Holberg Prize awarded to Bruno Latour

March 15, 2013 - 05:00

The French sociologist, anthropologist and philosopher has won the 2013 Holberg International Memorial Prize, amounting to €610,000.

Bruno Latour is a professor at Sciences Po, in Paris. (Photo: Manuel Braun)

The prize is one of the world’s largest in the humanities, social sciences, law and theology.

The University of Bergen rector, Sigmund Grønmo, announced on 13 March that this year’s prize goes to the French professor.

“Bruno Latour is well-deserving of the Holberg Prize,” says Professor Roger Strand, from the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen (UiB). He commented on Latour’s remarkable work and career at the announcement event.

“Latour is an intellectual who has had a solid impact with his many works and ideas. He has cleared the way for a lot of other people who have taken things a step further,”  Strand said.

The 66-year-old Frenchman is currently a professor at Sciences Po in Paris. He’s an influential scientific theoretician, but also controversial in some circles.

The Holberg Prize jury described Latour as creative, imaginative, playful, humorous and unpredictable.

Doesn’t give all the answers

Since the late 1990s Latour has become increasingly involved in the discourse over environmental challenges and climate change.

Professor Roger Strand of the Centre for the Study of the Sciences and the Humanities at the University of Bergen spoke about prize winner Bruno Latour’s work at the announcement ceremony Tuesday. (Photo: Andreas R. Graven)

“Latour is not an academician who gives us the concrete answers. He never says we should do this or that. But he shows that when people refer to themselves, they don’t necessarily live up to their self-image in what they do,” says Strand.

The UiB professor cites environmental organisations as an example.

“They are eager to talk about saving the world, but their successes are usually only local in scale. Latour is good at pointing out the contradictory relationship between what we do and don’t do,” says Strand.

Not modern

Latour is known for having developed the Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) in the 1980s. A basic premise is that society consists of a network of actors who influence and are influenced by the network and each other.

The jury wrote that Latour has also undertaken an ambitious analysis and reinterpretation of modernity.

One of his major works is 'We have never been modern' (1991).

Strand says that Latour's work gives academics new ways of studying what it means to live in a modern society.

UiB Rector Sigmund Grønmo announced the prize winner at the Student Culture House in Bergen on March 13. (Photo: Andreas R. Graven)

“For example, he demonstrates that one of the key myths of modern society is the belief that we can make clear divisions between science and politics. We think that science only deals with what is true in nature and that politics is simply about making choices,” Strand says.

“Latour shows that we have established a way of thinking that allows humankind to do the extreme things we do to nature.”

Not a Luddite

In his 1999 work, the Politics of Nature, he argues that when modernisation of the world has gone so far that nature rebels, it time to “ecologise” rather than modernise.

“However, we would be missing the mark completely if we said Latour opposes technological progress. But he would question what we mean by progress and he reasons that we humans need to understand more about what we are doing,” says Strand.

Latour argues now that environmental problems have become so evident we need to reach a better understanding of who we are – and what we have done.

The scope of Latour’s mental universe often pushes the envelope, Strand says. “He promotes other ideas, such as advocating that we spend time at art exhibitions, to strengthen the interaction between art and ecology.”

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Translated by
Glenn Ostling

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