Archive for the ‘Feb 8’ Category

Third Source of Uncertainty: Actor-Network Theory

Posted: February 8, 2012 by jnnice in Feb 8

The focus of this weeks reading by Latour is this term, ANT: Actor-Network Theory. This theroy is a way to perceive the relationship between the the human and non-human (e.g. artifacts) in a systematic way. In short cut, the point of this theory is to say, no one is acting alone and the agency is not only assigned to the humans but almost everything in the surrounding environment whether that is just some artifacts associated, or conceptual factors, and therfore, there we as people considering social factors should count these ‘netwok’ of things around an event/a phenomenon. 

To get to his point, he firstly talkes about the existence of social heirarchies and that is what the discipline is studying and analysing for; but something is missing in many discourses: “where do they come from and what are they made out of?” (64) For this question he reveals step by step what were the technical problems.

First he redefine the original meaning of ‘social’. He uses the metaphor of supermarket to differentiate two types of meaning in the term. One is ‘social’ as in ‘social ties’, and the other is ‘social’ as in ‘associations’.  To him ‘social’ is “the multiple modifications made throughout the whole place in the organization of all the goods–their packaging, their pricing, their labeling” for it is what is revealed to observers as  new combination, having its newly defined value on its own. He concludes: “Thus, social, for ANT, is the name of a type of momentary association which is characterized by the way it gathers together into new shapes” (65). With that in mind, he states that society as in the ‘power of society’ is not society itself, but is sort of summary for all th entities already mobilized to render asymmetries longer lasting. (68)

Then he moves on how the objects are not only the tools for human activities but what the actions are actually done through. They can are part of agent for the action. The whole concept of analysing social phenomena is switched from human-central view to the environmental-whole view. This means that in terms of taking an action, it is not neccessary to put human in a subject position but the objects in subject positions (e.g. “Kettles ‘boil’ water). Interestingly, he points out the acting is not same as ‘determining’. And perhaps that is where it is different from human agency to the obejct agency. Humans are designed to will and they will to use other object agency in any way for an action probably, whereas the objects simply becomes the cause forthe action affecting the surroundings without their intentions in it.

For what I have tried to figure out what the author was claiming, I have agreed most of it. However, that the objects help trace social connections only intermittently is what I can agree the most. For it is actually the humans who has will to use the objects, their function or place or appearance can be determined by human actions. This is more actively done and can be more vivid for it is at the end, the humans who are analysing the cause-effect scenarios and it matters to the human society. However, the actions made by objects onto the humans and made humans to accept their actions can be really subtle. The objects can send out certain messages without physically doing things. Nevertheless, that can ‘do’ something to a human mind. And that is how human actions can be triggered or even the identity can be formed.

To understand the sociological factors of human society and phenomena is, therefore, a very hard to grasp sometimes, from even to define it. The scrutinazing sociological fundamentality in this way was something quite astonishing to me, although it was really hard to follow. This article makes coherence to see the importance of object as an actor although the agency is not as symmetrial to the human agency.


He mentioned about the Supermarket mataphor to explain what social means… and the ‘social’ is the newly put together thing, which went through so many processes. Then in the process of making or inventing or designing things, not about the variation of same thing for same concepts, there must be an agency for the producer to be affected. What can those be?






Latour’s main arguments and insights in a nutshell

In a highly theoretical fashion, Latour scrutinizes the foundational sociological intuition of social inequality from the perspective of Actor-Network Theory (ANT). However, Latour does not dismiss the existence of social asymmetry at all. Instead, Latour aims to reframe the inquiry of sociology by proposing sociologists take An epistemological stab at EXPLAINING social inequality. In the author’s effort to explain this phenomena , he challenges  the research interests of traditional sociologists: the identification and repetition of the common notion that social asymmetries exist, which he describes as a tautological endeavor.  Latour’s critique proposes that objects are “full-blown” (Pg. 72) actors engaged in social ties much like human actors, given the ANT definition of the “social” as “movement, displacement, and transformation”. (Pg. 64) In asserting the agency of objects, Latour makes the objects the site of power, vowing to dislodge the myth that the study of sociology is without object, thus making ANT and Latour’s analysis key to a dynamic social analysis of objects.

Connecting Latour to Schamberger

Although he’s assuredly not the first one to admit it, Latour even states that his philosophical arguments are “difficult to grasp”. (Pg.77) His theoretical arguments however, need not be left in the abstract. A key comparison can be made to the Schamberger et. al article from the first week of readings regarding the Australian museum which featured  a dress and bamboo instrument. Schamberger et. al introduced us to the relationship and dichotomy between objects and humans, describing the relationship as a dynamic intertwining, “constantly in motion” (Pg. 276) Latour provides a highly similar yet more sophisticated understanding of the relationship between objects and humans. In doing so he first asserts the danger of blurring the two entities. For Latour, blurring the two things is to cut off the agency that both possess. Thus, Latour’s definition of the relationship is much like the relationship that exists between society and technology. In this case, objects can be considered technology and humans of course society. Latour continually returns to the concept of “reshuffling”  and a “zigzagging” (Pg. 75) action occurring between humans and objects. Thus, to see objects only as they relate and fit neatly into human agency is to deny objects their own  agency.

In search of solutions for the incommensurability of objects

Latour notes that the fundamental incommensurability of objects is a hindrance to the study of them and the identification of objects as actors. He further notes that nonetheless, researchers need to get over such incommensurability and study objects in sociological inquiry as to not continue leaving behind missing patches in their research of social phenomenon.  (Pg. 74) Latour’s fault is he does not propose ways for researchers to overcome the incommensurability of objects. Like much of his argumentation, especially given that it is calling upon an entire epistemological shift, something must be said.

Easier said than done, Latour, easier said than done. (And he doesn’t even say it easily)

Questions regarding making objects “talk” and the role of art

1. If this object could talk…the things it would say…!

Latour argues that humans use tricks to make objects “talk”, but he does not give any concrete relevant examples.

What might be some examples of  tricks used to make objects visible, allowing objects to “talk”?

2. Role of creativity and fiction

But given the fact that objects cannot and will never actually “talk”, What is the role of creativity and fiction for making objects visible, what can we learn from “artists”?

Actor-Network Theory, Feb 8th

Posted: February 7, 2012 by elyssamayer in Feb 8

This piece was initially very difficult to understand, but as the reading went on, the concept of ANT became much clearer. Overall, I found this article highly critical of social scientists, almost to a degree that condemned their deficiencies in ignoring the importance objects and material have in analysis of social structures and human agency. Latour argues, the power of society is not of itself, but rather embedded in the power we assign to it, and by disenfranchising the significance of material interactions, we stifle our understanding of a thorough analysis of society.

Verbs designate the actions of objects or nouns and gives them purpose and agency. The agency of non-humans (objects or material), is entwined in the relationship between the things and the concepts associated with them. ATN is how objects and the signs come together as a whole to create a cohesive understanding of the world. Anything that “modifies a state of affairs by making a difference” is an actor, and thus objects and materials are also actors and not solely humans. The symbols we associate with objects have become so clung to our understanding of the objects and such an integral component of life that these objects participate in active activities. The author uses an example of a stop sign and a cyclist in this understanding, as the stop sign acts upon the cyclist. How we understand the symbols of the object (stop sign) allows it to act upon us, thus giving the object agency.

These directions of influence often recede into the background of our comprehension, and are ignored by many social theorists’ studies. Latour argues that due to the incommensurability of these objects they are perceived as inconsequential to our study, while in fact they hold an important role in attaining a comprehensive understanding. As Latour states, objects and humans do not have an isolated or symmetrical relationship, instead they are intricately weaved together to form the experience we know.


  1. Are the deficiencies of social science a justification to our lack of analysis of the importance of material culture?
  2. If this metaphysical study is ‘incommensurable’, then how can it be effectively analyzed?

Feb 8th Reading Response –Bruno Latour (Actor-Network Theory)

Posted: February 6, 2012 by jonathansantosdts403diasporiclivesofobjects in Feb 8

This reading, even though extremely difficult to read and comprehend at first was quite informative as it taught me how to truly examine and think about the process behind humans and objects interacting within society. Through providing the reader with numerous examples the author exposed how objects are categorized solely on social links and ties. By going into specific detail on the importance of interaction, the author stressed the importance of basic social skills. Through presenting the reader with this actor-network theory the author made it evident that people can learn allot about each other by examining how animals and people construct, repair and or destroy their home societies. What became evident to me through these examples was that within this theory, there was no distinction between the social, natural and or technological, everything was connected and constantly working together.

What I found as a reader to be very interesting was how the author examined both sides of the argument whereas most authors commonly examine and argue in favour of one side. Even though it was a tough read I think that the author did a great job of getting his point across effectively as he was able to provide simple and basic examples that the average reader could comprehend. For example I think that by using the example of the two drivers, the author was able to explain that people interact with objects due to both moral and ethical reasons in order to avoid a nasty situation. Most of all what I found to be the most helpful was how the author used basic examples to get his point across. As an art-sci student I found his examples to be very helpful and easy to understand.

This theory in my opinion is indeed a unique approach to examining social theory. Before studying and examining this theory I never thought of understanding the processes of innovation and knowledge creation in science and technology. Now I am intrigued. It is truly exciting and fascinating material.


(1)   Is this theory a-moral? Are moral and political positions possible?

(2)   Research on this theory has revealed that it is mostly descriptive and fails to provide explanations to social processes. What do you think?


Posted: February 6, 2012 by tupakkat in Feb 8

In his venture to promote the Actor Network Theory as an alternative to what he calls “sociology of the social” and to view sociology in light of its etymological roots as “tracing of associations” rather than “science of the social”, Latour argues among other things for paying attention to non-humans in their function as actors.

Since the term “social” in Latour’s view does not designate a domain of reality but an association between entities which is recognizable only during the brief moment of contact (Latour 2007: 65) the notion of “sociologists of the social” that social ties are simultaneously durable and made of social stuff, is a grave mistake. So is the division between the material and the social and the exclusion of objects as agents. According to Latour, anything that modifies a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor or, if still without figuration, an actant (ibid.: 71), not in the sense of causality but as a “shade between full causality and sheer inexistence” (ibid.: 72).

Like Miller, who speaks about the humility of things, Latour aims at bringing objects out of the state of being “humble servants” by recognizing their mostly unnoticed impact on others. In this respect he complements the socials sciences with a crucial, hitherto rather ignored, perspective. Latour’s challenge and redefinition of long accepted terminology, however, in addition to his introduction of new concepts paves the way for confusion. Instead of introducing a new means of transportation, he attempts to re-invent the wheel.

My first question, therefore is: Why is a complete “new sociology” needed for the sole purpose of widening the sociologist’s spectrum? Speed-bumps, to remain with Latour’s example, are most likely not a result of ANT but a consequence of policy makers’ recognition of the fact that (for reasons that may be interesting for sociologists of study) a possible punishment caused by the undesired act of speeding is a more effective deterrent than an appeal to the human actor’s conscience. Undeniably does the concrete slab have enough “agency”, to speak with Latour’s terms, to influence the driver’s conduct. The interesting question behind it remains, however, why does it take a concrete slab where a sign used to be good enough?

While objects and their “agency” undeniably are under-acknowledged, it is not the object itself that is of interest to the human researcher but the human aspect behind it, the meaning attached to it by a human or the influence it has on a human.

My second question relates to the motive behind Latour’s approach: policy makers, professionals concerned with security, urban developers increasingly rely on things to provide their desired ends. They limit human agency through a use of things that impedes if not excludes undesired conduct (e.g. armrests on a bus stop bench to prevent homeless people from sleeping there). On the other hand it objectifies humans by placing them in the same category as a thing (see Nicholas Blomley, 2007 “How to Turn a Beggar into a Bus Stop”). Either way, the power relations remain between humans, not between humans and things. It is a human who placed a certain object in an impeding way, it is a human who defined a beggar as belonging to the same category as a newspaper stand. The power of the object is just the extended arm of a human being. Therefore, why and how is the sociologist hiding the real cause of social inequality?


Objects too have agency

Posted: February 6, 2012 by lynndts403 in Feb 8

From what I could gather from “Objects too have agency”, Latour seems to seriously question the work of sociologists and aims to redefine the notion of agency to include objects as actors. He states “anything that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor (71)”; he argues that ‘social skills’ alone fall short in maintaining power rather it is objects that allows power to last and expand.

Throughout the chapter, he emphasizes the intertwined relationship between society and objects and the need to grasp the concept of objects having agency in order to better comprehend domination in our social structures.

In addition, Latour uses Actor-Network- Theory to illustrate the connectedness of objects with people; he is quick to point out that objects do not replace human actors but rather supplement the action; whether things influence, forbid or render.  Furthermore, he claims that the goal of ANT is to expand the list and alter shapes of the construct as contributors and include them as a long-lasting whole.

I found this reading particularly difficult to comprehend; often finding myself lost in his arguments and sometimes even struggling to find the key points in major sections of what seems to come across like an academic ‘rant’. However, I do feel that Latour was successful in using examples to supplement some of his arguments.


1. Does Latour’s arguments render a re-evaluation of sociology and their approaches to studying societies?

2. Since Latour states that “anything that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is an actor”.  Could an actor include non-material objects such as animals?



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?