It was with great sadness that we learned of the death of Bruno Latour. For, despite the apparent gulf that separates our respective domains, we flatter ourselves that he viewed us as fellow travellers. And did so in the most generous of terms, describing us as one of the unsung heroes of the human sciences, albeit often overlooked. He very generously wrote a Foreword to Michael Power’s collection of essays Accounting and Science (1). He was equally generous in his reactions to an extended review of his book Aramis, published in Accounting, Organizations and Society (2). He spent time with us when he was visiting LSE as a visiting Centennial Professor. And he involved us in his Inquiry into Modes of Existence project. For our part, we were inspired by his writings, and grateful for the catwalks that he established between domains, disciplines and doings. Ironically, this year we are collectively re-reading Science in Action, in the context of a seminar for PhD students, visitors and faculty. And in the process finding yet more in its pages than we recalled.
Along with many others, we were inspired by his deceptively simple battle cry to “follow the actors”, and were similarly receptive to his notions of action at a distance, centres of calculation, and immutable and combinable mobiles. For these resonated with many of the phenomena that we were studying ourselves, while also echoing and helping to frame the ways in which the conduct of conduct is governed. We were never card-carrying “Latourians”, just as we were never card-carrying “Foucauldians”, and indeed Bruno Latour’s writings reassured us in their ability to escape the territorializing that can often befall intellectual and ethical enquiry.
We like to think that we learned from him how to write the history of an assemblage, how to describe the swarming multiplicity of actors, practices, instruments, inscriptions and ideas that emerge from time to time, and among which abstract lines are formed, and which may temporarily stabilize so as to form something new. A fictional project or programme waiting to take shape out of a multiplicity of relations that at the outset do not exist. In that respect, Aramis (3) somehow distilled his inventive impulse, yet without labouring the intellectual apparatus that it deployed so deftly. Of course this did not complete the inquiry, leaving as it did questions surrounding modes of calculation and their insertion within such projects, questions about the Big Actors which we faced also when speaking of going “beyond the State”, together with issues of ethical enquiry which he was working on in recent years. But that is how it should be, and we doubt very much that Bruno Latour would have wanted to envisage a finality or closing of such forms of enquiry.
We owe a debt of immense gratitude to Bruno Latour for his friendship, his gentle humour, and the works that he has bequeathed us. And we convey our deepest condolences to his family, close friends, and colleagues.
1 M. Power (ed.), Accounting and Science: Natural inquiry and commercial reason (Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1994).
2 P. Miller, “The Multiplying Machine”, Accounting, Organizations and Society, Vol. 22, No. 3/4, pp. 355-364, 1997.
3 Agencement en Rames Automatisées de Modules Indépendants dans les Stations