Revolution Lullabye

March 10, 2009

Latour, Reassembling the Social

Latour, Bruno. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. Oxford: Oxford UP, 2005.

Latour, a French sociologist, gives in Reassembling the Social a guidebook for actor-network-theory (abbreviated ANT), a way of approaching sociology that is markedly different than most “science of the social” sociology studies, including critical sociology. ANT looks at the “tracing of associations” and has three moves that must be done in succession: first, deploying contraversies about the social work; second, rendering associations traceable again; and third, reassembling the social. This way of approaching sociology ends with society instead of beginning with it, seeing the collective built from networks of associations, associations and ties that can only be traced if they are dynamic and have movement. In this way, there is no such thing as a monolith, invisible force in society that makes people (or actors) act in a certain way – if it is invisible, it can’t be traced, and it can’t be studied. Rather, Latour argues that the sociology that can change the politics in society is a sociology that is grounded in the shifting sands of relativism and uncertainty, that sees actors as mediators of change, that goes slow and keeps flat the connections between actors and sites. It’s a move from the global to the local, and he uses metaphors from cartography to explain how he is trying to keep the social flat – in 2-D – so that the traces can be easily seen, traces that would be lost in 3-D. The implications of Latour’s explanation of actor-network-theory is that he argues that there is no such thing as a stable society: societies, collectives, are fluid, constantly being arranged and re-arranged, and any study that tries to look at society (using “social” as a all-encompassing modifier) is missing the point; disciplines must become sensitive to the very dynamic, complex nature of the collectives, socieites, and systems they are studying.

Quotable Quotes

“redefining sociology not as the ‘science of the social’, but as the tracing of associations. In this menaing of the adjective, social does not designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connnection between things that are not themselves social” (5)

“the work of connection and collection” – what reassembling the social is (8)

“The laws of the social world may exist, but they occupy a very different position from what the tradition had first thought. They are not behind the scene, above our heads and before the action, but after the action, below the participants and smack in the foreground. They don’t cover, nor encompass, nor gather, nor explain; they circulate, they format, they standardize, they coordinate, they have to be explained. There is no society, or rather, society is not the name of the whole terrain….For sociology the era of exploration may start again, provided we keep reminding ourselves of this motto: don’t fill in the blanks.” (246)

“The social is but a moment in the long history of assemblages, suspended between the search for the body politic and the exploration of the collective” (247)

“At every corner, science, religion, politics, law, economics, organizations, etc, offer phenomena that we have to find puzzling again if we want to understand the types of entities collectives may be composed of in the future.” (248)

Notable Notes

the move of the modern is creating two binaries that can’t be reconciled, they are two camps that must be distinct. (10) This moderninst construction makes postmodern hybrids, which deny that purification move to separate what is human and what is natural (10-11) People want to try to avoid the messy hybrids and do so by creating these binaries.

move to description – it is enough (time-consuming if you do a good job, difficult and complex) to describe what you see. There’s too often a push to jump to evaluations, conclusions, as if the people or systems you are studying weren’t critical or self-reflexive before you came on the scene (from the conversation between the professor (Latour) and the PhD student) 141-156

everything that acts leaves a trace – follow the traces

Gabriel Tarde – the social is a “circulating fluid,” “not a specific type of organism” (13)

five contraversies – the nature of 1. groups, 2. actions, 3. objects, 4. facts, and 5. the type of studies done under the label of sociology

contradictorary group enrollment – look at hte forming and unravelling of groups – social groups are performative definitions (34)

actors are not passive intermediatories, the are their own mediators (153)

three moves of the second part – regender associations traceable again: 1. localizing the global 2. redistrubiting the local 3. connecting sites

third move of political epistemology


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