Bryan Alexander's Reviews > Down to Earth: Politics in the New Climatic Regime

Down to Earth by Bruno Latour
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bookshelves: ecology, science, philosophy, critical-theory

I came to this little book as I started a climate change research project. I picked this one out because I've liked several Latour essays and chapters.

Overall: Down To Earth offers a useful framing for a new politics in the era of climate change and Trump. There are some issues and questions.

To explain a bit: Latour wants us to rethink ourselves as what he calls Terrestrials (40). This means "a new geopolitical organization" (vi) through which we consider all active players in our world, human and otherwise. The Earth is now an active player in our politics and lives, so much so that we can speak of our time as addressing a geo-social question (63). But we shouldn't think of the whole planet. Instead, Latour wants us to consider "the thin biofilm of the Critical Zone" (92) - i.e., the space of forces that shape us directly, from the top of the highest vegetation to the bedrock with the lowest levels of microbial life (I think). It is not a form of global thinking.

The impetus for this is what he sees as civilization-wide disorientation. Immigration, inequality, and climate change have cut us loose from our former ways of being on the Earth. We are unmoored and desperate, hence the lunges towards various forms of populism. "All forms of belonging are undergoing a metamorphosis" (16).

What practical benefits does Terrestrial thinking offer? Latour argues that we'll be able to create better science and stories by "generat[ing] alternative descriptions." (94)

I appreciate the Terrestrial model and like the way it connects neonationalism, inequality, and climate change. However, Down To Earth leaves me with questions and objections.

1) There's a running theme of getting us not to see the world from Sirius. I think this refers to losing track of local conditions. To be honest, I'm not sure what it means. It could refer to a topic in science studies, which I've largely evaded since Sokal.
2) Latour calls on us to stop thinking in terms of production (a la Marx) and instead in terms of engendering (82) - not about gender, but the process of creation. I fear this is going to misfire in English.
3) Terrestrial politics sounds a lot like ecopolitics or the Greens, but Latour doesn't want to make that connection.
4) The focus on Critical Zones doesn't work for me. I think globally. I will dig into the Critical Zone literature (for example).
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Reading Progress

May 25, 2019 – Shelved
May 25, 2019 – Shelved as: to-read
May 29, 2019 – Started Reading
July 1, 2019 – Shelved as: ecology
July 1, 2019 – Shelved as: science
July 1, 2019 – Shelved as: philosophy
July 1, 2019 – Shelved as: critical-theory
July 1, 2019 – Finished Reading

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