Bruno Latour Wins Prestigious Holberg Prize

Breakthrough Senior Fellow ‘Completely Re-imagined Science Studies’

Breakthrough Senior Fellow Bruno Latour, the French anthropologist and sociologist, has been announced as the winner of the 2013 Holberg International Memorial Prize, one of the most distinguished awards in the arts and humanities. The prize committee recognized Latour as a “creative” and “unpredictable” scholar who has “undertaken an ambitious analysis and reinterpretation of modernity, challenging the most fundamental categories such as the distinction between modern and pre-modern, nature and society, human and non-human.”

Latour has “completely re-imagined Science Studies, pioneering new ethnographic methods and introducing new concepts and possibilities of communication to engage in collective research projects,” the Holberg committee said in a release. “He combines empirical methods and observation with the unsettling of concepts, reconfiguring the organization of knowledge and inviting participation. His influence has been felt internationally and well beyond the social study of science, in history, art history, philosophy, anthropology, geography, theology, literature and legal studies.”

Previous recipients of the Holberg prize include German philosopher Jürgen Habermas, French theorist Julia Kristeva, and the late legal thinker Ronald Dworkin.

Widely known as France’s most influential living intellectual since the death of Jacques Derrida, and recently touted as the “Hegel of our times,” Latour broke ground in anthropological research with Laboratory Life (1979), which analyzed how subjective decisions in the lab greatly influence the production of scientific facts. “It was this insight – that science is an intrinsically value-laden and political enterprise, not a simple representation of reality – that catapulted Latour to fame,” Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus wrote.

Since the late 1990s, Latour turned his attention to climate change and environmental issues, which ultimately led to publication of Politics of Nature (1999). Building upon the deconstruction of the nature-society dualism set forth in his earlier work We Have Never Been Modern, Latour introduced the concept of caring for our technological creations, an idea that has shaped Breakthrough’s vision for a new political ecology.

In “Love Your Monsters,” published in the second issue of Breakthrough Journal, Latour calls for a “modernized modernity,” “one that sees the process of human development as neither liberation from Nature nor as fall from it, but rather as a process of becoming ever-more attached to, and intimate with, a panoply of nonhuman natures.”

Latour’s latest project, Inquiry into Modes of Existence, is a book accompanied by a participatory website where readers (called “co-researchers”) post commentary, arguments, snippets, and other media to wrestle with metaphysical questions.

Latour said his entire intellectual project “has been to find out how I could meet the new political situation offered by living at the time of the Anthropocene,” where humankind is the dominant force shaping the planet.

When asked what role technology will play in the 21st century, Latour emphasized “the necessity for billions of humans to renew very fast their own technical fabric to absorb the new ecological situation” of the Anthropocene. “Paradoxically,” Latour continued, “to cope with the natural we have to embrace the artificial. But it is difficult to hybridize the will to innovate with the will to be prudent! How are we going to do that?”

Holberg prize recipients are awarded 4.5 million NOK (approximately EUR 610,000 / USD 790,000). A ceremony is slated for June 5.