Archive for the ‘Ecology’ Category

Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, by Timothy Morton

14 February 2013

Timothy Morton’s new book, Realist Magic: Objects, Ontology, Causality, is the latest in the New Metaphysics series at Open Humanities Press. The open access HTML version is now available here. PDF and paperback to follow.

Object-oriented ontology offers a startlingly fresh way to think about causality that takes into account developments in physics since 1900. Causality, argues, OOO, is aesthetic. In this book, Timothy Morton explores what it means to say that a thing has come into being, that it is persisting, and that it has ended. Drawing from examples in physics, biology, ecology, art, literature and music, Morton demonstrates the counterintuitive yet elegant explanatory power of OOO for thinking causality.

Cover art by Tammy Lu, cover design by Katherine Gillieson.

Realist Magic - Timothy Morton

LARB review of Latour’s Enquête sur les modes d’existence

5 January 2013

By Stephen Muecke: “‘I am what I am attached to’: On Bruno Latour’s ‘Inquiry into the Modes of Existence.'” Los Angeles Review of Books, December 28th, 2012.

His new book, Enquête sur les modes d’existence (An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence), sold out of the first print run of 4,000 in 10 days. But it is not just a book; it is also a project in interactive metaphysics. In other words, a book, plus website. (Unheard of! A French philosopher using the Internet!) Intrigued readers of Latour’s text can go online and find themselves drawn into a collaborative project (so far only in French, but the English web pages will be up soon, and Catherine Porter’s translation of the book will be out from Harvard University Press in the spring). Simply register on the site, and you are free to offer commentary, counter-examples, snippets of movies, images, whatever. You may possibly graduate to the status of co-researcher, and even be invited to a workshop in Paris down the line, to thrash out the thornier problems.

Material Participation

10 November 2012

Check out Noortje Marres’s new book, Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics from Palgrave. A recording of the book launch (involving Javier Lezaun (Oxford), Celia Lury (Warwick), Alex Wilkie (Goldsmiths) and moderated by Monika Krause (Goldsmiths)) can be listened to here.

What is the role of things in political participation? This innovative book develops a fresh perspective on everyday forms of engagement, one that foregrounds the role of objects, technology and settings in public involvement. It makes a distinctive contribution to debates about the role of things in democracy, but it also offers empirical analyses of contemporary devices of participation, such as smart meters, demonstrational eco-homes and sustainable living gadgets.

Bruno Latour’s Gifford Lectures, February 2013

29 October 2012


[brochure PDF]

Facing Gaia: A new inquiry into Natural Religion

A series of six lectures by Bruno Latour, Professor at Sciences Po, Paris

18 February to 28 February 2013 at 5.30pm

All lectures take place in St Cecilia’s Hall, Niddry Street, Cowgate, Edinburgh, at 5.30pm.

The Gifford Lectures

The Gifford Lectures, which are held at each of the four ancient Scottish universities, were established under the will of Adam Lord Gifford, a Senator of the College of Justice, who died in 1887. For over a hundred years, the Lectures have enabled a most notable field of scholars to contribute to the advancement of philosophical and theological thought. Past Gifford Lectures at Edinburgh include William James, John Dewey, Albert Schweitzer, Niels Bohr, Arnold Toynbee, Sir John Eccles, Iris Murdoch, Charles Taylor, Michael Ignatieff, Wentzel van Huyssteen, Noam Chomsky, Jean Bethke Elshtain, Simon Conway Morris, Alexander Nehamas, Robert Veatch, Jonathan Sacks, Diana Eck, Mike Gazzaniga, Terry Eagleton, Patricia Churchland.


Facing Gaia. A new inquiry into Natural Religion

There could be no better theme for a lecture series on natural religion than that of Gaia, this puzzling figure that has emerged recently in public discourse from Earth science as well as from many activist and spiritual movements. The problem is that the expression of “natural religion” is somewhat of a pleonasm, since Western definitions of nature borrow so much from theology. The set of lectures attempts to decipher the face of Gaia in order to redistribute the notions that have been packed too tightly into the composite notion of ‘’natural religion’’.

18 February 2013 – Once out of nature

The set of questions around the two words “natural religion” implies that only the second word is a coded and thus a disputed category, the first one being taken for granted and uncoded. But if it can be shown that the very notion of nature is a theological construct, we might be able to shift the problem somewhat: the question becomes not to save or resurrect “natural religion”, but to dispose of it by offering at last a ‘’secular’’ version of nature and of the natural sciences.

19 February 2013 – A question of agency

Once nature and the natural sciences are fully “secularized”, it becomes possible to revisit also the category of the supernatural. Then, a different landscape opens which can be navigated through an attention to agencies and their composition. Such a freedom of movement allows the use of the rich anthropological literature to compare the ways different “collectives” manage to assemble and totalize different sets of agencies.

21 February 2013 – Gaia’s puzzling features

In spite of its reputation, Gaia is not half science and half religion. It offers a much more enigmatic set of features that redistribute agencies in all possible ways (as does this most enigmatic term “anthropocene”). Thus, it is far from clear what it means to “face Gaia”. It might require us to envisage it very differently from the various divinities of the past (including those derived from nature).

25 February 2013 – How many globes can be held on an angel’s fingertip?

The paradox of what is called “globalization” is that there is no “global globe” to hold the multitude of concerns that have to be assembled to replace the “politics of nature” of former periods. What are the instruments —always local and partial— that are sensitive enough to Gaia’s components for the limited technical and emotional apparatus of assembled humans?

26 February 2013 – War of the worlds: humans against earthlings

In the absence of any Providence to settle matters of concern – and thus of nature, its barely disguised substitute – no peaceful resolution of Gaian conflicts can be expected. The recognition of a state of war and the designation of enmity is indispensable if a state of diplomacy is later to be reached. Under the pressure of so many apocalyptic injunctions, what is a Gaian political theology?

28 February 2013 – St Christopher you’re not strong enough to carry the world!

Although the resources of “paganism”, New Age cults, renewed themes of Christian incarnation, and process theology offer rich mythological insights, it is not clear whether they are at the scale and sensitivity needed to face Gaia. A search for collective rituals should begin with works of art and experiments able to explore in sufficient detail the scientific and political composition of the common world.

Latour’s call for co-investigators

16 June 2012

For his “An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence” project:

For a philosophy that is empirical and not simply empiricist, investigation offers the only way to ferret out its concepts and then put them to the test before proposing a version that can be submitted to critique by its peers. And yet, even though investigation as a genre benefits from a distinguished and intimidating prestige in philosophy, it is fairly unusual for an author to propose to carry out an investigation with the participation of his readers. This is nevertheless what I propose to do in publishing a book titled An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, alongside a digital site that allows its visitors, who will have become co-investigators, to inspect its arguments and go on to suggest other fields to study, other proofs, other accounts. By means of this arrangement I invite my co-investigators to help me find the guiding thread of the experience by becoming attentive to several regimes of truth, which I call modes of existence, after the strange book by Étienne Souriau, recently republished, that features this phrase in its title.

More here. H/t AIME. The video is definitely worth watching: it provides a succinct and clear summary of what otherwise sounds like a rather complex project.

Videos of recent Latour talks

21 April 2012
  • Watch video: “Ecological Crises, Digital Humanities and New Political Assemblies,” Azim Premji University, 23 March 2012
  • Watch video: “Reenacting Science,” Science Gallery, Trinity College Dublin, Ireland, 20 February 2012
  • Watch video: “From Critique to Composition,” Dublin City University, 17 February 2012

Latour on art and politics, in London

25 October 2011

Bruno Latour – “Waiting for Gaia: Composing the common world through arts and politics”

5.00pm, Monday 21 November 2011 (free entrance)

French Institute in the UK
17 Queensberry Place
London SW7 2DT

There is no single institution able to cover, oversee, dominate, manage, handle, or simply trace ecological issues of large shape and scope. Many issues are too intractable and too enmeshed in contradictory interests. We have problems, but we don’t have the public that goes with it. How could we imagine agreements amid so many entangled interests? Bruno Latour will review several attempts to tackle ecological problems by connecting the tools of scientific representation with those of arts and politics and present the program of Experimentation in Arts and Politics running at Sciences Po since September 2010.

Seahorses get political representation

28 February 2011

Dorset’s endangered seahorses have a new champion in south-west MEP Julie Girling, who is taking their case to the European Parliament.

Latour in The Hindu

6 January 2011

An interview with Bruno Latour in The Hindu.

You have been working on the idea of eco-theology. Could you talk about that?

Given that we have to look for alternatives to the politics of Nature, I was interested in seeing if there is in the old tradition of Christian theology – I don’t know enough about Indian tradition — about respect for Creation. Not about Nature but respect for Creation. And it happens that in the Orthodox Christian tradition of Central and Eastern Europe there is a large body of theological work around the question of Creation. My interest is that there is a disconnect between the science and the size of the threat that people mention about Nature, the planet and the climate and the emotion that this triggers. So we are supposed to be extremely frightened people, but despite that we appear to sleep pretty well. So either the threat is not that strong, or we have not built the kind of emotion we have built for war, for religious conflict and all sorts of other issues which make us very emotive.

Speaking of the oil leak

30 May 2010

The Chief Operating Officer of BP has just said, “This scares everybody, the fact that we can’t make this well stop flowing, the fact that we haven’t succeeded so far.” What scares me is that the COO of BP is saying this. The main issue seems to be that none of the techniques known to humankind about stopping this kind of oil leak have been tried at depths of 5,000 feet before. We don’t seem to be able to act at a distance, at this particular distance. Although perhaps it’s not so much about distance, but the nature of the medium in which we need to act, the pressure of 5,000 feet of water. After all we can send people to the Moon, operate vehicles on Mars, and send probes to the outer reaches of the solar system. But gravity, the immense pressure of the wall of water and air, and the opposing force of the gushing oil seem to have got the better of us.

So it seems we have overreached ourselves in this case. In our search for more fossil fuel we were willing to take on the risk of not being able to act at these depths, if something were to go wrong. The question is, how can an organisation like BP be allowed to take these kinds of risks in the name of humankind? Is there some sort of moral hazard at work here, not unlike the case of investment bankers who know that they will always be bailed out by the taxpayer in the end? What is the worst thing that can happen to an oil company? Or to its executives? What is the ultimate limit of their liability and responsibility? What if this oil leak is impossible to mend? Would it be any consolation that BP’s shareholders and lenders lose their money and some of its executives end up in jail? That hardly seems to be a fair bargain.