Bruno Latour, Love Your Monsters:

Why We Must Care for Our Technologies As We Do Our Children (2012)


1.      Frankenstein story

2.      Frankenstein is usually seen as a cautionary tale against tech (and science?)

         a.      GM (genetically modified) foods called Frankenfood and Frankenfish

3.      Latour thinks we should draw a different lesson: Take care of our technological creations                                                         

         a.      Not that Dr Frankenstein created a harmful creature (technology) because of hubris (overconfidence in our abilities) and misuse of science, but

         b.      He abandoned the creature (technology) after he created it and problems arose because of this abandonment

         c.      Just as we should not abandon our children (or troubles will arise) (by, for example, failing to educate them)

                   i.       Nor should we abandon them when they turn out in ways we don’t approve, or because they cause trouble

         d.      So too we should not abandon our technologies (or troubles will arise)

                   i.       Nor abandon our technologies because of unanticipated and problematic consequences

4.      Nuclear power as an example of a technology we should not have abandoned?

         a.      Developed nuclear power in 50s and 60s (some said it would produce electricity too cheap to meter!)

         b.      After partial nuclear reactor meltdown at Three Mile Island in Pennsylvania in 1979 and Chernobyl disaster in Russia 1986 which killed dozens and sickened thousands more

         c.      Many countries, including U.S., backed away from construction of new nuclear power plants

         d.      Latour and Shellenberger think this was a mistake.

         e.      Note: In 2011 we had the Fukushima nuclear disaster in Japan as a result of a Tsunami

         f.       Pandora’s Promise

5.      Some Latour quotes

         a.      “It is not the case that we have failed to care for Creation”

                   i.       This shows an insensitivity to (or a rejection of) the environmental impacts humans have had on the world: Consider species extinction, global pollution, deforestation

         b.      “We have failed to care for our tech creations”

         c.      “Confuse monster for its creator”

                   i.       The problem was with Dr. Frankenstein and not with the monster

         d.      Our sin is not that we created technologies, but failed to love and care for them


6.      Latour argues humans and earth/nature are inseparable

         a.      “Science, tech and demography make it clear we can never separate ourselves from nonhuman world”

         b.      “We, our technologies, and Nature can not be disentangled”

7.      Humans and earth are coextensive: “We have taken the whole of Creation on our shoulders and have become coextensive with Earth”

8.      Hence env goal to live lightly on the earth is a delusion

         a.       “Self-flagellation for our earlier human hubris (overweening pride) in wanting to dominate nature, seeking ways to diminish # of humans, and trying to make our footprints invisible”–are foolish goals

         b.      Mistaken env goal of human & nature apartheid arises just when science, nature, tech, and politics become impossible to entangle

9.      Politics of environmentalism should not aim to stop innovation, invention, creation, and intervention (in nature), but to have God-like patience and commitment to our creations (technological and otherwise–namely the earth?)          

         a.      Just like God did not abandon his creation but sent His Son to redeem it, we should not invent, innovate and then flee in horror from what we’ve done


10.    Latour is a “Compositionist” (humans compose the earth?), not a Modernist or Traditional Environmentalist

         a.      Human development is not

                   i.       Process of liberation from nature (Modernism)

                   ii.      Fall from nature (traditional environmentalism)

         b.      Rather human development is a “process of becoming ever-more attached to and intimate with a range of nonhuman natures

11.    Modernism

         a.      Goal is to emancipate humans from nature

         b.      Belief in progress over time

         c.      Characterized by juvenile enthusiasm, risk taking, frontier spirit, optimism and indifference to the past

         d.      Science (and related tech) will deliver us from subjection by nature

12.    Inconsistency in Modernism

         a.      Advocate emancipation from all attachments

         b.      But they create ever-more attachments

                   i.       Is the idea that our technologies attach us to nature more and more

         c.      Emancipation narrative is “bunk”

13.    “Environment” only became an issue when it started to disappear

         a.      During heyday of modernism, no one cared about env, as there was such a huge reserve into which to discharge all the bad consequences of modernizing actions

         b.      Env appeared when unwanted consequences (e.g pollution, global warming) came back to haunt modernists

                   i.       Ironically, their goal was to free us from the environment

14.    For compositionist (whose narrative is about attachment) “unintended consequences are quite normal”

         a.      Not normal for modernist goal of emancipation from nature

15.    Traditional environmentalism mistakenly believes the problem lies in the attachments and the solution is to leave nature alone

         a.      Say we’ve been wrong all along

         b.      Oppose modernization and its promises

         c.      Want to turn back progress

         d.      Limit ourselves

         e.      Leave nonhumans alone in as pristine nature as possible

16.    Traditional env politics is ineffective

         a.      Relies on “indisputable facts”

         b.      To portrays a bleak future for humans,

         c.      Promotes a gloomy asceticism

         d.      Encourages a terror of trespassing nature

         e.      Manifests diffidence (meekness, uncertainty, self-doubt) toward industry, innovation, tech and science

         f.       No wonder environmentalism has been marginalized politically

         g.      It has no chance against attractive modernist story of emancipation

17.    Compositional alternative to modernism and green politics

         a.      Not emancipating ourselves from nature

         b.      Modernism’s supposed proof that we are increasing mastery over and freedom from nature

                   i.       Agriculture, fossil energy, technology

         c.      Really evidences increasing attachments between things and people

         d.      Rather than freeing us from nature, they lead to ever-increasing intimacy with new natures we are constantly creating

         e.      Latour thinks modernists dream of emancipation not a nightmare, but too limited:

                   i.       Modernists dream excluded nonhumans

                   ii.      It did not care about unexpected consequences

                   iii.     Unable to follow though with its responsibilities

18.    Compositionalist view of environment as integrated into society

         a.      Greens were mistaken as env is not “what lies beyond and should be left alone”

         b.      Env is what should be even more managed, taken up, cared for, stewarded and internalized into fabric of polity

19.    Rejects “Pristine Nature”

         a.      Likes French (rather than American) National Parks;

         b.      French parks are “rural ecosystems complete with post offices, well-tended roads, highly subsidized cows, and handsome villages”

20.    Ironic that Greens who promote protecting nature from humans have to intervene more and more to protect “natural” ecosystems

         a.      Must intervene more and more, at greater level of details, with more subtle care

         b.      To keep them “natural” enough for “Nature-intoxicated tourists”

21.    Latour believes now nature needs our constant care and

         a.      Undivided attention

         b.      Costly instruments

         c.      Hundreds of thousands of scientists

         d.      Our huge institutions

         e.      Our careful funding

22.    Compositionalists(= Post-environmentalists) embrace increasing intervention/care

         a.      Reject modernist idea there is a contradiction between spirit of emancipation and its catastrophic outcomes

         b.      Should accept as a normal duty to continue to care for unwanted consequences

         c.      Instead of limiting ourselves as Greens want

         d.      We need to stop flagellating ourselves and take up explicitly/seriously what we’ve been doing all along at ever-increasing scale,

                   i.       Namely intervening, acting, wanting, caring

         e.      Accept the unintended consequences and work to take care of them

23.    Latour’s Post-Environmentalist Compositionism accepts that we should be “masters and possessors of nature” (but a nature with which we are attached and dependent upon)

         a.      Rejects Modernist idea that this mastery was total dominance by master and so free from any care or worry

         b.      Masters not freed from dependence on his dependents

         c.      Sin is not the wish to have dominion over nature but to believe that this dominion means emancipation rather than attachment


24.    Precautionary principle

         a.      From wiki: “The precautionary approach to risk management states that if an action or policy has a suspected risk of causing harm to the public or to the environment, in the absence of scientific consensus that the action or policy is not harmful, the burden of proof that it is not harmful falls on those taking an action.”

         b.      Environmentalists take this to prevent action until it is proven safe:

                   i.       No new technology, no intervention unless it can be proven with certainly that no harm will result

         c.      Modernists argue that it is way too stringent, and requires we stop new technology in its tracks and so argued “we should bounce forward, blissfully ignorant of consequences”

25.    Post-environmentalism suggests precaution should mean

         a.      Not abstention

         b.      But change in way any action is considered

         c.      “Unexpected consequences are attached to their initiators and have to be followed through all the way”

                   i.       Does this mean go ahead with the potentially socially/env harmful technology as long as those harms are seen to be the responsibility of the actor and are addressed and taken care of?

Study Questions, Latour’s Love Your Monsters: Care for Techs as do our Children


1.      Explain the Frankenstein story and the lesson that Latour takes from it about our relation to technology. Explain his analogy between technology and children. What lesson should we not take from the Frankenstein story. Do you think that Latour’s lesson is the correct one to take from Frankenstein?

2.      What is Latour’s view about the relation between humans and nature? How does he use this view to criticize the traditional environmental ideal of trying to protect a human-independent nature? Do you accept the close tie between humans and nature that Latour promotes?

3.      Explain what Latour has in mind by his “compositionist” position. How is it different from what he describes as “modernism?” How is it different from what the ideas of “traditional environmentalism.” In your explanation use his notions of “attachments” and “unintended consequences.”

4.      What is Latour’s critique of “traditional env politics?” Do you find this a plausible critique?

5.      Explain Latour’s view about taking a hand’s off approach to protecting “pristine nature.” Now evaluate these ideas from your own perspective.

6.      Explain in what sense Latour agrees with the idea that humans are “masters and possessors” of nature and how this is different from the Modernist’s ideal of total dominance over and emancipation from nature.

7.      What is the “precautionary principle.” How do environmentalists traditionally understand it and how is this different from how Latour understands it?