In our daily lives, when we use the word modernity, we refer to the set of ideas, customs, knowledge, practices, etc., that we consider “advanced, recent or updated.” When we say that our society is modern or that we are modern, in this context, the meaning of the word modern is wrong; using this word when saying that we live in a modern society does not make sense when describing a situation or a specific point in history. Then you will ask yourself, what is modernity? Is our society modern? What does it mean to be modern? I will answer these questions below from my point of view of Bruno Latour's ideas.
Bruno Latour, in his work “Nous n’avons jamais été modernes”/ “We were never modern” (1991/2007), tells us that man is a hybrid, that he is part of nature and society. And that this “division” that we have created between humanity and nature does not exist.
A hybrid is that mixture, relationship or union of different areas, media or practices over time. This term allows us to broaden our vision and have a new perspective on how we conceive the cultural processes of this biological and ideological interaction; these processes form a history, a culture, a society or a network, everything that we can perceive, what forms us, gives us vision, what we build and to which we belong (Latour, 2005/2008).
In this network some causes, constructions or practices are combined that develop new constructions, elements or practices. However, researchers, thinkers and journalists try to purify the specialties, that is, divide them into compartments and try to decompose knowledge, interest, justice, power, the global and the local, the human and the non-human, to be able to translate what we perceive and communicate the knowledge that has been built through history.
There are two sets of practices that reveal the differences between two ways of understanding history: the modern and the non-modern (Latour, 1991/2007). The word modern is a term that expresses mobilization, a movement between the past and the future, it is a continuous process that never stops (Latour, 2016). It establishes a partition between a natural world, a society with predictable and stable interests and challenges, it has a discourse independent of both the reference and the society. The non-modern is connected with the translation term: hybrids of nature and culture.
The term modern prevents us from having doubts, if we were modern we would not explore alternatives, or we would not adapt by innovating. Modern is something like a link of a whole set of properties of goods, but also of positions with respect to religion, customs, nature, etc., it is a continuous and stable process, without pauses.
If we realize, our society, culture and knowledge is not modern. The way in which we have built what we know has been in a discontinuous way, since in each time and in each historical moment the ideas are different, the way of seeing the world changes and is completely different from yesterday. The rules change, the methods, knowledge, social problems, the way of research, the tools (technological advances), etc. Pauses and advances are generated, new ideas and scientific eras, new visions and perspectives.
Modernity is, as Latour says, “the joint creation of the birth and death of the human” because we are part of nature (of reality), but at the same time, to be able to translate and understand what we see in this world, in the that we find ourselves and are part of it, we must modify it and decipher it; we do it from the moment we perceive it with our limited senses, trying to understand and interpret it, in order to talk about it and communicate it, and it is at this moment when we distance ourselves from reality and the truth. It is possible that the knowledge we have constructed is close to true, but never true.
Based on all this, we can say that modernity is the origin of the non-human, because modernity is something like a link, a union of a whole set of properties of goods, but also of positions with respect to religion, to customs, to nature and relationships with everything that is around. The theme of modernization consists of saying that there is a congruent order of all these elements, on the contrary, in our reality all beings could never be aligned in this way because there is a separation between religion, science, customs, etc.
And although this separation exists, that does not mean that there should not be scientific pluralism with different perspectives, different ways of approaching a certain problem, whether social or any other type of knowledge, to try to solve it, on the contrary, by not Being modern we must find that balance in which science, knowledge (of all kinds), society and culture must be more humanistic and free.
Since we all have different interests, tastes and life stories, which means that each person has unique interpretations, perspectives, ideas and suggestions; perceiving problems with new and different points of view, which allows us to solve problems in a better way and build a more equitable, free and sustainable society.
Obviously, this complexity and reality require multidisciplinary work, a pluralism of the method and also a certain degree of perspective, in which problems are approached from different points of view to find different solutions, as Feyerabend said in his work “Against Method: Outline of an Anarchist Theory of Knowledge” / “Treaty against the method” (1975/2017).
In short, all types of knowledge matter in the same way and we do not have the possibility of mixing them and trying to carry out only one of them, simply because they are different and each one interprets and communicates different points of reality. We are part of nature (the human), but in order to translate what we interpret, we must modify it and communicate it through discourse (the non-human).
Finally, we would not be modern because modernity implies uniting the entire set of practices, positions and ideas with respect to nature, truth, culture, religion, reality, different types of knowledge, etc. Becoming modern would mean leaving our existence as humans behind; modernity does not accept the union between nature and culture.
And what do you think?
Latour, B. (2007). Nunca fuimos modernos: Ensayo de antropología simétrica. V. Goldstein, Translated. Argentina: Siglo XXI editors. (Original work published in 1991).
Latour, B. (2008). Reensamblar lo social: una introducción a la teoría del actor-red. G. Zadunaisky, Translated. Argentina: Ediciones manantial. (Original work in 2005).
Latour, B. (2016). Si nunca fuimos modernos, ¿qué nos pasó? Cuadernos de antropología social, 43, 17-20.
Feyerabend, P. (2017). Tratado contra el método. D. Ribes, Translated. Spain: Tecnos Editorial. (Original work in 1975).