On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods

On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods

Science and Cultural Theory

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Book Pages: 168 Illustrations: 11 illustrations Published: December 2010

Author: Bruno Latour

Religious Studies, Science and Technology Studies > Philosophy of Science, Sociology > Social Theory

On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods continues the project that the influential anthropologist, philosopher, and science studies theorist Bruno Latour advanced in his book We Have Never Been Modern. There he redescribed the Enlightenment idea of universal scientific truth, arguing that there are no facts separable from their fabrication. In this concise work, Latour delves into the “belief in naive belief,” the suggestion that fetishes—objects invested with mythical powers—are fabricated and that facts are not. Mobilizing his work in the anthropology of science, he uses the notion of “factishes” to explore a way of respecting the objectivity of facts and the power of fetishes without forgetting that both are fabricated. While the fetish-worshipper knows perfectly well that fetishes are man-made, the Modern icon-breaker inevitably erects new icons. Yet Moderns sense no contradiction at the core of their work. Latour pursues his critique of critique, or the possibility of mediating between subject and object, or the fabricated and the real, through the notion of “iconoclash,” making productive comparisons between scientific practice and the worship of visual images and religious icons.


“This slender, quirky, and intriguing book collects three pièces d’occasion…. Connected by themes of images and belief, fetishism and iconoclasm, and… science and religion…. [H]e composes sermons that try to keep a flow of thought, constantly re-realized and re-represented, close and vitally present…. [I]n the notes to this book… you see how Latour’s mind is still flowing rapidly and powerfully beyond previous thinking.” — Rosalind Williams, Isis

“[B]oth thought provoking and potentially transformative. Latour lulls the reader into accompanying him on a quest to rethink objects as acting independently of our belief in them, and through this same belief. He also exemplifies this wonderful goal, proper to anthropology at its best: to displace common sense understanding and its objects, not deconstruct them.” — Julie Kleinman, Anthropological Quarterly

“Latour came into view in the 1980s as an uncommonly engaging as well as radical practitioner of the new discipline of science studies.... witty, imaginative, literate and unrelentingly ironic. For some, all this spells something manifestly frivolous and naturally suspect. Others, including many not ordinarily drawn to treatises on science and technology, are attracted by Latour’s style into engaging with ideas they find illuminating and a mode of analysis they can use.” — Barbara Herrnstein Smith, London Review of Books

“Latour is the best scholar in the field with a huge range and fine grasp of
the literature. . . . Latour can also be a sparkling writer, exploiting his licence as a foreigner to write English with flair and adventure. . . . I admire [Chapter 3] not only because of its brilliance and fresh insights but also because of the courage it must have taken to write it.” — Harry Collins, Metascience

"Eloquent, amusing and fabulously well-informed, Bruno Latour is one of the superstars of French intellectual life…. His recent book On the Modern Cult of the Factish Gods shows that Latour remains a great star." — Jonathan Rée, New Humanist

“Bruno Latour’s is a joyous and generous science, not a warmongering, invidious one. His unique intellectual trajectory beautifully replicates those strange objects he was the first to fully discern. For his work is eminently suitable to an actor-network treatment; it thrives on associations; it deals in mediations; it articulates heterogeneous modes of existence; it modulates its own regime of enunciation as the truth it describes changes its own conditions of production. What started as a ‘social description of scientific practice’ morphed into a radical redescription of the social at least as much as of science itself, and it bloomed as a daring project of a general anthropology of truth, within which facts and fetishes, divine forces and material forms, art and science, religion and law, all are made to inhabit a virtual plane of coexistence, which we are challengingly invited to bring into actuality as our common world.” — Akhil Sharma, author of An Obedient Father

“What immense spiritual and intellectual relaxation! With what vivacity and cunning Bruno Latour gets us out of the cage holding us hostage to the mumbo-jumbo of Subjects and Objects all these long years of Western Civ. Out-fetishizing these fetishes, nudging us toward the mastery of non-mastery, he invites us thereby to the sort of thinking needed to remake a failing world.” — Michael Taussig, Columbia University


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Author/Editor Bios Back to Top

Bruno Latour is Professor and Dean for Research at Sciences Po in Paris. His many books include Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory; Politics of Nature: How to Bring the Sciences into Democracy; Pandora’s Hope: Essays on the Reality of Science Studies; Aramis, Or, The Love of Technology; and We Have Never Been Modern.

Table of Contents Back to Top
Preface vii

1. On the Cult of the Factish Gods 1

2. What is Iconoclash? Or Is There a World Beyond the Image Wars? 67

3. "Thou Shalt Not Freeze Frame," Or How Not to Misunderstand the Science and Religion Debate 99

Notes 125

Index 151
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Additional InformationBack to Top
Paper ISBN: 978-0-8223-4825-2 / Cloth ISBN: 978-0-8223-4816-0
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