Archive for September, 2009

Urban Assemblages

30 September 2009

A new book edited by Ignacio Farías and Thomas Bender (2009): Urban Assemblages: How Actor-Network Theory Changes Urban Studies, in the Questioning Cities Series by Routledge.

This book takes it as a given that the city is made of multiple partially localized assemblages built of heterogeneous networks, spaces, and practices. The past century of urban studies has focused on various aspects—space, culture, politics, economy—but these too often address each domain and the city itself as a bounded and cohesive entity. The multiple and overlapping enactments that constitute urban life require a commensurate method of analysis that encompasses the human and non-human aspects of cities—from nature to socio-technical networks, to hybrid collectivities, physical artefacts and historical legacies, and the virtual or imagined city.


Translation in COMBO

29 September 2009

This fabulous video from BLU and David Ellis is an excellent illustration of the actor-network theory notion of translation. Meanings and beings are continually transposed and transformed in the collaborative construction process, out of which some truly surprising composite creatures emerge. (Thanks to Tammy Lu for sending this video my way.)


29 September 2009

Andrew Huang‘s Doll Face video could serve as a pretty good illustration of what Giorgio Agamben seems to have in mind when (after Foucault) he talks about subjectification, the configuration of subjects by apparatuses. (Hat tip to themutabletruth)

Intentional inexistence

29 September 2009

Another quote from Graham Harman’s “Dwelling With the Fourfold” paper (p.  299):

The hammer in its tool-being, then, is not just simple. It is also a vast relational compound arising from numerous subservient or contributing entities. But by the same token, the hammer in its breakdown is also not just a relational phenomenon lying on the outermost surface of reality. After all, the hammer in this case exists in relation to me. And such a relation is a genuine entity in its own right, an interior space possessing some features and lacking others. In fact, the relation between me and the hammer is nothing less than a new object in its own right. My perception of the hammer, whatever its features, is therefore something that takes place on the interior of an object. Any space is a space on the inside of an object. There is no transcendence that strips free of all location—no starry, windy space of freedom or Angst to which humans arise and survey the world from a mountaintop. Instead, we are like moles or mining-machines, burrowing from one zone of reality to another, sometimes finding ourselves in better places than others, but never in a place from which we can survey all the rest. It is well known that Franz Brentano’s full name for intentionality is “intentional inexistence.” This is usually taken to refer to objects existing inside human consciousness, when in fact it really means that human consciousness is always on the inside of an object.

ANTHEM facelift

29 September 2009

It was about time to say good-bye to the generic WordPress header and inject some colour into our façade. Many thanks to our in-house artist, Tammy Lu, for allowing us to use one of her images. It is fitting that Untitled 11 is associated with a quote involving Heidegger. And the number 4 in the image is a good reminder that Heidegger’s fourfold is of central interest here.

Dwelling With the Fourfold

27 September 2009

Graham Harman has published an article on Heidegger’s concept of the fourfold (Geviert) in the August issue of Space and Culture, under the title “Dwelling With the Fourfold.” The abstract on the journal’s website doesn’t quite do justice to the article’s content, so let me copy in the introductory paragraph, which spells out its focus in more detail:

Heidegger’s concept of “dwelling” was first introduced in 1951 in the famous Darmstadt lecture “Bauen Wohnen Denken” (Heidegger, 1954). It is inseparable from his model of things as mysterious fourfold structures. The thing is a mirror-play of earth, sky, gods, and mortals; to dwell means simply to let this fourfold be what it is. While no major concept of Heidegger’s career has received less detailed treatment than the fourfold, I hold this to be a tragic mistake. The following article outlines the key features of Geviert and tries to show why Heidegger’s fourfold has great value for the near future of philosophy, despite the apparent opacity of its poetic terminology. We can start from the beginning, with Heidegger’s (1949/1994) reflections on “the thing” in Bremen, which later appeared as a spin-off essay of the same title.

It’s a clever title for a clever article, as Harman does exactly that: he lets the fourfold be what it is. Granted, it is still Harman’s interpretation of what Heidegger’s fourfold means, but it is a convincing one. Although one could also argue that if this interpretation arises out of dwelling with the fourfold, then it is not simply an interpretation but an outcome that is hardwired into the method of the fourfold. Which is not to suggest that ‘practicing the fourfold’ is a trivial matter. Far from it. As Harman suggests above, this still seems to be a rather neglected kata of Heideggerian martial arts.

Readers of Harman’s Tool-Being will recognise the article’s argument. For those who haven’t read Harman’s book yet or are not familiar with his work, this article could be a good way to enter this problem area. However, I would still recommend following it up with reading Harman’s chapter on the fourfold in Tool-Being, alongside Heidegger’s original essays, of course.

Nonetheless, Harman does move on from his argument in Tool-Being, and the article could be considered a speculative realist critique of Heidegger’s fourfold. This critique however seems to strengthen Heidegger’s original insights further, and can be understood as a retrieval of the essence of Heidegger’s argument. Interestingly the article also makes the connection with actor-network theory and Bruno Latour, although this link is not mentioned explicitly. However, the discussion of “infinite regress” and occasionalism in Heidegger will remind readers of Harman’s evaluation and critique of Latour’s metaphysics in Prince of Networks. Indeed this article could be thought of as the link between his interpretation of Heidegger’s fourfold in Tool-Being and Harman’s own fourfold structure presented in the final chapter of Prince of Networks.

Organizing Uncertainty

26 September 2009

An interesting lecture series at the Copenhagen Business School, with leading sociologists and anthropologists on the topic of organising. Marilyn Strathern was the first speaker in September, to be followed by Bruno Latour in October and David Stark in January. (Hat tip to  DASTS.)

Bruno Latour reading group

23 September 2009

As ANTHEM itself started out in November 2006 as an ANT-Heidegger reading group at the LSE, we are very happy to recommend similar initiatives. A joint Bruno Latour reading group has just kicked off last week at Duke University and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, in preparation of Latour’s forthcoming residency at Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill in Spring 2010. The next meetings will be on  16 October and 20 November in 2009, and 22 January and 12 February in 2010.

On Latour’s plasma

20 September 2009

Marcus A. Doel has an article forthcoming in Environment and Planning D: Society and Space, in which he discusses Latour’s notion of plasma. The article is entitled “Miserly thinking/excessful geography: from restricted economy to global financial crisis.” Here is an extract from the abstract:

Pitching itself against miserly thinking, the paper unfolds a form of thought animated by excession rather than immiseration, by a world given as excess rather than as privation. This is accomplished in four parts, the first of which dislodges the grip of miserly thinking by recourse to George Bataille’s notion of general economy. The paper then considers arguably the best-known form of excessful thinking: Marxian political economy, as rendered by David Harvey. Nevertheless, while this successfully reveals how social formations are animated by surplus rather than by scarcity, its desire to restitute excess remains mired in miserly thinking. Consequently, the third part of the paper considers the fate of excess once it suffuses the whole of existence. With its ontology of association, Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory has gone the furthest in this regard. However, this ontology runs aground upon an inconsistent excess held in reserve: plasma. The final part of the paper addresses the limitations of Latour’s actor-network theory by way of Alain Badiou’s ontology of subtraction. In the final analysis, the sequence of ‘lack’, ‘surplus’, and ‘association’ gives way to the constellation of ‘multiplicity’, ‘situation’, and ‘event’, which is illustrated with reference to the global financial crisis of 2008 and 2009.

The materiality of learning‏

9 September 2009

Following up on my ruminations about actor-network theory and learning a few months ago, here is a promising new contribution to this problem area: The Materiality of Learning‏: Technology and Knowledge in Educational Practice by Estrid Sørensen (Cambridge University Press, 2009). Make sure to check out the cool ewidget preview of the book. Here is the description from the publisher’s website:

The field of educational research lacks a methodology for the study of learning that does not begin with humans, their aims, and their interests. The Materiality of Learning seeks to overcome this human-centered mentality by developing a novel spatial approach to the materiality of learning. Drawing on science and technology studies (STS), Estrid Sørensen compares an Internet-based 3D virtual environment project in a fourth-grade class with the class’s work with traditional learning materials, including blackboards, textbooks, notebooks, pencils, and rulers. Taking into account pupils’ and teachers’ physical bodies, Professor Sørensen analyzes the multiple forms of technology, knowledge, and presence that are enacted with the materials. Featuring detailed ethnographic descriptions and useful end-of-chapter summaries, this book is an important reference for professionals and graduate or postgraduate students interested in a variety of fields, including educational studies, educational psychology, social anthropology, and STS.

And I assume it’s not a secret that you can get a 20% discount if you buy the book via this link.