Actor Network Theory, Bruno Latour, Zizek

Reality Politics?

Over at Larval Subjects one finds an interesting post on a topic that has been of some importance for me in the last few weeks. The post discusses, firstly, the relation between Latour’s ontology and his proposals for a reorientation and redefinement of politics along these lines of thought.
As far as I can see, Latour has always been a bit ambiguous or, to put it bluntly, vague with regard to his ideas on politics. On the one hand, his proposal for a ‘Parliament of Things’ – most famously in his Politics of Nature – tries to cope with non-humans as political actors and aims to get rid of ‘Nature’ and ‘Science’ as criteria of judgment with regard to that with which politics may occupy itself. But it fails to continue this non-modern ontology in its politics; the Parliament – consisting of four subsequent ‘procedures’ in which economists, ‘moralists’ and bureaucrats decide on the entrance of the non-human into the collective – is still resting on a firm modern/modernist basis, for it presupposes a sovereign political sphere through which every new ‘entity’ or ‘citizen’ must pass and in which it is decided upon their fate. On the other hand, in his Deweyian-moments, Latour tries to conceptualize a politics that ‘turns around the objects’ instead of objects that turn around politics. Here his politics is one of pragmatist, experimentalist, incremental political explication. Although this latter proposal is, perhaps, to be preferred, it does not escape a political ‘mootness’. This is what Larval Subjects tries to show; when politics is all about the formation of alliances, networks and compromise, this causes one to ‘pre-emptively’ choose the way of compromise. And, ‘Of course, in having pre-emptively declared that certain things are not possible, the pragmatic realist insures that they aren’t possible by virtue of never pursuing them and re-structuring the social space by creating popular consensus rendering them possible.’  (Larval Subjects) This is where ‘radical leftist’ theorists such as Zizek and Badiou come in; their political aim has always been to ‘demand the impossible’, to not confuse the Real with realities, to not give up politically in the light of a ‘pragmatic necessity’. This is an important message for scholars such as Latour, and STS in general; one of their possible ways out is, perhaps, to, once again, turn to empirical investigation; now with regard to political practices, techniques and methods rather than aligning themselves to a pragmatic, deliberative, realisms in politics..


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