Kultur, Zoologi og metafysisk spekulasjon

ANT having a Lippmannian moment

In Filosofi, Litteratur on desember 13, 2010 at 10:38 am

The great sociological actor-network theory has been under development since the 1980’s. The latest monograph on the field is Bruno Latours Reassembling the social (2005), but he has also published other very important works such as Science in action (1987), The Pasteurization of France (1988), and Aramis, or the love of technology (1996), together with a whole body if articles. Another important writer is Michael Callon, professor in sociology and currently working at Ecole des Mines de Paris. I think it is safe to say that he, alongside Latour and John Law, is a definite MVP of ANT.

Among the first amendments of ANT is the turn towards a methodological ‘free association’. That is, listen to the actors, take their meanings and arguments as ‘the really real world’, and trace all the associations that makes certain actors exist and evolve. The three aspects of the free association refer to specific epistemologies that we need to balance; the first makes us empiricist, the second turn us into relativists, and the third makes us hard core positivists.

In an article from 1986, Michael Callon asks himself if the ‘free association’ can become too free. Yes, of course it can. For instance, when do I know how to stop tracing the networks around the world? Callons article revolves around the field of organization studies, especially organization studies of scientific practice; how is truth produced? How is Nature and Society being reproduced in the laboratories and the discourse? And how does the modern world translate things in accordance to this modern metaphysics? Making people become your subordinates within certain work-nets, Callon writes, presupposes a network of associations combining Nature and Society in specific ways.

It is striking, after having read Walter Lippmanns The Phantom Public, to realize the obvious similarities between Callons model of the process of translation and Lippmanns outline of the role of public opinion (see here). The translation and change of the networks can, according to Callon, be understood in a certain perspective. Free association is a brilliant method but in what way can we understand what is happening? Callon presents a model of four stages of translation. This model should, in practice, work as part of our ‘horizon of understanding’. These are the stages:

  1. Problematisation Find out who is making what problems relevant for whom. This is a phase of positioning and controversy. The fight is about creating the obligatory passage points which other actors need to go through in order to be acknowledged. For instance; when making a panorama of the theoretical changes in archaeological reasoning, one simply must mention the processual and post-processual paradigms.
  2. Interessement After having had to establish a certain, but still unbalanced, work-net, this phase is all about making contacts and ties between the actors involved increasingly stabilized. The central actors will want to create a common discourse for the allies, and make the opposition silent at the same time. It can involve a physical displacement of actors in new environments and offices.
  3. Enrollment This is the phase of acceptance. The interessement is over, the work-net is somewhat stable, and the ‘outside-world’ is getting aware of the integrity of this new network.
  4. Mobilization of allies Do the delegated actors adequately represent the masses? If the enrollment was successful, then more enrollment is the way forward. This means closer contact to new people, machines and law. When one is in power, why not make a new law that protects your own position?

This process of translation, as Callon calls it, will among scientists often involve a change in the structuring of Nature and Society. Just like Lippmann, Callon seems to be having a Machiavellian moment. When answering the question concerning the methods used during the interessement, he says ‘anything goes’! How are supposed to concur the task of documenting and understanding these free and Machiavellian actors without presupposing this radicalism among them? By presupposing a world of possible madness and megalomania we must, following Callon, keep balancing the three ontologies of ANT while practicing the ‘free association’ among the actor-network.

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