The following is part of this talk from Latour on his Modes of Existence project. I thought this was a very goo analysis of what anthropology has been, with Latour imagining what anthropology could be.
Anthropology … is the way the modernising see the “other.” That’s a very strange anthropology, a very assymetric anthropology because it supposes that we have been modern and that the “we” study the “other” who are non-modern or in the process of modernizing. And that has paralyzed anthropology from the start because then the we here see the other as having a culture or a civilization, and we strangely enough had a culture, a civiliztion plus a nature which was very odd. We had the privilige of having a culture plus Nature – not “a nature” Nature with a capital N – and I’m sorry to say that you guys [he is speaking to an audience in India] had only a culture. Which is great, we learn to be very polite with you, and we respect cultures, there are many cultures and they must be respected … but they are respected as representations of something which Nature is.
So it’s a strange respect, Anthropology in the traditional mode is a sort of strange entity. It’s very respectful – it’s learned to be very respectful of cultures except cultures were a multiplicity, which was only based on representation not on ontology, not on what entities are really. Whereas, those who were doing the anthropology had the advantage of having sumultaneously a culture, everyone knows that – the Brits are very bizarre, and everyone can do anthropology of the Brits and the French and so on and so forth – but they had nature in addition. And what, anthropologically, is Nature is a great mystery. What is this strange way of organizing Nature. So Nature is not the hidden uncoded point of view out of which we see the culture – multiple cultures – but an anthropological mystery. Anthropologically how do these people have multiple cultures and one nature?
It’s a difficult position to be in this anthropological tradition. Because you see everywhere cultures which are just representation. They don’t have ontological weight, they don’t carry what the world is like, they carry only a representation of one world of which we the anthropologist have the double advantage of seeing simultaneously cultures as a multiple, and Nature as a unity. The problem with this view is that it attributes a definition of Nature which is not carried out in practice, and it obliges those who criticize to be limited to a culture. This is a quandry of lots of post-colonial studies. It’s difficult to fight back without taking up a large part of the Western definition of the divide.”