“We have never been Modern” by Latour, although now about 25 years old, parses the problematic issue of specialists who are seeing the ‘modern’ world through a type of blinders not taking into account the innate interconnectedness of the social sciences that are separated in specialized fields. Latour highlights both the subjective and the loaded nature of the word modern, which is defined by contrasts and then hypothesizes that the word “modern” is defined by the practices of translation and purification, which, I read as showing the importance of both understanding the difference between nature and society and of understanding the interconnectedness.
In discussing the U.S. Constitution, Latour comes to an interesting conclusion about Hobbes and Boyle: “We understand the symmetry of the work achieved simultaneously by Hobbes and Boyle, and we might locate the practice of science that they are described. Boyle is not simply creating a scientific discourse while Hobbes is doing the same thing for politics; Boyle is creating a political discourse from which politics is to be exulted, while Hobbes is imagining a scientific politics from which experimental science has been excluded. In other words, they are inventing our modern world”
This connects with the beginning of the article when Latour explains that if “the critics imagine that we are talking about science and technology…people who are interested in politics or in souls feel justified to pay no attention”.
This division that is now made between nature and society is fundamental when trying to understand environmental problems, which is why this text is essential for the understanding of this issue. According to Latour: “in the eyes of the critics the ozone hole above our heads, the moral law in our hearts, the autonomous text, may each be of interest, but only separately”, and for us to move forward, reconnecting nature and society after this artificial breach separated them.
A question that came to me while I was reading this text is if the idea of a liberal arts education is not currently failing at least in U.S. universities? Is this separation of nature and society and of modern vs. premodern becoming too engrained or indoctrinated? Will future problem solvers have the skills to make the connections or be able to look at problems interdisciplinarily?