Bruno Latour ( We Have Never Been Modern ) explains why there isn’t, or shouldn’t be, an anthropology of modernity:

“In works produced by anthropologists abroad, you wil l not find a single trait that is not simultaneously real, social and narrated. If the analyst is subtle, she wil l retrace networks that look exactly like the sociotechnical imbroglios that we outline when we pursue microbes, missiles or fuel cells in our own Western societies. We too are afraid that the sky is falling. We too associate the tiny gesture of releasing an aerosol spray with taboos pertaining to the heavens. We too have to take laws, power and morality into account in order to understand what our sciences are telling us about the chemistry of the upper atmosphere. Yes, but we are not savages; no anthropologist studies us that way, and it is impossible to do with our own culture — or should I say natureculture? — what can be done elsewhere, with others. Why? Because we are modern. Our fabric is no longer seamless. Analytic continuity has become impossible. For traditional anthropologists, there is not -there cannot be, there should not be — an anthropology of the modern world.”

Our modernity - our non-undifferentiatedness - makes us impervious to anthropological analysis.

More on: History

Articles by Peter J. Leithart

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