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Latour and the Passage of Law$
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Kyle McGee

Print publication date: 2015

Print ISBN-13: 9780748697908

Published to Edinburgh Scholarship Online: May 2017

DOI: 10.3366/edinburgh/9780748697908.001.0001

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From the Conseil d’État to Gaia: Bruno Latour on Law, Surfaces and Depth

From the Conseil d’État to Gaia: Bruno Latour on Law, Surfaces and Depth

(p.17) 1 From the Conseil d’État to Gaia: Bruno Latour on Law, Surfaces and Depth
Latour and the Passage of Law

David Saunders

Edinburgh University Press

This chapter artfully scans the surface of La fabrique du droit, ably summarising that book’s arguments and drawing a series of provocative connections to Latour’s subsequent enchantment with that secular figure of the earth, Gaia. Saunders detects in Latour’s ethnography of the French administrative law court a hint of the turn to metaphysics that would come to fruition ten years after the book on law: the conseillors practise a specific kind of hesitation, but perhaps Latour’s point in studying it so closely is rather more general, more speculative, a pluralist’s plea to remain ‘open’ to the variety of experience. The law, Latour argues, must be tracked at the surface, the observer must achieve a superficiality as demanding as that of the law itself – a prospect that presents a considerable challenge to the figure of the ‘philosophically minded’ ethnographer that narrates the book’s asides. Saunders, acknowledging a sort of presentism or lack of historical concern in La fabriquedu droit, suggests in an echo of his powerful critique of critical theory in Anti-Lawyers that remaining doggedly irreductionist, at the surface, as Latour advocates, presumes precisely the sort of political-legal stability that a historical investigation would have revealed to be a circumstantial and highly contingent, perhaps comparatively rare, condition. The difficulty of lingering at the surface, however, turns out not to be the difficulty of bypassing history or the orthodox theories of modern law but a fully ontological difficulty: an ‘epochal re-discovery of all that had been excluded – even repressed – by the Moderns’ hegemonic intellectual abstractions’.

Keywords:   Law and society, Legal history, Political history, Actor-network theory, Gaia (ecology), Bruno Latour, Martin Heidegger

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