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Undermine Nature/Culture dichotomy – Bruno Latour visits Stockholm

As you might know, some of us at the Stockholm Resilience Centre are quite inspired by actor-network theory (ANT), an “infralanguage” to help us undermine the Nature/Culture (or Social/Ecological) dichotomy; a dichotomy that has divided academia for a long time, but which interdisciplinary institutes like SRC is trying to overcome. One of the key developers of ANT is coming to Stockholm, Bruno Latour, to give a lecture at the Nobel Museum entitled: “May Nature Be Recomposed? A Few Questions of Cosmopolitics” (The Neale Wheeler Watson lecture, Tuesday, 16-18).

Bruno Latour<br />

In many ways, ANT is ‘a way of writing’ academic (ethnographic) accounts so as to treat humans and non-humans (including species, water currents, machines, documents etc.) in similar ways. A classic study is that of Callon (1986), in which a bunch of marine biologists strive to save the population of scallops by introducing controlled scallop production mobilizing both fishers, scallops, technology, and water currents (but they ultimately fails…).

In my own study of how a large green area of Stockholm got protected (and thus influenced the urban ecology of Stockholm), ANT inspired me to acknowledge that it was not only civil society activists that played a great role in managing to protect this green area, but also maps, buildings and species that got ‘enrolled’ into a protective story (Ernstson and Sörlin 2009). Others have used this in similar ways (e.g. Eden et al 1999). I believe more can certainly be done as we engage with this “infralanguage” (for instance how to understand the “politics of scale” in transformative change towards ecosystem management).

In his lecture, Bruno Latour will talk about “cosmopolitics”. Most people would associate this term with that of being an internationalist, somebody with backgrounds in a lot places and nations, and with an open attitude to different cultures and the formation of new collectives. However, I suspect the talk will be about other types of collectives, those that stretch over the Nature/Culture divide, and that even prove that this divide is nothing more than an illusion (although a powerful illusion indeed).

An intrerpretation of what Latour and others (especially Isabelle Stengers, Cosmopolitiques, vol. 1) understand as cosmopolitics is a “politics of the cosmos” that leads to the recognition of new “collectives”, a recognition that humans and non-humans are entangled and that we (the collective) need to respect this entanglement in order to live our lives. In our field of reserach, this idea has partly been captured in the concept “ecosystem services” (although in a more economistic fashion, see argument of a “social production of ecosystem services”; Ernstson, H., 2008, In Rhizomia. PhD Dissertation.Stockholm University, Stockholm.). Funny enough, and inspired by British geographers (Hinchcliffe, Whatmore et al 2005), I held series of lectures and a workshop with art and design students at the Stockholm School of Art and Design (Konstfack) on “Cosmopolitical Experiments“, i.e. how can designs evoke a sense of recognizing our entanglement with these other-than-human citizens that share our planet.

To SRC and the broader field of social-ecological studies, ANT and similar attempts to undermine long held dichotomies that constrains our thoughts, methods and theories, are exciting to explore and engage.

PS. The lecture at Nobel Museum will be broadcasted after the lecture on Tuesday, 16-18.