Associology Uncertainties

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First source of uncertainties: No Group, Only Group Formation | Intermediaries versus Mediators | Intermediaries: is what transports meaning or force without transformation/ defining input is enough to define output | Mediators: they transform, translate, distort and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry/ their input is never a good predictor of their output. (Groups are made)

Second source of uncertainties: Action is overtaken | Who and what is acting when we act? Actor is not the source of an action but ‘the moving target of a vast array of entities swarming toward it.’ An actor on stage is never alone in acting. By definition action is dislocated (…) Just as actors are constantly engaged by others in group formation and destruction (the first uncertainty), they engage in providing controversial accounts for their actions as well as for those of others (…) Will we have the courage not to substitute an unknown expression for a well-known one? (…) We have to resist pretending that actors have only a language while the analyst possesses the metalanguage in which the first is ‘embedded’. (agencies are explored)

Third source of uncertainties: Objects too have agency | power, like society, is the final result of a process and not a reservoir, a stock, or a capital that will automatically provide an explanation. Power and domination have to be produced, made up, composed (…) the flagrant asymmetry of resources does not mean that they are generated by social asymmetries. (Social) is an association between entities which are in no way recognizable as being social in the ordinary manner, except during the brief moment when they are reshuffled together (…) what is new is that objects are suddenly highlighted not only as being full-blown actors, but also as what explains the contrasted landscape we started with, the overarching powers of society, the huge asymmetries, the crushing exercise of power (…) objects overflow their makers, intermediaries become mediators. (objects play a role: they become from intermediaries to mediators)

Fourth source of uncertainties: Matters of Fact vs Matters of Concern|Even more so than in art, architecture, and engineering, science offered the most extreme cases of complete artificiality and complete objectivity moving in parallel (…) we began using the expression ‘construction of facts’ to describe the striking phenomenon of artificiality and reality marching in step (…) for other colleagues in the social as well as natural sciences the word construction meant something entirely different: made up and false (…) Objects of science may explain the social, not the other way around (…) ‘factors’ are unable to transport any action through any event reduced to the status of intermediary (…) a concatenation of mediators does not trace the same connections and does not require the same type of explanations as a retinue of intermediaries transporting a cause (…) the word ‘translation’ now takes on a somewhat specialized meaning: a relation that does not transport causality but induces two mediators into coexisting (…) there is no society, no social realm, and no social ties, but there exist translations between mediators that may generate traceable associations (…) How could a fact be that solid if it is also fabricated? (…) The discussion begins to shift for good when one introduces not matters of fact, but what I now call matters of concern (…) It is the thing itself that has been allowed to be deployed as multiple and thus allowed to be grasped through different viewpoints, before being possibly unified in some later stage depending on the abilities of the collective to unify them (…) Once you learn how to respect shifting ontologies, you can tackle more difficult entities for which the question of reality has been simply squeezed out of existence by the weight of social explanations

Fifth (and final) source of uncertainties: Writing Down Risky Accounts (networks)|namely an uncertainty about the study itself: bring into the foreground the very making of reports (…) A text, in our definition of social science, is thus a test on how many actors the writer is able to treat as mediators and how far he or she is able to achieve the social (…) (The Network) is nothing more than an indicator of the quality of a text about the topics at hand.It qualifies its objectivity, that is, the ability of each actor to make other actors do unexpected things. A good text elicits networks of actors when it allows the writer to trace a set of relations defined as so many translations (…) So, network is an expression to check how much energy, movement, and specificity our own reports are able to capture (…) The fact is that no one has the answers—this is why they have to be collectively staged, stabilized, and revised (…) Assembled around the ‘laboratory’ of the text, authors as well as readers may begin to render visible the two mechanisms that account for the plurality of associations to be taken into account and for the stabilization or unification of the world they wish to live in (…) We, the little ants, should not settle for heaven or hell, as there are plenty of things on this earth to munch our way through.

Reference

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press. Full text available here

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