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Reassembling the Social is a fundamental challenge from one of the world's leading social theorists to how we understand society and the 'social'. Bruno Latour's contention is that the word 'social', as used by Social Scientists, has become laden with assumptions to the point where it has become misnomer. When the adjective is applied to a phenomenon, it is used to Reassembling the Social is a fundamental challenge from one of the world's leading social theorists to how we understand society and the 'social'. Bruno Latour's contention is that the word 'social', as used by Social Scientists, has become laden with assumptions to the point where it has become misnomer. When the adjective is applied to a phenomenon, it is used to indicate a stablilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that in due course may be used to account for another phenomenon. But Latour also finds the word used as if it described a type of material, in a comparable way to an adjective such as 'wooden' or 'steely'. Rather than simply indicating what is already assembled together, it is now used in a way that makes assumptions about the nature of what is assembled. It has become a word that designates two distinct things: a process of assembling; and a type of material, distinct from others. Latour shows why 'the social' cannot be thought of as a kind of material or domain, and disputes attempts to provide a 'social explanations' of other states of affairs. While these attempts have been productive (and probably necessary) in the past, the very success of the social sciences mean that they are largely no longer so. At the present stage it is no longer possible to inspect the precise constituents entering the social domain. Latour returns to the original meaning of 'the social' to redefine the notion, and allow it to trace connections again. It will then be possible to resume the traditional goal of the social sciences, but using more refined tools. Drawing on his extensive work examining the 'assemblages' of nature, Latour finds it necessary to scrutinize thoroughly the exact content of what is assembled under the umbrella of Society. This approach, a 'sociology of associations', has become known as Actor-Network-Theory, and this book is an essential introduction both for those seeking to understand Actor-Network Theory, or the ideas of one of its most influential proponents.


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Reassembling the Social is a fundamental challenge from one of the world's leading social theorists to how we understand society and the 'social'. Bruno Latour's contention is that the word 'social', as used by Social Scientists, has become laden with assumptions to the point where it has become misnomer. When the adjective is applied to a phenomenon, it is used to Reassembling the Social is a fundamental challenge from one of the world's leading social theorists to how we understand society and the 'social'. Bruno Latour's contention is that the word 'social', as used by Social Scientists, has become laden with assumptions to the point where it has become misnomer. When the adjective is applied to a phenomenon, it is used to indicate a stablilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that in due course may be used to account for another phenomenon. But Latour also finds the word used as if it described a type of material, in a comparable way to an adjective such as 'wooden' or 'steely'. Rather than simply indicating what is already assembled together, it is now used in a way that makes assumptions about the nature of what is assembled. It has become a word that designates two distinct things: a process of assembling; and a type of material, distinct from others. Latour shows why 'the social' cannot be thought of as a kind of material or domain, and disputes attempts to provide a 'social explanations' of other states of affairs. While these attempts have been productive (and probably necessary) in the past, the very success of the social sciences mean that they are largely no longer so. At the present stage it is no longer possible to inspect the precise constituents entering the social domain. Latour returns to the original meaning of 'the social' to redefine the notion, and allow it to trace connections again. It will then be possible to resume the traditional goal of the social sciences, but using more refined tools. Drawing on his extensive work examining the 'assemblages' of nature, Latour finds it necessary to scrutinize thoroughly the exact content of what is assembled under the umbrella of Society. This approach, a 'sociology of associations', has become known as Actor-Network-Theory, and this book is an essential introduction both for those seeking to understand Actor-Network Theory, or the ideas of one of its most influential proponents.

30 review for Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory

  1. 4 out of 5

    Anil Kahvecioglu

    Bruno Latour is unequivocally one of the most influential theorist of our age. Actor-network theory, about which this book attempts to give some introductory arguments, traumatically manifests a new approach to sociology that has the capacity to sublate conventional insights. I think that this book is not only useful for those who are just curious about actor-network theory, but useful also for those who endeavor to grasp significant details with respect to the peculiarity of Latour’s Bruno Latour is unequivocally one of the most influential theorist of our age. Actor-network theory, about which this book attempts to give some introductory arguments, traumatically manifests a new approach to sociology that has the capacity to sublate conventional insights. I think that this book is not only useful for those who are just curious about actor-network theory, but useful also for those who endeavor to grasp significant details with respect to the peculiarity of Latour’s sociological perspective. A major part of the book is covered by Latour’s attempts to distinguish his understanding of sociology (sociology of associations) from traditional views (sociology of the social or sometimes critical sociology), which helps the reader internalize the difference. Crudely speaking, sociology of the social presumes a society which already draws the boundaries of the social and imprisons it within a limited sphere. For Latour, such a sociologist’s effort is somehow adapting the actors to the already presumed entities such as state, society, structure and so on. In this regard, it becomes the task of the sociologist to define what is social and what is not. The sociologist behaves like a stabilizer whose job is to assign a static domain in which actors move according to the rules of the defined social. This is what Latour persistently repudiates by offering sociology of associations according to which it is not the sociologist that define what is social, but actors themselves. Sociology is not done through the analyst, but rather he must learn from the actors what social is. “The search for order, rigor, and pattern is by no means abandoned.” (23) The rule is not stability, but performance; not unidirectional definitions, but circularity; not reservoir, but continuation. It is not actors who should answer the questions of the sociologist, but it should be the actors themselves who will produce the questions. It would not be wrong to say that the book is quite repetitive regarding the thick line between these two approaches. The reader can find further arguments accordingly. Latour does not seek any “hidden” reasons behind actions; there is not a dictionary or encyclopedia explaining the sources of the behaviors of the actors. No meta-language is in question. The analyst cannot address any invisible agency. If an agency is invisible, then it has no effect, therefore it is not an agency. If an analyst says: “No one mentions it. I have no proof but I know there is some hidden actor at work behind the scene,” then “this is conspiracy theory, not social theory.” (53) Considered in this perspective, Latour does not give credit any kind of transcendence, but follows an immanentist path. In effect, what I can observe in Latour, which I think most of critics already mentioned in various articles and books, is the image of a passive scientist who permanently takes notes and keeps observing and interpreting. When I noticed Latour’s inversion of the famous Marxist argument by stating: “Social scientists have transformed the world in various ways; the point, however, is to interpret it,” (42) it was not surprising and perfectly fits to the picture Latour draws in this book. Of course, this is not a theoretical flaw or virtue, but I think that this is a serious choice made by Latour and involves serious implications which is not the topic of this review. For Latour, agency is not limited to human beings, but objects should also be counted as agents which is one of the most attractive aspect of actor-network theory. Eradication of the hierarchy between objects and human beings is highly popular now, but without doubt Latour has a special place in the development process of this theoretical venture. In simple terms, Latour argues that “things might authorize, allow, afford, encourage, permit, suggest, influence, block, render possible, forbid, and so on.” (72) To be able to act is not unique to human beings, but objects are also capable of acting. They have the same status ontologically; all objects are sociologically important. However, no doubt, this does not mean that all objects have an equal power/force/effect. Regarding objects ontologically as equal as human beings does not mean that all of them have the same power of influence, or in Latour’s terms, mediation. But still objects have the capacity to be mediators. “Even objects, which a minute before appeared fully automatic, autonomous, and devoid of human agents, are now made of crowds of frantically moving humans with heavy equipment.” (81) If objects are also at stake for a sociological inquiry, and if Latour does not admit hidden causal relationships, then it is possible to argue that everything is connected, against which Graham Harman, for example, claims that everything cannot be connected. The following long statement is quite useful so as to understand that Latour excesses the limits of any cause-effect relationship, not in a transcendent sense, but in an imannentist way. He says: “If social element A is said to ‘cause’ the existence of B, C, and D, then not only should it be able to generate back B, C, and D, but it should also account for the differences between B, C, and D, except if it can be shown that B, C, and D are the same thing, in which case their differences can be declared unimportant. If you peruse the social history literature and look at the number of things that are supposed to be caused by ‘the force of society’, the rise of the modern state, the ascent of the petty bourgeoisie, the reproduction of the social domination, the power of industrial lobbies, the invisible hand of the market, individual interactions, then the relation might just be one where a single cause has a million effects. But a cause is a cause is a cause.” (104) The connection between A and B can never be a linear, direct relationship about which one might foresee the consequences. Such a relationship invariably entails C, which is different from A and B; in this context, when A allegedly causes to B and C, it is not a simple production of B and C by A, but A also implies the differences between B and C. B and C are not simple receivers, but they also “make others do things,” which generates an infinite circularity that does not stop to affect or to be affected. (107) This is the simple logic of associations which can be assembled everywhere. “Everything is data.” (133) That is why Latour advocates the idea of irreduction, as nothing is reducible to X or Y. “We should liberate objects and things from their ‘explanation’ by society.” (109) One might argue that Latour draws attention to similar points positivism does. But the answer is no. Latour does not understand objects as entities existing out there to be discovered and grasped, but rather he argues that, following Heidegger, objects function as gatherings. To put it differently, Latour focuses on matters of concern, which reflects a different image from matters of fact. He elucidates: “Matters of fact remain silent, they may allow themselves to be simply kicked and thumped at, but we are not going to run out of data about matters of concern as their traces are now found everywhere.” (115) A thing is never “the one”, but always in the condition of differentiating itself, therefore Latour ontologically accentuates on becoming rather than being. Things circulate, associate and renew themselves. “A network is not made of nylon thread, words or any durable substance but is the trace left behind by some moving agent.” (132) All of these arguments present a brilliant picture of a new approach in sociology. However, when it comes to practice, challenges may arise. The dialogue between Latour and a PhD student exemplifies these challenges very clearly. I think that this chapter is a useful one for those who want an overview of actor-network theory without being stuck in theoretical questions. The reader can find interesting answers to the questions PhD student asks as he tries to conduct a case study on organizations. This chapter is also entertaining when Latour mordantly criticizes Bourdieu’s methods. In the conclusion part, Latour addresses the problematic of political relevance of actor-network theory. Properly speaking, what I understood is that if we maintain to presume a society, then politics is not possible. In other words, politics, like social, should not be based on presumed entities, but should be approached methodologically in the same way we should approach to sociology by actor-network theory. That is why, as Latour also stresses, ANT is accused for extending “politics everywhere.” (251) Latour argues that we should write, explain, write, explain. “If there is no way to inspect and decompose the contents of social forces, if they remain unexplained or overpowering, then there is not much that can be done.” (252) So we can follow the same argument for politics as we follow for sociology. Latour goes even further when he says that “to study is always to do politics.” If you are interested in Latour and his political relevance, I can recommend Harman’s “Reassembling the Political” in which Latour is comprehensively analyzed and his political stance in different time periods is scrutinized in detail. This study is a must read book if you have any interest in Latour and actor-network theory.

  2. 5 out of 5

    Becky

    I have a love/hate relationship with Latour. I really like his ideas, but his communication of them in this book is abominable. These same ideas exist in a much clearer way in a variety of articles published by himself and his predecessors.

  3. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    By the time Latour published Reassembling the Social in 2005, the many discourses that had been lumped together under the unfortunate name of “postmodernism” were up against the wall. Not only had they weathered attacks from conservatives, hardline Marxists, cognitivists, and others, they had been dragged down by their own failures, inconsistencies, and obscurantisms, and many of those dubbed postmodernists had come to realize the grim, lonely dead ends of their intellectual projects. And then By the time Latour published Reassembling the Social in 2005, the many discourses that had been lumped together under the unfortunate name of “postmodernism” were up against the wall. Not only had they weathered attacks from conservatives, hardline Marxists, cognitivists, and others, they had been dragged down by their own failures, inconsistencies, and obscurantisms, and many of those dubbed postmodernists had come to realize the grim, lonely dead ends of their intellectual projects. And then Latour presented a spirited, well-written defense of his particular brand of thought, actor-network theory, and demonstrated not only its strength but, ultimately, its humility and its devotion to detail-oriented thought. While I'm not sure I'm entirely on board with Latour's program, it's certainly thought-provoking, and worth investigating further.

  4. 5 out of 5

    Ed Summers

    I picked this up because folks over on the Philosophy in a Time of Software kicked things off by discussing this book by Latour. So, I'm really not terribly knowledgeable about sociology, but I did a fair bit of reading in the social sciences while getting my library union card, I mean studying library/information science. So I wasn't completely underwater, but I definitely felt like I was swimming in the deep end. I didn't get the connection to computer programming until quite late in the book, I picked this up because folks over on the Philosophy in a Time of Software kicked things off by discussing this book by Latour. So, I'm really not terribly knowledgeable about sociology, but I did a fair bit of reading in the social sciences while getting my library union card, I mean studying library/information science. So I wasn't completely underwater, but I definitely felt like I was swimming in the deep end. I didn't get the connection to computer programming until quite late in the book, but it was definitely a bit of a lightbulb moment when I did. Latour's style (at least that of the unmentioned translator) is refreshingly direct, personal, and unabashedly opinionated. He spends much of the book describing just how complicated social science is, and how far it has gone off the tracks...which is quite entertaining at times. A few things I will take with me from this book and its portrayal of Actor Network Theory: I will never be able to say or write the word "social" without feeling like I'm glossing over a whole lot of stuff, and that this stuff is what I should actually be researching, talking and writing about. Latour stresses that it's important not to dumb things down by appealing to established social forces (class, gender, imperialism, etc) but by tracing the actors, their controversies, and their relations. This work requires discipline because it's tempting to reduce the complexity by using these familiar abstractions instead of expending energy/effort in documenting the scenarios as faithfully as possible. By letting the actors have a voice, and say what they think they are doing, rather than the researcher telling the actor what they are actually doing. I work in libraries/archives, so I particularly liked Latour's insistence on the importance notebooks, writing, and documentation: The best way to proceed at this point ... is simply to keep track of all our moves, even those that deal with the very production of the account. This is neither for the sake of epistemic reflexivity nor for some narcissist indulgence into one’s own work, but because from now on everything is data: everything from the first telephone call to a prospective interviewee, the first appointment with the advisor, the first corrections made by a client on a grant proposal, the first launching of a search engine, the first list of boxes to tick in a questionnaire. In keeping with the logic of our interest in textual reports and accounting, it might be useful to list the different notebooks one should keep—manual or digital, it no longer matters much. p. 286. ... and that this is the work of "slowciology" -- it requires you to slow down, and really describe/dig into things. The other really interesting thing about this book for me was the insistence that social actors do not need to be human. It is fairly typical for social science research to focus on face-to-face interaction between people as the primary focus. Latour doesn't dispute the importance of studying human actors, but emphasizes that it's useful to increase the number of actors under study by studying objects (mediators) as actors. Typically we think of actors as having agency, free will, etc ... but objects are typically complex things, with particular affordances, and extensive relations with other things in the field. You get only a very limited view of what is going on if you don't trace these relations. Things, quasi-objects, and attachments are the real center of the social world, not the agent, person, member, or participant—nor is it society or its avatars. (p. 237) As a software developer, I really identified with Latour's insistence on the role that objects play in our understanding of activities around us; how this view necessarily complicates things a great deal, and requires us to slow down to really understand/describe what is going on. It is hard work. And it's only when we understand the various actors and their relations, the actual ones, not the abstract ones in the architecture diagram, or in the theory about the software, that we will be in a position to effectively change or build anew.

  5. 5 out of 5

    Emil Arvas

    i did not finish this book -- quite heavy for an introduction. but it did make me think, to some extent, about the foundations of what we call the social. I think Latours intention is very good, i.e. to question the social as an explanatory factor. sometimes he is a bit annoying.

  6. 5 out of 5

    Meghan Fidler

    What happens when a theorist becomes "the" theorist of a moment? While this book has strong points, the continual pot-shots at every established academic field probably serves more to close minds rather than to open possibilities served by ANT (actor network theory). Many of these statements are akin to being smacked across the cheek with a leather glove, dual-style. This greatly injuries the book's purpose, which was, apparently, to demonstrate a weakness in the epistemology of contemporary What happens when a theorist becomes "the" theorist of a moment? While this book has strong points, the continual pot-shots at every established academic field probably serves more to close minds rather than to open possibilities served by ANT (actor network theory). Many of these statements are akin to being smacked across the cheek with a leather glove, dual-style. This greatly injuries the book's purpose, which was, apparently, to demonstrate a weakness in the epistemology of contemporary research. This is all the more surprising when held against another publication by the same author: Latour, Bruno. (2004). “Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern.” Critical Inquiry, (30): 225-248. Et tu, Bruno? I do find merit in the presentation and material. Considering hard and soft sciences as equals Latour still creates moments of fresh clarity. "Textual accounts are the social scientist’s laboratory and if laboratory practice is any guide, its because of the artificial nature of the place that objectivity might be achieved on conditions that artifacts be detected by a continuous and obsessive attention. So, to treat a report of social science as a textual account is not weakening of its claims to reality, but an extension of the number of precautions that have to be taken onboard and of the skills requested from inquires. Textual accounts can fail like experiments do.” (127)

  7. 4 out of 5

    Jane

    If you need to read one thing by Bruno Latour... Latour spills the beans (i.e. actually tells us what "actor network theory" is, what problems it's supposed to solve, and how one might perform studies in it) in this funny (no, really) jolt to the philosophy of the humanities and social sciences. I've read excerpts from several of his books, but this is the one that made me get it - not only in terms of the argument but also in terms of his style, which is such a smart, startling departure from If you need to read one thing by Bruno Latour... Latour spills the beans (i.e. actually tells us what "actor network theory" is, what problems it's supposed to solve, and how one might perform studies in it) in this funny (no, really) jolt to the philosophy of the humanities and social sciences. I've read excerpts from several of his books, but this is the one that made me get it - not only in terms of the argument but also in terms of his style, which is such a smart, startling departure from the idiom of "French theory." One small note: I think this is partly because he writes in English, and vice versa - that is, he might write in English to achieve this effect. I can't vouch for it, but I suspect that the uncorrected errors are his own, at least I hope so, since keeping them is a witty choice. As to the theory, I think he's probably wrong, but he does it so beautifully.

  8. 5 out of 5

    Lukáš

    A strong, opinionated tourguide through a particular case for researching the social. Latour (as usual) provides loads of food for thought by trying to refocus the lens of sociology / social research toward a project liberating and redefining 'social' agency vis-a-vis what is mystified as 'the social'. The challenge is on two fronts - both a kind of totalizing narratives of systems and actors, the global and the local. This seems like a rather difficult and challenging task, yet in different A strong, opinionated tourguide through a particular case for researching the social. Latour (as usual) provides loads of food for thought by trying to refocus the lens of sociology / social research toward a project liberating and redefining 'social' agency vis-a-vis what is mystified as 'the social'. The challenge is on two fronts - both a kind of totalizing narratives of systems and actors, the global and the local. This seems like a rather difficult and challenging task, yet in different ways Latour strongly succeeds to open up a necessary space through which the social sciences need to re-engage with themselves.

  9. 4 out of 5

    Constanza Silva

    Within the framework of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) Latour (2005) delineates what he calls the "sociology of associations", setting it in contrast to the "sociology of the social" paradigm that has dominated the social sciences for over a century. Latour delineates two steps that must be undertaken successively in ANT, in each case by following the actors and their choices: the first is taking into account the number of possible participants in the social world and the second is putting into Within the framework of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) Latour (2005) delineates what he calls the "sociology of associations", setting it in contrast to the "sociology of the social" paradigm that has dominated the social sciences for over a century. Latour delineates two steps that must be undertaken successively in ANT, in each case by following the actors and their choices: the first is taking into account the number of possible participants in the social world and the second is putting into order the multiplicity discovered in the first. There are two things about Latour's (2005) ANT that stand out for me as unquestionably valuable. The first is the de-centering of the human in favor of relations. In a time of ecological crisis, when sustainability is in question, it is urgent that we consider the vast range of entities that are part of our everyday social world. The second is the emphasis on sensitivity and respect. The ANT analyst follows, listens, traces relations and offers her work to the participants as they progressively construct a common world. Her work is a form of gift. If you are intent on making a better world, if you are inspired by and open to controversial ideas, if you enjoy thinking about the social sciences, sociology, and philosophy, then I think this book will produce a more sensitive 'you'.

  10. 4 out of 5

    Michael Cabus

    This book is a wonder. At heart it is about how we understand society, or how we define meaning and identity to social groups. What is fantastic about Latour is his ability to guide the reader effortlessly through social philosophy, and does so with tinges of humor and writing that strikes you like a bolt of lightening. This is a humanistic book: that journalists and social scientists are eager to place people in distinct groupings but these groupings are at best arbitrary and at worse lead This book is a wonder. At heart it is about how we understand society, or how we define meaning and identity to social groups. What is fantastic about Latour is his ability to guide the reader effortlessly through social philosophy, and does so with tinges of humor and writing that strikes you like a bolt of lightening. This is a humanistic book: that journalists and social scientists are eager to place people in distinct groupings but these groupings are at best arbitrary and at worse lead journalists and social scientists to pretend to have some intellectual superiority over them. Latour instead argues that it is association that define us...that we effectively live in many groups, often conflicting, and that social researchers should let people define their identities, particularly in novel cases, in which definition is not easy. This book is important for anyone involved in social change or, in my case, user experience design...we often define users into social groups for the purposes of defining product features. The going theory now questions the role of user research, but I believe if we understood authors like Latour more, we would see how in novel and innovative situations, user research can lead to discovery. I am re-reading this, taking notes, in the hopes of writing an article...it is a revelation. A+

  11. 4 out of 5

    Theresa Macphail

    For an author that champions good writing, this book is often a poor example of it. This is Latour's attempt to lay out what a handful of STS scholars had already been practicing for 25 years - the theory of ANT (actor-network theory). While I am sympathetic to the project, and to the goals of ANT, I found it difficult to get through this tome. Perhaps I haven't the patience of an ant that Latour suggests is necessary to be a true ANT scholar. That being said, if you are interested in Latour's For an author that champions good writing, this book is often a poor example of it. This is Latour's attempt to lay out what a handful of STS scholars had already been practicing for 25 years - the theory of ANT (actor-network theory). While I am sympathetic to the project, and to the goals of ANT, I found it difficult to get through this tome. Perhaps I haven't the patience of an ant that Latour suggests is necessary to be a true ANT scholar. That being said, if you are interested in Latour's work and ANT, it's a must-read.

  12. 4 out of 5

    Dream

    As far as theory goes this is one of the more readable ones. Having not read his previous works, I wasn't able to follow all of his references, but he goes through everything in such a friendly and reasonable tone that I could hardly accuse him of name-dropping. I only wish for more examples - the ones he did provide were incredibly helpful and a sign of genius. Revolutionary but in some ways basic - a very good read.

  13. 4 out of 5

    Steen Ledet

    Not sure what I can say about this book that has not already been said. For the first time, maybe, the basic method of ANT is outlined, yet I'm not really sure that this will help it be better understood. Not that Latour is not clear, it is more the ANT project itself that flies in the face of so much academia. Of course, this is the very strength of Latour's account. As such, one should read this before any of his earlier works, in order to better understand those works.

  14. 5 out of 5

    Cai Guo

    Really have to say that his writing in English is hard to follow -- sometimes it just doesn't feel right. Just not the way English speakers normally write...It takes so much time to understand what he is actually trying to say...

  15. 5 out of 5

    Emil O. W. Kirkegaard

    This nonsense is more or less as one would expect if one has read Sokal et al.

  16. 4 out of 5

    Dave Jonathan

    I would say this is an essential read for anyone interested in sociology or critical theory (what Latour in this work refers to as 'critical sociology'). This is a post-Deleuzean, somewhat OOO, critique of 20th century critical theory and sociology. Latour is careful to admit that he is not being fair at all, but instead, in order to offer an introduction to what ANT (actor-network theory) has to offer, is rather straight forward and hyperbolic at times; that being said, he is actually pretty I would say this is an essential read for anyone interested in sociology or critical theory (what Latour in this work refers to as 'critical sociology'). This is a post-Deleuzean, somewhat OOO, critique of 20th century critical theory and sociology. Latour is careful to admit that he is not being fair at all, but instead, in order to offer an introduction to what ANT (actor-network theory) has to offer, is rather straight forward and hyperbolic at times; that being said, he is actually pretty careful, and he definitely succeeds in presenting a novel and revealing new take on the field. I see this as a stimulating challenge to all the poststructuralists, pscyhoanalysts, or social thinkers who commonly reduce social phenomena to invisible forces such as the market, the unconscious, culture, etc. These thinkers get it completely backwards, according to Latour. His goal is to conduct sociology with fewer foregone conclusions as to what the social is, including a dismissal of any and all total prevailing narratives that reduce actors to mere effects or intermediaries without granting them the dignity of full blown mediators (his terminology). The first half the book develops the five uncertainties that are foundational driving intuitions of the social sciences that he wishes to re-awaken by disassociating them from their habituated corollaries (e.g. re-enliven the suspicion about agency, feeding on the intuition that actors do not fully or always know what or why they do what they do--but simultaneously resisting the knee-jerk follow-up which posits X, Y, or Z causal explanation). The second half of the book provides theorists with a small set of powerful conceptual devices that will help break out of certain habits (such as reverting between micro and macro to explain everything); these he calls 'clamps' (for clamping the social domain into a flat field that resists the micro-macro reductions, thus bringing to light much that has been overlooked by theorists and practitioners. Some people have, in these reviews, said that he is repetitive. I personally found that helpful and not superfluous whatsoever. This is an introduction to a way of thinking that threatens a radical overhaul, one that runs contrary to established habits in these discourses (seriously, you'll start to notice how incredibly lazy sociologists or theorists often are when explaining social phenomena...). I think he does a stellar job and now I'm really excited to read We Were Never Modern, The Politics of Nature, and finally his new and tremendous sounding project on the multi-media online textbook 'An Inquiry Into Modes of Existence', for which this book only lays the groundwork at the end.

  17. 4 out of 5

    You

    The term ‘nonhumans,’ through the workings of its prefix of negation (‘non-‘), designates a totality without having to positively decree its boundaries. As a consequence, all categorical differences other than that predicated by the absolute category of ‘humans,’ is effaced. Everything that is not human is nonhuman, and it does not really matter whether a specific entity happens (or happened) to be an animal, plant, mineral, or any other object. The logic of Actor Network Theory (ANT) which The term ‘nonhumans,’ through the workings of its prefix of negation (‘non-‘), designates a totality without having to positively decree its boundaries. As a consequence, all categorical differences other than that predicated by the absolute category of ‘humans,’ is effaced. Everything that is not human is nonhuman, and it does not really matter whether a specific entity happens (or happened) to be an animal, plant, mineral, or any other object. The logic of Actor Network Theory (ANT) which first articulates, and then problematizes the distinction between humans and nonhumans, relies on this effacement of (former) categorical distinctions. That is probably why ANT, while so minutely deconstructing the dichotomy between society and nature, or epistemology and ontology, nonetheless retains rather crudely the human/nonhuman distinction throughout its theorization. True, the issue of anthropocentrism, which lies at the heart of this human/nonhuman division, is discussed by Latour in this book, as well as, for instance, in his paper “To Modernize or to Ecologize? That is the question” (and since I do not have the book at my disposal right now, I will refer to the latter paper for now). But his argument there is circular. He claims that in the regime of ecology, the very conception of “common humanity” is put to question: “we do not know what makes the common humanity of human beings and that, yes, maybe, without the elephants of Amboseli, without the meanderings waters of the Drome, without the bears of the Pyrenees, without the doves of the Lot or without the water table of the Beauce, they would not be human” (Latour, 260). However, if the elephants, the meandering waters, and all other entities on his list have been subsumed under the general category of “nonhumans,” saying that “humans” are defined in relation to them, is merely tautological. In other words, Latour’s anti-anthropocentrism consists in simply paraphrasing “humans” as “non-nonhumans,” which as anyone can see, does not help to put the human/nonhuman dichotomy in perspective (the fundamental question to ask is therefore not “have we ever been modern?” but “have we ever been human?“). The primary gain achieved by the postulation of nonhumans, is the fluidity with which ANT can move between the ‘dead’ objects (i.e., things) and ‘living’ ones (i.e., organisms). The matter of life and death becomes secondary to the distinction between humans and nonhumans. But this pretense, and the consequent overlap between the living and the dead, is the vanishing point that allows ANT to formulate its distinct theoretical perspective: namely, viewing all entities as ‘actors.’ The most unstable and problematic of all 'actors' in ANT thus becomes forgrounded. They are those who distress the categorical generality of “nonhumans” that Latour posits, by being very much alive, but nonetheless never attaining the priviledged status (the sole positive category) of humans (‘us’): namely, animals and plants—or, to use a brilliant term coined by Harold Perkins, “biophysical actants” (Perkins, H.A. (2007) 'Ecologies of actornetworks and (non)social labor within the urban political economies of nature', Geoforum, 38 (6): 1152–62). The uniform reduction of such “biophysical actants” to the negative totality of “nonhumans” allows ANT to project the problematics of living “organisms” to that of non-living “objects,” and to consequently envisage the entirety of “nonhumans” as ‘actants/actors.’ In short, it is through the peculiar (mediocre) status of “nonhuman organisms” or “biophysical actants” that objects are enlivened in ANT, securing the necessary bridge between humans and nonhumans. From a slightly different perspective, the same issue can be articulated as follows. Appearances notwithstanding, even the most seemingly inanimate organisms engage in nonsocial labor. However, the “labor” that Elm trees and the fungal pathogens, for instance, engage in, is ultimately that of self-reproduction. Trees grow, and fungi spread. Whatever interconnectedness they may have with the human society, the product of their labor is, in the end, themselves. If we recall Hanna Arendt’s famous distinctions between the types of human activities (see: The Human Condition), we could concede that the ‘biophysical actants’ really do engage in ‘labor,’ the necessary practice for maintaining life itself (or, the self-reproduction). However, it must also be reminded the Arendt opposed this notion of ‘labor’ to that of ‘work,’ an activity she defined as the fabrication of an artificial world of things (or, ‘inorganic nonhumans,’ so to speak), and moreover, criticized Marx for reducing these two activities under the singular category of ‘labor.’ The important point here, is that for Arendt, ‘labor’ was what brought humanity closest to animals (whether or not Arendt’s argument, which draws a simplistic dividing line between humans and animals is itself valid, is another issue). In other words, from Arendt’s perspective, both Marx and ANT make the same fallacy of equating humans and biophysical actants as “animal laborans,” by confounding ‘labor’ and ‘work’ (the crucial question thus becomes whether the nonhumans also engage in ‘work,’ the production of other nonhumans: Do trees produce non-trees? Do fungi produce non-fungi? And how would the disruption of the singular notion of “society” that emerges from such inquiry—if we stick to the Marxist definition of society as emerging from the exchange of products—be still identical to Latour’s project?). Thus, while the status of ‘biophysical actants’ as nonhumans in ANT brings them together with objects (i.e., inorganic products), the Marxist notion of ‘labor’ brings the same actants closer to humans. In short, the role of ‘biophysical actants’ is that of a double agent: to provide a common ground for humans and nonhumans, while at the same time maintaining the great divide. This role of ‘biophysical actants’ is reenacted in Latour’s “Will Non-humans be Saved? An argument in ecotheology.” In order to prove his point that “Reference” (the way we know entities) and “Reproduction” (the ways entities persist) can and should be distinguished, Latour takes recourse to Darwin. After admitting that “the confusion between Reproduction and Reference was less noticeable when we were dealing with so-called ‘inert’ entities,” since “the ways we access them and the ways they are supposed to reproduce themselves are so similar that the collage or hybrid notion of matter was hardly noticeable” (Latour, 467), Darwin and all his biophysical actants (via Uexküll) step in to provide the necessary distinction. Simply put, Umwelt, or “the alternative medium in which biological organisms were allowed to reproduce” (Latour, 468) cannot be reduced to res extensa. “Individual organisms in its own Umwelt” (Latour, 472) is thus inserted into the naive equation between “the world of mere objects” and “nature” (Latour, 471, 472) to open up the world of “nonhumans.” The fact that this regime is addressed as “Reproduction,” simply reminds us once again of the ‘labor’ these actants are supposed to engage inside their respective Umwelten.

  18. 4 out of 5

    Zack

    Latour's introduction to ANT is comprehensive, readable, and funny--adjectives you don't often see applied to serious academic work. In his takedown of poor sociology Latour really attacks the practices of poor scholarship in general, and the reassembling of the social through ANT offers plenty of interesting, useful, and indeed necessary ways of conceiving of and approaching the study of people doing real things in the real world. I'm not entirely sure that I grasp entirely the practice of Latour's introduction to ANT is comprehensive, readable, and funny--adjectives you don't often see applied to serious academic work. In his takedown of poor sociology Latour really attacks the practices of poor scholarship in general, and the reassembling of the social through ANT offers plenty of interesting, useful, and indeed necessary ways of conceiving of and approaching the study of people doing real things in the real world. I'm not entirely sure that I grasp entirely the practice of writing ANT-inspired scholarship from this primer, but Latour is nonetheless clear and concise in laying out the theory's claims and ideals across this eminently engaging book.

  19. 4 out of 5

    Andrew

    What's that? A sociologist with a sense of humour? Actually, he's not even really a sociologist as he's more or less throwing the whole project to the wind. I must say, I do find his arguments to "follow the actors", "trace the associations", etc convincing. I'm down with including the non-human. And I must agree that the grand categories of sociology, like "capitalism", "modernity", "rationality", "neoliberalism", do too much work and, if we're honest, amount to less than their purported parts. What's that? A sociologist with a sense of humour? Actually, he's not even really a sociologist as he's more or less throwing the whole project to the wind. I must say, I do find his arguments to "follow the actors", "trace the associations", etc convincing. I'm down with including the non-human. And I must agree that the grand categories of sociology, like "capitalism", "modernity", "rationality", "neoliberalism", do too much work and, if we're honest, amount to less than their purported parts. But ANT seems awfully like a lot of very hard and meticulous work. Maybe I'm intellectually lazy, but it feels nice to roll nebulous sociological meta-concepts off your tongue.

  20. 4 out of 5

    Prem Sylvester

    apparently sociology as most of the other sociologists conceived of it is a scam (but not really, because, really Latour?). ANT is an extremely interesting (non-)theory that is a useful methodological tool of investigation (empirical metaphysics is one of the most succinctly useful terms used here) but perhaps not as useful in a revolutionary reimagining of the social. detailed review when I can actually manage it

  21. 5 out of 5

    Jan D

    A good introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). Like his other books neither super easy nor hard to read. Witty, non-stilted and from a personal perspective. I assume this to be a bit abstract if one does not know any works in which ANT is applied. Thus, it goes well with the first few chapters of "Pandora’s Hope"

  22. 5 out of 5

    Yahya

    In terms of the content, the book is revolutionary and demolishes the dogmas of traditional sociology (especially since I hadn't been exposed to actor-network theory before). The reason why I gave 4 stars instead of 5 stars is because of the writing style. It could have been written in a better way.

  23. 5 out of 5

    Nan

    Latour proposes a new way to discuss sociology through his actor network theory, similar to grounded theory. He's a complex theorist.

  24. 5 out of 5

    Aparna Bhumi

    Beyond traditional and exceptional way to decode 'social'; many interesting perspectives, hope many people will read this and apply it in building greater networks and organisations.

  25. 5 out of 5

    Cassey

    Mostly interesting, but I had to do some cross reading.

  26. 4 out of 5

    indra

    my situation is quite same with the chats at this book between a student and a professor, and it bothers me

  27. 4 out of 5

    Luke

    Maybe it's because I haven't read enough theory yet, but I didn't really understand.

  28. 4 out of 5

    Joshua Stein

    Latour is a great writer and has a number of interesting ideas. I realize that the book is a controversial part of the canon of science studies, and that it has a lot of value to those scholars who take seriously the issues that it represents, especially in the sociology of science. However, there are a lot of serious ideological and philosophical problems with the book. While Latour does a good job of illustrating the negative account of science studies, the exact details of his positive account Latour is a great writer and has a number of interesting ideas. I realize that the book is a controversial part of the canon of science studies, and that it has a lot of value to those scholars who take seriously the issues that it represents, especially in the sociology of science. However, there are a lot of serious ideological and philosophical problems with the book. While Latour does a good job of illustrating the negative account of science studies, the exact details of his positive account are seriously lacking. He cops to this, which is good, but doesn't keep it from being troubling. Neglecting any significant detail about what a good Actor-Network account of an area of study would look like is disconcerting to those who might see themselves as potential allies, but unclear about how to articulate their pursuit, or to make use of it. Latour seems to intentionally dodge the opportunity to present prototypical cases, for one reason or another. There is a lot of epistemological confusion for Latour, and this seems to stem from some lack of familiarity with the history of epistemology, though perhaps not. He misrespresents some features of the early 20th century positivist project [which I think is pretty common in science studies, sadly] and the historical analytic epistemology. As a result, he doesn't attempt to put together something formal in terms of epistemology which might allow the reader to instantiate the sort of prototypical case that he ignores. Throughout the text, Latour reappropriates a sort of odd geographical metaphor; like many theorists who construct metaphors using scientific theories to create a sense of legitimacy, there is an apparent sloppiness to Latour's writing that I find very disconcerting. He doesn't take the metaphor as having some sort of shared epistemological root with his account of social sciences, which undercuts the use of the metaphor pretty stiffly. Overall, the book is worth a read.

  29. 4 out of 5

    Eric Phetteplace

    Refigures the entire project and methodology of sociology to make it more about actors and how they mediate each other, than about reducing everything to some particular social force ("capitalism," "power," etc.). The final section, where Latour addresses the political implications of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), was the best and dismantled most of the objections of those who like to rely on omnipresent, hegemonic forces. Latour's a good writer too, he doesn't overcomplicate things and has a nice Refigures the entire project and methodology of sociology to make it more about actors and how they mediate each other, than about reducing everything to some particular social force ("capitalism," "power," etc.). The final section, where Latour addresses the political implications of Actor-Network Theory (ANT), was the best and dismantled most of the objections of those who like to rely on omnipresent, hegemonic forces. Latour's a good writer too, he doesn't overcomplicate things and has a nice habit of offering parallel concrete examples in sets of four or more. In fact, I think Graham Harman (another lucid writer dealing with hefty topics) may have stolen that stratagem from Latour, but haven't read enough of either to say for sure. A couple stylistic ticks annoyed me during Reassembling the Social. Almost all the footnotes were distractions, I trained myself to ignore them. If they were "see X other work" that would've been great, instead they tended to be commentary or useless asides. Latour is also constantly saying "as we shall see in Chapter X...", as if he doesn't trust us to read the whole book. We'll know that when we get to it, let's not continually allude to what will be covered later. The book would benefit from establishing the method of ANT alongside a case study, but perhaps that would make the work too long. Some of the concepts were a bit tough to grasp without a more fleshed out example to follow. I guess I'll have to read an ANT case study to see it in action.

  30. 5 out of 5

    Adam Hoffer

    Latour's style is colourful and great. Can you imagine a reader laughing out loud while reading a really complex theoretical book? I did it, several times. However, this isn't easy reading material. The book's (and the author's) greatest strength is the way it solves the great philosophical debates of sociology. Real or constructed? The extremes never attracted me, and a healthy mixture seems to be hard to find. Latour offers a complete alternative. Another thing I really like is the way words and Latour's style is colourful and great. Can you imagine a reader laughing out loud while reading a really complex theoretical book? I did it, several times. However, this isn't easy reading material. The book's (and the author's) greatest strength is the way it solves the great philosophical debates of sociology. Real or constructed? The extremes never attracted me, and a healthy mixture seems to be hard to find. Latour offers a complete alternative. Another thing I really like is the way words and concepts are being refreshed. This does not only mean you have to learn a new meaning or add a new definition to your dictionary. The way Latour puts things (sic) they start to make more sense (to me) than before. E.g., questions of Ontology and Epistemology used to sound rather obscure and sometimes even far-fetched. But when it comes to ontologies and political epistemology, it starts making much more sense. If I have to suggest something, I would recommend reading this book AND visiting the Paris: Invisible City website.

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