To find the truth of a situation - an interview with Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour
Bruno Latour. Foto: Manuel Braun.

You have a comprehensive bibliography with a wide variety of topics on your CV. When you look back, what themes do you look upon as most important?

I think I never had any other interest than the exploration of the many ways there are to find the truth of a situation. So, in that sense, my project is fully rationalist. What makes it different, is that I have been interested in the diversity of those forms of reason. This is why I have been led to the study of science, of technology, of law, of religion, of fiction, etc. to find, in each situation, how the differences between truth and falsity are being carried out.

What also makes it different is that it is a comparative study of modern forms of rationality pursued with the tools of ethnography (mainly traditional field work) and more largely of anthropology. It is a strange mixture of sociology, anthropology and philosophy. Finally, I would say that the whole project has been to find out how I could meet the new political situation offered by living at the time of the Anthropocene: the crucial occasion to renew what is meant by the history of reason and by the modernising project.

What topics concern you today?

I am interested in political ecology, especially the controversial figure of Gaia, and in exploring new quantitative and qualitative methods for the social sciences in their closer and closer connections with the natural sciences. The distinction between the two being rather moot at the time of the Anthropocene! This is why I am pursuing an original process of inquiry and diplomacy (AIME) in the anthropology of the moderns. But I am also very much involved in the link with the arts, since, in my view, the three forms of representation -arts, sciences, politics- should mix their projects, not of course their skills. This is why I have created a Medialab in my school and also a master in political arts.

What role or function do you think technology should play in the 21st century?

This is hard to answer since technology is everywhere in all the details of our existence, so it has no special isolated role to play and no more in the 21st century than a hundred thousand years ago! What is probably new is the necessity for billions of humans to renew very fast their own technical fabric to absorb the new ecological situation. This renewal is made difficult by the ways through which techniques are either criticised or hyped. Paradoxically, to cope with the natural we have to embrace the artificial. But it is difficult to hybridise the will to innovate with the will to be prudent! How are we going to do that? By a deep retraining of engineers and certainly a new love for technology.

Do you have any knowledge about the research of social sciences in Scandinavia?

I have long and productive collaborations with many colleagues in organization, in science and technology studies, in anthropology, in metaphysics, and this in Norway, Sweden and Denmark, a bit less in Finland, yes. I have often vistited Scandinavia and many colleagues have come to my research centers. I even hold honorary degrees from two universities there!

What is your view on international research prizes like the Holberg Prize?

It is very important that research in social sciences is encouraged at the time when, together with the humanities, they have become most relevant to the pursuit of the human adventure. Actually, I often use the name 'scientific humanities'. So I welcome such a prize. I welcome of course the honour and the money that allows me to develop projects even more original than what has been done so far. I also welcome the fact that the prize is from Bergen, one of the birth places of meteorology which I  find very fitting for the return of climatic consideration at the heart of all the sciences! This being said, prizes are no substitute for a robust and generous research infrastructure, especially for training young researchers.