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Saturday, April 14, 2012

Ecological Crises, Digital Humanities and New Political Assemblies--Lecture Notes

Following notes are by Ann Mary of Bruno Latour's talk on 23 March at, National Gallery of Modern Art, Bangalore on "Ecological Crises, Digital Humanities and New Political Assemblies"

If an ecological debate occurs, it usually goes along the lines of “Nature” versus “technology”, “Humans” versus “The Planet” and so on.

This is because it is the “legitimate” (or the outsider’s) way of looking at the debate.This way of making sense of the issue stems from an unfamiliarity with practices of science.

(For example : In the climate gate fiasco of 2009, a  big fuss was created over emails sent between scientists. To the extent that things were said along the lines of “Global warming is a conspiracy”. But for people who practice say, theoretical physics, it is a perfectly normal thing to produce “fact” based on email exchange)

These are a few myths he discussed:

1. That knowledge is produced in a scientific field as fact with no value.

2. There is an institution which decides the conditions under which truth can be produced in a scientific field.(Unlike “pure sciences”, law  is an instance where the institution provides or sanctions “legal truths”)

To locate where these myths come, Latour looks at the core concept of Modern and its association with Nature. Both of these are associated with West.

The sanction for “the truth” of science comes from the concept of a Modern West.The locus of the Modern is the progress of reason over Nature, something which was the basis for the whole idea of studying other “cultures”.

Latour turns around this anthropology onto the modern itself.Latour questions the  notion that “Nature” was a politically free category of fact finding which the modern Westerner engaged in. He states that within the practices of science, it becomes more obvious that there was no unique “natural” entity that could be studied without value judgements.

If Western “Modern” s basic assumption is called into question in practices, then how can we start making sense of entities by locating them within their “modes of existence”?(he isn’t referring to just physical objects, but concepts which have a legitimate way of being understood within their institutions  : For example : Law and legal truths must be understood with reference to the conditions which sanction their legality,viz. the institution of law).

If Nature ceases to be the terrain where “objects” of study could be taken up, then how do we study and solve questions like ecological crises? In a debate on ecological crisis, it can no longer be said that “Nature” is the mediator of the debate.

Latour creates a project called Digital Humanities where ecological concerns must and can talk in the differences that exist at the levels in which groups/individuals have understood the “Modern” . The debate must threaten the “modernizing” project by calling into question the differences in the experience of modernity in practice.

(The whole lecture sounded like cultural studies in science. And when he was talking about diplomacy and resolution, U R Ananthamurthy  mentioned another sense of conflict resol from Indian traditions. That the word “Upaya” meant “Tactic” with a sense of coming closer and also “metaphor”. Not a complete closure like the usual translation “Solution” suggests )

If anyone remembers what he said about the truth conditions of religion, please please do type it out here. I have been trying to remember desperately. He said something that the truth conditions for religion( I dont know if he was talking of Catholicism) was something..... about belief or human nature)

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