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Latour and Hyperlocal Structures

by on April 4, 2013

I wonder how exactly Latour’s ANT differs from how he describes the kind of Deleuzian sociology he describes in his “conversation” with a student: “you describe actors who are rendering virtualities actual […] and which require very specific protocols to work – I guess this is what you would call ‘critical edge’ and ‘political relevance” (155). For it seems that ANT at its best does go about creating something like a hyperlocal structure, so local in fact that individual actors become kind of placeholders of their own place, unique places. The structure changes whenever anyone is replaced, and in fact the structure could change moment to moment. It would be as if the actors participated in the development of both their own virtuality and their own actuality. The virtual or potential that is always at least partially actual is partially created by each individual actor in each hyperlocal structure and their specific interactions. This schema seems perhaps too close to Lehman’s autopoiesis, but I would counter that instead this structure would value withdrawal less and interaction more. So that in this Deleuzian/autopoietic synthesis there is still interaction and no social substance as such, merely hyperlocal actors and structures that interact so that neither completely defines the other. It seems that ANT depends upon this incompleteness, that neither the structure nor the actors can fully designate each other. While he does not claim recourse to a metalanguage, or a truth, he does seem to think that knowledge is producible, and in this fashion ANT might be more structurally similar to structuralisms with lack than he admits.

It furthermore seems that Latour’s ANT might best be equally well practiced in in some sort of corporate environment than an academic one. Some kind of ANT consulting doesn’t seem unlikely. His emphasis on specific locations, interactions, and the unique actors could without too much of a stretch justify firing or hiring certain people within a given corporation, expanding into or contracting from certain markets, etc.


From → Quadruple Object

  1. Yes! I have been thinking about “Corporate ANT Consultants” as being the next stage in advertisement. It would seem to me that this theory has strange capitalist applications in that, though networks might be somewhat unpredictable in their formation, a desire for a specific good, product, or service could be intentionally pre-deployed (not that it isn’t already to some degree). While a network (in this case, an add campaign) can’t possibly account for the agency of all of its actors, I think companies already do this to one degree or another: what is a product demographic if not a network of categorically similar actors? Apple comes to mind here, as their product demographics are marketed to so thoroughly that they have managed to organize a highly predictable network of always eager techno-hipsters.

  2. You might be interested in this Atlantic article, “Anthropology, Inc” , which details the use of Heidegger in market analysis. I agree that ANT, but also cultural studies, has applications in corporate environments.

    At the same time, I would say that one of Latour’s key points is that because social ties are so weak and are in continual need of renewal, that we need to local at nonhumans for the role they play in sustaining social relations. The reason the lecture hall (see Latour’s use of this example) does change its function from one class meeting to the next is because the objects in that hall, and the actor-networks they form, maintain social structures.

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