The discreet charm of Bruno Latour

Noys, Benjamin (2014) The discreet charm of Bruno Latour. In: (Mis)readings of Marx in Continental Philosophy. Palgrave, Basingstoke, pp. 195-210. ISBN 9781137352828

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Abstract

Bruno Latour is seemingly unusual amongst French intellectuals in being explicitly anti-Marxist, and his ‘Actor-Network Theory’ is always wielded by him against Marxism. I argue that the anti-Marxism of this ‘anthropologist’ of networks is emblematic of our present moment. Latour’s chiding of Marxism for ‘economic reductionism’ and an inattention to the complexity of the world is the signature gesture of a current moment disenchanted with critique. Analysing Latour’s anti-hierarchical ‘flat ontology’ I suggest that his anti-critical thought mistakes the form of capitalism. De-reifying capitalism into a series of local forms and arrangements occludes the systematic, but non-intentional, ‘structuring’ form of capital as a relation of value. The inflation of ‘agency’, tracked for humans and non-humans, is a result of this occlusion. In Latour’s thought capitalism is presented as incomplete, but the agential forms he offers are deliberately limited and provide only piecemeal opportunities for change: a reticular reformism. It is the displacement of totalisation and reductionism from capitalism to its critics that completes the gesture of anti-critique. In light of the current global financial crisis, which has forced into awareness ‘global capitalism’ as an object and form, I take the opportunity to critique the ‘discreet charm’ of this anti-critical mode of thought, which radiates out beyond Latour. At the time of attempts to re-start capitalism through recourse to further neo-liberal measures this sense of a finite and changeable capitalism, promoted by Latour, gains resonance as an ideological trope. I argue that Latour’s de-reification is, in fact, a re-reification, which cannot grasp the accumulative forms of capital as social relation. The fact that this relation passes through ‘things’, through the form of reification, leads to Latour’s misunderstanding of the ‘agency’ of objects.

Item Type: Book Section
Subjects: B Philosophy. Psychology. Religion > B Philosophy (General)
H Social Sciences > HX Socialism. Communism. Anarchism
J Political Science > JC Political theory
Divisions: Departments > English and Creative Writing
Depositing User: Benjamin Noys
Date Deposited: 17 Oct 2014 10:50
Last Modified: 04 Aug 2017 09:42
URI: http://eprints.chi.ac.uk/id/eprint/1264

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