Latour’s Bad Words

The vocabulary I have used is very bad and it is meant to be bad: actant, mediation, obligatory passage point, translation, delegation, they have no meaning in themselves and they do no metaphysical work whatsoever.  I never put any sort of explanatory weight on them.  I don’t believe the world is made of mediations, entities, or agencies.  Those words are simply tools deployed to travel from one site to the next.  The whole vocabulary of Actor-Network Theory is a way of moving from one agency to the next.  This is why, in the book I did on the politics of nature, I call what I do “experimental metaphysics.”  Like Whitehead—whom Isabelle Stengers defines as the greatest philosopher of the past century—I believe that to do metaphysics experimentally, one should not define the actors of the world in advance.  It is the job of metaphysicians to monitor the experiment in which the world makes itself.  We need a very poor vocabulary, composed of stupid terms, to function infra-conceptually.  Words like modernity are even more useless since they have no empirical content, they simply dramatize some ideological questions.  See, I find all those terms disgusting as well, but I don’t worry if they are dirty since I put no explanatory weight in them. (p. 18)

Bruno Latour. “Interview with Bruno Latour,” in Chasing Technoscience: Matrix for Materiality, eds. Don Ihde and Evan Selinger, 15-26 (Indiana UP, 2003).

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