Because Carly presented central ideas very similar to my own regarding “We Have Never Been Modern” by Lartour, I will expand upon some of what she wrote with other supporting evidence from the text.
As Lartour discusses, he views a clear problem in the development of how we view the “modern” world as a society and within academic disciplines, in which the connections between fields remain unnoticed and issues are parceled into distinct categories. Using reporting and research on AIDS as an example, Lartour asserts:
“The smallest AIDS virus takes you from sex to the unconscious, then to Africa, tissue cultures, DNA and San Francisco, but the analysts, thinkers, journalists and decision-makers will slice the delicate network traced by the virus for you into tidy compartments where you will find only science, only economy, only social phenomena, only local news, only sentiment, only sex,” (2).
In order to break down these barriers and form a more inclusive whole, Lartour notes the importance of retying the “Gordian Knot” and crisscrossing between “the divide that separates exact knowledge and the exercise of power—let us say nature and culture.”
With this, Lartour further analyses the divide among society regarding “human” and the “non-human,” comparing these breaks to the breaks that are present within the branches of government—that which separates the judicial from the executive branch. There are intersecting influences but no one has control over the links. In order to be modern, he hypothesizes, studies of politics and science must be done in tandem, because “as soon as one outlines the symmetrical space and thereby reestablishes the common understanding that organizes the separation of natural and political powers, one ceases to be modern,” (13).
Regarding Boyle and Hobbes, a link from the past to the present, Lartour believes that their research fosters the exclusion of the whole, and that it is not surprising that “political philosophers have ignored Hobbes’s science, while historians of science have ignored Boyle’s positions on the politics of science,” (27). In fact, he goes so far as to content that “they are inventing our modern world, a world in which the representation of things through the intermediary of the laboratory is forever dissociated from the representation of citizens through the intermediary of the social contract,” (27).
This existing division and the hypotheses that Lartour proposes regarding its connection answers both the questions as to how the text contributes to the liberations of the future and why it is seen as a fundamental text within environmental studies. He clearly demonstrates how the segmentation of issues between the academic disciplines, the government, and society as a whole impedes progress and development on solving problems of all sorts, but specifically environmental ones (he uses the ozone as an example). By creating more links between the various disciplines, the breach between nature and society will begin to close, permitting the advancement not only of understanding, but beginning to arrive at solutions to environmental problems.
To address Carly’s final question regarding the traditional liberal arts education, I think that at least in some regard the development of abilities to look at problems interdisciplinarily lies at the hands of both the students and the universities, and currently is failing. Many colleges require students seeking a liberal arts education to take courses in multiple different fields—various classes in science, literature, foreign languages, history, the arts, etc. However, there are typically so many options that it can be difficult to see the connections among the disciplines. It can be challenging initially to see the links between Scandinavian literature and the geology of the Midwest, for example. Regardless, professors should encourage students to utilize their outside knowledge in their approach to the class, and design assignments that allow students to see the material studied in class in a “real world” scenario, in which other factors come into play. Students, on the other hand, should be able to access their prior insight and incorporate it into their studies, knowing that once they graduate problems won’t be presented to them in a one-subject vacuum.