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Bruno Latour – We are all reactionaries today
Posted By Editors - Re-public On March 22, 2007 @ 12:51 In time/governance | 2 Comments

An interview with the vanguard contemporary thinker, Bruno Latour, on the end of progressivism, the limits of representation, the irrelevance of contemporary parliaments, the politics of things… (The interview is also available on podcast


An interview to Konstantin Kastrissianakis for Re-public Konstantin Kastrissianakis: If today we live in the era of simultaneity, in a space where everything is contemporary, can we use the terms “conservative” or “regressive” or should we abandon them altogether? Bruno Latour: Everybody is reactionary today. The problem is not there: the problem is which ones to choose. The division of things between progressivist and reactionary ought to be abandoned precisely because the topography of time, the repartition of political passions, has been overturned. Because in modernism, we were relatively easily oriented towards a progressivist direction. So we could distinguish between progressivist and reactionary attitudes with relative ease, reactionary being linked to the attachment to the past and progressivist to future emancipations. Today, however, things have changed to the extent that attachments are not only in the past but also in the future. For example, ecological questions, issues concerning the city and urbanism etc. As I have said in “making things public” , we have gone from a time of Time to a time of Space, from a time of succession to a time of co-existence. As a result the differentiation is now based on the type of attachment rather than on the old reactionary and progressivist scenography. So we are obliged to change the political passions while they still remain relatively classic, attached to the whole package of progressivist/reactionary, liberal/neoliberal, anti-globalising/globalizing. In effect, in the details, we have to open the package to understand the allocation of attachments and the dose of emancipation and attachment they presuppose. These developments are not necessarily due to the emergence of instantaneity but primarily to the end of modernism, to the disappearance of the arrow of time, of emancipation as sole political horizon. K.K.: Was it also a period where differences or oppositions were clearer? B.L.: We considered them clear, but they never were. Only retrospectively do they seem clearer. Modernism was always a different thing from what it pretended to be. “We were never modern”
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K.K.: Now, if the watch, the calendar, technological inventions are symbols of the time that passes, what are the objects that represent your notion of multiple temporalities? B.L.: The fact that progress is no longer the horizon does not mean that we abandon the notion of time. It means that time is no longer the carrier of emancipation solely, but that it carries both emancipation and attachment. Therefore time is still there; the direction of time is still there. We continue to die. We are still mortals. However, what has changed is the repartition of time: the great narratives that resolved people’s differences and positioned them on the basis of their relation to the future have been replaced by their position in relation to objects, to issues. Today in order to see if someone is a good or a bad reactionary, we must know where his attachments lie. Ecology, illustrates this very clearly. We can now have odd configurations: one can be both pro-nuclear and anti-global warming. Today there is no longer a single object that rules, that

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GMOs (genetically modified organisms).L. This is what we tried to stage with the exhibition “Making Things Public ”.Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version » Bruno Latour . each illness has its own association.: Of course.: Is it possible to argue therefore that positions are thus based more on the substance of these “matters of concern”? B. B. the left and the right. today we must try to approach these new attachments. Politics will become what he calls “spherology” which is about the habitats. it is true that the central metaphors tend towards space rather than time. they are no longer capable of standardising them. So it is of no importance to know whether one is a reactionary or not.: In this new configuration. the executive. gives rhythm to the repartition of time or to the direction of time. of In arguments of this type. Whether we talk about global-warming. political. consisting of people who get together around “matters of concern”. in any case. It is no longer hierarchical but heteriarchical. The Parliament was there as a particular technique among the multitude of other hybrid.K. Therefore there is a proliferation of “micropolitics”. It is not that these divisions no longer exist.: But it is not necessarily their objective to get into parliament. with their specific categories and particular techniques of classification. In my opinion the dream of macropolitics. no longer correspond to the order of things. politics turns around objects of interest. etc. http://www. such as those of civil society. there is each time a different configuration of these positions. but to know what those objects are that one holds dear. Not because the Great Politics has been sidestepped by economic forces. but because the techniques of representation of the official political arena have not evolved in the same speed as the multiplication of hybrid forums around “matters of concern”. has disappeared. proliferate. Politics always was object-oriented.K. If you take for example the associations of patients: today. these new political passions. economy. how can we re-imagine a democracy capable of accommodating the co-existence of different temporalities or of different “matters of concern”? [8] [7] 2 de 7 11/12/2012 13:20 .. artificial environments. “affairs”.K. of positioning. The proliferation of hybrid forums K.L. not necessarily legitimate forums which are very effective involving a variety of things: from the supermarket. and the types of things to which one is attached. we were under the impression that we could define politics in a procedural manner. K.L. affective things? B. Sloterdijk proposed another more interesting term to replace that of revolution: “explicitation”. they are relations of habitat. K. affective. But it is no longer political in the sense of something completing itself according to a particular technique of representation such as the parliament.K. to use Urlich Beck’s word . the law.: I don’t know where the influences come from.: No the Parliament is a place where very little happens. It is simply that in the modernist scenography. delocalisation. What happens today is that the techniques of political representation no longer seem capable of absorbing the multiplicity of positions and. They are formed primarily in architecture and in co-existence rather than in the great revolutionary narratives that reigned for centuries in their left or right versions of [5] history. where politics was one sphere amongst others. as Sloterdijk puts it [6] . They were always interrelated: to use Peter Sloterdijk words [4] . This is “politics” in a very vague sense. An arena through which all kinds of affairs could pass but representatives would treat them in such a way so as to standardise them. nature. αιτία in ancient Greek. While some might reach this point..: These are political. “issues”. The history of explicitation is made increasingly intelligible in the spheres and objects to which we are attached. the sphere that could cover all these forums. K. but that they have been drowned in the multitude of other attitudes. On the contrary. of atmosphere. debates over nature. We could argue that it has become largely irrelevant. and finance to law. they are rare compared to the mass of hybrid forums that. artificial surroundings in which we are and co-exist. technology. Therefore the problem is not to order things according to time or space. “things”. The categories of the French revolution. habitat or public transport. Rather.

schools. of course. democracy carries our passions. The form of politics has changed to such an extent that each pixel has its proper autonomy. sociologists. our engagements. Its form is interesting from the point of view of contemporary issues. etc. We continue to live in relatively traditional atmospheres: the walls. without reaching a situation of extreme violence we cannot imagine transposing all our democratic habits on the web.L. or alternatively we could argue that in the essence of politics. the web is not a subject of passion. It is rare to find the idea that the same pixelisation can take place in the economy whether within the Marxist left or the Marxist right. a system obeying laws in a way that nature no longer is. people who meet. We should not wish to go back to the “global. in the opposite. without relations of zoom between places. our beliefs. Therefore we could either say that this is no longer democracy and rather “écume”. Nonetheless. which broadly cover the ideals of the previous century. as it has become in Italy with “slow food”. in the beliefs of the old left and the old right.. It is a different situation.: But it is a tool of expression? B. But there is a bit of an exaggeration when we hear about the web as offering the universal forums that we have lost. a perspective that was revolutionary without taking into account the institutions of democracy – as we know. in effect. collections.: An answer would be that it is more than what you are saying: it is a real space. And the question of democracy is posed within all these spots. to use Sloterdijk’s expression “while waiting one’s turn”. heating. It consists of small aggregates. The village mayor has always been aggressed or alerted by his co-citizens on problems of garbage. Suddenly. This is because either we were within the “everything is political”. Therefore in these two positions.K. It is a very small passion. It is a good model. http://www. But in associative life there is a multitude of other elements.” [9] 3 de 7 11/12/2012 13:20 . it is only a first prefiguration of future spaces in which it would be possible for democracy to be exercised. through organizing simultaneously hybrid forums around subjects which do not constitute objects of politics as classic notions would have it. our attachments. a problem that we could not see clearly as long as politics was thought of either as covering the totality of activities (the “everything is politics” of the 1960s) or. It is an amusing paradox of the era that the economic nature resists more than nature itself. In practice politics was always about “matters of concern”. Therefore we are not in a pure situation. No one imagined that food. if democracy should also be the power to co-exist.: Because we are not completely “uploaded” on the web. parliamentary version of representative government.K. There are those who do it on the B. containing issues that resemble a kind of prefiguration of this very practical democracy. In our exposition we mobilized a lot of those sites. the new forms of democracy. the air. revolutionaries are never good democrats – or we were under the impression that democracy in its official representative form could absorb all questions that passed through its procedure and became politics when they arrived at the desks of ministers or deputies. We can take the contemporary situation regarding patient associations. as Sloterdijk argues . Whereas in practice. the economy is pixels. It is primarily a question of representation of what always happened in politics.Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version » Bruno Latour . we pause and raise the issue of democracy whereas. etc. no one imagined that politics of health would be organized on a one-to-one basis. Many people work on these issues: this is the web.. Anthropologists. new hybrid forms. K. who talk etc. The contemporary paradox is that nature is clearly politicized whereas the economy remains rigid to the extent where laws are put into effect without anyone being able to express his opinion. The notion of a universal forum is probably a notion that we should lose. Some of them were really interesting. issue by issue. roads. because we can intervene in a blog at the other end of the planet. The great obstacle is that we cannot do the same with the economy. factories. No one imagined that something like the climate would become an object of politics. In addition. That is. There are those intellectuals that work empirically who try to capture again these new enclosures. would become an object of politics.: Intellectuals cannot answer this question. K. Despite all.L. life on the web is still a very small segment of our common existence. It is a kind of pixelisation of politics. people always posed the question of democracy in different ways. It was always “issue-oriented”. which permits a cartography of many states of democracy in the making. as being uniquely oriented towards the official. it is difficult to discern how to nourish the requirements of democracy by new means. They were all issueoriented. Therefore.: Why then do you remain sceptic as to what the internet can do? B. because it is hierarchical and mimes very well a decentralized character without utopias. It philosophers can follow what is already going on.L.

sit-ins. Therefore the question which was raised by the Dingpolitik. rather than through monstrosity itself. which are “across the board”. strikes. In Greek. I suppose that today there are probably as many sociologists who study Second Life as there are users. by the “politics of things” is the one that we just posed.L. which was an attempt to reconstitute an artificial biosphere. all these efforts to constitute artificial islands are interesting. Ségolène Royal has set up an electoral desk there. What is exactly the notion of Dingpolitik and can the political be tamed? B. Those who are dangerous in political philosophy are those exactly those who think that it is not about monstrosity. Not yet real politics but there is a set of rules. Second Life is indeed not very original from the point of view of economic relationships. instruments and techniques of representation.K. http://www. we do not hear about “things”. The politics of things K.L: K. Second Life resembles a lot “Biosphere II ”. in a strange way it is hardly utopian.: Does it represent something new or is it only a logical continuation? [10] ? B. One can be excluded as bad alias. you explain how we could realistically “make things public”. “First Life” is virtual whereas Second Life is material since one is obliged to pay the price. The political was always about “things”. there are many economists and they find economic models remaining practically unchanged. Therefore we find certain elements of “First Life”. can we imagine techniques of representation – including artistic and scientific representation – that appropriately render this new pixelisation of the political? The politics of things is not a novelty. Today we pay for a connection and so we can see more clearly what it is all about. Underlying this understanding of politics are a number of presuppositions: the existence of institutions. of exclusions. it is interesting to note that this term is equally articulated in two opposing meanings. The term “virtual” is. but a cost nonetheless. We see that the demon of the political cannot be simple. and exists in all European languages. K. All these difficulties in order to construct a second biosphere. As if whichever matter entering the parliamentary. executive machine would come out in the form of laws and This is what we now call governance. layer by layer of what existence in a virtual world means. It is necessarily a monster. Not very much. The word Dingpolitik signals the implausibility of this theory of the political. all those things that make them intelligible and shareable. Also I think there is now a small police in Second Life. Political philosophy is a teratology.: For example. bad avatars. There are innumerable treatises addressing how we will create the procedure which is going to absorb different affairs as if the procedure itself was set.L. Historically. when we read political philosophy. It is a managerial version of politics. Since the very nature of the political always was to be concerned with objects. economy. [11] 4 de 7 11/12/2012 13:20 . But it is not particularly original. However. Certainly. It is not a new politics but what I call object-oriented politics. All those things that facilitate the replacement of virtual relations between symbolic and material are of interest because they preclude a lot of the nonsense that suggests that we are moving from a real world into an imaginary world. It was always there: the ding. are interesting for the understanding of society. αίτια. everyday life etc.: All those things that materialize the symbolic spaces. have you heard about this site which is called Second Life B. in the political realm..Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version » Bruno Latour . not virtually (not on the web) but in a situation of controlled urbanism which would play an important role in the ecologists’ imagination. interesting because we can see the rematerialisation. monsters have emerged from reason. in fact. It is.K. From that perspective. Though we understand why.: The etymology of the word demon carries two meanings: to cut and to share.: You talk about the demon of the political and how the phantom of the public could loosen it. The Greeks taught us that we were in an imaginary world many years ago. and countable.. the apprenticeship of monstrosity. The study of second life will not be easier than that of first life. however. Through a passage from Realpolitik to Dingpolitik. Does it also mean an assembly? It is a juridical term. not appropriate because it is the normal state of affairs. in which we live. There were acts of violence. which would equally absorb questions of ecology.

K. We have lost the passion of the political – something which is not necessarily bad because political passions can also bring about disaster – and have not found the institutions and the technical forms that will allow us to make the system representative of all those other objects of disagreement in which we are already involved. However. it cannot be a body. At the same time.L: It is the cause that we bring to the tribunal. which Lippmann tried to describe in his book The Phantom Public . Whether it is feminism or something else. not enough because the innumerable assemblies formed around all these sets of disputes are considered as being an inferior form of politics.K. http://www. This is the operation that the exhibition “Making things public” tried to put in place and. The crisis of representation is increasingly eminent because of this kind of reduction of politics to techniques of representation that no longer seem legitimate. The definition of the political is reduced and consequently people complain that they are not sufficiently represented.: It is the cause but it can also mean the reason. which is a very local technique. K. A movement.: Do you see any leads for a conceptual or physical architecture to “make things public”? [14] [13] [12] 5 de 7 11/12/2012 13:20 . we expected a lot in terms of covering the totality of human life. B. that of things and causes in their modernist version. at least at a conceptual and visual..K.L.K. which is drawn from a book by Walter Lippmann . as a movement. on the other.: But is it also because we expected too much from representation itself? B. The public is necessarily a phantom. All “matters of fact” have become “matters of concern”. Whereas it was not clearly visible at the time it is now clear that all “things” have become causes. in essence. however. where everyone would debate about everything. active in politics. Architecture and coexistence K. This is where Beck’s interesting argument on micropolitics lies. as we can see with the ongoing French presidential campaign.: We expected too much and too little. level was successful in doing. which also corresponds to a division of tasks of the political to laws and conflicts while guarding the cause outside.. there was a time when we wished to separate the two arenas: on the one hand. For this It shows how complicated it is to give relevance to “matters of concern” with a very archaic technique and localized style.L. Parliaments are only one technique amongst others but I can hardly see anyone trying to make these techniques pertinent for all other assemblies. Therefore there is no longer the technique of eloquence or spin that gives the quality of everyday life to the political. in the scientific domain. of rhetoric. Thus we accuse them of having particularistic interests. of respecting each other while sitting around a gigantic table at the scale of the globe. but as a passage.: It is a beautiful etymology that we should not lose from our sight and that was always. We find ourselves somewhere between sharing and being opposed to. The enormous problem that our generation faces is to find the conceptual and physical architectures that absorb this experience. of being an assembly of all the other assemblies that are in the process of revealing new issues. It is not an easy task because people continue to over-invest in traditional politics. that of eloquence. This is too much. K. Instead. that of the narrowly conceived political and. we have reached a slightly discouraging amalgam of governances.K. the phantom I staged in this exhibition.: Today it means the “cause”. This is all the more obvious in the programs presented to us. of being a passage. an enormous parliament. On the other hand. we have also lost the great techniques that ought to still be used today. is a reminder of the fact that politics should not be seen as an immense body covering the totality of public life. At the same time we have a technique that remains very archaic. On the one hand. it is never considered sufficiently political because it is too local. of contracts between all. It is constantly at the stage of being restarted. We are being asked to imagine that politics is set of programs that we must apply in a problem-solving fashion. One could say that we are in the worse situation imaginable. This is Sloterdijk’s inflatable parliament . as if in the big sphere we had only general interests.Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version » Bruno Latour .

the work of architecture realizes the metaphor as defined by Sloterdijk. interfaces. Whenever 6 de 7 11/12/2012 13:20 . but not necessarily.Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version » Bruno Latour . Therefore. which was always important as a metaphor for public or private space. In fact. but if you are able to build a single house it is because you take seriously the question of coexistence. I gave a conference entitled “Paris: Invisible City [18] ”. objects. the house in its relation to the community. we realize that this is what it is about. I don’t know how a “parliament of things” should look like. Architecture takes seriously the word coexistence even if it involves simply building a house. it is a book now. It was done with the help of architects who gave the exhibition its shape and created semi-transparent panels in a very interesting manner.: Yes. I met a student in Houston who studied people doing space architecture at NASA. There are those who consider that if they were to take all these things into account. architects have a peculiar relation to theoretical work. stations in the solar system. However.: Yes. There are architects paid by NASA to imagine the repartition of beings. They work at the scale of the solar system. squats when we talk with architects. they would end up never building. The link between domestic life and public life. and strangely enough I know quite a lot of architects.K. The one by Norman Foster. and see how individual spaces are organized in relation to communal and public spaces in order to propose new typologies through which to speculate on relationships between domestic and public. It was always their job after all to constitute spaces.: I collaborated with DOMUS for two years and thus I have read a bit of architecture. but it was a simulation for a few months in the exhibition space. but I am not adequately informed to know which architects we must follow.: Architects have an important role to play because the notion of architecture. There are one or two other parliaments constructed recently which are interesting. In fact. as a kind of architecture. in the Reichstag is clearly a caricature. They take seriously the notions of space and life: they are almost defined by coexistence.K. there are so many schools to be found almost everywhere: landscaping.L.L. we are trying to re-think the habitat. becomes today something more than a metaphor – whether we are talking about virtual architecture or the architecture of cities and parks. Whether it is collective design or collaborative design. architecture must play a role. management of natural spaces.: Yes. K. these architectures? B. of this collective space. B. This means that the notion of architecture..K. but they are already part of the “atmospheres of democracy”. In design magazines we always see objects. they are in a process of being mixed because it is a question of constructing artificial surroundings to life. Design.L. One where we are always looking for spaces of coexistence. We had a bit of this in our exhibition. http://www. A few days ago. There is an immense distance between the problems that we are discussing here and the building of a construction site. [15] B. urbanism. This means architecture of the space around the earth.L: For me it was always a pleasure to go to Schools of architecture and I have been in many such schools.L.K. how different offices. Meanwhile the aesthetics of architecture remain the aesthetics of objects. most parliaments are constructed in a very archaic manner. hospitals. B. Using glass to say it is transparent is a silly metaphor. A casual B. We want to see if we can re-think these spaces.: Sometimes also with the public. We do not yet see many “matters of concern”. K. nowadays it is a question of design. monasteries.A. What would be interesting for architects is to reach a point where they would be interested in “matters of concern”. It is not only the case when they build parliaments. K. There are always walls.. When it comes to natural parks. neighbours. but still not enough about architecture. map them. (Architectural Association)? [17] [16] K. Are you at the A. In addition.: Not alone. or for the repartition between public and private space. “Life support” that captures the space of politics. though they are rare. The technique proposed by our professor is to explore the different typologies. hotels.: But do you think that they can create these spaces. is very important. cohabitation being a key word. Further links [19] Bruno Latour web Iconoclash exhibition [20] Article printed from Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version: http://www. All rights reserved. We are still doing simplistic /0686/ URL to article: Copyright © 2009 Re-public: re-imagining democracy .A.english version.htm [13] Walter Lippmann: http://en.htm [12] inflatable parliament: http://g-i-o. because architects consume very quickly. I try to visit architectural studios to see the projects students are undertaking. But I am already out of I http://www. 7 de 7 11/12/2012 13:20 .. It was for two years that I was really in fashion but now they do not speak of me very /96-DINGPOLITIK2. Therefore my contribution to architecture lies in a metaphorical sense of [20] Iconoclash exhibition: http://www. My aim is to build websites by schematizing spaces of co-habitation of the range of uncertainties pending on technical while we can create [14] The Phantom Public: http://en.html [3] “We were never modern”: [8] to use Urlich Beck’s word: http://www. where we can explore hierarchies and the ad hoc character of matters of [5] another more interesting term: http://www. I saw that architects have access to visualization programs which would be instrumental for the social sciences but we are still lagging /index. but websites of controversies.petersloterdijk.aspx [17] what I do now is not / [18] Paris: Invisible City: [9] “écume” to somehow create a “écume’. What is interesting now is the politics of co-existence. in the Reichstag: [11] Biosphere II: http://www.hypermoderne. specific for each subject. This object can also become a debate in architecture. as Sloterdijk argues: http://multitudes.htm [6] as Sloterdijk puts it: http://multitudes.Re-public: re-imagining democracy – english version » Bruno Latour . (Architectural Association)?: http://www.cfm?lingua=_eng#community [16] Norman Foster.html [7] Making Things Public: I am therefore using sociology of URLs in this post: [1] available on podcast: http://www.html [10] Second Life: http://secondlife. When I was in Houston. future [15] with DOMUS: http://www.html [4] to use Peter Sloterdijk words: http://www.html [19] Bruno Latour web: http://www.hup. [2] “making things public”: http://www..bruno-latour. I have one or two students who are working in we can create virtual spaces.domusweb.

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