Book of the week: Down to Earth - Politics in the New Climatic Regime by Bruno Latour
"Latour's most important contribution to current debates may be his untimely insistence on the importance of thinking universally in a post-universal world." Los Angeles Review of Books
Originally published in French in 2017, Bruno Latour’s Down to Earth is the latest stage of his reflection on the new relation between man and nature, in a modern world in which nature has ceased to be a reliable accomplice to civilisation. In the wake of Donald Trump's withdrawal from the 2015 Paris Agreement, it has become clear that we have entered a "new climatic regime" in which some (in Latour's argumentation, the rich) no longer believe in a common world.
Bruno Latour thus urges for a redefinition of politics as the science of living together, reoriented towards a sustainable way of inhabiting of the Earth. Inviting us to look beyond the national and global scales and to shift our perspective towards the "Terrestrial", Latour asks burning questions: how might the planet sustain a population of ten billion people, alongside non-human beings? The book argues for a reconnection to the planet as our natural habitat since "belonging to a territory is the phenomenon most in need of rethinking and careful redescription; learning new ways to inhabit the Earth is our biggest challenge”.
But his work also focuses on the constructed nature of the truth, a topic all the more fruitful in a "post truth" world. Indeed, the rise in popularity of conspiracy theories, "fake news" and alternative narratives is consistent with his belief that “facts remain robust only when they are supported by a common culture, by institutions that can be trusted, by a more or less decent public life, by more or less reliable media.” Therefore, the whole system needs to be rethought in order to provide a viable, healthy consensus.
Down to Earth was translated by Catherine Porter and it is published by Polity Press.
Bruno Latour is a French philosopher, anthropologist and sociologist known for his work in the field of science and technology studies. He taught at the École des Mines in Paris from 1982 to 2006 and he now works as Emeritus Professor and Vice-President for Research at Institut d'études politiques (Sciences Po), leading the programme in political arts (SPEAP). He is currently a fellow at the Zentrum fur Media Kunst (ZKM) and professor at the HfG both in Karlsruhe. A member of several academies, he is the recipient of six honorary doctorates as well as the 2013 Holberg Prize.
In the 1980s, Latour helped to develop and advocate for a new approach to sociological research called Actor-Network Theory. His most famous book is thus probably Reassembling the Social – An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. His other publications include Laboratory Life, We Have Never Been Modern, Aramis; or, The Love of Technology, and Facing Gaia.
Catherine Porter received her doctorate in French literature from Yale University in 1972. She is Visiting Professor in the Society for the Humanities at Cornell University, USA, and Professor of French Emerita at the State University of New York at Cortland, where she chaired the Department of International Communications and Culture from 1985 to 91 and from 1997 to 2001. She also served as president of the Modern Language Association in 2009, introducing translation as the theme of the annual convention that year. She co-edited a Companion toTranslation Studies, and has translated over forty books and numerous essays from the French, including Bruno Latour’s Inquiry into Modes of Existence, Luc Boltanski’s Mysteries and Conspiraciesand Élizabeth Roudinesco’s Freud: In His Time and Ours.
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