An ecology of institutions: Recomposing the humanities

Stephen Muecke

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7 Citations (Scopus)


Bruno Latour’s Inquiry into Modes of Existence followed the work of an “anthropologist of the Moderns” compiling a report on various modes of existence defining Western institutions. This paper argues that this work could continue into the humanities disciplines, focusing on textualism and ”theory” in history and literary studies. Here the work of Ian Hunter on the Kantian philosophical legacy in contemporary theoretical dispositions is aligned with the Latourian criticism of critique. It argues that theory can be deflated by defining it anthropologically as a “spiritual exercise” taught to a small elite group that is nonetheless supposed to deliver critical reason to society as a whole. The consequence of the deflation of this “higher mission,” in the process of recomposing the humanities, would be a revalorization of the practical ways humanities disciplines conduct themselves professionally. The environmental humanities, as a newer field, might be one example where the humanities have been reforged in collaboration with science. In the process, experimental methodologies tend to replace the grander missions of overarching critical judgment.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)231-248
Number of pages18
JournalNew Literary History
Issue number2-3
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2016
Externally publishedYes


  • Ontology
  • Humanities
  • Morality
  • Poetry
  • Experiments
  • Philosophy


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