David Berry has published an interesting post on Bruno Latour’s seemingly reductionist notion of the digital. I think that in his remarks at the Plenary Lecture for the Digital Humanities Latour may have partially regressed to his older ANT thought, which he is supposed to have gone beyond with his plurality of modes of existence. The statements he makes about computers being material, and not abstractions, take us to the starting point of his book AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE. He explains there how he came to realise that all ANT inspired analyses resembled each other, as anything can be brought back to the material networks underlying and maintaining it.

This move is however now recognised to be overly reductive if it is not accompanied by a corresponding move of highlighting and analysing the specificity of what is transported in the networks. If religiosity is granted its own irreducible emergent mode of existence I see no reason why digitality may not be accorded the same privilege of emergence rather than being treated reductively. Without further argument, Latour seems inconsistent here. His analysis amounts to identifying the vision of the digital as a separate sphere with what he calls Double-Click, or the transfer of information without transformation. Yet this vision that he is critiquing is just one ideology of the digital, not its definitional “essence”. Further, to distinguish (in this case a specific mode of existence) is not to separate (into a purported metaphysical sphere).

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  1. dmf says:

    I would say this and other failures of AIME should be taken as the understandable limits/outcomes of Latour’s attempt to come up with a practical/practicable philosophy. Hopefully folks can learn from all of this and come up with something that works for people other than those on the team.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. terenceblake says:

    I think this is essential. to be empirical AIME should be something that works for everyone and not just for those on the team. This is why I counterpose Feyerabend’s democracy to Latour’s diplomacy.


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