In the shadow of Gaia: Reflections post AIME (An Inquiry Into the Modes of Existence)

A week has passed since I arrived back from the official closure of Bruno Latour’s most recent project : An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence, and I still can get all my ideas together to account for what we experienced during these 10 days of ‘diplomatic negotiations’. As mentioned in my previous post, the goal of this meeting was to put together 2 years of experimentation and dialogue around Latour’s 2012 book that had been taking place in a Web platform and in face to face interaction (24 workshops all over the world) and this through two sequential and correlated events: a ‘diplomatic’ writing workshop and a closing ceremony, also described as a philosophical simulation. What I didn’t fully realized before participating in both the workshop and the ceremony (and that progressively became more and more, and still not fully, clear) was that this whole adventure in which we had been enrolled responded to something bigger. This was not only about closing a research project on the modes of existence of Modernity, it was also (and more importantly) about opening a negotiation between Moderns and Non-Moderns to settle a middle ground for responding to the imminent awakening of Gaia.
As you may know, Gaia is the greek word for Earth; in Greek mythology de Mother Goddess, the creator and giver of all the Universe. In modern ecological theory, the word has been revived by James Lovelock in his 1979 book “Gaia: A New Look at Life on Earth” and since mobilized by others to highlight the awareness of environmental concern related to upcoming and inevitable climate catastrophe. Expressions such as “the awaking of Gaia”, “the intruder”, “the party-crasher of Modernity”, “the war of Gaia” express well this concern (and where regularly mobilized in the discussions during of the AIME conclusion), and yet who or what Gaia is was never clear to me (a feeling, I believe, was also shared by many of the participants).
So how did this absence/presence of Gaia played out during these 10 days of writing and conversation around/about the AIME project? This is were my reflection on these days becomes a bit ‘unclear’…but I would say that Gaia was like a shadow, subtlety there and yet invisible, over us, and also under us, a shadow that we were at times attached to, and at other that we were bothered by. Inevitably, the more we talked (or write, or read) about her/it the more she/it became present, taking many forms, such as the Nature, “the” situation, the climate changes…and nevertheless she/it always escaped from us. Looking at my experience retrospectively I would say that while the workshop allowed me to deepen the thesis of Latour’s book and to better understand both the distinction and articulation of the modes of existence, it was the closing ceremony that revealed Gaia to me..and since then, I must admit she/it has not stopped haunting me. Maybe that was the whole goal of this philosophical simulation where the Moderns (represented by Bruno Latour and we, the scholars that had participated in the workshop) presented a “specbook” to 7 “chargés d’affaires” (B.Cassin, CNRS; E. Viveiros de Castro, Museo de Rio; A. Mol, U. of Amsterdam; D. Chakrabarty, Chicago University; D.Danowsky, U de Rio; P. Weibel, zkm Karlsruhe, S. Schaffer; Cambridge University), which represented the non-moderns, the ecological change, or even Gaiai itself. The “specbook” presented what we, “the Moderns”, were attached to (our Nature, our Politics, our Economy, our Relgion), and at the same time, what we were opened to change – in the projects word “re-institute” – in order to account for the Others and, more importantly, to what Gaia requested of us.
The negotiation, to my understanding, was doomed to fail. Not only we, “the Moderns” were not able to present our points in a way that the “chargés d’affaire” could even start to negotiated…but we carried with us the terrible weight of our history (and this pretty much framed the interpretations of our words). Furthermore, the elusive and yet vivid presence of Gaia (which we all talked about but without really ‘fixing’ its meaning) made the diplomatic reunion most ambiguous.
So where do we go from here? And what could this mean for us scholars interested in the communicative constitution of organization? I retain two main ideas, which I will briefly sketch out (as each can be the object of a future post):
First is the call to action, and I will take here the question that E. Viveiros de Castro used to open his talk: “What do we do when we stop pretending?”. This question, in the context of the philosophical simulation, was clearly a call for moving away from thinking about Gaia (Clive Hamilton, keynote in the ceremony, aptly argued that thinking is our weakest mode of acting) to doing something about it. But, I realized, that in the CCO perspective, and more broadly in organization studies and organizational communication we have not even start pretending…so the question for us would be: What to pretend? and then we can move to action. Or we can start ‘to the go’ with action….but then what kind of action?
Second, and this is more specific to the ontological question of “what is an organization?”, which is also in the background of Latours’ book (more specifically his chapter on organization as a mode of existence) and in some of the discussion we had during the workshop (especially in the group discussion on Politics and Economy), I think/feel that there is here an invitation to add to our ontological reflection the practical and empirical implications. To put it in other terms: how can we think about CCO in the light/or in the shadow of Gaia (whatever we want it/she to be)? For now, I do not have any answers….but we can keep our eyes opened to what Latour and his AIME team are up to. There is actually a final, final closure of the project planned in the form of an exhibition at the ZKM in 2016

More info about the AIME project:

2 Comments on “In the shadow of Gaia: Reflections post AIME (An Inquiry Into the Modes of Existence)”

  1. […] (for more details on this workshop and its final conference, see previous posts on 21/07/2014 and 08/08/2014). One of the purposes of the workshop was the writing of a text, called a Specbook (i.e. a […]

  2. terenceblake says:

    I heard Eduardo Viveiros de Castro’s question at the final AIME conference, “What do we do when we stop pretending?”, to be a call to get rid of the pervasive metaphor of diplomacy and negotiation that seriously weakens AIME, both theoretically and practically. There is no real diplomacy at all in AIME, and the repeated mises-en-scène of diplomatic negotiations can only be harmful to the inquiry in the long term, even if in the short run they may have a pedagogical utility. It was also a call to leave behind metaphorical empiricism and to engage in, or with, real empirical research. There is in fact very little of the empirical in AIME, which is not necessarily a fault, if the misleading self-descriptions can be replaced by more accurate ones. AIME gave rise to a plurality of relations to its pursuit, that could not be contained in the over-constrained model of “contributions” that Latour’s original intentions, and the very structure of the AIME platform, tended to impose. Some participants were not active contributors but rather “fello-travelers”, and this unforeseen phenomenon was not an undesirable negative result, but a positive response. As in the Avignon Arts Festival, some of the most interesting responses were in the AIME-off or AIME-out, and some of the worst were AIME-in (I am thinking of a particularly hideous contribution on the reality of fairies). Is this at all surprising? For a glimpse into the AIME-out/AIME-in dialectic see Joachim Thomsen and Thomas Nylrup’s study “AIME Perceptions and Experiences”: It was AIME-out that gave pluralism and democracy to what cwould otherwise have been a hierarchical collective experiment in close reading.

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