Bruno Latour’s Detour

From Relativist Rhetoric to Realist Philosophy


  • Andrew R. Van’t Land Community College of Allegheny County



Rhetoric, Realism, Postmodernism, New materialism


In this article, I argue that the work of Bruno Latour has straddled two conflicting intellectual traditions: the relativism of 20th-century postmodernism (which deconstructed the realist pretensions of scientism) and the realism of 21st-century New Materialism (which seeks to sublate the postmodern linguistic turn and embrace science alongside critical theory). I connect these twin tendencies to their ancient precursors among the Greek sophists and presocratic philosophers and argue that Latour’s strange position between relativism and realism recalls the historical tension between the philosophical and rhetorical traditions. Latour has embodied both of these intellectual currents, shifting only his focus but never his commitment to deconstructing the distinction between nature and culture. By connecting the conflicting tendencies of postmodernism and New Materialism back to the ancient sophists and presocratic philosophers, I argue that Latour effectively ontologizes rhetorical persuasion as the ‘language’ of every being, human and nonhuman alike.


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How to Cite

Van’t Land, Andrew R. 2023. “Bruno Latour’s Detour: From Relativist Rhetoric to Realist Philosophy”. Transversal: International Journal for the Historiography of Science, no. 14 (June).



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