Thursday, October 13, 2011

Introduction: Reading Latour

No scholar should find humiliating the task of description. This is, on the contrary, the highest and rarest achievement.
—Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour. Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Oxford University Press, 2005.
Here then is a series of notes (downloadable PDF at SSRN) I made over the course of a month and a half in which I worked my way through Reassembling the Social (RS) and then, at the end, Latour’s manifesto on compositionism. For the most part I’ve gathered the notes in the order in which I posted them. But not completely.

The first set, RL0, contains my (provisional) thoughts on compositionism, suggesting that it has various precursors, including the cognitive science movement. I conclude those notes by suggesting that the future of compositionism lies precisely in redrawing the boundaries between psychology and sociology, which Latour calls for in RS, but does not deliver in a deep way.

And that, in turn, sets the stage, it seems to me, for what I was up in my sets of notes. On the one hand, yes, I was reading RS and commenting on it. But I was also assimilating it to my own work, and my work to it, though an extensive series of reflections on graffiti. Graffiti and its culture is just the sort of phenomenon for which Actor Network Theory (ANT) was devised. It is a relatively new phenomenon—dating only back to the early 1970s—and it is not yet fully institutionalized. It is in flux.

My descriptive notes on graffiti stay, for the most part, within the social sphere. Where I talk of cost-benefit calculations, of the significance of so-called ‘pieces’, and about stylistic fidelity (RL3), however, I move into psychology. Those notes are about how graffiti writers think about their work. Later on I move more deeply into psychology with discussions of cognitive science, music, and literature. Accordingly, the following listing shows the ‘intrusions’ of other material into observations directly on Latour’s ideas. Collectively, this other material suggests ways of extending Latourian analysis and description of society to and through psychology to culture.
  • RL0: Ontology, Methodology, Compositionism: cognitive science
  • RL1: Tracing: origins of graffiti from early 1970s through the early 1980s
  • RL2: The Social: graffiti, art or vandalism; social psychology, game theory
  • RL3: Groups and the Game of Graffiti: graffiti all the way, pictures included, games, masterpieces, styles, and the graffiti community
  • RL4: Society and Culture: society is groups of people, culture is their norms, etc.
  • RL5: Things: power and graffiti, more pictures
  • RL6: Recouping Constructivism: Herbert Simon, Sciences of the Artificial
  • RL7: A Bit of Reflection: enter, literary form, but just a tiny bit
  • RL8: Some Conjunctions in the Pluriverse: evolution, complexity, the ecological psychology of J. J. Gibson, and emic vs. etic (linguistics and anthropology)
  • RL9: The Latour Locus, an Interlude: I comment on five photographs, none of graffiti, indicating ‘lines of being’ intersecting through the photos
  • RL10: Description & Graffiti: mailer and Naar, The Faith of Graffiti, a proto-ANT account; Graffiti in Jersey City, NJ, a little history, some photographs
  • RL11: Plug-ins and Couplings: a neural-level description (composition) of music-making in a group; this is a critical move in the integration of psychology and sociology
  • RL11.1: The Cartesian Individual: basically a pendant to RL11
  • RL12: ANT and Literary Studies: texts and standards, text as intermediary and mediator, oral cultures, written texts, reader as agent
  • RL13: ANT and Politics: all Latour, except for a brief note about graffiti
  • Appendix: Three Objects for OOOIII: the world-wide graffiti wall (with a map and a photo), the music-making group, the literary text
I didn’t write the appendix as a commentary on Latour. I wrote it during the course of the Object-Oriented Ontology meetings that happened in mid-September in New York City. The three objects I describe in that post, however, provide a convenient summary of my thoughts on cross-border raids between sociology and psychology, between the group and the individual mind.

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