Volume 21, Issue 2/3, 2017
Special Issue on the Anthropocene
How to Differentiate a Macintosh from a Mongoose
Technological and Political Agency in the Age of the Anthropocene
Many scholars have understood the Anthropocene as confirming the patient work in the social sciences to deconstruct the nature/culture divide, for the human being is now present in the entire eco-system, from deet-resistant mosquitoes to the ozone hole in the heavens. Scholars like Bruno Latour have claimed that nature and culture have always been co-determined and thus that their separation was a case of modern bad faith with disastrous consequences. Because Latour blames this divide on the human exceptionalism that pitted a human subject against a world of objects, and thus denied agency to other living and nonliving actants, the solution for Latour lies in recognizing their agency in an ‘enlarged democracy.’ Such scholarship has inspired many scholars to adopt a ‘flat ontology’ that treats all forms of agency, whether animate or inanimate, as equivalent and autonomous material forces. This article will elucidate Latour’s ‘democracy of things’ and explore the beneficial consequences for the Anthropocene of attributing autonomous agency to non-human actants, while at the same time discussing the negative repercussions of reifying the agency of technological tools as separate from human agency. Due to such widespread reification of technological agency, it will be shown that causal analysis that traces such agency back to its source in human political organization is required in order to adequately respond to the Anthropocene.