On "re-assembling" more than just the social…

Jan and I, and student of mine, Alexander B. Kinney, wrote a book review of Latour’s “introduction that is not an introduction” to ANT, Reassembling the Social, for Spontaneous Generations.

I was reminded of this earlier today, about reassembling more than just the social, and so I reread this passage:

Even with these newly crafted tools fresh from the ANT workshop, Latour
has still not gone far enough. If we have to Reassemble the Social, then why
not Politics or Economics too? Why not the Law or the State or other modes of
existence Latour simply allows to stand un-reassembled? As an analytical strategy,
dropping the Social as a category of things is a good idea. But if we decide to take
Latour seriously, then we must be equally suspicious of the “political arena” or
“economic climate” too, and it surely does not mean that we empirically ignore
the onto-politics of Law, Politics, Economics, etc., if these are all just ways to
“arrange the collective.” What is missing is an idea of how to draw distinctions
between them analytically without reifying them in the process. The way that
“modes of existences” and “arrange the collective” are introduced in this book
leaves an aftertaste of bitter reification. How are we to distinguish between ways
of juridical, economic or scientific assembling? We are left without an answer,
just with the hint that this would need another book to reassemble each (Latour,
forthcoming). It is a good thing that the book ends trying to be constructive
and not merely de(con)structive; however, if we buy the ticket (the book) and
take the ride (read it), then we deserve more—we must either deconstruct more
in order to rebuild everything as a mere matter of associations or we must
say that anything made of “invisible” “matter” like markets, lawsuits, incentives,
management techniques, etc. is just as guilty as “the social” created by sociologists.

If sociology is now about tracing association, which I consider quite fun, then what is, for example, Political Science about, if properly reassembled?

I am really racking my brain about this and am not sure that reassembling gets us very far outside of sociology. Still, I refuse to say that Geography, for example, is not in need of some reassembling. The key might be “the social” versus sociology in general, hence, “the political” is what is in need of reassembling, or perhaps “the geographic” … hmmm, this is quite messy.

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

One thought on “On "re-assembling" more than just the social…

  1. I do work with statistics in my day job so that would be clever – but, no…nothing so clever I’m afraid..I hope my ramblings were of some vague interest. I will definitely keep you in the loop. (We all surely know about the importance of networks!)


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