Author: Latour Bruno
PhD in Sociology, Professor and Vice President of Research at the Sciences Po Paris. Address: 27 rue Saint-Guillaume, 75337 Paris, Cedex 07, France. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Visualization and Cognition: Drawing things Together / Logos. 2017. № 2 (117). P. 95-156
annotation: In this paper, ANT comes into fruitful exchange with visual culture studies. What were the reasons for the rapid success of science in the modern era? Some may argue that the main transformation occurred in the economic structure, with the rise of bourgeois capitalism. Others refer to the birth of organized skepticism and development of the scientific method, to the emergence of humanism and individualistic ideology. However, according to the author, these are not the actual causes. The new forms of inscription and knowledge transmission are conditions for the progress of modern science. The linear perspective discovery allowed for the portrayal of objects with optical consistency: regardless of the viewpoint and distance to the object, it can be always depicted from any other angle and without any loss of external qualities. The distant point method revolutionized Dutch painting: now a few simple “camera obscura” tricks transform massive 3D constructions into 2D images on a flat surface. Finally, the printing press invention led to the global distribution of copies, almost identical to the original text, map, or etching. Thanks to these innovations, scientists of 16th and 17th centuries acquired immense power — they learned to act at a distance.
Keywords: actor-network theory; visual culture; the problem of representation; action at a distance
The Berlin Key, or How to Do Words with Things / Logos. 2017. № 2 (117). P. 157-170
annotation: The paper presents a model case study of an object, namely a peculiar type of key used in the outskirts of Berlin. The case is designed specifically in order to demonstrate the futility of the traditional dichotomy between the “symbolic” and “material.” No one has ever seen a human society not built with material things, and no material thing exists without people filling it with meanings, the more modern and complex the thing is, the more people swarm into it. Circulations, transitions, transpositions, translations, emanations, substitutions, enactments — all kinds of movement between the human and the inhuman can be seen in a single material thing. The key, from an archeological point of view, contains a program of actions, a system of social relations and disciplinary practices. At the same time, it refuses to be just a representation of social reality: it transforms, constitutes, and modifies it. The social cannot exist without the chain of mediums connected to the physical key (its design, its inventor, its modifications, etc.). This technique of describing an object through chains of relations is the point of actor-network theory, a means to overcome the split between the social and the technical.
Keywords: technology; chains of associations; mediator; intermediary; anti-program
For David Bloor… and Beyond: A Reply to David Bloor’s “Anti-Latour” / Logos. 2017. № 1 (116). P. 135-162
annotation: This article is a response to the arguments proposed by David Bloor. In response to Bloor’s criticism, Bruno Latour acknowledges Bloor’s arguments but does not accept the foundations of Bloor’s position, which is based on a certain version of empiricism. Latour points to several asymmetries between the opponents while drawing on the history and role of the Strong Program in France: he explains the asymmetries in their positions, in their empirical experiences, and in their knowledge of each other’s writing. He also reviews those points that, according to Bloor, Latour had incorrectly reproduced. This includes Bloor’s claim that objects do not have agency. This claim, in turn, stems from an understanding of causality that is threefold: natural causality, the self-referentiality of the social, and a separate type of causality described by David Hume, which connects (or divides) things and their representations. In fact, the dynamically evolving actor-network theory stresses that such divisions are not helpful, and that we should pay attention to chains of associations between different entities that embody all three types of causality. The author explains the connection between his vocabulary (which is criticized by Bloor) and the empirical task of following the chains of associations. This, in turn, allows us to go beyond the idea of opposition as a starting point, and to transform the objects of sociology with the aim of explaining how the same processes construct both nature and society. In conclusion, the author compares the critical potential of each of these research programs in a context of resistance against naturalization and absolutism. The author also proposes to reject a generalized principle of symmetry.
Keywords: Strong Program; agency; causality; self-referential; underdetermination; chain of associations
On Actor-Network Theory. A Few Clarifications, Plus More Than a Few Complications / Logos. 2017. № 1 (116). P. 173-200
annotation: In this article, the author points to a number of common misconceptions about actor-network theory (ANT), which stem from the everyday use of the word “network.” The author explains his choice of this term by stating that it allows us to produce a new ontology, a new topology, and, eventually, new politics. Networks are the endpoint of reduction; there is nothing but networks, which are all contingent in nature. The author explains his approach by drawing on the following key themes: first, the approach includes removing the opposition between distance and closeness. Second, the approach is based on replacing the metaphor of scale with the metaphor of association, eventually bringing about the breakdown of the dichotomy “micromacro.” Third, the approach includes the removal of the division between inside and outside, and the replacement of this division with the immanence of networks. In addition to this topology, the approach is based on the ontological claim that a network is work that is done by actors who are acting, or entities that are acted upon. Importantly, the author warns against anthropocentrism or sociocentrism in our understanding of this term. The latter half of the article explains the architecture of ANT, which is based on three main parts. The first part of this architecture is the semiotic understanding of the construction of entities, and this allows us to view all actors as equal no matter what their characteristics or contexts are. Extending semiotics to things allows us to use an empty methodological frame, which can help us to follow any type of actor and to unravel chains of associations and to remain between descriptive and explanatory forms, which is the essence of the second part of ANT architecture. And, finally, the third part consists of the ontological character of networks and actors. The author explains specific relativism, relationism, and reflexivity of ANT and introduces the term “infralanguage.” In addition, the author explains the idea of following and sketching out networks. In the conclusion of the article, the author proposes to view networks as the production and the distribution of characteristics such as “sociality,” “textuality,” and “naturality.”
Keywords: network; actor; topology; contingency; methodology; ontology; semiotics; infralanguage; circulation
On Recalling ANT / Logos. 2017. № 1 (116). P. 201-216
annotation: This paper explores the four difficulties of actor-network theory: the words “actor,” “network,” “theory,” and the hyphen. The originality of ANT lies in the fact that this not so much an alternative social theory as it is a method of unravelling the activities of the actor who constructs their own world. By focusing on operations of structuring and summation rather than on concepts of “actor” and “network,” we are able to show that the tension between the macro and the micro levels in the social sciences is largely artificial. ANT allows us to overcome this tension by channeling our attention away from objects and towards circulations instead. According to the author, the main contribution of this theory to the social sciences is the transformation of the social from the surface, territory, or region of reality into circulation. In the latter half of the paper, the author discusses the potential of ANT as a symmetrical anthropology of the modern and the defining structure of modernity. This implies accounting for the emergence of the ontological opposition between “out there” and “in there” (the nature and the subject), and (the deletion of) political and theological interests. The difference between ANT and many kinds of reflection on modernity, post-, hyper-, pre-, and antimodernity, is simply that it took to task simultaneously all of the components of what could be called the modernist predicament. According to the author, ANT is not a theory of the social any more than it is a theory of the subject, or a theory of God, or a theory of nature. It is a theory of the space or fluids circulating in a non-modern situation. In the conclusion of the article, the author offers an optimistic take on the potential of developing ANT further and giving it new forms.
Keywords: actor; network; theory; summation; structuring; circulation
Biography of an Inquiry: On a Book About Modes of Existence / Logos. 2017. № 1 (116). P. 217-244
annotation: This article retraces the main steps that have led to the project called “An Enquiry Into Modes of Existence” (AIME). The author shows that this project actually preceded the work done in actor-network theory, and explains the link between philosophy and anthropology through the peculiar notion of “mode of existence.” The AIME project is a collective study of the modern civilisation, done by many authors by means of hypertext. In order to break the research out of the limits of the genealogy or critique of the Western rationality and to dig into the enigma that are “the moderns,” the author introduces the concept of “modes of existence,” which refer to specific socio-anthropological-cultural domains. The project is rooted in biblical exegesis, which lent it its textual practices. Fieldwork in anthropology completed in South Africa provoked the need for a reflective ethnography, taking the European modern civilisation as its subject. This was tested as anthropology of science in the Salk Institute. Then the theory was infused by semiotics and ethnomethodology, and shaped by collaborations with physicists, ecologists, physiologists etc., which led to the concepts of irreducibility and symmetrical anthropology. The paper demonstrates that the AIME project is rooted in its own socio-politico-cultural history, just as its objects of research, i.e. the moderns. It is, in a way, a reapplication of the method of AIME to itself.
Keywords: mode of existence; actor-network theory; agency; semiotics; anthropology
Can We Get Our Materialism Back, Please? / Logos. 2014. № 4 (100). P. 265-274
annotation: Technology is epistemology’s poor relative. It still carries the baggage of a definition of matter handed down to it by another odd definition of scientific activity. The consequence is that many descriptions of “things” have nothing “thingly” about them. They are simply “objects” mistaken for things. Hence the necessity of a new descriptive style that circumvents the limits of the materialist (in effect idealist) definition of material existence. This is what has been achieved in the group of essays Thick Things for which this note serves as an afterword.
Keywords: ontology of artifacts, philosophy of technology, materialism, idealism, definition of matter, primary and secondary qualities