Ana Delgado is associate professor of Science and Technology Studies (STS) at UiO’s TIK Centre. In light of Bruno Latour’s passing this October, Delgado wrote the following commentary article for Teknovatøren.
Last year, I explained Bruno Latour’s The Politics of Nature at the introductory course for STS-students at the Master program at TIK. After the class, a student approached me and she said that it was so fascinating that this was written so “long ago”, because it is so relevant for the times we happen to live in. I share with this student her fascination, although maybe not her sense of time, for me The Politics of Nature was written just yesterday! And yet, yes, it is already a classic. I bought the Portuguese version of this book in 2005 in Brazil when I was doing the fieldwork for my PhD. I was interested on seeds as biodiversity. The Brazil countryside was at the time burning in conflict as illegal GMO soybean was smuggled through the border with Argentina. The parliament was about to pass a law legalizing GMOs in the country. Rural social movements were fiercely protesting against Monsanto modified seeds, and at the same time embracing environmentalism by adopting agroecological practices and by curating local seedbanks. I read The Politics of Nature and I started to see the situation, and how local ecological seeds played out in this conflict, in a completely different way. Latour’s argument that new ways of representing nature are needed both in science and in politics, appeared so obvious to me, and yet so new.
In “The Politics of Nature”, Latour plays with the idea of ‘representation’ as both a scientific and a political term. His critique is directed to an established way of representing nature in which nature is to be silent (or silenced) by being translated into calculating devices of different sorts. And yet, living things such as seeds are active in the shaping of politics, although that was rarely acknowledged, not even by social scientists. The idea of a parliament in which nature can be better heard (although maybe not by voice or attributed intention) sparks curiosity: What can those other means for representing nature possibly look like? That question has stayed with me, as well as the radically relational approach of Latour’s proposal.
The climate crisis, the crisis of antibiotic resistance and the covid-pandemic show again the relevance of Latour’s critique. When Latour published “The Pasteurization of France” in 1993, it sounded kind of odd to say that microbes are also social actors. In 2022 this is not a counter intuitive point anymore. In introducing that idea, Latour has been a revolutionary thinker in the social sciences. For this and many other ideas, thank you, Bruno Latour.