Absolutely wonderful to see this lecture on Latour from one of the best critics around (and my old French tutor!), Martin Crowley, delivered at Oxford.
Just like the concept of “utopia”, the concept of “achronia” (literally “being without time”) functions in an equivalent way for Latour.
Globalization not only dislocates or displaces human beings in space, but it also does so in time, interjecting them into what Latour calls an experience of “temporal aridity” (see here). To put it another way, since the globalization project presents itself as an inevitable forward march in history, it does not brook a social imaginary that might lead to alternative futures than the one it prescribes. Globalization is a drama-free zone.
Those who inhabit Modernity therefore inhabit a world whose flow of time has already been determined. The present moment, with its rich potential to be the crucible of something wholly new and emergent, is held in abeyance. It is not too far to suggest that the time of globalization is ‘without time’, because it is envisaged as proceeding along a temporal grid that nothing and no-one can alter, as if its ultimate triumph was guaranteed by some kind of sovereign diktat. The ability of local actors to represent and define an account of the world by means of ‘trials’, which themselves take place in the flow of time from past to present to future, is foreclosed. “l’histoire peut avancer plus lentement que prévu; mais elle ne peut pas radicalement changer de direction. Au sens propre, la cause que nous servons est transcendante à l’histoire” (my translation: “history may advance more slowly than you expected; but it cannot change its direction in a radical way. In the literal sense, the cause we serve transcends history”, see here, pp.232).
So what are we to conclude?
For Latour, the concepts of utopia and achronia describe the framework within which contemporary Western existence is invariably contained. Within this framework, the contingencies of the present are over-determined by a spatio-temporal conditioning effect that is imposed ‘from above’. For Latour, this is instantiated even in the contemporary phenomenon of globalization, concerning which he offers the revisionist interpretation that it is not so much an organic, interconnected network as it is a regressive, hegemonic grid. To be globalized is to engage in a continual flight away from the world ‘down below’ in the vain attempt to find a space that will be free from interference and a history whose end has already been guaranteed. The ideological and teleological structure that undergirds this is essentially religious, because it is derived by proxy with a realm of transcendence and with the attributes credited to the being of God by classical theism. As Graham Ward has pointed out: “globalization, like secularization, is proving to be an ideology—that is, a myth masquerading as natural law, even divine providence” (Ward, 2008, ‘Religion after Democracy’, p.203). Latour’s critique thus stands alongside other recent evaluations of globalization as a religious phenomenon, especially Hardt and Negri’s Empire (2000) and Commonwealth (2009).