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The Flexibility of Descriptive Association

by on March 29, 2013

Latour’s approach is novel and obviously quite different from that of anyone else we have read so far. The quality and uniqueness of his work seems to lie in his incorporation of objects without a complete adoption of OOO. By focusing on how objects interact with each other and how they play a role in the social, he avoids the strict schemas of Harman & co. that leave little room for true causation and relation.  On the other hand, it was difficult to read through each uncertainty, especially number three (on object actors), without thinking about withdrawal, or specifically the fact that he never mentions withdrawal. The issue most apparent to me in Latour’s work is this lack of withdrawal, that the ANT approaches networks on their own terms. The approach implies that a group’s language is the best language for discussing that group, to a certain extent that groups define themselves, that they are not hidden to themselves. There seems to be a relativity that remains reliant upon full self-presence at work throughout the first chapter. By putting the ANT and the group on the same footing, or “in the same boat,” Latour implies that groups are the stories that they tell of themselves. That a group’s identity is what they claim their identity is, that groups are to an extent autopoetic and self-determinant. And though perhaps I would agree within a limit that there is self-determination, I would not agree that one or a group is nothing more or less than the stories one or the group uses to identify itself. A group is not reducible to the for-itself, even for the ANT.  Anyway, this argument he seems to address at least indirectly in his imaginary discussion with a student (145).

            What does however, seem problematic is his admition that objects and networks are constantly changing, and that there are mediators not intermediaries (by and large), while maintaining that a description is somehow possible. In such a situation it would seem that any description would be framed by the very moment it is made and by that moment’s very coming and thus its passing, that description would be incomplete, or insufficient, for the description itself would seem to be a mediator. Perhaps this is the negativity that ANT provides. It seems to me that Latour needs a more direct approach to the temporality of social association than he has so far provided in part I.

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From → Quadruple Object

2 Comments
  1. I didn’t really see Latour’s description of groups as being self-defining, if anything, I thought that was the perspective he was arguing against when discussing the “sociologists of the social” and debasing the notions of a social substance, social forces, social ties, etc. and refers to it as the “contradiction inherent in the notion of ‘self-production’ of society” (67). For that matter, on page 50 he says specifically, “the most powerful insight of the social sciences is that other agencies over which we have no control make us do things.” While he may have been referring to power structures and larger “social forces” (I know he doesn’t like that term), I saw that as establishing that action in groups and networks occur both within, and outside of themselves, “the very word actor directs our attention to a complete dislocation of action, warning us that it is not a coherent, controlled, well-rounded, and clean-edged affair. By definition, action is dislocated” (46), and thus no group ever has total agency over their configuration, “if agency is one thing, its figuration is another” (53).

    The second source of uncertainty seemed to contain a lot of masked references to object withdrawal (occasionally even using the word withdrawal itself, though in relation to agency), “But if action is dislocal, it does not pertain to any specific site; it is distributed, variegated, multiple, dislocated and remains a puzzle for the analysts as well as for the actors” (60) and moments before in the text calls for a focus on the “uncertainty about action” (60). He seems to constantly hint towards this withdrawal without ever actually pronouncing it in relation to objects.

  2. 7sshare permalink

    “…any description would be framed by the very moment it is made and by that moment’s very coming and thus its passing, that description would be incomplete, or insufficient…”

    Yes, this does seem to be a problem. Perhaps ANT’s committment to the truth is actually its downfall? That in its tireless efforts for rigor, it actually defeats its chances of finding any answerss? As much as I admire it, I still don’t have much of a conception of how ANT is actually done. Apparently it is done, but it just seems impossible.

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