Latour and Marx

As I was reading Latour’s Politics  of Nature I began to think about the explicit relationship of the political ecology tradition with Marxist and socialist thought. It seems Latour is building on some of Marx’s ideas but tweaking them for ANT. As Johan Söderberg notes in this discussion about the relationships between ANT and Marxism, he lists the beneficial points of ANT and their relationship to Marx and Hegel:

” 1 Its insistence on the resistance of material things, 2 Its emphasis on practice over philosophical contemplation, 3 Its critique of dualistic modes of thought, 4 Its stress on properties being relational/situated rather than inherent to the object in question, 5 Its elevation of contingency over essentialist explanations. In fact, all of these points rehearse themes which have already been discussed at length in the Hegelian Marxist tradition.”

Of course there are important differences, but I think Latour should acknowledge these thinkers in his philosophy. He is definitely critiquing political ecology, and its Marxist tradition, but sympathetically.  In a footnote he discusses:

“Even though Marxism also criticized the naturalization of the economy, its goal was not to rehabilitate politics but to subject it still further to the laws of the first naturalization, that of Science. This is the strong criticism that Polanyi, a political socialist rather than a scientific socialist, addresses to Marx: “The true significance of the tormenting problem of poverty now stood revealed: economic society was subjected to laws which were not human laws. The rift between Adam Smith and Townsend had broadened into a chasm; a dichotomy appeared which marked the birth of nineteenth century consciousness. From this time onward naturalism haunted the science of man, and the reintegration of society into the human world became the persistently sought aim of the evolution of social thought. Marxian economics—in this line of argument—was an essentially unsuccessful attempt to achieve that aim, a failure due to Marx’s overly close adherence to Ricardo and the tradition of liberal economics” (Polanyi 1957, 125–126). For a radical and very early critique of Marxist and liberal economics, see Tarde 1902.” (Latour 2004, 271)

A valuable critique, I think. Of course when we limit ourselves to an understanding of alternative politics based solely on liberal economics, we suppress alternative visions. Critique is supposed to illuminate alternatives, but obsession with a singular vision of alternatives  is forestalling actual change and political action.

URL again

More commentary here, here, and here.


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