29 October 2006

John Law's Actor Network Resource

The last week has seen me depressed, despondant, and generally exhausted. Perhaps I've just been drowning under too much grading lately, or perhaps this emerged from reading Dreyfus and Rabinow's Michel Foucault: Beyond Structuralism and Hermeneutics. Somehow I find Foucault's thesis that only certain things are sayable at any given point in history to be crushing, even if I find myself agreeing with many of the claims that he makes. What hope can there possibly be if we are dominated by social forces in this way? In this context, I was pleased to come across Bruno Latour's newest, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory, which also references John Law's website on Actor-Network-Theory. What I find appealing in Latour's latest work is his emphasis on the continous formation and collapse of various groups, coupled with the contentious nature of group formations in general. Here I find a far more fluid and open notion of the "social"-- Latour contests the idea that the social is a substance or matter independent of those who enter into connections --that promises to resituate how certain questions are asked in social and political theory. In short, Latour presents a performative conception of the social, immanent to the activity of agents, that resonates nicely with Zizek's observation that the symbolic sustains itself only in and through our belief in the symbolic. Hopefully I'll have more to say about this later.


Anonymous Tom Eyers said...

I fear you may be mistaken with Latour. What he offers, it seems to me, is a vision of the social (and by implication the political) entirely defined by the idea of present, positive associations, of non-antagonistic networks of human and non-human interaction defined in the now, unending in its mutability. In other words, one defined by both the abdication of the subject/object and presence/absence divide and, more importantly, in denial of the constitutive importance of the negative, the prior void qua subjectivity. In this regard, Latour couldn't be further from Zizek - one follows a kind of idealised pre-political amorphous state of association, while the other (Zizek) recognises the always-already involved, committed character of the political, the way in which 'it', the gaze from which we perceieve the political, is already minimally included in the supposedly 'neutral' network of associations we perceive. The more I read Latour, and I've spent a few years slogging through his stuff, the less I'm convinced. But I'd be keen to hear your take Levi. Best wishes, Tom.

October 29, 2006 2:39 PM  
Blogger Sinthome said...

Thanks Tom. I wasn't trying to suggest that Latour and Zizek are the same, by any means. What interests me in Latour-- and I haven't gotten far enough in his book to say anything definite --is his emphasis on assemblages, associations, and networks, rather than deterministic social structures, powerstructures, ideologies, or whatever other deterministic ghosts of the social we might like to evoke. More on this later.

October 29, 2006 3:34 PM  

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