in presence . on a movement. A polemical term invented to counter the supposed invasion of immanence. Anthropology had been built on the basis of science. figurines. economies and unconsciousnesses ? Our own. we get a single proliferation of transcendences. We shall say that any other definition of essence is 'devoid of meaning'. That is why we do not yet recognize it. What sort of world is it that obliges us to take into account. mediators and translators back home. We do not start from human beings. for Western ethnologists had never undertaken the symmetrical work of bringing delegates. we start from a presenting. real and discursive. of course. to last.literally a pass. fictional beings. or the delegation. That world ceased to be modern when we replaced all essences with the mediators. with all those nuncios. with all those delegates. nor from language. angels. and not from permanence. or on the basis of society. or on the basis of language. We start from a continuous and hazardous existence . spokespersons and cherubim. that of translation. lieutenants.and not from an essence. j urisdictions. at the same time and in the same breath. the nature of things. either. we do not fall upon someone or something. into their own community.continuous because it is hazardous . delegates and translators that gave them meaning. When we abandon the modern world. instru­ ments. those latecomers. sciences. We start from the vinculum itself. It is this exploration of a transcendence without a contrary that makes our world so very ummodern. all permanence will have to be paid for by its mediators. technologies. it is devoid of the means to remain in presence. All durability. The utterance.

economy and religion. I can now conclude this essay by tackling the most difficult question: the question of the nonmodern world that we are entering.5 D REDISTRIBUTION 5. a veritable bulldozer operation behind which the past disappeared for ever. a civilizing distinction. after showing why the critical revolution had been overwhelmed by the emergence of quasi-objects that obliged us to see the modern together with the nonmodern dimension . at least. while they were still only premodern. The conquerors undertook this partition everywhere. . the future opened up. The process of partitioning was accompanied by a coherent and continuous front of radical revolutions in science. By increasingly terrifying revolutions. Modernization. consigning hybrids either to the domain of objects or to that of society. had a clear objective. technology. Since other cultures still mix the constraints of rationality with the needs of their societies. without ever having really left it. the moderns have always recognized that they too had blended objects and societies. cosmologies and sociologies. administration. Modernizing finally made it possible to distinguish between the laws of external nature and the conventions of society. I maintain. But this was in the past. after reestablishing symmetry among collectives and thus measuring their differences in size while settling the question of relativism at the same time. they have been able to tear themselves away from that past. they have to be helped to emerge from that confusion by annihilating their past. 1 The Impossible Modernization After sketching out the modern Constitution and the reasons it had been invincible for so long. although it destroyed the near-totality of cultures and natures by force and bloodshed. the future. The past was a barbarian medley. but in front of which. To be sure.

THE IMPOSSIBLE MODERNIZATION Ill Modernizers know perfectly well that even i n their own midst islands of barbarianism remain. they will have liquidated those islands.has made the work of purification less plausible and the contradiction more visible. Permanent revolutions in the State. Certain modernizers continue to speak as if such a fate were possible and desirable. sciences.at stage right . but it is unable to diagnose this contradiction because it shares the same upper half of the Constitution .at stage left . There are so many hybrids that no one knows any longer how to lodge them in the old promised land of modernity. may save us from the invasion of technologies. always cut off from the past. Having been slapped in the face with modern reality. Was it really worth destroying everything to end up adding this insult to that inj ury ? The empty world in which the postmoderns evolve is one they themselves. everything is a reflection.and that of naturalism . when the modernizers themselves are responsible for the proliferation of hybrids thanks to the very Constitu­ tion that makes them proliferate by denying their existence ? For a long time. one has only to express it to see how self­ contradictory this claim is. forever escapes the tyranny of social interest: economic rationality. and that very weakness. and they alone. and technologies.but it no longer shares the cause of the Constitution's strength and greatness ­ the proliferation of quasi-objects and the multiplication of intermediaries between humans and nonhumans allowed by the absolute distinction between humans and nonhumans. However. have emptied. but what can we say about postmodernization ? Imperialist violence at least offered a future. and sciences. scientific truth. this contradiction was hidden by the moderns' very increase. But the double failure that was my starting point. and we shall all inhabit the same planet. But before long they will have achieved modernization. that of socialism . poor populations now have to submit to postmodern hyperreality. in which technological efficacity and social arbitrariness are excessively intertwined. How could we bring about the purification of sciences and societies at last. Nothing has value. Postmod­ ernism is a symptom of the contradiction of modernism. purifying and civilizing the hybrids by incorporating them either into society or into nature. but sudden weakness on the part of the conquerors is far worse for. all equally capable of profiting from what. were supposed to end up absorbing. because they have taken the moderns at their word. There are no more revolutions in store to impel a continued forward flight. a floating sign. a simulacrum. it now also breaks with the future. Modernization was ruthless toward the premoderns. Hence the postmoderns' abrupt paralysis. reasons. alone. technolo­ gical efficiency. they say.the sciences and the technologies are extrahuman . we shall all be equally modern. .

gritting their teeth. But does this diagnosis allow any remedy for the impossible moderniz­ ation ? If. Nor are we obliged to struggle against modernization . to bring the nonmodern to terms with the best those positions have to offer. and continuing to believe in the dual promises of naturalism and socialism no matter what. now that we are obliged to consider the work of purification and the work of mediation symmetrically.the official work of purification and the unofficial work of mediation . if the fruitful contradiction between the two parts . we must first sort out the various positions I have outlined in the course of this essay. or to cut us off for ever from our past. then it remains effective only so long as it denies their existence. the Constitution allows hybrids to proliferate because it refuses to conceptualize them as such.in the militant manner of the antimoderns or the disillusioned manner of the postmoderns . It was never anything but the official representation of another much more profound and different work that had always been going on and continues today on an ever-increasing scale. The innovation of longer networks is an interesting peculiarity. the diagnosis is not very difficult to make. apart from exclusive confidence in the upper half of their Constitution. since that particular modernization has never got off the ground.or go back to being . but it is not sufficient to set us radically apart from others. and extracting in the process Boyle-style objects and Hobbes­ style subjects (not to mention the crossed-out God) on an ever-increasing scale. won't the Constitution cease to be effective? Won't moderniz­ ation become impossible? Are we going to become .premodern ? Do we have to resign ourselves to becoming antimodern ? For lack of any better option.becomes clearly visible.2 Final Examinations To answer these questions. in the twilight zone of the postmods? 5. because this Constitution will need . as I have been saying all along. which we would merely be reinforcing while remaining unaware of what has always been the source of its vitality. Now. What are we going to retain from the moderns ? Everything. it was never a matter of clearly separating the Laws of Nature from social conventions once and for all.since we would then be attacking the upper half of the Constitution alone. Modernizers are not obliged to continue their revolutionary task by gathering their forces. ignoring the postmoderns' predicament. It was always a matter of constructing collectives by mixing a certain type of nonhumans and a certain type of humans. Even at the worst moments of the Western imperium. but without conviction. are we going to have to continue to be modern.l l2 REDISTRIBUTION However.

all these are features we want to keep. Since the invention of longer networks and the increase in size of some collectives depends on the silence they maintain about quasi-objects. their youthful excesses. On the other hand. facts and values. On the other hand.FINAL EXAMINATIONS Ill to be amended somewhat to include its lower half too. The moderns' greatness stems from their proliferation of hybrids. Their daring.since when we talk about the premoderns we have to include a large part of ourselves . critical. ethnocentrism. prisoners of an absolute dichotomy between things and signs. how could I reject from the premoderns the lasting nondifferentiation of natures and societies. Westerners felt far removed from the premoderns because of the External Great Divide . the ever-increasing scale of their action. Symmetrical anthropology has redistributed the Great Divide. objective. their certainty that transcendences abound. proliferation be . When the latter is dissolved. the freedom of a society liberated from objects . as I have noted. their lengthening of a certain type of network.we are going to have to sort them out as well. their innovativeness. and reject from the moderns the absolute dichotomy between natures and societies? How can size. to be replaced by differences in size. of the Internal Great Divide. universal. the multiplication of types of nonhumans different from those of the moderns. their groping production of relative universals. the scapegoating process. how can I promise to keep the changes of scale and give up the invisibility that allows them to spread ? Worse still. their acceleration of the production of traces. their tinkering. exploration. their multiplication of delegates. we cannot retain the illusion (whether they deem it positive or negative) that moderns have about themselves and want to generalize to everyone: atheist. the creation of stabilized objects independent of society. localization by territory. But the sorting seems impossible and even contradictory in the face of what I have said above. radically different from other communities. and finally the lasting nondifferentiation of natures and societies. denoun­ cers always at war with themselves. spiritualist. rational. of things and signs. materialist. Now that we are no longer so far removed from the premoderns . their obsessive interest in thinking about the production of hybrids of Nature and Society. above all: the premoderns' inability to differentiate durably between the networks and the pure poles of Nature and Society. their capacity for conceiving of past and future in many ways other than progress and decadence. Let us keep what is best about them. effective. the former dis­ appears. theist. separated from a nature on which subjects or society would arbitrarily impose categories. cut off from a past that is maintained in a state of artificial survival due only to historicism. we shall not retain the set of limits they impose on the scaling of collectives. their research.a simple exportation.

nonmodern virtues ! Regrettably. they consistently believed what the moderns said about themselves and proceeded to affix the opposite sign to each declaration. this refusal no longer distances us from the sciences but. Antirevolutionary. The amalgam consists in using the premodern categories to conceptualize the hybrids. It is of course impossible to conserve their irony. in practice. The postmoderns have sensed the crisis of the moderns and attempted to overcome it. To maintain all the advantages of the moderns' dualism without its disadvantages .l l<t REDISTRIBUTION society that allow changes in size through the creation of an external truth and a subject of law. while retaining the moderns' final outcome of the work of purification . since all those fine qualities depend on a conception of modernism that modernism itself has never really practised. an external Nature distinct from subjects. it turns into constructivism and no longer goes hand in hand with self-destruction. on the contrary. I want to keep following the gradient that leads from unstable existences to stabilized essences .the restriction of size through the lasting confusion of knowledge and power.that is. Finally. We can retain the deconstructionists' refusal of naturalization . but without neglecting the co-production of sciences and societies. it loses its parodic character and becomes positive. their discourage­ ment. we can save deconstruction . As soon.but since it no longer has a contrary. their self-criticism. we can go along with the postmoderns in rejecting the idea of a coherent and homogeneous time that would advance by goose steps . For instance. To accomplish the work of purification. To keep all the advantages of the premoderns' monism without tolerating its limits . The values they defended were never anything but the residue left by their enemies. and their vices become virtues . Always on the defensive. many of the intuitions of postmodernism are vindicated.the clandestineness of the quasi-objects. as we add the lower part of the Constitution to the upper part. they held the same peculiar views as the moderns about time past and tradition. but as a particular case of the work of mediation. their nihilism.but without retaining their taste for quotation and anachronism which maintains the belief in a truly surpassed past. thus they too warrant examination and sorting. brings us closer to sciences in action.but since Nature itself is no longer natural. however. from the very reverse of maintained while the hybrids are made explicit? Yet this is precisely the amalgam I am looking for: to retain the production of a nature and of a . their despair.but since that property is shared among all the actors. they never understood that the moderns' greatness stemmed. Take away from the postmoderns their illusions about the moderns. in the antimoderns I see nothing worth saving.and vice versa. We can keep the postmoderns' pronounced taste for reflexivity .

the modern world can no longer extend itself without becoming once again what it has never ceased to be in practice . This fraternity is essential if we are to absorb the two sets of entities that revolutionary modernization left behind : the natural crowds that we no longer master. the best of stooges. at least. but must be followed through and through. occupying the minor role that was reserved for them. . a nonmodern world like all the others. from the hot events that spawned the objects to the progressive cool-down that transforms them into essences of Nature or Society. We can keep the Enlightenment without modernity. rationality -obligation always to link the social and natural orders -scapegoating mechanism • ethnocentrism • territory -limits on scale -belief in modernism -critical deconstruction -ironic reflexivity -anachronism From the premoderns From the post moderns Figure 5.that is. Modern temporality gave the impression of continuous acceleration by relegating ever-larger masses of humans and nonhumans together to the void of the past. Even in their rearguard combats. For its own good. It cannot even be said in their favour that they put the brakes on the moderns' frenzy . is the conviction on which this essay is based. such. The balance sheet of this examination is not too unfavourable. in effect. the antimoderns never managed to innovate. Is it possible to draw up a Constitution that would allow us to recognize this work officially ? We must do this. provided that we reintegrate the objects of the sciences and technologies into the Constitution. as quasi-objects among many others .FINAL EXAMINATIONS 1 35 What is retained From the moderns -long nerworks -size -experimentation -relative universals -final separation berween objective nature and free society -non-separability of things and signs -transcendence without a contrary -multiplication of nonhumans -temporality by intensity -multiple times -constructivism -reflexivity -denaturalization What is rejected -separation berween nature and society -clandestineness of the practices of mediation -external Great Divide -critical denunciation -universality. the human multitudes that no one dominates any longer.those moderns for whom the antimoderns were always. since old-style modernization can no longer absorb either other peoples or Nature.1 What is retained and what is rejected what the antimoderns attacked them for.objects whose genesis must no longer be clandestine.

intersubjectivity. the citizen builder of the Leviathan. to reconcile it with Him) is equally impossible. the thee and thou of dialogue. Here are sQme of the magnificent figures that the moderns have been able to depict and preserve: the free agent. We shall have to transform ourselves just as thoroughly in order to make room. the Levinases of animals. The political task starts up again. we would never get beyond monsters and masks. will. neither the human nor the nonhuman can be understood. conversely. is restored to it. Where are the Mouniers of machines. to which humanism does not render sufficient justice. selfish genes. So long as humanism is constructed through contrast with the object that has been abandoned to epistemology. the share of things. presence to oneself. meaning. for they are the counterpart of the object of the sciences . Must the human be steeped in Nature. defining it as a free existence uprooting itself from a nature devoid of significance. today. since we have invested all quasi-objects with action. consciousness. it is impossible to define the human by an essence. elementary needs and economic calculations.1 36 REDISTRIBUTION Irreversibility has changed sides. the Ricoeurs of facts ? Yet the human. for the nonhumans created by science and technology. objective. the cogito. the other of a relationship. It has been necessary to modify the fabric of our collectives from top to bottom in order to absorb the citizen of the eighteenth century and the worker of the nineteenth. But all these figures remain asymmetrical. Where are we to situate the human? A historical succession of quasi­ objects. If there is one thing we can no longer get rid of. The sciences multiply new definitions of humans . is obviously not one we can make. abandoned in the hands of those whom epistemologists. as we now understand. since it is by virtue of their common opposition to Nature that the modern Constitution has defined all three. Its history and its anthropology are too diverse for it to be pinned down once and for all. it is those natures and multitudes. the inner self. rational. then ? But if we were to go looking for specific results of specific scientific disciplines that would clothe this robot animated with neurons. we first have to relocate the human.an object that remains orphaned. the distressing visage of the human person. To oppose it to the crossed-out God (or.3 Humanism Redistributed Before we can amend the Constitution. impulses. There is no longer a practico-inert where the pure liberty of human existence can get bogged down. as we have known for a long time. like sociologists. quasi-subjects. both equally global. at a new cost. But Sartre's clever move. deem reductive. the hermeneut. and even speech. cannot be grasped and saved unless that other part of itself. 5.

The human is not a constitutional pole to be opposed to that of the nonhuman. theomorphisms. it becomes the mediator and even the intersection of the two. Their will. If. their actions.isn't that enough of a definition ? The closer the anthropos comes to this distribution. A weaver of morphisms . it has divided up its own members among their members. The expression 'anthropomorphic' considerably underestimates our humanity. the individual or the self. and it will take on human form. and we shall have to talk about inhumanity. it has built its own body with them. we move it closer to the middle. Their alliances and their exchanges. and believing in modernization. instead of attaching it to one constitutional pole or the other. By seeking to isolate its form from those it churns together. they do not subtract it. since we are no more in Discourse than we are in Nature. If the human does not possess a stable form. Reveal its work of mediation. or unify them. Conceal it again. sociomorphisms. We should be talking about morphism. phusimorphisms. Will we have to use force to extend some provisional and particular definition inscribed in the rights of man or the preambles of constitutions ? This would amount to tracing out once again the two Great Divides. Must we solemnly announce the death of man and dissolve him in the play of language. are what define the anthropos. In any event. They add reality. zoomorphisms. one does not defend humanism. nothing is sufficiently inhuman to dissolve human beings in it and announce their death. The scale of value consists not in shifting the definition of the human along the horizontal line that connects the Object pole to the Subject pole. How could the anthropos be threatened by machines ? It has made them. all come together. it has put itself into them. psychomorphisms. The farther away it moves. but in sliding it along the vertical dimension that defines the nonmodern world. ideomorphisms. The two expressions 'humans' and 'nonhumans' are belated results that no longer suffice to designate the other dimension. the more it takes on multiple forms in which its humanity quickly becomes indiscernible. reduce them to any homogeneous one. even if it is draping itself in the Bill of Rights. an evanescent reflection of inhuman structures that would escape all understanding? No. Morphism is the place where technomorphisms. taken together. one loses it. The hybrids that they invent in the laboratory are still more exotic than those they claim to break down. the more human it is. Will we have to avoid the question by making the human something transcendental that would distance us for ever from mere nature ? This would amount to falling back on just one of the poles of the modern Constitution. it is not formless for all that. their words are too abundant.HUMANISM REDISTRIBUTED 1 17 without managing to displace the former ones. even if its figures are those of the person. How could it be threatened by objects ? They have all been quasi�subjects circulating .

but what relation is there between the God above and the God ·below? Humanism can maintain itself only by sharing itself with all these mandatees. what it is and what it wants. I have also shown why the separation of powers between the two branches. How could it be manipulated by the economy ? Its provisional form cannot be assigned without the circulation of goods and obligations. in the sending. It is made of them as much as they are made of it. at every moment. distributed. It has defined itself by multiplying things. leaving the rest of the world with nothing but simple mute forces. Where does the threat come from ? From those who seek to reduce it to an essence and who . which has to be called irreducible. but we gain another form. but anyone who has seen machines knows that they are scarcely mechanical. Of course it is not of this world. but things are not things either. by cutting off all delegations and senders .make humanism a fragile and precious thing at risk of being overwhelmed by Nature. Human nature is the set of its delegates and its representatives. mediated. objects. This new position.1 38 REDISTRIBUTION within the collective they traced. but merchandise is not merchandise either.by scorning things. after allowing for the proliferation of hybrids. in that it reconstructs the collective through continual controversies over representation that allow it to say. machines and the social. we lose the reduced form of humanity. shifted in relation to the subject/society position. that they know themselves as persons. Ecce homo : delegated.and that of human beings. or God. Of course it is not in God. The human is in the delegation itself. Society.called science and technology . in the pass. in the continuous exchange of forms. without the continuous distribution of social goods that we concoct through the goodwill of things. uttered. Of course it is not a thing. I have simply reestablished symmetry between the two branches of government. Modern humanists are reductionist because they seek to attribute action to a small number of powers.4 The Nonmodern Constitution In the course of this essay. How could it be dimmed by religion? It is through religion that humans are linked to all their fellows. now needs to be underwritten by an amended Constitution. Of course it is not a machine. but this world is not of this world either. It is true that by redistributing the action among all these mediators. its figures and its messengers. Of course it is not a merchandise. could no longer worthily represent this new . 5. that of things . mandated. That symmetrical universal is worth at least as much as the moderns' doubly asymmetrical one. How could it be deceived by politics ? Politics is its own making.

The work of mediation becomes the very centre of the double power. but one and the same production of successive states of societies-natures. every institution. watertight compartments: even though it is mobilizable and constructed. every practice that interferes with the continuous deployment of collectives and their experimentation with hybrids will be deemed dangerous. A constitution is j udged by the guarantees it offers. in turn. We have committed ourselves to providing representation for quasi-objects. The first guarantee of our new draft thus becomes the nonseparability of quasi-objects. Every concept. The networks come out of hiding. natural and social. the two branches of government being kept in separate. In other words. The first one guaranteed Nature its transcen­ dent dimension by mak ing it distinct from the fabric of Society .should we say taboo ? . even though it is transcendent and rendered durable by the mediation of objects. since that is the one that made the continuity of their analysis impossible.and translation networks will go into hiding. Society. quasi-subjects.until the postmoderns obliterate it entirely.we may as well say it ­ immoral. The second guaranteed Society its immanent dimension by rendering citizens totally free to reconstruct it artificially . In order to sketch in the nonmodern Constitution. quasi-objects will be officially banished . It is the third guarantee of the modern Constitution that must therefore be suppressed. but one without presence or power (see Section 2.and. 8 included four guarantees that had meaning only when they were taken together but also kept strictly separate. The fourth guarantee of the crossed­ out God made it possible to stabilize this dualist and asymmetrical mechanism by ensuring a function of arbitration.as we recall from Section 2 . Nature and Society are not two distinct poles. But as that double separation allowed in practice for the mobilization and construction of Nature (Nature having become immanent through mobilization and construction) . and to sort out the guarantees we wish to keep.thus contrary to the continuous connection between the natural order and the social order found among the premoderns. The moderns' Constitution .THE NONMODERN CONSTITUTION 1 39 third estate. and . conversely. Nature will remain without relation to Society . offering to the work of purification a counterpart that will nevertheless continue to be followed and monitored . made it possible to make Society stable and durable (Society having become transcendent owing to the enrolment of ever more numerous nonhumans).9) . a third guarantee assured the separation of powers. will no longer have any relation to Nature. harmful.as opposed to the continuous connection between the social order and the natural order that kept the premoderns from being able to modify the one without modifying the other. of collectives. it suffices to take into account what the modern Constitution left out. The Middle - .

and free citizens. Without this second guarantee.transcendence. At the end of the process. dangerous and. the remote and opposing causes of an invisible practice that contradicts them. its objectivity. Contingent history existed for humans alone. contrary to what the Constitution of the moderns claims.and the freedom of manreuvre of a society that is of our own making .and to stabilize Society durably . quite simply. and Society's immanence. The moderns were not mistaken in seeking objective nonhumans and free societies. stem from the work of mediation without depending on their separation. all institutions. however. and revolution became the only way for the moderns to understand their past . as for the moderns. becomes everything. All concepts. immoral.immanence. but once they are viewed in a nonmodern light they become the double consequence of a practice that is now visible in its continuity. since every transformation of nature had to be in harmony with a social transformation.as I have shown in . instead of being. term for term. The third estate. The nonseparability of natures and societies had the disadvantage of making experimentation on a large scale impossible. The work of producing a nature or producing a society stems from the durable and irreversible accomplishment of the common work of delegation and translation. which was nothing. there are indeed indisputable scientific facts. there is indeed a nature that we have not made.freedom of manreuvre . all practices that interfere with the progressive objectivization of Nature .and simultaneously the subjectivization of Society .transcendence .will be deemed harmful. They were mistaken only in their certainty that that double production required an absolute distinction between the two terms and the continual repression of the work of mediation.incorporation into a black box . the networks liberated by the first would keep their wild and uncontrollable character. and vice versa. although at first this looks like squaring the circle. The second guarantee of our new draft thus makes it possible to recover the first two guarantees of the modern Constitution but without separating them. As I have suggested. we do not seek to inherit the clandestineness of the inverse mechanism that makes it possible to construct Nature . Now we seek to keep the moderns' major innovation: the separability of a nature that no one has constructed . and a society that we are free to change. Historicity found no place in the modern Constitution because it was framed by the only three entities whose existence it recognized.immanence . Nevertheless. Can we retain the first two guarantees of the old Constitution without maintaining the now-visible duplicity of its third guarantee ? Yes. we do not wish to become premoderns all over again.1 40 REDISTRIBUTION Kingdom is represented. its subjectivity. Nature's transcend­ ence.

it is essential that no coherent temporal flow comes to limit our freedom of choice. Modern/nonmodern constitutions But if I am right in my interpretation of the modern Constitution. But time i s not a smooth. If time depends on associations. there is indeed a transcendence of Nature and an immanence of Society. 4th guarantee: the crossed-out God is totally absent but ensures arbitration between the two branches of government. but the two are not separated.b y breaking totally with it. and the production of Society. Freedom has moved away from the social pole it had occupied exclusively during the modern representation into the middle and lower zones. the natural and the social. 4th guarantee: the production of hybrids.THE NON MODERN CONSTITUTION 141 Section 3 . the local and the global. as important as the others. In the last analysis. by becoming explicit and collective. which is free. any claim that certain practices have become outdated for ever. the cultural and the universal. We are no longer going to be confronted with the argument of time that passes for ever based on a regrouping into a coherent set of elements that belong to all times and all ontologies. homogeneous flow. is that we can combine associations freely without ever confronting the choice between archaism and modernization. above . any epistemological break.what is still worse in the eyes of the moderns . will be deemed dangerous. which is objective. Every new call to revolution. now that we have made their practice visible and official ? By offering guarantees to replace the previous ones. 8 .outdated ! Modem Constitution Nonmodem Constitution 1st guarantee: Nature is transcendent but mobilizable (immanent). 3rd guarantee: freedom is redefined as a capacity to sort the combinations of hybrids that no longer depend on a homogeneous temporal flow. If we want to recover the capacity to sort that appears essential to our morality and defines the human. how could we continue to develop quasi­ objects. and becomes a capacity for sorting and recombining sociotech­ nological imbroglios. The third guarantee. or . and the work of purification bears no relation to the work of mediation. any Copernican upheaval. are we not making . becomes the object of an enlarged democracy that regulates or slows down its cadence.2 1st guarantee: nonseparability of the common production of societies and natures. associations do not depend on time. if it has really allowed the development of collectives while officially forbid­ ding what it permits in practice. 2nd guarantee: Society is immanent but it infinitely surpasses us (transcendent) 3rd guarantee: Nature and Society are totally distinct. 2nd guarantee: continuous following of the production of Nature. Figure 5.

In this desire to bring to light. but instead of taking in their objectivity. Outside the laboratory. It is time. to increase mobilization and lengthen some networks. we continue to believe in the sciences. It has divided up the human and the nonhuman and believed that the others. the laboratory. we continue to identify with the intuition of the Enlightenment. Do we need to add that the crossed-out God. . Very well. their incongruous blend of hybrids.no longer unofficially and under the table. their coldness. rendered premoderns by contrast. and thus the growth of collectives ? That is precisely what we want to do. turns out to be liberated from the unworthy position to which He had been relegated ? The question of God is reopened. is what we expect from our morality. where scientists. perhaps. perhaps. their crazy ability to reconstitute the social bond. and . we are indeed the heirs of the Enlightenment. spoke all by themselves in the name of things. immoral. their warmth. but of a democracy extended to things themselves. in this new Constitution. We can no longer be modern in the same way. but officially and in broad daylight. What did these representatives say ? Nothing but what the things would have said on their own. Yes. their experimen­ tation. whose asymmetrical rationality is j ust not broad enough for us. this regulation. this division has now become superfluous. But this intuition has never had the anthropology it deserved. this moderation. We take away from them only the mystery of their birth and the danger their clandestineness posed to democracy. Boyle's descendants had defined a parliament of mutes. When we amend the Constitution. to make public. We are not going to be caught by Archimedes' coup again. their uncertainty.qualities they have never had.we retain what has always been most interesting about them: their daring. had they only been able to speak. their truth.REDISTRIBUTION impossible this double language. their extraterritoriality . mere intermediaries. to incorporate into language. and the nonmoderns no longer have to try to generalize the improbable metaphysics of the moderns that forced them to believe in belief.to put it bluntly .is to replace the clandestine proliferation of hybrids by their regulated and commonly-agreed-upon production.5 The Parliament of Things We want the meticulous sorting of quasi-objects to become possible . The fourth guarantee . 5. except after the arbitrary withdrawal of epistemology . While it was necessary.anti-Constitutional! We have been modern. were not supposed to do the same thing. to speak of democracy again. This slowing down.perhaps the most important .

unable to speak all at once. In the course of this essay. We shall never know whether scientists translate or betray. whose products can be distinguished only late in the game. All thought that this was the price of faithful representation. the double translation-betrayal became possible. Suspicion about scientific representation stemmed only from the belief that without social pollution Nature would be immediately accessible. and after being examined together. Modernism consisted in choosing that arrangement. Scientists appear to be betraying external reality only because they are constructing their societies and their natures at the same time. I have shown how fast the modern Constitution broke down. without ever understanding that the solution to their problem lay in the other branch of government. we would lose Nature and fall back into human disputes. the critics will continue to sustain themselves on that double doubt and the impossibility of ever putting an end to it. There are not two problems of representation. 'Eliminate the social and you will finally have a faithful representation. political scientists wondered about the representative system and the relative faithfulness of elected officials and spokespersons. During the modern period. Epistemo­ logists wondered about scientific realism and the faithfulness of science to things . the Sovereign. There are not two branches. I have shown what happened once science studies re-examined such a division of labour. in the second. By defining a total separation between the scientific and political representations. a simple intermediary and spokes­ person. since it no longer permitted the construction of a common dwelling to shelter the societies-natures that the moderns have bequeathed us. The Sovereign appears to be betraying his constituents only because he is churning together both citizens and the enormous mass of nonhumans that allow the Leviathan to hold up. but in remaining constantly suspicious of its two types of representatives without combining them into a single problem. only one. But a doubt about the quality of that double translation crept in straight away.' said some. emptied of its mediators. What did this representative say ? Nothing but what the citizens would have said had they all been able to speak at the same time.' declared . 'Eliminate objects and you will finally have a faithful representation. All had in common a hatred of intermediaries and a desire for an immediate world. What if the scientists were talking about themselves instead of about things ? And if the Sovereign were pursuing his own interests instead of reciting the script written for him by his constituents ? In the first case. neverthe­ less. just one.TH E PARLIAMENT OF THINGS 1 43 Hobbes's descendants had defined the Republic in which naked citizens. arranged to have themselves represented by one of their number. we would fall back into the State of Nature and into the war of every man against every man. We shall never know whether representatives betray or translate.

'It was the stone rejected by the builders that became the keystone' (Mark 12: 10). The other half of Nature is constructed in societies. that representation is what allowed. Let us patch the two back together. by calling for yet another revolution. rather than underlining what is already dimly discernible in the shared practices of scientists. the official representation is effective. the exploration and proliferation of hybrids. The mediators have the whole space to themselves. . but there are no more naked citizens. the State. consumers. In its confines.. another the voters of New Hampshire. REDISTRIBUTION others. for instance. Is it asking too little simply to ratify in public what is already happening? Should we not strive for more glamorous and more revolutionary programmes of action. They are the ones that have to be represented. provided that we understand retrospectively to what extent we have never been modern. under the old Constitution. but an active performing. Modern­ ism was not an illusion. industrialists and citizens when they engage in the numerous sociotechnological controversies we read about daily in our newspapers ? As we have been discovering throughout this essay. what does it matter. Natures are present. but with the objects that have been serving as their ballast from time immemorial. another represent the Monsanto chemical industry. so long as they are all talking about the same thing. about the ozone hole. scientists who speak in their name.. a fifth the meteorology of the polar regions. Their whole debate arose from the division of powers enforced by the modern Constitution. politicians. Half of our politics is constructed in science and technology. and we shall have defined the Parliament of Things. and satellites. provided that we reconsider our past. If we could draft a new . about a quasi-object they have all created. Societies are present. the continuity of the collective is reconfigured.. The imbroglios and networks that had no place now have the whole place to themselves. Let one of the representatives talk. but with their representatives. We simply have to ratify what we have always done. it is around them that the Parliament of Things gathers henceforth. Let us again take up the two representations and the double doubt about the faithfulness of the representatives. There are no more naked truths. the economy. and the political task can begin again. law. let still another speak in the name of the State. The Enlightenment has a dwelling-place at last. a third the workers of the same chemical industry. we do not have t o create this Parliament out o f whole cloth. However. the object-discourse-nature-society whose new properties astound us all and whose network extends from my refrigerator to the Antarctic by way of chemistry. and provided that we rejoin the two halves of the symbol broken by Hobbes and Boyle as a sign of recognition. either.

and we shall be forever incapable of accommodating in it the environment that we can no longer control. .TH E PARLIAM ENT OF THINGS 1 45 Constitution. Or else it will have been for naught that the Berlin Wall fell during the miraculous year 1 989. Another Constitution will be just as effective. Is that too much to expect of a change in representation that seems to depend only on the scrap of paper of a Constitution ? It may well be . profoundly alter the course of quasi­ objects. we would. If we do not change the common dwelling. Others will be able to convene the Parliament of Things. It is up to us to change our ways of changing. we shall not absorb in it the other cultures that we can no longer dominate. but there are times when new words are needed to convene a new assembly. offering us a unique practical lesson about the conjoined failure of socialism and naturalism. Neither Nature nor the Others will become modern . We scarcely have much choice. The task of our predecessors was no less daunting when they invented rights to give to citizens or the integration of workers into the fabric of our societies. similarly. but it will produce different hybrids. I have done my job as philosopher and constituent by gathering together the scattered themes of a comparative anthropology.

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INDEX

Achuar, 14, 42 air pump, 1 7, 42-3, 70-1, 72-3 , 79-8 1 , 83, 86-7, 89 Althusser, 36 anthropology, 7, 1 4-15, 91-4, 96, 1 00-3, 1 04, 1 1 3-14, 1 1 6, 127-9 antimoderns, 9, 47, 72, 73, 1 1 6, 1 23-4, 1 34-5 Archimedes, 1 09-1 1 Arendt, 125 asymmetry, 26, 55, 71, 91, 1 09-1 1 Auge, 1 00-1 Authier, 109 Bachelard, 1 8, 58-9, 92-3 Barnes, 15, 54 Barthes, 63 Bastide, 64 Baudrillard, 46, 62 Beaumarchais, 68 Being, 88-90, 127-8 Berlin Wall, 8-10 Bijker, 1 1 7 Bloor, 1 5 Boltanski, 44-6 Bourdieu, 5, 5 1 , 54 Boyle, 1 5-35, 56, 8 1 , 83, 84 Braudel, 1 2 1 Callon, 3-5, 94, 96, 1 1 1 , 1 1 3 Canguilhem, 92-3, 95 cause, 83-5 Chandler, 1 2 1 collective, 4, 1 07 Collins, 24, 93-4 Conklin, 7 Constitution

definition of, 14, 1 5 its efficacy, 144-5 the modern Constitution, 29-5 the non-modern one, 1 3 8-42 its use, 50, 70, 88, 89, 96, 103, 1 07, 1 3 2 what i t clarifies a n d what i t obscures, 39-43 Contextualists, 2 1 Copans, 1 1 4 Copernican counter-revolution, 76-9 critical stance, 5-8, 1 1 , 35-7, 43-6, 88-9, 122-7 culture, 9 1 , 96-100, 1 03-6 Cussins, 8 5 Dagognet, 1 1 5 Darwin, 92-3 delegation, 1 29, 1 3 8 Deleuze, 1 17, 125 democracy, 12, 142-5 denunciation, 43-6, 5 1 -4 Derrida, 5 Descola, 14, 42 Desrosieres, 1 22 dialectic, 55, 57 Diderot, 92-3 discourse, 1 1 , 62-4, 8 8-90, 127-8 disenchantment, 1 1 4-16, 1 23-4 Douglas, 100 Durkheim, 52, 54, 1 0 1 Eco, 63 Edinburgh school, 15, 25, 54-5 Edison, 3-5 Eisenstein, 33 Enlightenment, 12, 35-6, 6 1 , 70, 135, 142, 144

1 56

INDEX
Kidder, 1 1 5 Knorr-Cetina, 2 1 , 1 0 1 laboratory, 20-2, 28, 142 Lacan, 59 Lagrange, 93 Lavoisier, 70-1 Law, 24, 120 Levi-Strauss, 42, 97-8, 105 Leviathan, 1 9, 28, 30, 1 10-1 ' 1 20-3 Levy, 1 1 9 Lynch, 24 Lyotard, 46, 61-2 Machiavelli, 26 MacKenzie, 3-5, 54 market, 1 2 1-2 Marxism, 36, 126-7 Mauss, 1 00, 1 0 1 Mayer, 4 7 , 1 25 mediation, 3 1-2, 34, 50-1 56-7 67 69 ' 78-82, 86, 87, 89- 0, 1 2 , 1 4' 137 mediators, 63, 77-82 metrology, 1 1 9-20 modern, definition of, 9, 1 3 , 76 selection of, 1 32-6 use of, 10, 1 1 , 33, 34-5, 43, 62, 84, 96 ' 1 1 2, 129 modernization, 71-4, 76, 77, 1 30-2' 13 5-6 moralist, 123-7 morality, 1 3 9-4 1 morphism, 1 3 7-8 Moscovici, 1 5

essence, 86-8, 129, 1 34 ethnoscience, 7 event, 8 1 , 85-7 Fabian, 1 1 4 Favret-Saada, 1 00 first and second guarantee, 30-2, 139-40 fourth guarantee, 32-5, 142 freedom, 1 4 1 French Revolution, 40-1, 79 Funkenstein, 1 8 Furet, 40, 44 Garfinkel, 1 2 1 Geertz, 100, 1 1 8 Girard, 45 God (crossed-out), 32-5, 39, 127-8, 13 8-9, 142 Goody, 1 1 2 Great Divide, 1 2, 39, 56, 97-103, 104, 107-9, 1 1 3, 1 1 6, 1 3 7 Greimas, 6 3 Guillemin, 3-5 Habermas, 60-1 Hacking, 2 1 Haraway, 47, 1 00 Haudricourt, 101 Hegel, 57 Heidegger, 65-7 Hennion, 78, 82 Heraclitus, 65-7 history, 140-1 of science, 70-4, 79-82, 93 Hobbes, 15-3 5, 56, 8 1 , 84 Hollis, 1 04 Horton, 42 Hughes, 3-5, 122 Hugo, 68 humanism, 1 3 6-8 Hutcheon, 6 1 , 74 Hutchins, 94 hybrids, 1 0, 30, 34, 41-3, 78, 1 12, 1 3 1 ' 142 ideology, 36 immanence, 128-9 intermediaries, 5 6-7, 63, 77-82 Jameson, 6 1 Jonsen, 46 Kant, 56-7, 60, 63, 78-9

9

6 3

Nature, 1 1 , 77, 79-8 1 , 85, 87, 94-6, 97, 98-1 00, 1 04-6, 1 27-8, 1 3 9-40 nature-culture, 7, 96, 105-9 network, 3, 6, 7, 1 1 , 24, 47, 48, 77, 89, 103, 1 04, 1 1 7-20, 1 2 1-2 Nietzsche, 12, 69 non-modern, 46-8, 78, 88, 9 1 , 127-9 non-modern Constitution, 1 3 8-42 nonhuman, 23, 1 1 1 organisation, 1 20-2 Parliament of Things, 144-5 Pasteur, 3-5 Pavel, 63-4 Peguy, 45, 68-9, 72, 75 phenomenology, 57-8 Pickering, 2 1 , 94-5, 1 02 Pinch, 24

1 3 1 . 106-9. 62-4 Serres. 41 -3. 1 24. 3. 77. 3. 141 Tile. 9 1 . 76. 104-9. 67. 1 0 1 . 69. 5 1-5. 130-1 Rogoff. 1 07. 64-5 . 12. 72. 68. 27-9. 67. 103-4 1 57 temporality. 102 Tuzin. 107 Stengers. 21. 72-5. 20 scale. 1 1 1 subject/society. 5 1. 74. 49. 109-1 1 politics. 139-40 spokespersons. 54-5. 1 1 1 . 15. 1 05 . 32.INDEX Plutarch. 122 third constitutional guarantee. 1 14. 87. 30. 35-6. 48. 107-8 purification. 82-5. 13 0-1 . 39-43. 65 Zonabend. 96. 37-9. 84. 1 1 2-14. 125-7 transcendance. 6 1-2. 1 3 1 quasi-object. 1 1 8-20 science studies. 1 1 9 science. 94-6. 57 symmetry. 128. 89-90. 1 1 9 Smith. 1 1 1 . 85-8. 82. 78-9. 127-8. 1 1 7-20. 143 stabilization. 82. 34. 140-1 totalization. 126-7. 1 1 2. 1 3 9. 123. 1 26. 1 1 0 Shapin. 10. 134-6 pre-modern. 79-8 1 . 24. 1 1 8 Stocking. 43. 128-9 translation. 5. 1 8 . 94. 24. 87. 26. 22. 12. 67-77. 54. 98-1 00. 1 0. 69-72. 9. 1 14 Strum. 73-5 territories. 1 1 3. 10-1 1 . 1 1 9 Weber. 1 1 1-14. 124 Vatimo. 67. 90. 3 1-2. 14. 1 1 7-20 representation. 43-4. 1 1 7-23. 140 Schaffer. 10-1 1 . 1 1 1-19. 15-35. 92-4. 46-8. 27. 108. 100 . 94 Royal Society. 27-9 revolution. 123 Warwick. 1 22 Woolgar. 1 22 society. 103. 59-60 principle of symmetry. 85. 143 semiotic turns. 127 Traweek. 139 relationism. 1 3 3-4. 97-100. 15-35. 44. 5 0-1. 1 1 . 27-9. 39-43 . 1 1 5 universality. 24. 32-5. 3 3 Wilson. 3 1 -2. 1 1 0-1 postmodern. 82-5. 1 1 6-20 Thevenot. 24 Zimmerman. 75. 1 1 8 relativism. 7 1 . 59. 133-6 'pre-postmodern'. 104 Wise. 70. 29. 59 time. 84-5. 4. 8 1-2. 132.

I 9 780674 948396 9 1 000 .