I just came across a wonderful, short 2007 comment by Bruno Latour titled “Turning around Politics: A Note on Gerard de Vries’ Paper.” Science studies scholars, and Latour in particular, are often accused of having a wonky or non-existent notion of politics. In this essay, Latour goes a long way to clarify what sorts of politics STS scholars have done a good job of exploring, and which sorts they tend to leave by the wayside. Through his reading of de Vries, and his engagements with diverse political traditions from feminism to pragmatism, Habermas to Foucault, Latour identifies five modes of politics, five ways we might mean something is political in a useful sense. All five, he argues, must be part of our study of “cosmopolitics” in Stengers’ useful terminology. Below I reproduce the main chart that summarizes these five modes of politics – of which the first and fifth are often seen as apolitical and which STS and feminist research have made their mission to recast as political (but perhaps, in so doing, lost sight of their distinctiveness from modes 2-4).
I’ll say that I wish I’d read this paper a long time ago, as it provides a much fresher and more synthetic take on “how STS does politics” than Latour’s older (but still wonderful, and totally worth reading), “Give me a laboratory and I will raise the world”, my previous go-to piece for the subject. What do you all think?