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Aramis, or the Love of Technology
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Frankenstein's monster was born of human endeavour and 19th-century ignominious end but provided many lessons during his 24 years of plans and prototypes. Aramis, the guided-transportation system intended for Paris, represented a major advance in "personal rapid transit" - a system that combined the efficiency of a subway with the flexibility of the private automobile. But in the end, the system of electronic couplings proved too complex and expensive, the political will failed, and the plans were jettisoned in 1987. The story of Aramis, of its birth and death, is told here by several different parties, none of which is given precedence over any other: an engineer and his professor, who together act as "detectives" to ferret out the reasons for the project's failure; company executives and elected officials; a sociologist; and finally Aramis itself, who delivers a passionate plea on behalf of technological innovations that risk being abandoned by their makers. Technology has needs and desires, especially a desire to be born, but cannot function without the sustained commitment of those who have created it. Part novel and part sociological study, Bruno Latour has written a tale of a technological dream gone wrong. As the young engineer and professor follow Aramis's trail - conducting interviews, analyzing documents, assessing the evidence - perspectives keep shifting: the truth is revealed as multilayered, unascertainable, comprising an array of possibilities worthy of "Rasbomon". The reader is eventually led to see the project from the point of view of Aramis, and along the way gains insight into the relationship between human beings and their technological creations.
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Table of Contents

Preface Prologue: Who Killed Aramis? 1. An Exciting Innovation 2. Is Aramis Feasible? 3. Shilly-Shallying in the Seventies 4. Interphase: Three Years of Grace 5. The 1984 Decision: Aramis Exists for Real 6. Aramis at the CET Stage: Will It Keep Its Promises? 7. Aramis Is Ready to Go (Away) Epilogue: Aramis Unloved Glossary

Promotional Information

Aramis is a case study, a sociological investigation, and, yes, a detective novel unlike any ever written--a carefully constructed, non-fictional narrative of the negotiated fictions that underwrite our mechanical inventions. Latour, one of the most supple and rewarding practitioners of any science, shows that the construction of technological society is at base a human drama and must be told in a commensurate manner. Here at last is science studies that avoids self-exemption and partakes, with humor and emotion, of the very processes it depicts. Aramis is a strange but deep book that comes to counterintuitive, urgent conclusions, pleading for more successful parlay between technology and humanism, animate and inanimate, body and soul. This story has much to say about the world we want to build, the world we think we are building, and the worlds we have failed to pull off. -- Richard Powers, author of Galatea 2.2

About the Author

Bruno Latour is Professor and Vice-President for Research at the Sciences Po, Paris.

Reviews

It is [the] world of machines that Latour sets out to rehabilitate in his clever new work...an eminently readable book--even on occasions a ripping good yarn. This time round, the author of such seminal sociology of science texts as We Have Never Been Modern has set out to do something daring: create a new genre, what he calls 'scientifiction'...The result is a hypertext, weaving real and fictional characters together against the backdrop of an actual project carried out by RATP, the public transport authority for Paris...[A] feisty sociotechnological whodunit. -- Margaret Wertheim New Scientist Relationalists have to insist that made-found is as dubious as the value-fact and subject-object distinctions. This claim is not easy to make plausible, but Latour is very good at doing so. He is perhaps the best contemporary exponent of the philosophy of interchanges, of continuous passages across traditional dualisms and traditional disciplinary borders. This is because he combines philosophical sophistication with genuine delight in empirical fieldwork, a fluent and flexible style, an amazingly wide range of reference, and wit. Aramis is often hilarious. In Catherine Porter's splendidly vigorous and idiomatic translation, it is a good read, a well-paced narrative of instructive events. Any policy maker who contemplates spending public money on technological innovation should read it before signing his or her first contractual agreement. It should also be read by anybody looking for some genuinely fresh philosophical ideas. -- Richard Rorty Voice Literary Supplement Mr. Latour, a French sociologist of science, is quite serious...about what he is creating--a new genre of fiction and reality that tells a larger truth...[The Aramis project] may have been a wild goose chase, but some honkers end up in the oven. Aramis, or the Love of Technology, in this translation by Catherine Porter, comes out the way a game bird should, au point, juicy and delicious. -- M. R. Montgomery New York Times Book Review Aramis shows with wonderful clarity the many different stories which were told about all aspects of Aramis. -- David Edgerton Times Literary Supplement On the basis of a detailed empirical study, [Latour] has written three books in one: a detective novel, in which a young sociology professor and a young engineer play the parts of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; a scholarly treatise introducing the modern sociology of technology; and a reproduction of original archival documents...Latour's book...offer[s] important insights into the sociotechnical domain and engineering practices that transcend the Aramis case. It also provides, mainly in the form of methodological discussions, the groundwork for a theory of technology and society...I think [this] is Latour's best book so far. -- Wiebe E. Bijker Nature Aramis...uncovers the limits of sociology in its failure to recognize our essentially social relationship with technical artifacts. Its critical force comes from using ethnography to enable technology to speak, or rather, by allowing us to hear the voice of technology speaking indirectly through administrative documents, political rhetoric, engineering specifications, business plans, fiction, and philosophy. -- Peter Lyman Contemporary Sociology Immediately after the project ended, Bruno Latour was asked by the RATP to investigate what went wrong. On the basis of a detailed empirical study, he has written three books in one: a detective novel, in which a sociology professor and a young engineer play the parts of Sherlock Holmes and Dr. Watson; a scholarly treatise introducing the modern sociology of technology; and a reproduction of original archival documents. As the book develops, we hear the voice of technology itself, with Frankenstein's "humachine" and Aramis himself as spokespersons...Latour's book does offer important insights into the sociotechnical domain and engineering practices that transcend the Aramis case. It also provides, mainly in the form of methodological discussions, the groundwork for a theory of technology and society. This important asset, of what I think is Latour's best book so far. -- Wiebe E. Bijker Nature

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