What the Frenchman is saying:

Posted: February 6, 2012 by mahmerkhan in Feb 8

The Actor Network Theory, in the third source of uncertainty, is emphasizing that objects play a much more integral part on society than most sociologist believe. Latour emphasizes in his article that things just don’t happen on themselves. Social laws, social norms and in particular culture do not have the “steel” in themselves to propel themselves over society. ANT asks that since power is not rigid and it is in different forms, what gives the power for social norms to be and not be? What stays and what fades out? “Its the power exerted through entities that don’t sleep and associations that don’t break down that allow power to last longer and expand further and, to achieve such a feat, many more materials than social compacts have to be devised.” (70) He then introduces objects into the picture. Objects cannot be measured however, they do play an important role between actor and object. Both object and actor affect each other and further affect large society. These objects and their affects on humans are not dichotomous, rather interconnected. He explains, in his words: “Matter, is a highly politicized interpretation of causality” (76) The more an object affects society the more invisible it becomes (80). This is important. The important object does not vanish or go away, rather it is not visible anymore. Sociologists are not aware of the effect it has on society because it becomes naturalized. They become a part of society and it’s objectivity is removed from the perspective. To be visible and to act on society, sociologists should look at five things: innovations, distance, accidents, history and fiction.

My thoughts on this article are relatively simple. Bruno Latour is saying we should be aware of the objects that play into our lives. He emphasizes awareness. Most people and sociologists are giving culture and social norm too much credit where credit should not or can not be given. There is something so powerful that drives our culture and our social norm that we don’t see it. The word culture has so many definitions, we as sociologists should analyze what empowers culture. I’ll give you an example: In the martial arts world there are belts and ranks. We’ll use Wing Chun as our system. There is no sash, white sash, red, green, blue, black and finally gold sash. It’s essentially a really thin belt thats wrapped around the waist twice and made of polyester (the original ones were made of silk, but price affected authenticity…you’d think they would respect the system in it’s authenticity) The martial arts system gives and constructs the value of knowledge on the color of the sash. With knowledge comes power and authority of that knowledge. It becomes so engrained into the martial arts world that most unaware martial artists want just a black sash, nobody wants knowledge, just a sash. In addition, your previous life experiences do not show into the sash. We were the original ones who gave that colored polyester piece of cloth value and symbols. It then governed us and embedded into our minds that moving up the ranks towards the black sash is everything. It no longer becomes about knowledge and inner peace but just getting a colored sash. Funny how things work out…

My question for the class is this: “When it comes to diasporic objects, objects foreign to North American society, some diasporic act more importantly than others. Tea is a good example. There’s been a fairly recent shift from coffee to tea, maybe 5-10 years ago. How did this shift occour? Where and what point in our “culture” (we’ll have to define culture) did tea become a important? Its functionality, its authenticity, its quality suddenly became a thing. How?  Also we sometimes notice some diasporic objects and their affects on us more quicker than others. Why? We notice the niqaab faster than wine. (Wine craze just started maybe in the 80’s, if I remember our Professor correctly). Is it because the niqaab more visible than wine? When does something become normalized? When do we stop noticing?

  1. tupakkat says:

    I like your reversal of Latour’s question: “when do we stop noticing?”. With this question you imply that it is the foreignness of an object that makes us notice it to begin with.
    The diasporic object is at first noticed until it becomes “localized”, until it is incorporated in mainstream culture. We do not notice objects when they seem natural to us, when they seem to be “natural” parts of our environment, i.e when they have been there for a certain amount of time.

    On the other hand, certain political, cultural and societal processes can speed up the “localization” of a diasporic object. In your example of tea, the fact that marketing professionals have heavily advocated it, that a certain meaning of culture was attached to it and that mainstream society uses it on a daily basis makes it at home in the West. The niqab, in contrast, is negatively marketed by media and politicians, the culture attached to it is foreign, dark and frightening and of course mainstream society does not use it.

    Both objects are used to symbolize something, and the meaning tea stands for is desirable to be connected to, the meaning niqab stands for is not. Therefore it is bound to remain diasporic and not to find a home.

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