ONTOLOGICAL PLURALISM AND POLITICS: Latour’s difficult transition

Bruno Latour has spear-headed a very interesting metaphysical research programme in ontological pluralism, the AIME project, initially expressed in a programmatic treatise AN INQUIRY INTO MODES OF EXISTENCE (or AIME). This project distinguishes fifteen modes of existence, that are also modes of “veridiction”. The overall project has been explained, enriched, completed and continued by many modes of expression: conferences, colloquia, a web site, an exhibition (RESET MODERNITY) and a catalogue. It has also been applied to contemporary events by Bruno Latour intervening in the press on a number of occasions.

Latour has intervened on a small number of topics (the Paris killings, fundamentalist religion, Gaia, the Paris agreement on climate change, and now Trump’s election). In each case his analysis falls short of a true application of his system and contents itself with an aura of authority by association. Typically, Latour mobilises only two modes of veridiction, where more are involved. He appeals to expertise in a different domain (religion, climate science) to correct the “errors” of the actors and the commentators, thus transgressing the very demarcations that he has set up. His approach is systematic, in that he applies his system (in reduced form), rather than empirical. In brief, they are “opinion” pieces.

Latour has a problem with Donald Trump (and also, as we have mentioned above, with fundamentalist religion, but this is another topic) as his 15 modes of existence are also modes of veridiction, or truth-telling. Latour’s AIME allows for multiple modes of truth-telling. This would mean that Trump incarnates or expresses political truth, because he won.

Latour reacts to Trump’s election principally on the terrain of climate science, mobilising a different regime of expertise than the political (see here). This seems to be a case of Latour making the “right” move in the wrong game or mode), and so it remains without purchase on the pro-Trump pathos.

Trump is a master of political pathos, the intrusion of psychogenic symbols (Latour’s MET) in politics. This sort of confusion of genres or games is what Latour calls a “crossing” of modes. Trump is also a master of “ethos”. “Ethos” comes with the conversion of actants to actors (cf Latour’s A LIFE AMONG CONCEPTUAL CHARACTERS). Trump also incarnates an ethos as a way of getting taken seriously as a political actor. This is what I analysed in a previous post. This is a contamination (“crossing”) of politics by metamorphic (ethos and pathos) concerns, something that Latour does not analyse.

Democratic voting is a multi-modal phenomenon, not just bi-modal, and calls for a richer treatment than Latour has given up to now. As for journalism, as truth-telling it will have to become more diverse and multi-modal than it has been, to be able to cover such events more adequately.

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2 Responses to ONTOLOGICAL PLURALISM AND POLITICS: Latour’s difficult transition

  1. I just checked out the AIME project’s website. Looks like I have something to keep me busy this afternoon 🙂

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