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We Have Never Been Modern [Paperback]

Bruno Latour , Catherine Porter
3.2 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
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Book Description

Nov. 14 1993
With the rise of science, we moderns believe, the world changed irrevocably, separating us forever from our primitive, premodern ancestors. But if we were to let go of this fond conviction, Bruno Latour asks, what would the world look like? His book, an anthropology of science, shows us how much of modernity is actually a matter of faith. What does it mean to be modern? What difference does the scientific method make? The difference, Latour explains, is in our careful distinctions between nature and society, between human and thing, distinctions that our benighted ancestors, in their world of alchemy, astrology, and phrenology, never made. But alongside this purifying practice that defines modernity, there exists another seemingly contrary one: the construction of systems that mix politics, science, technology, and nature. The ozone debate is such a hybrid, in Latour’s analysis, as are global warming, deforestation, even the idea of black holes. As these hybrids proliferate, the prospect of keeping nature and culture in their separate mental chambers becomes overwhelming—and rather than try, Latour suggests, we should rethink our distinctions, rethink the definition and constitution of modernity itself. His book offers a new explanation of science that finally recognizes the connections between nature and culture—and so, between our culture and others, past and present. Nothing short of a reworking of our mental landscape. We Have Never Been Modern blurs the boundaries among science, the humanities, and the social sciences to enhance understanding on all sides. A summation of the work of one of the most influential and provocative interpreters of science, it aims at saving what is good and valuable in modernity and replacing the rest with a broader, fairer, and finer sense of possibility.

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We Have Never Been Modern + Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory + An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns
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Review

If you like the kind of antidualist philosophizing that keeps trying to break down the distinctions between subject and object, mind and body, language and fact, and so on, you'll love Latour… He does the best job so far of breaking down the distinctions between making and finding, between nature and history, and between the 'premodern,' 'the modern' and 'the postmodern.' (Richard Rorty Common Knowledge)

[Latour] stakes out an original and important position in current debates about modernity, antimodernity, postmodernity, and so on. These debates can only be enriched by Latour's attention to the practical coupling of the human and the nonhuman, and they can only be enlivened by the thumbnail critiques offered along the way of thinkers as diverse as Kant, Hegel, Bachelard, Habermas, Baudrillard, Lyotard, and Heidegger. (Andrew Pickering Modernism)

An interesting and deeply thought-out presentation of the large scale problems of our world seen in relation to the idea of 'modernism.' The book focuses on the interrelationships between three large-scale domains: science and technology, politics and government, language and semiotic studies… Latour examines the premodernists, postmodernists, antimodernists, and so-called modernists and concludes that we really never were modern and now need to pursue a form of modernism (which he describes) purged of its counterproductive features. (Choice)

The present book is essentially a work of metaphysics, a kind of political ontology. Latour's goal is to break down traditional philosophical categories of nature, power and language… Latour's insights are abundant, from his advocacy of multinaturalism (versus multiculturalism) to his call for social theorists to recognize the historicity of objects… This is a wonderful book to disagree with—a refreshing break from the straight-jacketed sycophancy that defines so much of the history and philosophy of science. It is not an easy book, but the reward for the philosophically minded is well worth the wrestle. (Robert N. Proctor American Scientist)

About the Author

Bruno Latour is Professor at Sciences Po, Paris and the 2013 winner of the Ludvig Holberg International Memorial Prize.

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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
4 of 4 people found the following review helpful
Format:Paperback
For this reader, Bruno Latour's book is one of the most ambitious, original, and important reformulations of social theory since 1989. It is getting lots of attention among scholars, and deserves a wider public. The press reviews here don't do this book justice.
Latour, for those of you who don't know him, has been at the forefront of the emerging field of "science studies", the history and sociology of science, for the past 15 years. He's also a rather bizarre fellow. His "Aramis" is a book of real sociology that is told in the form of a novel, in which the metro car of a failed Parisian public transportation project becomes one of a series of narrators. In "We Have Never Been Modern," he conscisely summarizes the theoretical basis of his work, and stakes out ground that is genuinely new. The book should excite humanisitic academics, scientists, and intellectually adventurous people from all walks of life with a taste for theory.
The thesis -- the basis for the "we have never been modern" part -- is that the "great divide" between nature and human, subject and object, science and society, was never real. Instead, he says, this subject/object divide was the great dirty fiction of the "modern" world.
To give you the gist of the argument as briefly as possible: the separation of nature and human, that has marked Western intellectual life since the 17th century, allowed both science and the humanities to make their own claims for absolute truth. This divide was the basis for our image of "modern western man."
But these claims hid the fact that "hybrids" were springing up all the while.
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1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars of course some people wouldn't like this book July 18 2003
Format:Paperback
i loved this book: it questions the idea of repeatability, which means that it questions the religion of science (as practiced by amateurs)and it shows you how language has served the impulse towards duplicity. the book also has a certain tongue-in-cheek wit about it, and that makes the ideas more interesting to read.
i can see where latour would make people nervous if they were fully invested in a point of view not fully understood. but, until the government takes down the bill of rights, diversity in thinking is still allowed and maybe even encouraged.
enjoy this book. it is fun.
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3.0 out of 5 stars A text that is helpful for many a class Sept. 11 2014
By AliKira
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
I purchased this book as a course book for one of my graduate level courses. It was invaluable for said course. That said, it wasn't really the kind of book I would read for pleasure. An essential gook for the genre, it seems like a good text to read if you're operating in the humanities (or even in the sciences) when it comes to thought and discourse.
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