Another reflective post on Latour’s 4th Gifford Lecture, including a nice little quote from Noel Castree.

Rain on Arrakis

In Lecture 4 of the Gifford Lectures, The myth and the destruction of the image of the globe, Latour began by affirming that pronouncements of the Anthropocene belie the “puzzling continuity” of Gaia’s metabolism, and that neither Nature nor nature, nor the human can enter the Anthropocene intact. As ever, lecture prosthetics available here.

Under what, then, can we unify during the Anthropocene? This lecture was, in essence, a restatement of Latour’s on-going multinatural democratic dream, a “thought experiment” that Noel Castree memorably called ‘as exciting and mad cap as cold fusion’. This involves at heart three steps: asking what sort of people are being called (demos); asking what entity they are being assembled under (theos); and ascertaining through what principles their agencies are distributed (nomos). It is a politics denuded of the cover of “what simply is”, a proper cosmopolitics in which the constitution…

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I wasn’t in a position to live-tweet Latour’s 4th Gifford Lecture (although I did watch it), so here’s a condensed version via Agent Swarm.


We are getting used to Latour’s rhetoric now. We know that Latour makes fun of the post-modern because “we have never been modern”. So this alolow him to rip off Lyotard by defining the secular as the absence of any universal arbiter, which is precisely Lyotard’s definition of the postmodern. So we need not be surprised by his ironic jibes at the post-humanists for failing to anticipate the “return of Anthropos”, now that we are entering the Anthropocene and that humans have become the most powerful geological, or “geostorical” force. But he is quick to notify us that Anthropos is not a “unified agent of history”. This is another unacknowledged debt to Lyotard, who made the absence of any unified subject of history another of the defining characteristics of the postmodern.

The link with the end of the last lecture is in the idea that Gaia is unlike Nature in…

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Latour Gifford Lectures 2013: Gaia’s Puzzling Features (3/6)

  1. Begins with comparison between Lovelock and Galileo.
  2. The view from nowhere – disembodiment.
  3. Gaia brought the earth to the centre and made us responsible.
  4. A ‘curse’ attached to the Gaia theory.
  5. What people under what conditions through what agency.
  6. People of Gaia not the same as people of ‘nature’.
  7. Just because entity named after god does not necessarily act as one (and vice versa).
  8. Gaia and Lovelock vs. Medicine and Pasteur.
  9. Comparisons in approach. Quoting from both now.
  10. Performance, attribute and ‘trial’ before name.
  11. Every item in the scenery of ‘nature’ interrupted and rendered mobile by invisible characters.
  12. Inert agents magically awoken and now ‘fiercely’ alive!
  13. Earth processes vs. Fermentation. Everything made to move.
  14. Still riffing off his Pasteur work here…
  15. That is reduction to a ‘sentient being’ or goddess (Gaia).
  16. Gaia as ‘providential engineer’. Need to explore.
  17. But no holistic nature to Gaia per se.
  18. Organisms curving environment to own needs. Manipulations changing its own world.
  19. Waves of action that do not take notice of any categorisations (inside/outside, scale).
  20. Life as more messier than economists and neo-darwinists suppose.
  21. No scalar relationship here. Only a historical result of connections between creatures.
  22. Space makes an entry. No empty container. Human Geographers rejoice. #blgiff
  23. Narratives rising or falling on strength and weakness of actors re: Pasteur’s microbes, Lovelock’s Gaia components.
  24. What to call this? History/Her-story. Distribution of agency. Gaia-story? Geo-story?
  25. Geostory of a planet -no harmony. A ‘contingent cascade’. No unity. Turmoil of geostory.
  26. Q: Can Gaia be extended to other planetary entities, instances?
  27. Yes, in short. Lovelock does necessarily identify earth and earth only as existence of Gaia.
  28. Q on interdisciplinarity in academia.
  29. Latour: Lovelock’s Gaia theory reverses the move to cosmic unity created by Copernicus and Galileo and invests earth with renewed uniqueness
  30. What as the successor? Geostory as a part of it. Human Geographers rejoice (pt. 2), I guess. #blgiff
  31. Geostory was put forward with a chuckle by Latour. Not meant egotistically!
  32. Another Q on possible disciplines in Latour’s hypothetical university. Would there be geopyschology?
  33. Yes, as long as there are connections.
  34. Q on scale, parts and wholes. Nice. Contingency and necessity. Fragility and solidity.
  35. Will again ‘storify’ so all tweets are together. Entertaining again from Latour. #blgiff

Latour Gifford Lectures 2013: A Question of Agency (2/6)

  1. Blind watchmaker against blind watchmaker. Foundations based purely on who built what.
  2. Latour’s ‘translation table’ gets another showing.
  3. Requires endless translations and transformations.
  4. Theos (entity) Nomos (agency) Demos (people).
  5. At no point in Hume’s dialogue does he encounter the very way of acting religiously.
  6. One regime of truth. Umbrellas, mistresses, religion (!) One size fits all for Hume.
  7. Natural religion sweeps across all 16 dimensions in the table.
  8. Nature 1 and Religion 1 alongside each other. ‘natural religion’.
  9. Features of nature imparted on religion and poured back over nature.
  10. Chain of references darting between each. Table to follow.
  11. To call something scientific – taking a risk.
  12. Must rely on translation after translation.
  13. Relativism brings anxieties to scientists (!)
  14. Humble material activity vs. Mysterious nature of scientific revelation.
  15. Accept the humble nature of scientific endeavour. Nothing wrong in admitting this.
  16. Climatologists: stand on your own ground!
  17. Rich anthropological reportoire – how would we know the world without it?
  18. No outside supreme court of nature. Talking about matters of fact.
  19. Multiverse / secularity / non-naturalists / non-modern collectives.
  20. Latour has been using Hume’s Dialogues as a framework for this lecture today.
  21. Aaand over. Questions to follow. Again, apologies for the stream of tweets.
  22. Question 1: main points of the lecture?
  23. Rearrangement of the categories of nature and religion.
  24. Not the name but the attributes that matter. No anthro in anthropocene per se. Classic Latour in a nutshell.
  25. As an aside, Latour is rocking a lively Jackson Pollock-esque tie today. #blgiff
  26. Another question on anxiety/(lack of) authority of scientific worldviews.
  27. More Qs on social sciences and Catholicism.

Latour Gifford Lectures 2013: Once Out of Nature (1/6)

  1. Latour opening his series of Gifford Lectures with a quote from Patrick Geddes…
  2. Geddes was a Scottish urban planner. Designed the garden city plan for Tel Aviv.
  3. The concept of earth as a ‘geohistorical’ narrative.
  4. Science as practice / politics as non-human too / religion freed from political epistemology
  5. Lectures as ‘mediations on a political theology of nature’.
  6. Introduces the term ‘oowwab’ (out of which we are born) to replace ‘people of nature’.
  7. Actually, it should be OWWAAB. Out of which we are all born. Apologies. Too many Os, Ws and As.
  8. Work will revolve around ‘animation’ of entities.
  9. The expression ‘nature’ doesn’t define what is assembled in practice.
  10. Nor does ‘religion’ qualify the people, rites and attachments proper to those practices.
  11. Exteriority and universality as exercised above agency by those who are religious.
  12. Gaia as inside and outside, unified and multiple, animate and inanimate, controversial and decided.
  13. Questions from the floor to follow. Apologies for the stream of tweets.
  14. Latour gives a shout-out to Haraway. And considers that ‘care’ is something that should be worked with more. #blgiff
  15. The enthusiasm of the surgeons shows clearly enough that we can not distinguish “belief” from “knowledge”.
  16. Ironically climatologists the most interested and worried about state of the world, despite scientific distance.
  17. A rather relevant tweet from @LatourBot re: belief and knowledge of epistemic groups.