September 17: Relativism (Latour)
“Relativism” begins by introducing the STS principle of symmetry. Latour argues that traditional scientific epistemologies treat truth and error differently: where error is embedded in history, truth is “torn away” form any taint of historical “contamination”. The effect of this distinction is, Latour claims, that objects are excised “from the entire network that gave them meaning” (91-93).
This chapter expands upon this problem of symmetry by broaching some of WHNBM‘s key ideas and concepts. It discusses the idea of “natures-cultures”, which attempt to overcome the divisions between human and nonhuman, nature and society. It broaches the idea that networks are “scalable”, and hence both local and global at every point. It extends the concept of “translation” – developed in Irreductions – to the operations of actor-networks. Finally, it finishes with the introduction of the idea of the “pass”, which will become crucial to An Inquiry into Modes of Existence.
[PDF, 1MB] Latour, Bruno, “Relativism”, Chapter Four of We Have Never Been Modern trans. Catherine Porter (Harvard University Press, 1993) pp. 91-129.