Welcome

A Parliament of Things is a collection of essays on nature and society by Philip Stott, Emeritus Professor of Biogeography in the University of London. 

While some of the essays are unique to this site, others have been expanded, or adapted, from essays previously published in a wide range of newspapers and magazines, including The Times, The Guardian,The Daily Telegraph, The Wall Street Journal, andCountry Illustrated. Some longer essays were originally published in book form.

It is planned to add new essays on a regular basis. All essays will deal with the ‘hybrids’ and ‘quasi-objects’ betwixt and between nature and society that have been so brilliantly defined by Bruno Latourin his masterpiece, We have never been modern(first published as Nous n’avons jamais etemodernes in 1991). Anybody who has a genuine interest in the construction of environmental narratives relating to climate, wildlife, and agriculture should  read this pivotal work of philosophy.

I hope that you will find these writings of value in re-assessing your own views about the transendence/immanence of nature and the transendence/immanence of society. We all have much to learn about our role in a new Parliament of Things.

   “The proliferation of hybrids has saturated the constitutional framework of the moderns.”
[Bruno Latour, We have never been modern (trans. Catherine Porter, 1993)]

A note on Bruno Latour’s ‘hybrids’…

Bruno Latour has posed us all the question: “What does it mean to be modern?” In doing so, he has asked us to examine how Enlightenment values and science play in the world theatre of today. He thus forces us to focus on the distinctions between nature and society, human and thing.

Latour demonstrates how current constructs of knowledge mingle politics, science, technology, and nature into what he terms ‘hybrids’. He argues that ‘global warming’, ‘the ozone layer’, ‘deforestation’, ‘organic food’,  ‘GM crops’, and even ‘black holes’, are classic examples of these proliferating ‘hybrids’. 

Latour goes on to argue that we are challenged by a dramatic reworking of our mental spaces, in which the boundaries between the humanities, sciences, and social sciences have become fuzzy and melded.

This demands that all of us, whether scientist or environmental journalist, anthropologist or zoologist, recognise what is, namely a new Parliament of Things:

“However, we do not have to create this Parliament out of whole cloth, by calling for yet another revolution. We simply have to ratify what we have always done, provided that we reconsider our past, provided that we understand retrospectively to what extent we have been modern, and provided that we rejoin the two halves of the symbol broken by Hobbes and Boyle as a sign of recognition. Half of our politics is constructed in science and technology. The other half of Nature is constructed in societies. Let us patch the two back together, and the political task can begin again.”  [Bruno Latour,We have never been modern (trans. Catherine Porter, 1993)]. 

Athough not always openly stated as such, the essays on this site are largely written with Latour’s ‘Parliament’ in mind.