Latour’s book scoffed


Clever public reviews of products on Amazon has become something of a pass-time for more individuals that I would have thought. For example, reviews of this banana slicer, for which there are 4,530 reviews, are quite entertaining, or for this excellent book How to avoid huge ships we find terrific (and humorous) reviews by members of the public. On How to avoid huge ships, for example, we see this review titled “Reads like a whodunnit“:

I bought How to Avoid Huge Ships as a companion to Captain Trimmer’s other excellent titles: How to Avoid a Train, and How to Avoid the Empire State Building. These books are fast paced, well written and the hard won knowledge found in them is as inspirational as it is informational. After reading them I haven’t been hit by anything bigger than a diesel bus. Thanks captain!

Or, this classic:

it didn’t work for me. i still got hit by a huge ship. i can’t recommend this book at all.

While these are entertaining … what about this one about Latour?


One reviewer of Latour’s We have never been modern raised a point that I had not heard before that the book was “a postmodern joke”:

Anglophone readers probably don’t realise that Latour meant this book as a tongue-in-cheek exercise to capture the postmodern social theory market in his own country by using a postmodern style to show what an illusion postmodernism has always been. But, as fate would have it, when someone sneezes in Paris, an Anglophone is felled with pneumonia. It’s hard to believe that anyone with a firm grasp of the history of the last 250 years of Western culture would find this book anything more than a diversion worthy of maybe a couple of arguments in the pub. It’s telling that historians of science, who are really the people who are in a position to hold Latour accountable to anything he says here, have given the book a chilly reception. Classify this one under ‘Pseud’s Corner’.

Does anyone know if that is true, that WHNBM was just a semi-clever joke?

11 thoughts on “Latour’s book scoffed

  1. I am glad that we are returning to this old thread: so, to keep things moving, there is another matter to review: the review of the book indicates that there is a “among French academics” and “Anglophile academics” divide in this understanding — does that wash at all???

    Just for sake of discussion, here is the quote I refer to: “Anglophone readers probably don’t realise that Latour meant this book as a tongue-in-cheek exercise to capture the postmodern social theory market in his own country by using a postmodern style to show what an illusion postmodernism has always been.”


  2. Oh indeed, indeed! I totally agree. Rewriting not only the modern, but the ways of the Moderns is at the heart of WHNBM and of AIME. One might say that Latour does that in a less playful way that Lyotard, that the former thinks this is a more serious task than the latter imagined…but I am not even sure that is fair in respect to Lyotard,

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  3. I think that Latour was trying to have a joke at Lyotard’s expense. This is on a par with his general uncharitable attitude towards Lyoatard’s ideas, which I think he is indebted to more than he lets on. In general when he criticises, or mocks, “Lyotard” he is generally taking to task a caricature. Lyotard emphasised that “postmodern” in his acception was not a chronological concept, and would better be called the “rewriting” of the modern, writing the modern outside its own perception of itself in terms of one or another grand narrative. This is what Latour does too in WHNBM.


  4. How are you so sure? … I would not put it past him to have a joke, in fact, a joke the way that we often do in our work, a joke that is dead serious.


  5. Of course that is not true – at least not in the sense of a Nelson Muntz – “haha” kind of joke. Part of the deal of the book is that neither modern nor postmodern is a good idea and in a way he is making fun – or feeling pity – for both. “Would I then be, literally, postmodern? Postmodernism is a symptom, not a fresh solution. It lives under the modern Constitution, but it no longer believes in the guarantees the Constitution offers.” (Latour 1993:46)

    But making fun or feeling pity is not the point: “The antimoderns, like the postmoderns, have accepted their adver­ saries’ playing field. Another field – much broader, much less polemical ­ has opened up before us : the field of nonmodern worlds. It is the Middle Kingdom, as vast as China and as little known.” (Latour 1993: 48)


  6. Oh this is quite fun: I started to check his other titles. There are some great ones. For Reassembling the Social, here is one called “euro-sleaze academipuss, May 8, 2013”:

    … it is clear that bruno latour is a latin romantic who is in love with himself and his penchant for endlessly petty games with words. while reading this book i felt like some greasy euro-trash guy was trying to seduce and pick me up from a bar somewhere in the mediterranean. i would much rather go with a more ‘traditional’ critical sociologist such as david harvey.

    Hahahahaha — link:


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