Gabriella Feb 8 Reading Response

Posted: February 8, 2012 by gablneus in Uncategorized

The author of this week’s article set out to redefine the terms ‘social’ and ‘agency’ in an effort to expand our understanding of social relations to include objects and the agency that they possess. He critiques sociologists in that they are limiting themselves by focusing on purely human social relations. He says, “no science of the social can even begin if the question of who and what participates in the action is not first of all explored.” By this he means that we need to examine the role that objects play in our social lives. This does not mean the way in which we (as humans) exert our agency through objects, but rather, the ways in which objects act themselves. Crucial to Latour’s argument is an understanding of what he means by “social.” He defines it as “a movement, a displacement, a transformation, or translation…an association between entities that are in no way recognizable as being social in the ordinary manner except during the moment when they are reshuffled together.” What I think he is saying here is that things, then, become mobilized, not by human interpretations, but by something intrinsic in the object itself. Relations of power and inequity are not limited to human interaction and the desire of one person to be more powerful than another, but instead are part of a larger system: a system that includes”all the entities already mobilized to render asymmetries long lasting.” In this system, objects have agency–not simply causality. In order to understand this, we must bridge the gap between human agency and material causality.
This is a difficult concept to wrap my mind around, and I am hoping that in our class discussion, I will be able to make Actor-Network theory more accessible. I think that it is important to understand Actor-Network Theory because it seems to put into words the feeling that I got after taking introduction to sociology. The idea that we construct our own social world and the social world constructs us is a compelling idea that contains a lot of truth, but I  felt that something was missing and perhaps it was that humans are not the only actors with agency in our ‘social’ system.
What I would like to explore in more depth is the natural world. In what ways can we see nature as having agency? Latour seems to be speaking of man-made tools when he refers to objects. What is the role of natural disasters (floods, earthquakes) in our social world and how can this broaden our understanding of the environment as an actor with agency? Perhaps this expanded understanding of the power that the environment has in our social networks would change the way that humans interact with it.

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