Vous êtes sur la page 1sur 14

This article was downloaded by: [Vienna University Library] On: 20 March 2012, At: 13:32 Publisher: Routledge

Informa Ltd Registered in England and Wales Registered Number: 1072954 Registered office: Mortimer House, 37-41 Mortimer Street, London W1T 3JH, UK

Publication details, including instructions for authors and subscription information: http://www.tandfonline.com/loi/tpar20

Representation as Spokespersonship: Bruno Latour's Political Theory

Lisa Disch Available online: 18 Jun 2008

To cite this article: Lisa Disch (2008): Representation as Spokespersonship: Bruno Latour's Political Theory, Parallax, 14:3, 88-100 To link to this article: http://dx.doi.org/10.1080/13534640802159161

PLEASE SCROLL DOWN FOR ARTICLE Full terms and conditions of use: http://www.tandfonline.com/page/terms-andconditions This article may be used for research, teaching, and private study purposes. Any substantial or systematic reproduction, redistribution, reselling, loan, sub-licensing, systematic supply, or distribution in any form to anyone is expressly forbidden. The publisher does not give any warranty express or implied or make any representation that the contents will be complete or accurate or up to date. The accuracy of any instructions, formulae, and drug doses should be independently verified with primary sources. The publisher shall not be liable for any loss, actions, claims, proceedings, demand, or costs or damages whatsoever or howsoever caused arising directly or indirectly in connection with or arising out of the use of this material.

parallax, 2008, vol. 14, no. 3, 88100

Representation as Spokespersonship: Bruno Latours Political Theory

Lisa Disch

Advice to those who would be experts

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

In his most recent book, The Politics of Nature, Bruno Latour offers political ecologists an unusual piece of advice. To paraphrase, the gambit goes something like this: Next time you are called upon to argue for the Kyoto protocol, whether on National Public Radios Science Friday or over dinner with your nations president, resist the temptation to speak as an expert on climate change. Imagine speaking as an advocate for the associations of interested parties, both human and non-human, that agreements such as this one would have to take into account. In other words, think of yourself as representing. And I dont mean this term in the postmodern cynical sense of telling a story about the world that is just one fiction among others.2 Im talking about the ancient political sense of this crucial word: the representative as spokesperson.3 Take this gambit, and no longer will you be invited to settle political disputes by recourse to matters of fact. You will be charged, instead, with representing your non-human constituents as faithfully as possible.4 On this matter of faithfulness, it is not to epistemology that you must turn but to politics, probably the best model that we have to understand this relationship between forces and their spokesmen.5 As a political theorist, I cannot help but wonder what sort of myth-making is going on here. The representative as spokesperson? And this to be understood as the ancient (and therefore authoritative) meaning of that disputed term? Preposterous! Political representation is certainly not an ancient concept but a feudal one, originating in thirteenth century England where the first representatives were summoned from counties and boroughs by the King to come to his parliament armed with powers of attorney to bind their constituents to whatever taxes or laws the King wanted to impose.6 These men were liaisons perhaps; or advance men, but spokespersons they were not, at least not in the role that Latour imagines for his experts-turnedrepresentatives. They were not authorized by the people to bind the people to the public interest. Perversely to modern ears, they were instead authorized by the King to bind the people to what the king desires. By the sixteenth century, when representative government was well-established in England, members of Parliament existed in a patron-client relationship to their constituencies, a reversal of the power relations that typically hold between a spokesperson and those for whom she speaks.7
parallax 88
parallax ISSN 1353-4645 print/ISSN 1460-700X online # 2008 Taylor & Francis http://www.tandf.co.uk/journals DOI: 10.1080/13534640802159161

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

If anything, politicians aspire to the very same expert relation to principles and to matters of fact that Latour has so passionately denounced in democracys name.8 Politicians no less than experts buy into the hope that politics might be governed by something indisputable that lies beyond it. They lend credence to the opposition between relations of force and relations of reason that sustains not just that hope but also the epistemological primacy of expertise.9 It is in politics of all kinds, at all scales, that one finds leaders (of groups, of nations, of neighborhood organizations) who perpetuate what Latour criticizes as the myth of potency.10 They present themselves as standing alone for a public purpose that transcends that dirty business of bargaining and compromise, not, as Latour would have it, as speaking for an alliance forged in a disorderly and promiscuous conflict.11 Politicians above all are inclined to perform the disappearing act that Latour criticizes as characteristic of those who want to appear potent: to dissimulate entirely the multitudes that render [them] effective so as to conceal the precariousness of the borrowed forces on which they depend.12 Where the political theorist sees naivete, the science studies scholar would discern (once again) the heresy of hylozoism, the attribution of purpose, will and life to inanimate matter in Latours suggestion that things can vote and scientists represent them faithfully.13 This essay contends that Latours counsel to political ecologists is neither animistic nor nave. On the contrary, his account of the transformative agency of both scientific and political representation has some quite provocative insights for scholars of politics who are attempting to work out the antagonisms between democracy and representation. But despite making a powerful call to conceive of political constituencies as being composed of humans together with non-humans, Latour stops short of indicating what this might mean in political practice. Democracys deficit of figuration Latour has recently described actor-network theory as being half Garfinkel and half Greimas.14 It is not difficult to see how he has borrowed from Garfinkels ethnomethodology. Although discerning what he takes from Greimas is far more challenging, one need not be an expert semiotician to see that in speaking the outdated language of parliamentary democracy Latour is saying neither that experimental facts are voters nor even that they are like voters. He is figuring them as voters, attributing to them the various ways and manners of existing that citizens enact in a parliamentary democracy.15 We can count among these voting and being represented, of course. But more importantly, we should also count the dilemmas that these activities raise: asking oneself whether ones vote really means anything and whether those one has elected actually speak for one in any meaningful sense. The past decade has seen a resurgence of interest in precisely such questions among political theorists in the United States. Democrats have always viewed representative government with suspicion, which befits the preeminent legacy of the nations republican founding. As one noted political scientist put it, the retrofitting of this inheritance to mass democracy has produced a kind of monstrosity, a nonpolitical anti-majoritarian democracy.16 This sentiment was especially strong among democratic theorists who wrote in the wake of the Civil Rights and Anti-War movements. They tended to charge that political representation sapped democracy of its vital participatory force, bringing representative democracy close to being an oxymoron.17
parallax 89

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

It is precisely this antagonism that is under reconsideration today. Various scholars now hold that representation is intrinsic to democracy, not just to solve the practical problems of the size and scale of mass publics but because the subject of democracy the people exists only by virtue of its representation. The idea is that modern, democratic representation cannot be conceived as a mere registration of a given social configuration, unlike feudal times when representatives were enjoined to act as delegates for social groups whose privileges and parameters were fixed by both convention and law.18 The very purpose of the democratic revolutions of the 18th century was to destroy those groups and their privileges, inaugurating a society of individuals who would be equal before the law. Pierre Rosanvallon has argued that this break with the corporate certainties of feudalism inscribed a deficit of figuration into modern politics at its origin.19 He writes, the political is called upon to be the agent that represents a society to which nature no longer gives immediate form.20 This deficit cannot be made up by a better census, by more finely-tuned proportional representation, or by descriptive representation (electing legislators whose ethnic and demographic characteristics match ones own). The work of figuration is necessary to democracy because the people does not preexist the fact of invoking and searching it out: it is to be constructed.21 When Latour depicts experimental facts as voters, he carries this deficit of figuration into the laboratory. He extends the task of constructing, together with the doubt that attends anyone who claims to speak for what he or she must inevitably have made, from human constituents to nonhumans.22 He explains: the speech of all spokespersons, those of the old science and those of the old politics, becomes an enigma, a gamut of positions running from the most complete doubt which is called artifact or treason, subjectivity or betrayal to the most total confidence which is called accuracy or faithfulness, objectivity or unity.23 As some critics have deemed Latour a realist,24 it is ironic that others have taken this particular point as evidence of a radical constructivism that denies any distinctions between things and their representations.25 What makes Latours work interesting as political theory is precisely that he does not want to collapse all distinctions between acts of representation and acts of power. He has protested that if anyone takes him to mean that no one is capable of evading social representations of nature, then my effort is doomed.26

Representation as Spokespersonship Like Isabelle Stengers, Latour is resolutely opposed to the view that no author of an abstract proposition has the means to make nature a witness in order to carry the decision concerning its truth.27 The terms Stengers uses here to steer clear of both realism and radical constructivism are worth underscoring.28 Her claim is not that nature gives evidence but, rather, that science makes nature a witness. For his part, Latour introduces the term spokesperson to capture what it might mean to think of a scientist as one who devises means to make nature a witness in contests over truth. Yet the very word spokesperson clouds the issue. For as the French term porte parole (literally speech carrier) makes clear, spokespersons carry messages. They do not represent in the sense that politicians and political theorists conceive of this term, as a substantive activity29 or mode of advocacy.30 On the contrary, spokesperson fortifies the image of a scientist who merely lets these forces manifest themselves through him or her.
Disch 90

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

Latour makes it clear that he does not understand spokespersonship in these conventional terms. On the contrary, he holds the very notion of representing as simple transmission to demonstrate a naivete that certain epistemological myths manifest (facts speak for themselves) but political traditions prohibit.31 It is worth noting that political traditions have not managed to prohibit this idea. At its emergence in pre-modern Britain, representation was practiced exactly in the manner of the porte parole by the delegates who first carried the word of the king to his subjects and only later transmitted the demands of the social orders upward to the king. Such corporatist understandings of representation persist among advocates of descriptive representation today. They are countered by constructivists who hold that a representatives belonging to a constituency is not a matter of who or what she literally is but an idealized and artificial construction, a matter of what she speaks for and fights for.32 For these thinkers, a political representative is much more than a word carrier. The work of political representation is not just to translate fixed social privileges and interests into policy but to transform and expand politics by facilitating the formation of identities and interests.33 Latour does not stand in this debate where one might expect him to if one took him literally when he endorses the crucial word representation, in its ancient political role.34 In fact, his definition of spokespersonship could not be farther from what the first representatives (who were not ancient but early modern) did. Latour claims that the term designates not the transparency of the speech in question, but the entire gamut running from complete doubt (I may be a spokesperson, but I am speaking in my own name and not in the name of those I represent) to total confidence (when I speak, it is really those I represent who speak through my mouth.35 In Latours terms, a spokesperson is a mediator rather than an intermediary. Whereas an intermediary transports meaning or force without transformation (porte parole), the function of a mediator is to transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry.36 He invokes the term spokesperson to activate doubt about who is speaking and how she has managed to take the floor. For him, the notion of the spokesperson marks the uncertainties that trouble any claim to represent; it does not resolve them.37 Does this not confirm the charge that Latour sees nothing but power behind that which passes for fact? Only to the reader who did not see the double effects Latour gets by figuring experimental facts as voters. Even as he strips science of its certainty by casting the scientist as a spokesperson and focus of doubt, he also holds up experimental practice as a model for how spokespersons are put to the test. Latour repeatedly contends that the experimental sciences are superior to the social sciences and far superior to mass democracy at locating a spokesperson on this range between complete doubt and total confidence. By the practices of continual and rulegoverned transformations between things and signs,38 experimental staging,39 and controversies, the sciences can tell the difference between a fact and an artifact and differentiate, thereby, between faithful spokespersonship and outright betrayal.40 It is not that science manages somehow to enable things to speak on their own, testifying independently to the truth of the spokespersons words.41 Latour insists that no being, not even humans, speak on their own, but always through something or someone
parallax 91

else.42 Rather, he offers the curious formulation that things become, in the laboratory, by means of instruments, relevant to what we have to say about them.43 Relevance does not turn on humans choosing words that pertain to a line of argument or suit a situation but, rather, on experimentally staged phenomena becoming pertinent to scientists words. Stengers sheds some light on this when she credits the experimental invention with conferring on things the power of conferring on the experimenter the power to speak in their name, in effect empowering nonhumans to perform as electors.44 The laboratory can be trusted as a staging ground for things precisely because it is not like a dinner party, classroom or opinion survey. Nonhuman research subjects are indifferent to human researchers in ways that human research subjects cannot be.45 When an experimental scientist proposes something that is not relevant, things do nothing to cover the awkward silence. Whereas Hacking has argued that experimentation is intervention, Latour underscores that it goes both ways: any scientist worth the name has been thoroughly redefined by the actors he or she has dealt with.46 As the scientists manipulate apparatuses to incite phenomena to perform, the phenomena induce scientists to alter both their apparatuses and their assumptions. In short, the faithful spokesperson and the reliable fact are co-producing.47 This is Latours insight into political representation. The representativity of a claim is to be judged not by the accuracy of its resemblance to some measure of reality that would have been fixed in advance (the preferences of voters or the thing-in-itself) but, rather, on whether or not the system of representation has conferred agency on the represented. Put differently, the test of a claim to represent turns not on states of affairs but on the representation process which should distribute agency throughout a system, whether a laboratory or a democratic state. We have not returned once more to hylozoism, for what Latour means by agency is nothing more than what any experimental apparatus hopes to stage: the capacity to modify other actors through a series of trials that can be listed thanks to some experimental protocol.48 Far from extending will and intention to nonhumans, Latour strips human beings of the metaphysical shibboleths that have countenanced such abuses at the hands of their spokespersons. He maintains that social science takes liberties with its subjects that invalidate its pretense to science: On the pretext that humans are endowed with speech, politicians, like many survey specialists, sociologists, journalists, and statisticians, imagine that one can speak of them that is, without ever finding the risky experimental apparatus that would allow them to define their own problems themselves instead of simply answering the question asked.49 Regardless whether we are speaking of politics or science, the test of the spokesperson is the same: Are the represented allowed to make a difference in our thinking about them?50 The question is whether democratic politics does have or could have the equivalent of experimental protocol to test such a question.

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

Can humans vote? By figuring non-humans as voters, Latour provocatively sets into relief the constraints on human voters whom he contends have a much more difficult time making a difference in what is thought of them. It is not simply that politicians and social scientists are arrogant (something that is, in principle, remediable). Rather, it comes down to the much more serious matter of the different relationships that politicians and scientists have to the agency of language, to their different relationships to the power of
Disch 92

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

language to modify relations. Latour contends that scientists have to maintain the distance between the propositions that they load into language and what they say about them, so that these two things will not be confused.51 By contrast, politicians have precisely to confuse them by continually modifying the definition of the subjects who say we are, we want.52 Does Latour mean to deny to politics the very thing he so jealously guards for science the capacity to differentiate between acts of representation and acts of power? Indeed, it sounds as if he does when he poses this rhetorical question (whose implicit answer is affirmative): Is the basic job of politicians not to create out of whole cloth voices that stammer, that protest, that express opinions?53 Despite the ill-chosen phrase out of whole cloth, Latour does not want to suggest that groups are made by fiat or, worse still, out of speech acts by mere conventions.54 Rather, he wants to counter the commonsense that political groups must exist before they can be represented by affirming that they are the object only of a performative definition.55 Politicians do not fall on constituencies ready-made but, on the contrary, have repeatedly to take the risk of attempting to form an us that will inevitably elicit refusals: You, maybe, but not us!56 This insight makes visible what Latour takes to be politicians most decisive competency, producing a scenario for the collective as a whole.57 This is not a new insight for democratic theory. It is, however, an uncomfortable one for those political theorists who subscribe to what Iris Marion Young (appropriating Derrida) calls democracys metaphysics of presence: the idea that the people exists prior to its representation as an original point of reference for assessing the accuracy and faithfulness of the acts of its spokespersons.58 By rejecting this metaphysics, Latour joins such thinkers as Laclau and Mouffe who have long maintained that constituencies such as the working class, men, women, blacks are not ready-made; they come into being by the agency of political leaders and movements that succeed identifying equivalences by which to link the demands of various democratic struggles.59 This is not liberal coalition-building where social relations prefigure and define political struggle by groups whose concrete objectives are intrinsically related.60 Demands linked in an equivalential relation share nothing positive beyond the fact that they all remain unfulfilled.61 Equivalences, then, are not given but produced rhetorically, and through struggle in confrontation with the repressive regime.62 A union produced by equivalences cannot be reduced to a rational core, whether that is conceived as an interest, principle, or common experience of oppression. It is what Laclau and Mouffe would term a hegemonic articulation, or what Latour would call an array of weakness in disorderly and promiscuous conflict.63 Admittedly, the notion of hegemony sits uneasily with Latours all-important stipulation that representation exists only where the process of representation confers agency on the represented. If citizens do not choose leaders rationally, it is all too easy to imagine that they are simply manipulated into following them. But the concept of hegemony pushes past this dichotomy between manipulation and reason. It underscores that social groups are rhetorically and politically (that is, performatively) constituted, which is to say that they are not given by social formations but, rather, are called into being by political scenarios. Like experimental phenomena, then, political constituencies are staged. The question is whether they can make a difference in that
parallax 93

staging. Put differently, how is it possible to tell the difference between authoritarian manipulation and inspiring democratic leadership?64 On exactly this point Latours work has the potential to make an important intervention by his own account of the translations by which relations of equivalence come into being. His contribution becomes apparent, however, only if his figuration of non-human agents as voters can be defended against the charge of hylozoism. I propose to turn that charge around. Rather than extend will and intention to things, I contend that Latour aims to extend the competencies of experimental facts to humans.

How things vote Latours most vivid picture of the laboratory as electoral contest comes from his reading of Pasteurs famous Memoire sur la fermentation appelee lactique.65 He holds, as I noted above, that the conditions for a fair trial depend on scientists maintaining a more scrupulous relationship to language in constituting experimental facts than politicians do in constituting their human constituencies. This contentious claim bears close examination because it lends itself (once again) to interpreting Latour as a simple realist. Latour contends that in any experiment two different kinds of questions are at stake. There is the ontological question whether the experiment has conveyed anything new to modify what [a scientists] colleagues say about him and about the abilities of living organisms that make up the world.66 There is also the question of the epistemological status of the statements to which it gives rise: is the entity a reliable witness to and the scientist a legitimate spokesperson for a phenomenon or was it just an amusing story?67 Latour does not take the distinction between these two to rest on maintaining a distance between the real world and what we say about it. Rather, it depends on keeping the story of an experiment which will be narrated like any fairy tale or myth, as a trial that effects a transformation distinct from its situation, the apparatuses the scientist uses to design devious plots to isolate and stage the properties of the entity.68 In itself, the situation is no more real than the story (it, too, will be written up as text); it acquires the permanence of a fact because it is reproduced by other researchers who seek to put it to the test, trying to make the same entities speak differently over the course of other trials.69 It is this competency in trials of force that enables science to produce trustworthy spokespersons and reliable witnesses.70 Scientists are faithful spokespersons insofar as they can demonstrate that the ontological effects they produce were not determined by the stories they told or expected to tell. By contrast, politicians cannot help but confuse this distinction between ontology and epistemology precisely because it is only by virtue of such confusions that political groups exist at all. Politicians and other opinion shapers tell stories to alter the way citizens define their situations and to change where they place their loyalties. This is their decisive competency, to produce a scenario for the collective as a whole that brings that whole into being.71 Latour recognizes, with Rosanvallon, the necessity of the work of figuration.72 Representing a democratic people, one that aspires to be emancipated from fixed social orders, involves the pursuit of a work of fiction even as it requires palpable identifications.73
Disch 94

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

In the United States the emergence in the nineteen-eighties of the so-called Reagan Democrats is a classic example. This constituency was first mobilized by the 1968 third party presidential candidacy of George Wallace, who figured white southerners resentment of Civil Rights, together with their disgust at the lawlessness of the New Left. Nixon strategist Kevin Phillips was the first to recognize that these voters, who were once a core constituency of the Democrats New Deal Coalition but had become that partys silent majority, could be captured by the Republicans.74 To many analysts, the emergence of this constituency testifies to the pathologies of hegemonic politics, as these voters permit their symbolic identification with candidates such as George W. Bush to buy their support for policies (abolishing the death tax) that contravene their material interests.75 Would the simple fact that these voters cast ballots for George W. Bush make him their spokesperson (in Latours sense)? Although Latour would say no to this, he would also reject the idea that material interests are the litmus test for determining a proper spokesperson. Then what would faithful representation look like in the case of humans?

How to make humans more like things It is tempting to want to secure the possibility of faithful political representation by shoring up humans resistance to political rhetoric, as if one could develop the political equivalent of an experimental apparatus whose protocols would render human voters robust enough to defy their interlocutors in the way that nonhumans do. The preeminence within democratic theory of the idea of deliberative democracy can be read as an attempt to do just that. The ideal of a deliberative public sphere, in which any policy or principle ought to prevail by no internal or external coercion other than the force of the better argument, attempts to purify politics of its rhetorical, symbolic and noncognitive aspects.76 As such, it transposes a literal and idealized image of the laboratory onto politics, thereby forgetting both a significant limitation of science and a distinctive competence of politics. As is well known, Latours actor-network theory transformed science studies by calling attention to the ways that the most transformative scientific work mimics politics. He re-tells the story of the conquest of anthrax in France to dramatize this point, demonstrating that no idea, even one that is to save millions of people, catches on by itself but requires a force to fetch it, seize upon it for its own motive, move it, and often transform it.77 Rallying those forces is the job of the scientist who would be a spokesperson for the actors he or she stages in the lab. In the anthrax story, Latour details how Pasteur and the Pastoriens made themselves spokespersons for the bacillus by enrolling and enlisting allies for their vaccine. They undertook a deliberate campaign of translations, a work that Latour characterizes (no doubt unwittingly) in the language of Laclau as negotiating the equivalence of nonequivalent situations.78 If the strength of science lies in staging tests that would effect such translations, its limitation is its propensity to narrow the scope of such trials, resting content with those that convince other scientists but have limited relevance to public concerns.79
parallax 95

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

Latours account of the anthrax story enriches the concept of hegemony by detailing how it might be possible to tell the difference between a forced translation (or equivalence in Laclau and Mouffes vocabulary) and an inspired one. He recounts the Pastoriens alliance-building to detail the labor that is required for an equivalential relation to hold and be mutual. Put simply, it must interest the actors that it hopes to capture, and for that to occur they must see it as a faithful translation and not a betrayal, a deformation or something absurd.80 People including citizens, farmers, doctors and public health personnel must be made into people who want a cure to anthrax, where cure and even anthrax (in its new biomedical sense) are foreign concepts. To bring this about requires not speaking truth but establishing relevance. It is not enough to cultivate a virus in a Petri dish, thereby taking the field into the lab. Pasteur must also stage a field trial that extends the laboratory into the field just enough that the vaccine will work on the farm, but not so much that the farm itself becomes a laboratory. When this succeeds, the laboratory its etiology of disease and its protocols for cure will have become hegemonic in the sense that people (who now want to cure anthrax with a vaccine) will be interested in it.81 Emphasizing the work of hegemony, Latour insists that those interests are a consequence and not a cause of Pasteurs efforts to translate what they want or what he makes them want.82 Latours anthrax story gives rise to a counterintuitive point about translation: that the test of a faithful translation is not that the spokesperson can demonstrate that he or she just repeats what the others wanted [him or her] to say.83 Latour is easily misread on this point because he seems to say just the opposite, that any spokesperson whose fidelity is questioned need only make those in whose names it spoke speak and show that they say the same thing.84 He quickly adds that such demonstrations happen all the time: elections, mass demonstrations, books, miracles, viscera laid open on the altar, viscera laid out on the operating table, figure, diagrams and plans, cries, monsters, exhibitions at the pillory.85 The attentive reader should notice that something is decidedly wrong with this list: it links torture to elections to augury to surgery. Far from affirming that the constituents of a faithful spokesperson would echo his or her words, Latour instead means to sound the alarm against the well-honed modern capacity to create artifacts, experimental results that are not durable and valid but, rather, compelled by the protocol that created them.86 Latour emphasizes that representation, in politics as in science, is transformative. Thus, the faithful politician is one who affects a series of displacements that link the parties to an alliance by changing what they imagine their interests to be and how they imagine realizing them.87 This is exactly how politicians exercise their unique competence. Latour emphasizes, if we demanded that politicians [] talk truthfully by repeating exactly what their electors say without betraying nor manipulating them, they would have no constituents at all: The several would remain the several and the multitude the multitude, so that the same thing would simply be said twice (faithfully for information and therefore falsely for politics).88 It follows that Latour would tell the inventors of deliberative polling, citizens juries, and similar apparatuses that they have gotten it wrong. Deliberation decidedly does not make the difference between democratic and coercive modes of association. The challenge is not getting citizens to formulate their claims more precisely and to communicate them without distortion to their representatives. In the matter of spokespersonship, humans are not
Disch 96

necessarily involved and [] it is not a matter of clearly expressing an opinion, either.89 Just what would it take for humans to be said to have cast a vote? Latour suggests that they cannot do this on their own. It is only in their alliances with non-humans that they become sufficiently recalcitrant to validate the claims of their spokespersons. Thus, he calls for searching for the condition under which the trial through which, the arena in which, the labor at the price of which one can, one must, make these entities [human and nonhuman] exchange among themselves their formidable capacity to appear on the scene as full-fledged actors.90 The problem with democratic politics is that its tests elections, letter writing campaigns, civil disobedience glorify the human capacity for voice in a way that actually reduces politics to the expression of opinion. They certainly do not allow humans and nonhumans to testify together.

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

Conclusion Are we not already practicing Latours politics when a raging hurricane at one end of the Mississippi River and a collapsed highway bridge at the other prompt an infusion of government funds to inspect and repair infrastructure? How about when a subprime mortgage crisis provokes the federal government to bail out a prominent investment firm? Are these not instances where nonhumans have become advocates of human constituencies, representing their causes and eliciting government action? In fact, I think that the responses to these events exemplify the very divisions that Latour opposes, those that separate expert discourse from political discourse, and segregate human agents from things. In the wake of a disaster, parallel conversations emerge. Experts interrogate nonhumans as to the technical causes of their failure while humans speculate as to the meaning of the event. Once the technical findings come in, they curtail that normative discussion. In the case of Minnesotas highway 35W, which collapsed into the Mississippi river in August 2007, the finding of a design flaw in the original construction silenced those who had hoped to claim the bridge as a spokesperson for transportation alternatives (the replacement bridge did not incorporate provision for light rail into its design).91 Latours insight is that the force that nonhumans currently enjoy in such debates is paradoxical. Although they are typically given the last word, it comes at the cost of being reduced to passivity, being rendered subjects of technical failures that can be diagnosed, remedied, and deployed to limit controversies over values. Latours politics would make bridges and levees participants in discussions of values, treating them, in effect, as if they were no less constituencies of politicians than are the commuters and homeowners who rely on them. But for non-human and human agents to appear together in the system of political representation there needs to be an alteration in the distinct (but related) system of scholarly representation. Scholars need to narrate events such as hurricanes, bridge collapses, and heat waves as constituting political demands by human and non-human agents.92 In sum, the kind of political representation that Latour has in mind with the idea of spokespersonship requires a transformation in practices of academic and journalistic representation if it is to be realized.93
parallax 97

Notes I thank the members of the Wednesday Noon Research Group in the Department of Speech Communications at the University of Minnesota for their spirited discussion of this essay. I also thank Mark Brown, Terrell Carver, Sam Chambers, John Nelson and Michael Nordquist for their thoughtful comments on various versions, and Jerome Whitington for an inspiring edit. All translations are the authors own, unless stated otherwise. 2 Bruno Latour, Pandoras Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), p. 275. 3 Bruno Latour. The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2004), p.41, p.64. 4 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.148. 5 Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France [1984], trans. Alan Sheridan and John Law (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1988), p.148. 6 Edmund Morgan, Inventing the People: The Rise of Popular Sovereignty in England and America (NY: WW Norton, 1988), p.33. 7 Mark A. Kishlansky, Parliamentary Selection: Social and Political Choice in Early Modern England (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1986), p.37. 8 His work (like that of Isabelle Stengers) has been a veritable crusade against the modern cult of the expert which he castigates for providing the great political advantage of shutting down human babble with a voice from nowhere that renders political speech forever empty. Latour, Pandoras Hope, p.140. 9 Bruno Latour, 2001, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, deuxieme edition (Paris: ` La Decouverte, 2001), p.8. 10 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.200. 11 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.206. 12 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.200, p.215. In a similar critique of the ideal of an originary power, Judith Butler has identified the pretense to self-sufficiency is the characteristic performative whereby power which is established in and through effects [that are] the dissimulated workings of power itself. In Bodies that Matter (New York: Routledge, 1993), p.251, n.12. 13 Simon Schaffer, The Eighteenth Brumaire of Bruno Latour, Studies in History and Philosophy of Science, 22 (1991), pp.17492, (p.182). 14 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2005), p.54. 15 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, p.34. Disch 98

E. E. Schattschneider, The Semisovereign People [1960] (Fort Worth: Harcourt, 1975), p.100. 17 Nadia Urbinati, Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2006), p.10. 18 Nadia Urbinati, Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy, p.46. 19 Pierre Rosanvallon, Le peuple introuvable: Histoire de la representation democratique en France (Paris: Gallimard, 1998), p. 227. 20 Pierre Rosanvallon, Democracy Past and Future, trans. Samuel Moyn (New York: Columbia University Press, 2006), p.61. 21 Pierre Rosanvallon, Le peuple introuvable: Histoire de la representation democratique en France, p. 24 22 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.70. 23 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.70. 24 Yves Gingras, Following Scientists Through Society? Yes, But at Arms Length! in Scientific Practice: Theories and Stories of Doing Physics, ed. Jed Buchwald (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1995), p.131. 25 Olga Amsterdamska, Surely you are joking Monsieur Latour!, Science, Technology, and Human Values 15:4 (1990), pp. 495504, (p.497). 26 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.32. 27 Isabelle Stengers, The Invention of Modern Science [1993], trans. Daniel W. Smith (Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2000), p.76. 28 In Reassembling the Social, Latour specifies the distinction between constructivism and social constructivism: When we say that a fact is constructed, we simply mean that we account for the solid objective reality by mobilizing various entities whose assemblage could fail; social constructivism means, on the other hand, that we replace what this reality is made of with some other stuff, the social in which it is really built (p.91). 29 Hanna Pitkin, The Concept of Representation [1967] (Berkeley: University of California Press, 1972), p.215. 30 Nadia Urbinati, Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy, p.6. 31 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.64. 32 Nadia Urbinati, Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy, p.118. 33 Nadia Urbinati, Representative Democracy: Principles and Genealogy, p.37. 34 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.41.


Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

35 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.64. 36 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, p.39. 37 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.70. 38 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.149. 39 Bruno Latour, Give me a Laboratory and I will Raise the World in Science Observed: Perspectives on the Study of Science, ed. Karin D. Knorr-Cetina and Michael Mulkay (London: Sage, 1983), p.151. 40 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.67. 41 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.68. 42 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.68. 43 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.67. 44 Isabelle Stengers, The Invention of Modern Science, p. 89. 45 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.67, p.265. 46 Bruno Latour, For David Bloorand Beyond: A Reply to David Bloors Anti-Latour, Studies in the History and Philosophy of Science, 30(1999), p.126. In Representing and Intervening: Introductory Topics in the Philosophy of Natural Science (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1983), Ian Hacking proposes that intervention is a better way to think about what has been traditionally understood as the observation of a fact. Positivist theories of science have not only misunderstood observation by conceiving it as reporting-what-one-sees but also exaggerated its importance in the practice of laboratory science: Often the experimental task, and the test of ingenuity or even greatness, is less to observe and report, than to get some bit of equipment to exhibit phenomena in a reliable way, p.170 [emphasis added]. 47 Michel Callon and Bruno Latour, Dont Throw the Baby Out with the Bath School! A Reply to Collins and Yearley in Science as Practice and Culture, Andrew Pickering, ed. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1992), p.349. 48 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.75. 49 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.17071. 50 Bruno Latour, David, p.117. 51 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.148. 52 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.148. 53 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.145. 54 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, p.34. 55 Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social, p.34.

56 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.147, 144. 57 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.147. 58 Iris Marion Young, Inclusion and Democracy (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2000), p.126. 59 Chantal Mouffe, Feminism, Citizenship, and Radical Democratic Politics in Feminists Theorize the Political, Joan Scott and Judith Butler ed. (New York: Routledge,1992), p.372. 60 Ernesto Laclau, Emancipations (New York: Verso, 1996), p.40. 61 Ernesto Laclau, On Populist Reason (New York: Verso, 2005), p.96. 62 Ernesto Laclau, Emancipations, p.40. 63 Bruno Latour, The Pasteurization of France, p.318, 206. Historical studies of whiteness by Edmund Morgan, David Roediger, Alexander Saxton and others provide an excellent example of this dynamic, detailing how workers in the US were brought to privilege race solidarities across class differences over class interests that could have forged cross-race coalitions. 64 In her article Rethinking Representation, APSR, 97:4 (2003), p. 519, political theorist Jane Mansbridge dramatizes this dilemma. She first proposes to base this difference on the distinction between education and coercive power, the former persuading by arguments on the merits and being by definition in the recipients interests, and the latter being contrary to them, but immediately acknowledges that as what is and what is not in an individuals interests is itself in play in political conflict, it can afford no critical leverage over it. 65 Bruno Latour, Pandoras Hope, ch. 4. 66 Bruno Latour, Pandoras Hope, p.123. Latour uses him here because he is referring explicitly to Pasteur. 67 Bruno Latour, Pandoras Hope, p. 123. 68 Bruno Latour, Pandoras Hope, p. 123. 69 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.139. 70 Bruno Latour, Pasteurization, p.315. 71 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.147. 72 Pierre Rosanvallon, Le Peuple introuvable: Histoire de la representation democratique en France, p.23. 73 Pierre Rosanvallon, Le Peuple introuvable: Histoire de la representation democratique en France, p.24. 74 Kevin Phillips, The Emerging Republican Majority, (NY: Arlington House, 1969). That strategy came to fruition beginning with the election of Ronald Reagan in 1980 and culminating in the Republican take-over of both houses of Congress in 1995. 75 See: Larry M. Bartels, Homer Gets a Tax Cut: Inequality and Public Policy in the American Mind, Perspectives on Politics 3 (2005), pp. 1531; Thomas

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

parallax 99

Downloaded by [Vienna University Library] at 13:32 20 March 2012

Frank, Whats the matter with Kansas? How Conservatives Won the Heart of America (New York: Metropolitan, 2004). 76 Ju rgen Habermas, Moral Consciousness and Communicative Action [1983], trans. Christian Lenhardt and Shierry Weber Nicholsen (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 1990), p.89. 77 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.16. 78 Bruno Latour, Laboratory, p.155. 79 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.145. 80 Bruno Latour, Laboratory, p.155. 81 Bruno Latour, Laboratory, pp.15051. 82 Bruno Latour, Laboratory, p.144. 83 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.160. 84 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.160, 196. 85 Bruno Latour, Pasteur: guerre et paix des microbes suivi de Irreductions, p.196. 86 Isabelle Stengers, The Invention of Modern Science, p. 99.

87 For an exquisite scientific example of the mechanics of displacement, see Latour, Pandoras Hope, ch. 2. 88 Bruno Latour, What if we Talked Politics a Little? Contemporary Political Theory 2 (2003), p.151. 89 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.267. 90 Bruno Latour, The Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy, p.81. 91 Matthew L. Wald, Controversy Dogs Inquiry on Bridge Collapse, New York Times (30 January 2008). 92 Two excellent examples of this kind of scholarship are Timothy Mitchell, Can the Mosquito Speak? in Rule of Experts (Berkeley: University of California Press, 2002), pp. 1953, and Eric Klinenberg, Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2002). 93 Gayatri Spivak carefully untangles representation in the sense of acting for (vetreten) from representation in the sense of standing for (darstellen) in order to demonstrate how political and scholarly representation are mutually implicated. See History in A Critique of Postcolonial Reason (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1999), pp.24864.

Lisa Disch is Professor of Political Science at the University of Minnesota Twin Cities where she teaches courses in contemporary political theory, specializing in democratic and feminist theory. She is the author of Hannah Arendt and the Limits of Philosophy (Cornell 1994) and The Tyranny of the Two-Party System (Columbia 2002).

Disch 100