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We Have Never Been Modern

3.92  ·  Rating details ·  1,764 ratings  ·  86 reviews

With the rise of science, we moderns believe, the world changed irrevocably, separating us forever from our primitive, premodern ancestors. But if we were to let go of this fond conviction, Bruno Latour asks, what would the world look like? His book, an anthropology of science, shows us how much of modernity is actually a matter of faith.

What does it mean to be modern?

Paperback, 168 pages
Published October 15th 1993 by Harvard University Press (first published 1991)
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Boria Sax
May 08, 2014 rated it it was amazing
It seems evasive, and even a bit comic, how thinkers in the past century or so, increasingly designate eras with the prefix "post": "post-Christian," "post-Holocaust," "post-industrial," "post-structuralist,"post-modern," "post-humanist," and so on. . . These labels define a period by what it follows rather than what it is, so they do not really describe it at all. According to Latour in We Have Never Been Modern, this is because the fundamental characteristic of modernism has been the a strictl ...more
May 12, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: philosophy
I have no problem conceding that this rather thin book went a bit over my head. The blurb promised a spectacular new insight into human reality and history. And the bold claim that we only seemingly joined modernism stimulated my curiosity. But Latour writes as if he's in his own universe, uses quite particular jargon (which he hardly explains) and terminology that differs from what the rest of the intellectual world ordinarily uses (eg he uses the word 'society' for something that almost everyo ...more
Oct 11, 2014 rated it really liked it
(Fair warning: I'm writing this review in a bad mood.) Here's how I feel about Latour: but, but, but. I want to love Latour, but I just can't. I find his work interesting and super generative, but it brings me almost no joy or pleasure. He's very clear and easy to follow, but he also writes some of the most unlovely prose ever. (Maybe it's just the translation, but still.) I'm excited to use him in my own work, but sometimes the experience of reading him is like being trapped in a room with a gu ...more
Meghan Fidler
Moving further than the oft quoted introductory Ozone example, the continuity of Latour's analysis is stunning. Positioning the concept of 'modern' against history, progress, and science. Latour demonstrates this by including the agency of material objects alongside the founding formation of Western Science. Modernity becomes a paradox which was imposed upon colonized peoples around the globe:
“Whatevery they do, Westerners bring history along with them in the hulls of their caravels and their gu
Jan 25, 2010 rated it it was amazing
This summary is probably going to be a bit flawed and definitely elides some of Latour's critical moves. I really enjoyed reading this, and thought it was very insightful.

Latour starts his book with 1989: the fall of the Berlin Wall marked the triumph of capitalism over communism, and conferences on global climate and environment in Paris, London, and Amsterdam showed that our domination of nature was harmful. How do we respond in these times—to, in some ways, the failures of modernism? If liber
Latour is attempting to radically redefine an approach to inquiry - ALL inquiry - through describing both a model for reality and a way of investigating that model which aims to resolve several unresolved issues in inquiry. These range from the issues with the subject/object divide in examining reality, the apparent distinctions between "social" and "natural" science, the apparent distinction between "modern" and other social forms, and the question of just how "scientific" knowledge comes into ...more
Aug 28, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: criticism, abandoned
A sad instance where one of my favorite authors has written a terrible book. Professor Bruno Latour is the famed sociologist who skewered the scientific community with his marvelous expose, 'Laboratory Life'. He's a man to respect and possesses a formidable career. Although I eagerly anticipated this other title of his (it seemed very much to fit my taste) I utterly loathed this work just a few pages into its mouth. Plunging down the gullet and gamboling through the rest of its coarse anatomy, r ...more
May 21, 2017 rated it liked it
In "We Have Never Been Modern," Bruno Latour challenges the dualism between nature and culture (0r nature and society), a core component of modern thought.

As he says at the start, if you were to read through a newspaper, you would come across various issues that cannot be neatly categorized into one of these two boxes. Take, for example, the issue of the AIDS virus or global warming. Culture (politics, societal attitudes and beliefs, social relationships, etc., etc.) and nature entwine in vario
Erdem Tasdelen
Jan 08, 2009 rated it really liked it
Brilliant stuff. Especially enjoyed the manifesto-like language.

Just one thing though - I'm not ENTIRELY convinced that the separation between Nature and Society instituted by modernity is/was so rigid. This is difficult to argue because Latour would actually agree with this point, what with the proliferation of quasi-objects and what not, but what I mean to say is that I think by delineating this separation so persistently he may be PRODUCING the said intention of total separation, which may no
Aug 31, 2012 rated it really liked it
Latour thoroughly goes over the still-present problems that modernity introduced into Western society, and somewhat less thoroughly proposes a solution. It's a short book, at around 145 p of main text, but it's remarkably dense, and despite the very welcome summaries and charts, will probably require careful reading and perhaps rereading. Latour argues, for example, that modernism depends on dichotomies such as nature and society, subject and object, and the more we insist on the division betwee ...more
Justin Abraham
Dec 12, 2015 rated it liked it
"Show me an activity that is homogeneous from the point of view of the modern time. Some of my genes are 500 million years old, others 3 million, others 100,000 years, and my habits range from a few days to several thousand years... 'We are exchangers and brewers of time'. It is this exchange that defines us, not the calendar flow that the moderns has constructed for us" (75).

"We have never moved either forward or backward. We have always actively sorted out elements belonging to different time.
Jeremy Allan
Jan 09, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Bruno is a funny one. Half philosopher, half mischief maker, half radio evangelist. Perhaps that last one isn't fair, but as I read this masterpiece, hearing his funny names for concepts and phenomena echo in my brain, I couldn't help imagining Robert Duvall shouting over the radio in The Apostle, even if part of the whole project is to step away from dogma, however scientific. I can't and don't want to do justice to this book. Instead, I'll put it on record that I will be coming back to these i ...more
A Mig
Oct 13, 2018 rated it it was ok
Shelves: society-economy
What does Latour have against postmodernism? His sleight of hand is as follows: if modernity is representative of progress and therefore of the Future, postmodernity, coming after, would be... the end of things, nothingness. Latour offers a new word, amodern, maybe because the term postmodern had already been proposed elsewhere. He goes to the point to say that we have never been modern. Then, should we just scrap all those works on "modernity" and '"postmodernity" just to accept that "amodernit ...more
Sense Of  History
In this review, I’m going to limit myself to what Latour has to say about the wrong history-vision of modernism, because I had a lot of trouble to follow the rest of his discourse (see my general review According to Latour, self-proclaimed modernism uses a wrong view of time: too linear, and thus too much in function of completely misguided progressive thinking. For the author, this goes back to a wrong starting point: the artificial separation between ...more
Eric Steere
Nov 11, 2011 rated it it was amazing
Bruno Latour has captured my attention with this 1991 release. In a kind of anthropology of science, Latour’s web links “networks” of the social sciences that have been deconstructed, naturalised, and socialised, marking epistemology, the social sciences, and the sciences of texts as being responsible for the compartmentalization of an off kilter intellectual life. It is impossible for an object of study to be understood across these established disciplines which intend to make it simultaneously ...more
Apr 22, 2013 rated it it was ok
Apparently, we have never been modern ... but how we're different from Middle Ages European society, or anything else for that matter, is unclear. Latour never offers alternative categories. It feels more like he goes back and forth on the matter: we're somewhat modern, we think we're modern, we're not modern, but we act modern ... I don't even know how to put it. His writing is very convoluted and he waffles between arguments, even while there are very interesting ideas throughout the book abou ...more
Sharad Pandian
Latour argues that we "moderns" mistakenly think ourselves as modern by erecting "Nature" and "Society" as non-overlapping domains, with nature supposedly studying only the totally inert transcendent, and Society about that which is entirely immanent and human-made. However, most of reality are hybrids which don't neatly fall into either, which are rendered invisible by the insistence of this separation, and whose invisibility is precisely what allows for their unhindered propagation.

This is pot
Daniel Burton-Rose
Jul 02, 2012 rated it it was amazing
A profound effort to dissolve the Us-Other dichotomy at the center of the European intellectual tradition.
Nov 10, 2013 rated it it was amazing
Challenging and rewarding, Latour entertainingly pulls the rug out from under a lot of the typical ways of thinking about science and society.
Aug 28, 2015 added it
Shelves: kindle
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An Te
Feb 06, 2020 rated it really liked it
This was a recommended read by a theologian friend.

Bruno Latour, one of the most highly cited sociologists, delivers a mighty punch with this small book on the roots of modernism. As Latour conceives of it, modernism is an attitude of the hubris to both segregate and conquer categories of reality. These categories as Latour mentions are nature, society, being and discourse. Latour indicates that we have either focussed on one aspect and neglected/denounced any possible control of one sphere. For
Itay Kander
Mar 14, 2020 rated it really liked it
What is modernity and should we overcome it? I believe this to be one of the most pressing philosophical questions of our time. It manifests itself in a plethora of other, so-called "smaller" and "more practical" questions, such as: Is there one correct culture (The Western Culture) or are all cultures equal? Should we transcend our natural physical form and live a life of pure rational thought, or should we make the body our only real dwelling place? etc. etc. Latour presents in this magnificen ...more
Bogdan Balostin
Nov 11, 2019 rated it did not like it
Shelves: public-library
I'm sorry to say but this is complete non-sense.

Maybe I'm missing some sort of background, but aren't philosophy books supposed to be logical.
It reads like a rambling of a person who has a dozen different ideas in mind and doesn't know how to tell them all at the same time.

I quit after reading a quarter of the book and I don't see any point to it.

It's not that I don't agree with the message, I cannot even find the message. I've read some reviews of this book and some interpretations and I got i
Chelsea McMillen
Mar 28, 2019 rated it liked it
Maybe it is because I was so keenly aware of all the other things I had to do while reading this book, but I get the feeling that while Latour has fantastic ideas, he could've shaved the word count down dozens of pages and still get his point across.

However, he takes a great stab at ideas of modernity, reductionist ideas and dichotomies. Very cool stuff.
Aug 18, 2018 rated it it was amazing
in this ridiculously intricate text, latour shows—among other things—that we do not need to reenchant the world, for it was never disenchanted. there's far too much in hear for me to discuss with any kind of brevity, and i'm still metabolizing it. 10/10 would read again.
Aaron Schuschu
Feb 26, 2020 rated it it was amazing
Latour’s whole idea is that we have never been modern because, in spite of modernism priding itself on separating science, society, and discourse; they still all weave together in hybrids and networks. For a fair amount of it, he talks about Hobbes and his beef with Boyle.
Mike Mena
Apr 05, 2018 rated it really liked it
Very provocative book. Will take a couple reads to really understand. Will definitely revisit one day.
2.5 stars - Not that I have any clue as to what just happened. I think I stopped trying to understand this book as soon as he started talking about “relativist relativism“.
Dec 27, 2019 rated it it was amazing
A must-read for anyone wanting to get a historical conception of the ambiguities and arrogance of the West as well as an understanding of the necessities of developing a new form of subjectivity
Matthew Stanley
Jun 05, 2016 rated it it was amazing
Narratives of modernity give me an acute pleasure. Seeing the various construals that are proposed of how we as a people have arrived at the modern world with all its assumptions, categories, questions, and myths brings me a satisfaction that I can't quite describe. Perhaps the most interesting narrative I have encountered is Latour's work here in 'We Have Never Been Modern.' Ironically, Latour spins a modernity narrative by showing how modernity is really nothing more than a sham and that we've ...more
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What is a hybrid in Bruno Latour's theory? 2 127 Nov 08, 2013 10:21PM  

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Bruno Latour, a philosopher and anthropologist, is the author of Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory, Our Modern Cult of the Factish Gods, An Inquiry into Modes of Existence, and many other books. He curated the ZKM exhibits ICONOCLASH and Making Things Public and coedited the accompanying catalogs, both published by the MIT Press.

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