Archive for July, 2009

From Marxism to ANT and back

29 July 2009

Nick Srnicek over at Speculative Heresy asks some interesting questions about the relationship between marxism, non-philosophy, speculative realism and actor-network theory.

What if capitalism-qua-system is as much a product of Marxist theories as it is of any physical and social reality? (…) How to resist something that is non-systemic, non-totalizing and more heterogeneous than previously presumed? (…) How to square the circle and incorporate Marxism, non-philosophy and ANT together?

Explicitly or implicitly, his questions touch on a number of controversies, such as the micro-macro quandry in social theory, the “explain or describe” dilemma, the nature of critique and the relationship between social theory/philosophy and political action.

Does ANT’s commitment to empirical description though have to necessarily lead to local studies incapable of grasping the big picture? The proponents of ANT often argue against making a priori distinctions between the local and the global or the micro and the macro, focusing instead on describing the equipment that produces distinctions like these. In theory at least it is possible to imagine that various descriptions of apparatuses operating in a variety of domains (from financial markets to healthcare to entertainment) can be connected to construct a more complete picture of how the prevalent socio-economic-technical etc. modes of ordering sustain themselves.

How about combining  ANT and Marx into an analytical apparatus called ANT-MARKS, dedicated to studying the burrows that ant-like actors leave behind during their ongoing construction of the global capitalist system?

Incidentally, it would be interesting to find out what happened at “The State of Things” conference earlier this year, which conducted some explorations along similar lines…

A Space Odyssey

22 July 2009

It’s hard to disagree with Oli Mould that 2001: A Space Odyssey is one of the greatest movies ever made about tools. Or should we say tool-being?

Another Heidegger

22 July 2009

Check out Paul Ennis’s interview with Graham Harman on the anotherheideggerblog about, among other things, a metaphysics video game, writing and publishing advice, and, oh yes, Heidegger!

Breaking Heidegger

16 July 2009

No diatribe against his former tribe, but still, Harman at his heretic best.

Here’s a thought… What happens when Heidegger the tool breaks down?

Or the reverse, when Heidegger the tool withdraws into the tapestry of philosophy?

What is Harman doing when he is breaking Heidegger?

The Large, the Small and the Human Mind

14 July 2009

“The Large, the Small and the Human Mind:” a highly interdisciplinary two-day conference at the New Gallery Lucerne, as part of the Swiss Biennial on Science, Technics + Aesthetics, bringing together scientists, sociologists, philosophers, ecologists, writers, artists, and policy-makers to discuss various theories of everything, among others with Bruno Latour as keynote speaker, Isabelle Stengers as chairperson, and Peter Weibel as panel discussion leader, on 16-17 January 2010. (Hat tip to Jess).

LSD and innovation

10 July 2009

Last week we were speculating here about the possible role of prescription painkillers in the performance of the Michael Jackson assemblage. This week The Huffington Post brings us Ryan Grim’s article about the role of LSD (yes, the psychodelic drug) in scientific progress and in particular IT innovation. Thus we learn that LSD has or may have inspired such innovators and innovations as Steve Jobs and Apple computers, Douglas Engelbart and the computer mouse, Larry Page and Sergey Brin of Google, Mark Pesce, coinventor of VRML, researchers at Sun Microsystems and Cisco Systems, Nobel Prize-winning chemist Kary Mullis, and, believe it or not, even Bill Gates is suspected. According to Grim, “Francis Crick, who discovered DNA along with James Watson, told friends that he first saw the double-helix structure while tripping on LSD.” If all this is true, then LSD-inventor Albert Hofmann (together with his invention) has had a profund effect on the recent history of the world. Hmm…, has there been any STS research into scientists’ drug-taking habits and their extended network of drug dealers?

Scalography at Oxford

9 July 2009

An ANTHEM contingent was deployed to Oxford yesterday, to take part in a discussion of matters big and small at the “From Scale to Scalography” workshop at Saïd Business School. (We even managed to tempt Graham Harman to come along.) Organised by the Institute for Science, Innovation and Society (formerly known as the James Martin Institute for Science and Civilization), the workshop focussed on the contentious issue of scale in social theory, often formulated as the micro-macro problem. The Word document with the programme contains the links to all the PDFs of the papers that have been presented and discussed. Woolgar et al.’s provocation piece (PDF) does a great job of spelling out the issues and controversies, situating them within the intellectual tradition of science and technology studies, and also posing a series of questions for discussion.


Becker on qualitative research

9 July 2009

Test Society gathers the key links for this crucial debate on the nature of qualitative research vis-a-vis the funding criteria of the National Science Foundation, the US federal funding agency for scientific research. Howard S. Becker makes an important intervention here in defence of qualitative research methods. What is incredible, at least looking at this from Europe, is that this debate has to take place at all in the first decade of the 21st century. But by all indications, the argument for qualitative research is far from being won in the Western world. Here are some key quotes from Becker’s piece:

Many more of the papers, however, repeat the message delivered by Lamont and White in the 15-page executive summary and short introduction, which might be summarized as “Quit whining and learn to do real science by stating theoretically derived, testable hypotheses, with methods of data gathering and analysis specified before entering the field. Then you’ll get NSF grants like the real scientists do.” Less contentiously, you could say that the report recommends an unnuanced and incomplete version of the King, Keohane, and Verba Designing Social Inquiry (1994) message: Start out with clear, theoretically anchored hypotheses, pick a sample that will let you test those ideas, and use a pre-specified method of systematic analysis to see if they are right. (546)

In response, Becker invokes the key insights of STS:


The Speculative Turn

4 July 2009

News of the Speculative Turn anthology have hit the blog waves. There is now a holding page for the forthcoming book on the site, and Levi Bryant provides the genealogy.

Levi Bryant, Nick Srnicek and Graham Harman (editors) (Forthcoming), The Speculative Turn: Continental Materialism and Realism. Melbourne,


Continental philosophy has entered a new period of ferment. The long deconstructionist era was followed with a period dominated by Deleuze, which has in turn evolved into a new situation still difficult to define. However, one common thread running through the new brand of continental positions is a renewed attention to materialist and realist options in philosophy. Among the current giants of this generation, this new focus takes numerous different and opposed forms. It might be hard to find many shared positions in the writings of Badiou, DeLanda, Laruelle, Latour, Stengers, and Zizek, but what is missing from their positions is an obsession with the critique of written texts. All of them elaborate a positive ontology, despite the incompatibility of their results. Meanwhile, the new generation of continental thinkers is pushing these trends still further, as seen in currents ranging from transcendental materialism to the London-based speculative realism movement to new revivals of Derrida. As indicated by the title The Speculative Turn, the new currents of continental philosophy depart from the text-centered hermeneutic models of the past and engage in daring speculations about the nature of reality itself. This anthology assembles authors, of several generations and numerous nationalities, who will be at the center of debate in continental philosophy for decades to come.


Graham Harman, Goodenough

4 July 2009

Click here for the details of Graham Harman’s forthcoming talk on speculative realism at the Goodenough Art & Architecture Club, Goodenough College, London, at 8pm on 8 July 2009.