Friday 14 February 2014

RGS-IBG 2014: 'Technology as a mode of existence, geopolitics as composition: Assessing Bruno Latour’s post-ANT political philosophy'

As part of my ongoing assimilation into geography I'll be presenting the following paper at the RGS-IBG (Royal Geographical Society-Institute of British Geographers) conference in London in August:

Technology as a mode of existence, geopolitics as composition: Assessing Bruno Latour’s post-ANT political philosophy
The abbreviation [tec] for technology designates not technical objects or the material world, not even networks or socio-technical networks, but that which we emphasize whenever we pay attention to the unexpected detours by which existents have to pass in order to subsist. (Latour, 2013a
[…] geopolitics is not about human politics overlaid on the static frame of the Earth, but politics about contradictory portions, visions, aspects of the Earth and its contending humans. (Latour, 2013b)
This paper addresses two highly pertinent recent developments in the work of Bruno Latour: first, his conceptualisation of technology as a ‘mode of existence’; second, his redefinition of geopolitics as the politics of the Earth or ‘Gaia-politics.’ Latour’s recent (2013c) An Inquiry into Modes of Existence represents a substantial development in his thinking that builds on but also goes way beyond his actor-network theory (ANT). As one of fifteen modes, ‘technology’ does not refer to a distinct ‘realm’ or a kind of thing but rather to a specific form of relation or translation, a distinctively technical form of becoming. In his Gifford Lectures (2013d) Latour drew on both James Lovelock’s Gaia theory and, significantly for students of geopolitics, Carl Schmitt’s Nomos of the Earth in order to redefine geopolitics as the politics of Gaia/the Earth. This paper will: first, introduce Latour’s modal philosophy; second, outline his re-definition of geopolitics; third, draw out the possibilities and problems, pros and cons of the aforementioned and, fourth, compare and contrast these ideas with the ‘state of the art’ in studies of technology and geopolitics. I find that while Latour's recent work can and will be of great utility to political geographers (just as his earlier work has been) it is also flawed and in need of thorough constructive criticism. This paper derives from my ongoing (and, at the time of writing, unpublished) efforts towards that end.