IS LATOUR’S AIME PLATFORM THE MESSAGE?: diplomatic pluralism and the MOOC-effect

I have been blogging about Bruno Latour’s philosophy over the last 3 years, examining it in relation to an array of other pluralist thinkers (Feyerabend, Deleuze, Serres, Connolly, Hillman, Laruelle, Stiegler). I have made several contributions on the AIME site, and I participated in a reading group devoted to summarising and discussing Latour’s book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. During the so-called “pluralism wars” earlier this year I defended Latour’s version of pluralism from the accusation of “anti-realism” and “relativism”. However, I am no uncritical disciple, and have offered criticism whenever it seemed necessary, in particular concerning Latour’s take on religion and on the relation between religion and science (in Latour’s AIME jargon this concerns the crossing [REL] – [REF]). This reflection on pluralism and religion is summarised in my review of Adam S. Miller’s very interesting and very well-written book SPECULATIVE GRACE: Bruno Latour and Object-Oriented Theology. Full review here.

To summarise the results of my intellectual reflection I wrote and made public, on Scribd and on academia.edu, a 49 page article concerning my reactions both to the book and to the AIME project, which I presented as a draft of work in progress. I have received nothing at all in response to my article. No comments, no critiques, no replies- neither from the AIME members, nor from the book’s official rewriters, nor from other contributors, nor from the vast number of people belonging to the interested public that we see referred to or that we glimpse in the videos.. One of the rewriters actually told me he was too busy rewriting the “report” to reply to me, when the whole idea of the book and of its “rewrite”, so it is said, is to provoke and to reply to “protestations”.

There is something wrong with this whole lack of discussion, and I think that the AIME platform, its structure and functioning, are part of the problem. But I would claim more generally that the whole conception of the AIME project as diplomatic rather than democratic is responsible for certain technical choices and communicative attitudes.

In particular, the “rewriting” is a process that takes into account and responds to the various “protestations” (and I think that this word is too reductive, giving hegemony to what should be just one part of a dialogue, where not all expression of other ideas should be reduced to protest) and so concerns my particular contribution among others, or it is a lure. Or rather it is just business as usual, comprising well-known names such as Isabelle Stengers, Kyle McGee, and Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, as officially accepted contradictors. Plus a few academics with tenure and the right publications, to show that one is “open” after all.

I examine the AIME process from the point of view of a democratic pluralism, and I find the actual exchanges facilitated by their platform and dialogical behaviour too limited, constrained, filtered, and codified. I would like to say: prove to me that you are democratic, create open exchanges in parallel to the relatively closed ones that you have created up to now, multiply the dialogues, don’t make contributors and critics wait one or two years to see a “rewrite” that may or may not take into account what they have written.

Bruno Latour’s AIME is no longer a project but a process, a performance converging towards a competence. The indicators of competence – technical jargon, one-dimensional timeline, academic diffusion – are increasing. AIME from project to process is crystallising as party. I have come out in favour of the project. I support it. I am a fellow-traveller of the AIME process, I am not a member of the AIME party. Who represents me and people like me in the diplomatic negotiation? The question of scale has become important: what diplomacy is possible between David and Goliath? On the AIME process the question arises: is diplomacy necessarily incorporation, engulfment? Can one be a dialogic partner without being engulfed?

There are some possible dangers of the AIME process that are worrisome in terms of its stated aims. I speak of David and Goliath, that is to say a potential “MOOC-effect” of

(1) non-interactivity at the base level. The AIME project has organised the diplomatic exchange in terms of a pluralism that does not clearly manifest itself at the micro-level.

(2) the individual being swamped in the ocean of large numbers. This is not necessarily a factor of suffering for the individual, but it may generate affective protest. The inquiry seeks to cultivate sensitivity to protest. Not all protest is suffering, but all affect is cognitive or veridictive (but not infallible, affect needs cultivation and potentially rectification).

(3) the existing hierarchies being strengthened rather than weakened by the process

4) a process of alienation or of disindividuation in which “negotiation” replaces dialogue. If one side of the negotiation has become a force of disindividuation there is no encounter.

(5) monistic pluralism: an auto-poietic  (i.e. closed) pluralism that has no dialogue with other pluralisms (for example: Bernard Stiegler’s pharmakon project, Dreyfus and Kelly’s ALL THINGS SHINING project, François Laruelle’s non-philosophy project).

My aim is not to condemn the AIME project but having said what I think is positive and worth pursuing, I wish to encourage it to go further in its ontological pluralism. I consider “diplomatic” pluralism to be a halfway house on the way to democratic pluralism.

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3 Responses to IS LATOUR’S AIME PLATFORM THE MESSAGE?: diplomatic pluralism and the MOOC-effect

  1. To me these seem very reasonable comments.On the other hand there must be difficult managerial issues involved in the AIME project and perhaps at this point there is an effort to construct some kind of “improved statement of AIME’s main thesis”. So my position as a simple reader who is not a pure modern is to wait to see a) the rewritten draft and b) the structure that the AIME group will propose (using Web2.0 I guess) to support further development (assuming that there will be somthing like that)

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  2. terenceblake says:

    Thanks for your comment. I agree that in effect we must practice a “wait and see” policy, and I am convinced that we will see many improvements. I am hoping like you for a more open structure (AIME 2.0). However, I am not satisfied with the process and with the necessity of waiting, and I think that this is partially inscribed in the concepts. Further they must decide whether they are doing a democratic anthropology of the moderns, or an aristocratic anthropology of academics. The chapter on religion seems to orient us towards the idea that the modes are élitist extractions from the vulgar domains.

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    • Philip says:

      I like that phrase ‘a democratic anthropology of the moderns, or an aristocratic anthropology of academics’ — that’s certainly the risk. There’s an implicit suggestion that academics stand for the people. Perhaps that is a legitimate assumption for anthropologists (or some of them, anyway) but it’s tricky for most other would-be representatives.

      If the diplo-ma, the folded object, that forms the basis of the diplomatic practice is dispatched by some authority, however abstract, then what qualifies anyone to be the bearer of that envelope? Their willingness to bear it and their acceptability to the receiving powers, in this case. Upon hospitality, essentially.

      In a classic diplomatic situation there would be adverse consequences if a prospective diplomat were not well received. What consequence is there if a would-be diplomat is excluded or mistreated in this diplomatic practice? There is no balance of power. The dictatorship is benevolent but it is nevertheless a dictatorship.

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