Category: November 29 (Page 1 of 3)

Revolutionary! Or Not?

As humans we have come a long way. Existing on earth for merely over 10,000 years, we have come to build the grand monuments and the tiny smartphones; both unthinkable in the natural world.


However, science studies theorist Bruno Latour is not as impressed and you and I do. In fact, according to Professor Keith Peterson from the Colby philosophy department, we have never been revolutionary at all.


Revolutions come in many different shapes and sizes; from scientific revolutions to political revolutions, and, as we have mentioned previously in the semester, even a volcano eruption could trigger a revolution. However, was is a revolution, exactly?


A revolution is generally understood as a historical event that generates a “great divide” from the past time periods. For example, we name the invention of a series of mechanics the “industrial revolution”. Another case of note is the scientific revolution, which produces many theories that are the cornerstones of modern science.


However, did the scientific revolution actually happen? Professor Peterson broke down the illusion for us. The theories that were discovered during this period were actually floating around for hundreds of years, and the publication of them did not stir a huge ripple in the society. Even to this day, the scientific revolution and the industrial revolution have certainly not reached every nation and culture in this world, and by the definition of revolution, they are never complete.


This concept of revolution, as illustrated by Professor Peterson, is, in fact, very Euro-centered. These “industrial revolutions” and “scientific revolutions” all share a common origin, that is Europe, and spread out to the rest of the world. Revolutions that are made in the third world countries, however, are barely heard and are considered of little historic significance by Western scholars. Another illusion Westerners have is that our way of approaching nature, the “scientific” way, is the only valid approach, while neglecting the diverse cultures that the rest of the world host that potentially influence more people and could be more advanced. Lastly, Westerners come to understand that there is a dualism between nature and society, and the conflicts between those two are irreconcilable, which is simply untrue. Professor Peterson argues that science, society and politics are actually all intertwined with and dependent on each other, while the debate of the definitions of “true science” and “false science” is simply a societal and political one, as science in fact never stand alone and understood to be universally correct.


Overall, professor Peterson revealed a new way to view revolutions from a philosophical standpoint, and pointing out how much humanity has grown while how little we actually know.

Never Revolution?

In thinking about how we perceive revolution, it is important to note that there are many definitions of revolution that we have discussed. There are social revolutions, those of government, as well as the literal revolutions of the earth and systems. Of course in the context of the course, we are discussinh the former two kinds of revolutions, and though I understand the point of Professor Keith Petersons lecture and his thesis I tend to disagree. I feel as though standard measurements of growth and productivity are increasingly becoming obsolute in the light of the kind of innovation, discovery, and truly revolutionary ideas that mankind originates each day. In thinking about the potential for growth moving forward, we can think about how much of the world has been explored already. Much of the world is covered in ocean. The ocean is the lifeblood of Earth, covering more than 70 percent of the planet’s surface, driving weather, regulating temperature, and ultimately supporting all living organisms. Throughout history, the ocean has been a vital source of sustenance, transport, commerce, growth, and inspiration. Yet for all of our reliance on the ocean, 95 percent of this realm remains unexplored, unseen by human eyes. It is simply this fact that proves how much room there is for innovation and potential for new sources of ideas and revolution still in today’s society.
In thinking about whether or not we have ever been modern, again let us point to the scale of innovation. Where as previous innovation such as electricity, improvements in communication and forms of travel such as the aeroplane and personal vehicles were seen as being revolutionary or modern in that they completely changed life styles, have we now reached a point where lives are no longer changed by new inventions? I would disagree. I think that as technology has become more mobile, more nimble personal and powerful, we have moved right to the edge of another revolution. We are starting to see technology being able to respond to human needs faster and faster, to become closer to a companion than ever before. We are starting to create virtual reality, seperate worlds in which people can actually live without having to interact with other real human beings, as well as cars that can self drive. Can you imagine what the world will look like when no longer have to transport themselves in vehicles to work, when the world can be free of the use of the fossill fuels in terms of powering their inventions? I think that in summary, we are revolutionizing the way in which we deal with the creation of new problems as well as being revolutionary in terms of dealign with issues of old. In thinking about diseases which are developing new immunities to antibitiotics, we must think of ways to deal with issues surrounding waste. In thinking about ways to stop global warming, we have to revolutionize the way in which we think about regulation, on both sides of the political isle. It is important that we continue to innovate, to continue to revolutionize.

No Modernity?

Keith Peterson discussed the intricacies of revolutions in his lecture, and prompted the question of why humans want to revolt in the first place, if at all. Peterson used Latour’s theory that essentially claims being revolutionary is merely a ‘myth of modernity’. In light of Peterson’s astute commentary on these dense philosophical matters, I found that looking at the concept of revolutions through a feminist lens allows us to clearly see how revolutions are actually executed. The progress of women’s rights in the past century has demonstrated human’s capacity to overcome structural barriers which harbor prejudice and preserve the inequality in our society. I wanted to investigate the origins of such revolutionary currents, what circumstances instantiate revolutions? It seems that an underlying cause for revolutions, or a contributing causal factor, is the a presence of a deep inequality between groups, which in turn produces prejudice and misrepresentation of social groups. There is friction that arises out of the divide between groups; between the oppressed and their oppressors. This friction is a driving force, and pushes people for the need to revolt, evolve, and reshape the unjust hierarchy.

For example, if we look at the trajectory of women’s place in society, and the progress they’ve made; it was ultimately driven by the oppression they face (and still face today). John Stuart Mill wrote that women’s roles are essentially just an artificial construct; “ “What is now called the nature of women is an eminently artificial thing- the result of forced repression in some directions, unnatural stimulation in others…for the benefit and pleasure of their masters”. This oppression is the bounded nature of These thoughts emerge due to the persistent stereotypes and cultural phenomena that are shoved down girls throats starting with their pink blankets as a child, continuing through their growing their hair long, wearing dresses, playing with dolls, wearing makeup, and taking a man’s name at marriage, and possibly staying at home to raise children. The stereotypes that are ever present in society, and social media, sustain sexism in our culture and work to keep women in their place as inferior to men. The idea that women are helpless, incapable, weak, and incompetent are seen as “truly feminine” qualities. Regardless if one agrees with the validity of this statement, the idea of ‘helpless women’ is completely present and continually perpetuated through simple tasks that go unnoticed, such as opening a door for a woman. No matter how unrealistic or irrelevant a stereotype like this may seem in 2016, they sustain the barriers that are placed around women by creating unattainable ideals that keep men in the dominant position. This structural oppression makes a revolution necessary, in order to break free from the bounded social roles and hierarchies.

Just What Was That

That’s the question I had after I sat in on K.P’s lecture.  It was one that I perhaps lacked the philosophical background to deal with, but it left me with the impression that it’s message was that we, as humans will the idea of revolution into being, and therefore can will it out again.

And I do think this is a valid point.  For there are periods in every individual life, and in larger social movements where we get to the end and simply have to define it-ask “What was that?”  When something appears different than it was before we call it a revolution, and therefore the idea of revolution is not definable in a moment, but as a hindsight.  And therefore it is all in our heads.

I guess this doesn’t surprise me.  “Revolution” is a noun that doesn’t fit the person, place or thing definition.  It’s an idea.  And because of that it carries a lot of ambiguity to what it means to a person.  Thus the person can define it for themselves, they can make it what they want it to be.  The idea that we have never been revolutionaries then is possible.

But yet, there must have been revolutions.  What do we as a society call those moments where we changed.  That’s why I think that we are all, in contrary to the assertion of this lecture revolutionaries.  We to a certain extent comment on how life could be better and some of us act on it.  It is in our nature to question.  To want to change.  To be revolutionary.

So where the idea of revolution might be one that is malleable it is one that exists as a part of our nature.  Therefore we have not never been revolutionaries but instead have always and still are revolutionaries.

“You say you want a revolution, well, you know, we all want to change the world…”

Professor Peterson spoke in stark contrast to the other talks given during the revolutions lectures. He discussed at length the ideas of Bruno Latour, specifically in his book We Have Never Been Modern. I thought that this was an interesting contrast to the other talks, and although I may not agree, looking through other posts it would appear that I am not alone, I think it is an important point. Latour asserts that we are not revolutionary as we assert ourselves to be.

I have no knowledge of philosophy. The complex visuals that Professor Peterson displayed along with most of the specific language he used did not resonate with me. However, he did allow for me to think about the idea of a revolution in a different way than I had throughout this course. Leaving the lecture, I had a few questions. The first of these was, “Why are we so obsessed with being modern and revolutionary?” The answer to this is not simple. One idea that I attempted to understand was that often society, not nature, is what shapes truths and falsehoods for us humans in recent times. Along this same string of thinking, the idea of modernity in society would feed into the modern concept of a revolution. Humans are looking for answers in society, so if we help society to progress and improve, the perception is that we are in some way contributing to and part of a revolution. This is not a holistic view. What is forgotten is that this perceived modernity is not the same for everyone. A revolution should ideally involve the furthering of everyone, the entirety of society. Not just a group, a faction.

That leads me to my other question, a question that this whole lecture series has pointed towards, “What is the definition of a revolution?” but also “Why does it matter?” I think Latour was not only being critical of people who yearn to be a revolutionary, but also the creation of a “revolution” at all. The modern idea is rather pitiful. It has become an obsession. The term itself has lost so much value. The meaning is slipping away headline by headline. I don’t believe that Latour was trying to devalue revolutions and those who have fought for what was right and just for not only them but the ones they love. I think that he wanted all who heard his theories to question just what the idea of a revolution has become. He was looking to add value to this idea. I spent some time reconsidering just what a revolution is. It has little to do with modernity, absolutely nothing to do with self-fulfillment or the idea that revolution is even quantifiable. As of now, many revolutionary events have been taken for granted or actively opposed by those who cannot handle the change. Whether the revolution is political, social, scientific, in the arts, etc. a true revolution must continue, the goal should not be finite. Why do people obsess over the word? Because humans want to see the product, they want to be reassured that what is being done actually works. The real significance is in the process of change. What steps led to it? Why did anyone even care? Who helped? Why? Revolution should not be some grandiose idea; it should be rudimentary. Do your part, but don’t worry about what mark you leave on the world, focus on each day as building towards the next. Why must it be a revolution to be significant?


Rethinking Modernity

Keith Peterson, an Assistant Professor of Philosophy from Colby gave his talk on How We Have Never Been Revolutionary. He focuses his talk on Latour, Bruno’s book We have Never Been Modern, a book that comments on science and modernity. Latour tries to relink the social and natural by arguing that modernist differentiate between nature and society which separates us from our primitive, pre modern ancestors who don’t make the same differentiation.

In our ST215 climate weather and society course we have spoken about not separating humanity from nature, its amazing to try to think if that wasn’t the case at all…its unimaginable. Humanity is a part of nature and not apart from nature. Many of who study climate change know and share the importance of how climate change shaped the new world. Thus, the history between humanity and nature is very valuable because it shines light on humanities dependence on nature making people aware that it is our atmosphere and without it, there would be no us. However, today, every day individuals, from urban areas, as an example, do not have to worry about climate shaping our lives. These individuals can live in doors with an AC if its too hot or indoors with the heat on if its too cold. Nonetheless, slowly but surely and not obviously climate affects us all.

In relation to what is happening with our climate its crazy to think that we can separate humanity from nature. The ozone debate, global warming, deforestation, even the idea of black holes shows the connection between one and the other. The prospect of keeping nature and culture separate is all mental. Latour suggests, we should rethink our distinctions and rethink the definition and composition of modernity itself, the nature/culture contrast is no longer possible.

Keith Peterson brings up another point of discussion that involves theorist Bruno Latour’s opinion on people thinking of ourselves as “revolutionary” and how this can actually be a central myth of Modernity. Latour hopes to prove that we in fact “have never been Modern,” which would support that people have not been revolutionary. The first section of Peterson’s talk addresses the revolutionary miracle. He went on to explain that westerners definition of revolutionary depends on the relationship between nature and society, and how we interpret time, which only concerns matter and mind. He also mentions how Westerners is not a culture and the aims of the revolutions that existed are for political interest.

In all, what I have taken away from his talk is that we need to see nature and society as products of a bigger picture (human and no human actions). Everything is hybrid of nature and society.



How are we not revolutionary?

On November 29th, I had the opportunity to listen to Keith Peterson, who discussed in length about Bruno Latour’s highly controversial philosophies, the major one being whether we have actually been revolutionary at all. Bruno Latour argues that we have never been revolutionary, asserting the fact that we actually have never been modern. While this is an interesting approach to defining revolutions, I believe that it is not comprehensive. Firstly, I think that it is highly subjective. How would person A define modernity? How would person B define modernity? Will they find any parallels?

Bruno Latour also finds faults in society’s current system of distinguishing everything between nature and society. He believes that this is something our ancestors never did. For instance, take a look at alchemy, or even astrology. To strengthen his argument, he identifies certain aspects where the distinction between nature and society simply becomes overwhelming. Think about ozone depletion. This is a classic case where nature, science, politics all converge. So, what about the distinction?

While I attempted to follow Bruno Latour’s line of thought in that span of one hour, I was left wondering about the arguments presented. The audience was presented with a whole lot of new concepts beforehand without any background context whatsoever, such as anti-modernism, postmodernism and others. His is a refreshing approach questioning how humans have differentiated between nature and society; however at times I was puzzled at his methodology. While I do approach philosophical subjects with curiosity, the technicality of the discussed sometimes got the better of me. So while I believe that Bruno Latour must have very strong reasons to suggest that we have never been revolutionary, I do not think he was successful in convincing me, which of course says nothing about his arguments.

Connecting the Dots of Latour

Professor Keith Peterson argued to us that “We Have Never Been Revolutionary.” According to Bruno Latour, we have never even been modern. Admittedly, I found it challenging to follow this lecture. My friend Erin, who is taking KP’s Feminist Philosophy course, began to explain the lecture to me in greater detail after the lecture, but I still had difficultly understanding connections to some of his points. I found it difficult to understand the models of the products of deeper processes under the Principle of Symmetry. From what I came to gather, Latour argued that we have an asymmetrical explanation in which we oftentimes suppose a dualistic rendering of constructivism versus reality; however, Latour proposes a both/and combination approach, instead. In believing in merely a temporary stability, Latour translates essence into existence back into essence.

I followed Latour’s arguments for understanding us as a part of a constructed universality. What I was left puzzled about, however, was how all of this ties back to modernity. Where are the correlations? What is the logic here? How does the Principle of Symmetry prove to be evidence for amodernity? How does the actor-network theory connect to modernity and revolutions?

Latour’s conception of progressive was intriguing, as well. His argument for a radical break with the past and entailing a specific understanding of time seems to mold a circle, which we both create and mobilize. We, as KP quoted from Latour, “also mobilize Nature.” The Antimodern discussion KP ended with asked, “What do new revolutionaries have to reject?” I felt all the while puzzled if Latour was arguing against the conception of the Oppressor in his actor-network theory. Is his mode of thought so constructivist that the systems of injustice are not perceived as systems at all? I slowly began to conceptualize the actor-network theory more and more, however, as the lecture went one. His understanding of objects as actors allows for the complexity of oppressive networks. For example, in his ethnographic book The Land of Open Graves, anthropologist Jason De Leon argues for understanding the Sonoran Desert as an agent (under the power and force of the U.S. Border Industrial Complex). With tools provided by Latour, this becomes easier and more readily complicated into this philosophical framework.

In this proposed reworking of our mental landscape, I wonder what Latour’s argument against modernity might do for the Western Imperialist mindset. What are the implications of loosening the fierce grip of Progressive? Of Best? Of Better? Of Modern? Because, after all, if we have always been tribal, then what distinguishes the West from the East? Or from the states, tribes, cultures, peoples the West continually ignores? Overall, I was left unsure about the logic of Latour’s argument and unable to connect many of the dots. However, the satellites I absorbed seemed to make sense. I hope, in the future, to connect the dots and understand Latour’s highly influential argument in We Have Never Been Modern.

Preservation or Addition?

Professor Schnapp discussed an interesting project “Bz ’18-’45,” which they modified old monuments and added modern elements. He began his lecture with an introduction of modern monument. He argued that the statute that stimulated our thoughts is the modern monument. Many factors could influence its meaning, including scale, hardness, or duration.

Continue reading

More Revolutionary Questions than Answers

Colby Professor Keith Peterson’s lecture titled ‘We Have Never Been Revolutionary’ reinforced some of the questions about the nature of a revolution that have continually popped into my mind throughout this lecture series. Some lecturers have brought up the idea that we are in a constant state of revolution. If that is the case, what does being revolutionary even mean? Is the revolutionary state constant? If revolutions are a normal part of culture, how do we pick out which events are important? Continue reading

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