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Modes of syncretism: notes on noncoherence

Research output: Contribution to journalJournal article


Journal publication date2014
JournalCommon Knowledge
Number of pages21
Original languageEnglish


In this contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium “Fuzzy Studies,” the authors, all of whom work in the field of science, technology, and society, begin from the assumption that, as Bruno Latour has put it, “we have never been modern.” They accept the STS thesis that, while modern practices purport to be entirely rational and coherent, on closer inspection they turn out to be as much noncoherent as coherent. This article poses the question of what forms “noncoherences” take and how they are managed. The basic argument is that there is a range of styles of noncoherence or “modes of syncretism.” In small case studies, the authors identify six such modes or styles, which they term denial, domestication, separation, care, conflict, and collapse. Given that consistency and coherence seem less important now than they were once taken to be — and given that the conditions of possibility for purity are, in any case, in decline — this list and its supporting case studies, while not meant to be definitive, are offered as a way of understanding how practices that do not cohere may still function and fit together admirably.

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