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Social Objects

by on March 28, 2013

“The soul keeps her own society, then shuts the door”
-Emily Dickinson

In Reassembling the Social, Bruno Latour offers one of the most active accounts of relationality that we’ve seen this semester. On one end of the spectrum, we have Harman’s hermetically sealed objects which, at least in The Quadruple Object, hardly seem phased by the existence or proximity of other objects. The fire does burn cotton, but nothing really seems to be happening. Then we have Levi Bryant’s invocation of the autopoietic concept of peturbations, which, as we saw, raises the question of the impermeability of the object-system. I found Ian Bogost’s concept of metaphorism engaging, in which he deploys metaphor as a means of understanding object relations from the outside.

Is it possible to think of Latour’s theory as just such a metaphorism? Or are we prepared to claim that the sociality of objects is literal? The metaphor, here, seems to be the term social, which Latour redefines as the process of assembling, the object of the recuperated discipline of sociology as the tracing of associations. In contrast with Harman, and perhaps even Bryant, Latour places much more emphasis on object relations. In Latour, we find an abundance of verbs like assemble, group, associate. And yet, as Latour says, “ANT prefers to use what could be called an infra-language, which remains strictly meaningless except for allowing displacement from one frame of reference to the next.” This seems to me to bear fruitful comparison to Bogost’s concept of metaphorism, though the concept of network seems to account for a more complex vision of object relations than the typical bilateral fire-cotton/iPhone-table relations we’ve been considering.

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From → Quadruple Object

One Comment
  1. I had the same thought when considering the work. If we struggle with a the practicality of Harman’s OOO, and if we are willing to give ourselves over to a social notion which includes objects (which is perfectly reasonable to me: how could you even argue that objects such as petroleum, gold, guns, transportation, etc haven’t had a massive network for humans and the rest of the planet in general?), then perhaps tracing these social networks and the impact of objects as actants (am I using that right?) would be the most accessible metaphor available to us since it would include the necessary anthropomorphism for our understanding, while still treating the object as an entity that participates in our reality but still has a reality apart from that. While I’m not sure how that constitutes on “infra-language” unless he is saying that the objects themselves are meaningless until we put them to use (even if that use is tracing its role in networks), I think this text compliments Bogost’s metaphorisms nicely.

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