No Love For Latour

Aramis, or The Love of Technology by Bruno Latour is a story told through a combination of fiction and nonfiction, which he calls “scientifictional”. By infusing the nonfictional; interviews, public relations reports, engineer assessments, newspaper articles, and essays, among other sources; with the fictional, a storyline about an engineer and his professor, he hoped to reveal how Aramis, a rapid transit system, failed in the end. Informed by three questions from the book, outlined below, I argue that his approach was ineffective in doing so and offer a potential improvement to his method.

Question 1: Can we unravel the tortuous history of a state-of-the-art technology from beginning to end?

Yes, but just because we can do something doesn't mean we should. While Latour does technically ‘unravel the history of Aramis’ his scientifictional approach buries what is, in my opinion, the most important piece of the story: a clear picture of the network of actors and actants responsible for Aramis’ death; an understanding of who the responsible parties, both human and nonhuman, that caused Aramis to fail are.

Question 2: Can we make the human sciences capable of comprehending the machines they view as nonhuman, and thus reconcile the educated public with bodies it deems foreign to the social realm?

While his use of anthropomorphization makes it easier to see nonhuman contributors as having roles in the social realm, it, like the approach, muddles things and confuses the reader.

Question 3: Can we turn a technological object into the central character of a narrative?

Can we? Yes. Did he do it successfully? No. While all roads lead back to the rapid transit system; we learn about its history; how it would have been used; how it was invented and how it evolved, we never really get a clear picture of what made it fail. We never get an answer to the question "who killed Aramis?" which, was the point of the book.


On improving his method:

How could Latour have made clearer the connections and influences of actor and actant, human and nonhuman in this muddled story?

One possibility is though a visual representation, a network of those responsible for Aramis’ downfall. In order to provide this supplementary learning device, I began to comb through the text and identify the players with the goal of creating a network graph. In my attempt to uncover the underlying network of Latour’s narrative, identifying actors and actants became so difficult that I gave up around page 110, when little more than the magnitude of said complexity and an idea of the actor-actant ratio had been revealed.