Club-Admiralty

v6.2.1 - moving along, a point increase at a time

Latour - Rendering Associations Traceable Again - Part I

Alright! This is the final countdown for Latour!  I've reached Part II of his book, which discusses the points of rendering associations traceable again.  This continuing exploration of Latour deals with and Actor-Network Theory (in case you didn't remember). I've selected quotes that got me thinking when I first read the book, and now I am providing some current reactions (2 weeks later) to those quotes ...

The adjective ‘social’ designates two entirely different phenomena: it’s at once a substance, a kind of stuff, and also a movement between non-social elements. In both cases, the social vanishes. When it is taken as a solid, it loses its ability to associate; when it’s taken as a fluid, the social again disappears because it flashes only briefly, just at the fleeting moment when new associations are sticking the collective together.
So...I guess according to Latour, the Social is both solid and fluid at the same time?  Maybe some sort of slushy substance that  allows us to both has the ability to associate, but also allows us to see the social in more than just a flash?  Or is that what we are attempting to do with ANT?  To render this two-form thing into something that is in-between?

It’s traceable only when it’s being modified
You know...  I've heard this before, somewhere else I think.  That something is only traceable or visible when it is in a state of flux, but I don't remember where It may have even been Latour himself somewhere.  To some extent this reminds me a little bit of the boos in super mario world.  They are invisible when they are stationary. Then when they start moving toward you they become visible for a few moments, and then when they stop they are invisible again (at least from what I remember of Super Mario World.  It's been 20 years since I've played it).

Thus, much like the pharmakon of the Greeks, the search for the social becomes either a remedy or a powerful poison depending on the dose and on the timing
I think Latour likes both his Greek words and his metaphors. It's a good thing I am fluent in Greek because this metaphor makes a lot of sense. Although I am struggling, at the moment, to find cases where the search for the social is detrimental to what you're doing. If you have any ideas or use cases, do post in the comments.

When a social explanation is proposed, there is no longer a way to decide whether it is due to some genuine empirical grasp, to the application of a standard, to an attempt at social engineering, or to mere laziness.With the confusion of the three successive duties of social science, the social has become thoroughly untraceable.
I suppose there is some truth in this.  The thing that came to mind is academic, peer-reviewed, articles I've read over the past few years where some standard was applied, but it didn't make sense; or attempts of addressing the social were viewed through very odd lenses, thus making the final interpretation a bit off (in not totally bizarre). I do wonder, when other actors come in and render their interpretations of the social traces, do they in turn affect those traces in retrospect?

But it does not require much effort to see that a virtual and always present entity is exactly the opposite of what is needed for the collective to be assembled: if it’s already there, the practical means to compose it are no longer traceable; if it’s total, the practical means to totalize it are no longer visible; if it’s virtual, the practical means to realize, visualize, and collect it have disappeared from view. 
The thing that came to mind when reading this part was to ponder whether Latour was thinking of ossification here, and if not, would ossification apply to this train of thought?

How can we move on and render the social fully traceable again? By following the same strategy as in Part I. We should deploy the full range of controversies instead of attempting to decide by ourselves what is the best starting point to follow it. Once again, we should be more abstract and more relativist than at first anticipated.
Part I here refers to the sections I've blogged about before in this RhizoANT series of posts.  It's quite interesting that instead of picking one thread to try to untangle the entire mess that is social (mess meant in a good way) we have aren't picking just one, it seems, but rather looking at the field in total.

The first corrective move looks simple enough: we have to lay continuous connections leading from one local interaction to the other places, times, and agencies through which a local site is made to do something.
No commentary - just seemed an important point

all of the idiosyncratic terms I am going to offer designate nothing more than specific tricks to help resist the temptation to jump to the global
If we are deploying a full range of controversies, aren't we looking at things from a Global sense, Latour?  I get the idea of looking in, or rather zooming in, but shouldn't we be looking both at the zoomed in and zoomed out view? After all Actors can be Networks, and Networks can be Actors. This necessitates, in my mind, flexibility to pan and zoom throughout the network. No?

Myopic ANT scholars have a great advantage over sharp-sighted all encompassing overseers. Not only can they ask gross and silly questions, they can do so obstinately and collectively. The first kind of clamp is the one obtained by this rather naive query: ‘Where are the structural effects actually being produced?
Not really a naive query - it's a good question actually.  One thing that comes to mind is a two-year-old who keeps asking "why?".  This can be annoying, but if we keep asking why, and trying to answer, I think we get some rich answers (or at least rich views)

Macro no longer describes a wider or a larger site in which the micro would be embedded like some Russian Matryoshka doll, but another equally local, equally micro place, which is connected to many others through some medium transporting specific types of traces. No place can be said to be bigger than any other place, but some can be said to benefit from far safer connections with many more places than others.
Small is big, and big is small? I guess the pan and zoom activity doesn't quite work, according to Latour, because if Networks are Actors, then zooming into it to reveal other actors that make it up reminds me a lot of the Matryoshka doll metaphor.  Am I missing something?

The macro is neither ‘above’ nor ‘below’ the interactions, but added to them as another of their connections, feeding them and feeding off of them. There is no other known way to achieve changes in relative scale. For each of the ‘macro places’, the same type of questions can be raised.
I think I know what you're getting at, Latour, but I am a bit lost (not being funny, or anything...)

As should be clear by now, ANT is first of all an abstract projection principle for deploying any shape, not some concrete arbitrary decision about which shape should be on the map.
Alright, fine.  But, if I am going to use ANT as a thinking tool, shouldn't I come out with something somewhat concrete so as to better explain what's going on to an audience?

As every reader of Michel Foucault knows, the ‘panopticon’, an ideal prison allowing for a total surveillance of inmates imagined at the beginning of the 19th century by Jeremy Bentham, has remained a utopia, that is, a world of nowhere to feed the double disease of total paranoia and total megalomania. We, however, are not looking for utopia, but for places on earth that are fully assignable. Oligoptica are just those sites since they do exactly the opposite of panoptica: they see much too little to feed the megalomania of the inspector or the paranoia of the inspected, but what they see, they see it well—hence the use of this Greek word to designate an ingredient at once indispensable and that comes in tiny amounts (as in the ‘oligo-elements’ of your health store)
Again with those Greek words ;-)

As we saw in the earlier part of the book, it is not the sociologist’s job to decide in the actor’s stead what groups are making up the world and which agencies are making them act
Quite true.

Size and zoom should not be confused with connectedness
One more Latourism.

In effect, the Big Picture is just that: a picture. And then the question can be raised: in which movie theatre, in which exhibit gallery is it shown? Through which optics is it projected? To which audience is it addressed? I propose to call panoramas the new clamps by asking obsessively such questions. Contrary to oligoptica, panoramas, as etymology suggests, see everything. But they also see nothing since they simply show an image painted (or projected) on the tiny wall of a room fully closed to the outside.
So, a panorama shows you everything, but it's not a panopticon because unlike a panopticon you can't see everything in a panorama.  Am I on the right wavelength here?

Whereas oligoptica are constantly revealing the fragility of their connections and their lack of control on what is left in between their networks, panoramas gives the impression of complete control over what is being surveyed, even though they are partially blind and that nothing enters or leaves their walls except interested or baffled spectators. 
One other aspect of panoramas I can think of is that they focus on the broad, so the details will be quite fuzzy.  The camera lens will focus on a specific spot to make sure that this spot is in focus, and it does so to the detriment of focusing on other things. Thus a panorama gives you the big picture, but you can't really "see" everything clearly.  I wonder if this is what Latour was going for.


Well, Part I is done... Time for a mental break.  Thoughts? :)
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