Archive for July, 2012

19 July 2012

Object-Oriented Philosophy

The prominent German author Diedrich Diederichsen discusess The Prince and the Wolf, among other things, in THIS POST.

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Somewhere in Russia…

14 July 2012

…to be more precise, at the Piotrovsky Bookstore in Perm, books on speculative realism, ANT and the like are part of the effort to restore “book culture to its height during the Soviet times.” Hat tip OOP.

New book: Das Netzwerk von Bruno Latour

14 July 2012

Das Netzwerk von Bruno Latour: Die Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie zwischen Science & Technology Studies und poststrukturalistischer Soziologie (June 2012) by Matthias Wieser (can be previewed electronically here).

Die Akteur-Netzwerk-Theorie (ANT) ist durch die Schriften von Bruno Latour der vielleicht umstrittenste und zugleich fruchtbarste Ansatz in den zeitgenössischen Sozial- und Kulturwissenschaften. Dieses Buch zeigt, dass die theoretischen Potenziale des Denkens Latours und der ANT weit über die Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung hinaus in der allgemeinen Sozialtheorie liegen. Matthias Wieser rekonstruiert die ANT theoriehistorisch im Rahmen der Wissenschafts- und Technikforschung und zeigt zudem, wie sie sich auch sozialtheoretisch als poststrukturalistische Soziologie verstehen lässt. Darüber hinaus werden weiter reichende Anschlüsse und Bezüge zwischen ANT und Medienforschung, Theorien sozialer Praktiken und Cultural Studies herausgestellt.

Matthias Wieser (Dr. phil.) ist Postdoc-Assistent am Institut für Medien- und Kommunikationswissenschaft der Alpen-Adria-Universität Klagenfurt.

Experiments in Context and Contexting

12 July 2012

Science, Technology & Human Values (July 2012; 37 (4) ) special issue on “Experiments in Context and Contexting.”

What is context and how to deal with it? The context issue has been a key concern in Science and Technology Studies (STS). This is linked to the understanding that science is culture. But how? The irreductionist program from the early eighties sought to solve the problem by doing away with context altogether—for the benefit of worlds in the making. This special issue takes its points of departure in this irreductionist program, its source of inspirations, as well as its reworkings. The aim is not to solve the context problem but rather to experiment with context and what we label contexting.

Table of Contents

  • Kristin Asdal and Ingunn Moser: Experiments in Context and Contexting
  • Tiago Moreira: Health Care Standards and the Politics of Singularities: Shifting In and Out of Context
  • John Law and Ingunn Moser: Contexts and Culling
  • Brita Brenna: Natures, Contexts, and Natural History
  • Kristin Asdal: Contexts in Action—And the Future of the Past in STS
  • Vicky Singleton: When Contexts Meet: Feminism and Accountability in UK Cattle Farming

Enframing and poiesis: Andrew Pickering on environmental governance

6 July 2012

Andrew Pickering (audio) drawing on Heidegger in his talk “Environmental Governance and Resilience: Enframing and poiesis in environmental management” at University of Oxford on 17 Apr 2012 . (Thanks to dmf for the link.)

The Secret Life of Objects

6 July 2012

“The International Symposium ‘The Secret Life of Objects: Materialities, Medialities, Temporalities‘ will take place in Rio de Janeiro, between August 1st and 3rd. (…)  The keynote speaker will be the French sociologist Bruno Latour and several other participants have already confirmed their presence (Graham Harman, Siegfried Zielinski, Joachim Paech, Richard Grusin, Steven Shaviro, Ian Bogost etc.).” Here is the programme (in Portuguese).

…what, without constituting meaning per se, contributes nonetheless to the production of meaning? What is a medium and how mediation processes unfold? In what ways does technological materiality inform cultural worlds and determine forms of cognition? What new models of historical research of techniques and culture are emerging within the current epistemological paradigms? In what ways is the material dimension of experience combined with the intangible dimensions of culture? What does it mean to purport an “object-oriented” philosophy? In what sense does the category of the human reconfigure itself in light of our new relations with objects and nonhuman entities? How important is the legacy of the genealogy and archaeology of knowledge (Nietzsche, Foucault) to a perspectivization of the impacts of “new” digital culture? By means of interdisciplinary panels, in which philosophers, anthropologists and scientists will discuss with experts in media studies, we intend to address these issues in order to elaborate a preliminary cartography of an epistemological territory still in its early stages of exploration.

Latour’s plasma bubbling up…

4 July 2012

First at Circling Squares: Latour revisiting ‘Paris: Ville Invisible’, and then at Object-Oriented Philosophy: Latour’s plasma.

P.S. Actually I’m sympathetic to both arguments, even though they seem antithetical at first. Circling Squares says plasma is a sociological concept, while Harman says it’s  a metaphysical concept.

In The Prince and the Wolf Latour gave primarily a sociological and epistemological explanation:

So plasma is what appears once the so-called natural sciences are added to the pot, so to speak, and made to circulate, not to cover the whole.  (…) So, what people don’t understand is that when you do science studies you have completely different views of all that. The whole space is actually empty. And then in this very, very empty space where ignorance is the rule basically, you have circulating in the full vein, the very, very, very full vein, which is the circulation of active and formatted knowledge about mathematics, and about chemistry, and about physics, and about sociology, and about economics. So it is a reversal of background and foreground. Plasma is what you do when,  to  your  shock,  you  make  all  of  the  formatted  knowledge circulate  inside  the  landscape. (p. 81)

Now, how do you call what is not formatted plasma? I mean, you can abandon the word if you want. But I think that’s the point with our criticisms: we are never in awe of or in dispute with the natural sciences. We like them because they occupy so little space! And when you’re struck by the ecological crisis, immediately you recognize  a  completely  different  territory.  Here  we  know  barely anything; we are in a state of complete ignorance. And then you have this very, very small channel of knowledge in the middle of a completely empty space. So suddenly you breathe (lots of space!) but then you are terrified by our shared ignorance, and then the question  of  reassembling  the  collective  becomes  central. (p. 82)


So  if  you  take  an  organization  (I’m  very  obsessed  by  the question of organization now). No organization would work one minute if it were not constantly drawing on this reserve of… so-called unformatted plasma. The point is just that we don’t know what  it  is  exactly,  of  course. (p. 83)


So, plasma is completely… I mean it is a concept. If you want to show where the plasma is, I say everywhere
because it is… it’s not the unformatted that’s the difficulty here. It’s what is in between the formatting. Maybe this is not a very good metaphor.  But  it’s  a  very,  very  different  landscape,  once  the background and foreground have been reversed and the sciences have been added to the landscape, instead of being what defined the landscape. (p. 84)

So this passage would seem to support Circling Squares’ argument. However, in Reassembling the Social, just after he first mentions “the strange figure of the ‘plasma'” (p. 50), Latour goes on to say

Most social scientists would adamantly resist the idea that they have to indulge in metaphysics to define the social. But such an attitude means nothing more than sticking to one metaphysics, usually a very poor one…” (p. 51).

He constantly argues for sociology to practice metaphysics and praises Tarde for doing so: “What is most useful for ANT is that Tarde does not make the social science break away from philosophy or even metaphysics” (p. 15). Harman therefore is also right to consider the concept of plasma within the metaphysics that Latour puts forward.

So is plasma a sociological or a metaphysical concept? I would say it’s both. This however doesn’t necessarily have to mean that it does work as such. Remember that Latour advocates the use of ‘weak terms’ as infra-language. So a concept like plasma is kind of a probe: it is sent forth as part of an experiment, the result of which can be either success or failure (and probably there is some zombie state in-between the two). My guess is that Latour probably wanted to use the concept as both sociological and metaphysical, but it is designed in such a way that if it fails as one (e.g. as a metaphysical concept when put under scrutiny by a philosopher like Harman), it can still carry on as a sociological concept. (After all Latour did say that “Maybe this is not a very good metaphor. ” ) I heard some people criticise this strategy as flip-flopping or being slippery, but it is consistent with Latour’s pragmatist commitments.