Tuesday, December 4, 2012

Latour and the End of the End of History

A quickie—let’s see if I can bring it in at under 500 words.

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By the end of history I mean to indicate Francis Fukuyama’s book, The End of History and the Last Man, and the article from which it came. Crudely put, and I do mean crudely, Fukuyama argued that, with the collapse of the Soviet Union and the end of the Cold War, not only has the Western liberal democracy won, but history is over. When I first heard of Fukuyama’s thesis I thought to myself, stuff and nonsense! I knew full well that he didn’t mean anything as silly as time has stopped, there will be no more (significant) change in the world. I knew that Fukuyama meant history in a special theory-defined sense, and I even knew more or less what that sense was, but still, thought I: stuff and nonsense!

There’s still culture, and it’s very much in play, thought I. That’ll keep the wheels of history turning. History in THIS sense may not, of course, be quite the same as history in THAT sense of Fukuyama’s, but it is a very consequential sense, not to be ignored.

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I find it convenient to use the World Trade Center bombings, aka 9/11, as a marker of the end of the end of history. Whatever that terrible act was about, it was not about the Hegel/Marx dialectic. It was and is about something else, something in which culture, broadly conceived, is deeply intermeshed.

But what has any of this to do with Latour? Simple, well, perhaps not so simple. But he is an anthropologist, a student of culture. To be sure, he has specialized in scientific culture, but scientific culture IS culture as surely as potions, spells, and rituals.

And he is a student of society. And of collectives, his term for groups of humans and nonhumans defined without respect to stabilized and stabilizing institutions. Such institutions may exist within a given collective, but not necessarily so. And near the end of Politics of Nature (pp. 209 ff.) he has taken up the difficult, deep, and fundamental matter of negotiations among differing collectives in their effort to extended the (larger) collective by enlarging the scope of the common world.

I know, I know, this is very sketchy and obscure. It is in Latour as well, but not so very sketchy as here. But if I stop work out details and clarify I may never get to the end.

That is, these negotiations to create the common world must necessarily be advanced from multiple points outside the common world, outside “culture” as it were. Outside culture is no man’s land. It’s like it said on those old maps: here be dragons.

But isn’t history like that, negotiations among different collectives in dragon country? As agreements are forged, collectives can dissolve mutual boundaries, redistribute beings, draw new boundaries, and so forth (Politics of Nature, pp. 121 ff.). And so things change.

That is, lurking in Politics of Nature, which is written as a rarefied procedure manual for moving beyond the modernism Latour critiqued in We Have Never Been Modern, are the seeds of a philosophy of history as a process of negotiations beyond the boundaries of society, of existing institutions, negotiations of collectives in dragon territory.

This is not your Hegel/Marx dialectic. This is something different. History lives.

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Rats! Missed it: 545 words.

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