Archive for the ‘philosophy’ Category

New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies

20 October 2012

The latest book from OHP’s New Metaphysics series, edited by Graham Harman and Bruno Latour:  “New Materialism: Interviews & Cartographies,” by Rick Dolphijn and Iris van der Tuin. Open access book available as HTML here, download as PDF here [2.3MB]. Paperback coming soon. Design by Katherine Gillieson. Cover Illustration by Tammy Lu.

This book is the first monograph on the theme of “new materialism,” an emerging trend in 21st century thought that has already left its mark in such fields as philosophy, cultural theory, feminism, science studies, and the arts. The first part of the book contains elaborate interviews with some of the most prominent new materialist scholars of today: Rosi Braidotti, Manuel DeLanda, Karen Barad, and Quentin Meillassoux. The second part situates the new materialist tradition in contemporary thought by singling out its transversal methodology, its position on sexual differing, and by developing the ethical and political consequences of new materialism.

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.

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.

Latour’s call for co-investigators

16 June 2012

For his “An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence” project:

For a philosophy that is empirical and not simply empiricist, investigation offers the only way to ferret out its concepts and then put them to the test before proposing a version that can be submitted to critique by its peers. And yet, even though investigation as a genre benefits from a distinguished and intimidating prestige in philosophy, it is fairly unusual for an author to propose to carry out an investigation with the participation of his readers. This is nevertheless what I propose to do in publishing a book titled An Inquiry into Modes of Existence: An Anthropology of the Moderns, alongside a digital site that allows its visitors, who will have become co-investigators, to inspect its arguments and go on to suggest other fields to study, other proofs, other accounts. By means of this arrangement I invite my co-investigators to help me find the guiding thread of the experience by becoming attentive to several regimes of truth, which I call modes of existence, after the strange book by Étienne Souriau, recently republished, that features this phrase in its title.

More here. H/t AIME. The video is definitely worth watching: it provides a succinct and clear summary of what otherwise sounds like a rather complex project.

New book: Agency without Actors?

24 April 2012

Passoth, J., B. Peuker & M. Schillmeier (Eds) (2012) Agency without Actors? Rethinking Collective Action. London/New York: Routledge


Note on Contributors 1. Introduction Part 1: Events, Suggestions, Accounts 2. Suggestion and Satisfaction: On the Actual Occasion of Agency by Paul Stronge and Mike Michael 3. Science, Cosmopolitics and the Question of Agency: Kant’s Critique and Stengers’ Event by Michael Schillmeier 4. Questioning the Human/Non-Human Distinction by Florence Rudolf 5. Agency and “Worlds” of Accounts: Erasing the Trace or Rephrasing the Action? by Rolland Munro Part 2: Contribution, Distribution, Failures 6. Distributed Agency and Advanced Technology, Or: How to Analyze Constellations of Collective Inter-Agency by Werner Rammert 7. Distributed Sleeping and Breathing: On the Agency of Means in Medical Work by Cornelius Schubert 8. Agencies’ Democracy: “Contribution” as a Paradigm to (Re)thinking the Common in a World of Conflict by Jacques Roux 9. Reality Failures by John Law Part 3: Interaction, Partnership, Organization 10. “What’s the Story?” Organizing as a Mode of Existence by Bruno Latour 11. Researching Water Quality with Non-Humans: An ANT Account by Christelle Gramaglia & Delaine Sampaio Da Silva 12. Horses – Significant Others, People’s Companions, and Subtle Actors by Marion Mangelsdorf

Video of Isabelle Stengers’ keynote in Halifax

9 March 2012

On “Cosmopolitics: Learning to Think with Sciences, Peoples and Natures,” Halifax, Canada, March 5 , 2012. Thanks to dmf for the link. More details here.

Semiotics of Subjectivities

24 February 2012

XL Congress of the Italian Association for Semiotic Studies, Turin, September 28-30, 2012. Keynote speakers:

  • Maurizio Bettini
  • Omar Calabrese
  • Jean-Claude Coquet
  • Umberto Eco
  • Paolo Fabbri
  • Bruno Latour
  • Giovanni Manetti
  • Peter Sloterdijk
  • Patrizia Violi

Isabelle Stengers on progress

20 February 2012

Isabelle Stengers visits Halifax, Canada for a series of conversations as part of the “To See Where it Takes Us” series during March 5-9, 2012. Her keynote will be streamed live.

Professor Stengers’ keynote address will examine sciences and the consequences of what has been called progress. Is it possible to reclaim modern practices, to have them actively taking into account what they felt entitled to ignore in the name of progress? Or else, can they learn to “think with” instead of define and judge?

Toscano on capitalism and panorama

18 February 2012

Alberto Toscano’s forthcoming lecture at Simon Fraser University on 6 March 2012, among others deploying Latour’s concept of the ‘panorama:’

Capitalism and Panorama: Staging Totality in Social Theory and Art

Can, or should, social theory try to ’see it whole’? This paper addresses the representation of social totality along theoretical, political and aesthetic axes. It considers the demand for orienting and totalizing representations of capitalist society present in the programmatic notions of ’sociological imagination’ in C. Wright Mills and ‘cognitive mapping’ in Fredric Jameson. Mills and Jameson converge on the need to mediate personal experience and systemic constraints, knowledge and action, while underscoring the political urgency and epistemic difficulty of such a demand.

This lecture will contrast these perspectives with the repudiation of a sociology of totality in the actor-network theory of Bruno Latour. It will explore this contrast through the ‘panorama’, both as a theoretical metaphor and as the object of different visual and artistic practices.

Bio: Alberto Toscano teaches in the Department of Sociology at Goldsmiths, University of London. He is the author of Fanaticism (2010) and The Theatre of Production (2006). He is an editor of the journal “Historical Materialism”.

T for Thing

29 January 2012

Under the letter “T” in David Evans’s Critical Dictionary, “Thing” is represented by Tammy Lu and Katherine Gillieson’s cover design for Levi Bryant’s The Democracy of Objects book, accompanied by Graham Harman and Bruno Latour’s prospectus for the New Metaphysics series at Open Humanities Press. Hat tip to Tammy Lu.

Abandoning the conventional format of the dictionary, Critical Dictionary is an ambitious cornucopia of ideas, images, and illustrations, that emphasise the open-ended, provisional and unfinished nature of language, communication and meaning. Inspired by the mock dictionary Georges Bataille edited for ‘Documents’ in 1929 and 1930, Critical Dictionary is an adventurous title, aiming to puncture pretension, and declassify terms in a playful, humourous manner. Bringing together newly commissioned work, material gathered from online art magazine, and featuring elements such as a retrospective assessment of the ZG magazine by former editor Rosetta Brooks, one of the seminal products of the art scene in the 1980s, and catalyst to the development of the so-called ”Pictures Generation”, Critical Dictionary is a rich exploration of ideas and language in all its forms.


The Critical Dictionary exhibition had just opened at the WORK Gallery in London and will be on until 25 February 2012.