Pankaj Sekhsaria: Guest Blogger

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Pankaj Sekhsaria (doctoral candidate from Maastricht University Science and Technology Studies) will join us for the next month on the blog. You might recall mention of research on jugaad, but Pankaj’s work is so much more than that. If you review the academia.edu page, then you’ll see a substantial amount more about jugaad, including an engaging and well-read newspaper piece about the topic,  along with a piece in Current Science, India’s leading science journal, and there is also a chapter is an edited volume that is worth the read. Pankaj is also author of The Last Wave, a novel that is engrossing — I’m learning — and that was well-received on the topic of deforestation and, I think, finding meaning in a world ravened by capitalism’s insufferable appetite.

This is truly a joy to welcome Pankaj to the blog. Please join me in welcoming our guest.

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3:1 — Post-Crisis — 0 of 3 (Introduction)

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Are we, as a global community, living in a post-crisis world? We seem to be in a semi-permanent state of crisis, either in crisis or on the brink of it perpetually, and, in that context, does a concept like crisis really mean anything anymore? By invoking “post-crisis” we are not talking about post-crisis as in “after a crisis” (for example, in stories like this one about “post-crisis economic planning“); for comic-buffs, we are also not talking about the crazy-cool “post-crisis” events in DC Comics’ publishing history following the 1985-86 Crisis on Infinite Earths (discussed here); this is also not the revamped homo ecnonomicus discussion of the “post-crisis consumer.” The bottom-line: as the global community gets more and more intertwined, non-local crises have local implications and impacts, and if there is always a crisis or a looming crisis somewhere, does “crisis” really capture anything out of the ordinary? (given that crisis means an intensification of difficulty or trouble, and, hence, a perpetual state crisis ceases to be a moment of crisis)

It should be recognized that much of this “crisis talk” is sourced by media outlets that thrive on hyperbole, so, possibly, we are making too much of this; however, the roots of a post-crisis society are possibly deeper than just journalistic portrayals in the media (though they are surprisingly powerful in framing global events). These issues, among others, are what we will discuss this week on our 3:1 on Post-Crisis.

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Our guest this week is Peter Bratsis. I know Peter’s work from his outstanding book Everyday Life and the State (for theory buffs, there is a section in this book where Peter claims that Kantorowicz is possibly the greatest state theorist [who wasn’t a state theorist] of all time — a thought which also figures into his new work on corruption). You might also know his other book, with Stanley Aronowitz, Paradigm Lost: State Theory Reconsidered. You can read much of his work here, and perhaps you’ve recently seen him speaking about the rise of the Syriza Party in Greece, for example, on Uprising or on European Ideas.

We welcome him to the blog! 

Information as a Structure, Structure as Information

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In this rather long post, Andrzej W. Nowak, now a guest blogger at Installing Order, asks whether or not we can collapse the boundary between information and structure. No doubt, given that these two terms mean so many different things depending on the tradition they are embedded within, this is bound to be a difficult task, which is why Andrzej is so careful to specify the unique traditions from which he hopes to, once and for all, decimate the boundary between information and structure. — Nicholas

Information as a Structure, Structure as Information. Power relation and dynamics of networks

I want to examine here, a problem of relation between the notion of ‘information’ and the notion of ‘structure’. My main thesis will be that the very distinction between these two notions can be abolished; in the perspective I want to adopt they can be understood as synonyms.

To describe this perspective I will use a term ‘network ontology’. I propose that we can combine two traditions where the notion of network is used: Actor Network Theory (represented by Bruno Latour and others) and “new science of network” (represented by Duncan Watts and Laszlo-Albert Barabasi). I am absolutely aware that such a comparison might be perceived as controversial, mainly because these two traditions are very different. I know exactly that Bruno Latour himself reject such comparison. But I am bold enough not to be Latourian, but to go my own way.

I am also aware that, at first glance, in these two theories the very term “network” refers to completely different phenomena and, in fact, cannot be used interchangeably. This is reason I would like to ask, about possibility of comparison and mutual translation of these two ways of understanding of the notion “network”. Could such experiment help us in expanding our  view of network ontology? Material and ontological character of ANT gives us opportunity to show how information is structured and embodied in concrete world of things, objects, artifacts etc. “New Science of network” gives us rare opportunity to show dynamic process of self-organization (Novotny) and its consequences, also it is a  useful tool for analysis of power relation.

Information as a Structure. The notion of ‘Network’ in ANT

When we try to explicate the notion of ‘network’ in Actor–Network Theory we should remember that Latour himself is very skeptical about this notion. In “Actor Network and After”, he declared that there are four things wrong with actor-network theory: “actor”, “network”, “theory” and the hyphen. On the other hand, in Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory), he changes his opinion and accepts the wide use of the term . What worries Latour about the term ‘network’ is its common understanding that associates it with World Wide Web. In his opinion this association is misleading because it suggests that the actor (or information) is moving unchanged on the network. To avoid this misunderstanding, as we well know, he refers to a Deleuzian term ‘rhizome’. He follows McLuhan’s statement that “medium is a message” and claims that every single operation (all forms of communication, sending information, creating knowledge) is always a ontological operation. New network, new information is always connected with work which has to be done. There is no single bit of information which can be send without hidden work.

The terms ‘collectivity’, ‘network’ and ‘actant’ are in ANT all synonymous of complexity. I claim, that there is a set of particularly important problems that in fact haven’t been fully scrutinized in ANT. They include the problem of structure of the complex collectivity and its dynamics and also the question of the rule of affiliation and association of new elements. I want to suggest that despite all his declarations and promises Latour doesn’t fully recognize the significance of these problems.

At this point I think we should examine the second part of the title structure as information:

To analyze this we should consider holistic presumption which we often accept when we think about complex systems and with some controversy when we think about Latour’s assemblage. This is the most basic Aristotelian presumption that complex system is something more than just a sum of its parts. Accepting this we have to acknowledge a phenomenon of emergence. I want to claim that the phenomenon of emergence causes some theoretical problems to ANT and that it complicates its “flat” ontology.

In ANT new networks emerge out of the already existing ones. Networks are growing and expanding and are stabilized. But in my opinion, while Latour rightly emphasizes the role of humans and nonhumans as parts of collectivity, he also neglects the laws of collectivity. The result is that the problem of internal dynamics of the complex network system remains unresolved. Latour shows us clearly how actors/actants are or become networks. But he does not put the same emphasis on explaining how networks are or become independent actors. If actants and networks together create a whole, a collectivity, which is a complex system, then there should be new emergent laws which rule this collectivity. At first sight it could seem destructive to “flat” ontology and “ocasionallism” of ANT. However, I think it is possible to save this ontology if we decide to treat the emergent laws of collectivity and the laws of affiliation as actants.

We can understand functioning of these actants when we move to Network Science

Structure as Information. 

There are many theories which deal with the problems of emergence and complex systems. I will refer here to ‘new’ Science of Network. It is a set of theories associated with works of Steven Strogatz, Duncan J. Watts and Albert-Laszlo Barabasi.

Social physicians (among them Watts and Barabasi) recognize the problem of nonhuman in commonsense way. Because they concentrate on social network their analysis overlooks very complicated relations between the realm of ‘the social’ and the realm of “objects”. But in my opinion this shortcoming can be overcome with the help of ANT understanding of materiality. Social physicians are more like scientists than sociologists. In their research they draw on mathematics and theoretical physics. However, I want to claim that their traditional, naïve vision of the relation between humans and non humans can be transformed in accordance with Actor Network Theory without significant changes in the core of their approach. There are some elements of Watts and Barabasi theories that support my claim – for example when they use the same mathematical tools to describe processes of synchronization in case of clapping hands or crickets chirping.

At first sight Barabasi and Watts are using the term social in a traditional way, but when we look closer at it we can discover that they have much more in common with ANT. Watts and Barabsi concentrate on a type of linking, connecting and assembling things. They try to explain this in a traditional language of “hidden” social force. But I suggest that in the very core of their approach they can be treated as a Tardian sociologist.

However, in my opinion if we want to reconcile Barabasi and Watts network science with ANT we have to deal with one more problem. It is a relation between an actor and a network. Barabasi and Watts are widely recognized as scientists whose research field is World Wide Web. As we remember Latour strongly opposes associating his notion of ‘network’ with the internet and WWW. But the theories of Strogatz, Watts and Barabasi on one hand and ANT on the other reveal many similarities when we look at them a little closer. Watts, Granovetter and Barabasi seem to differentiate between actor and network. But the analysis of synchronization of clapping hands or crickets chirping made by Watts shows clearly that there is no single traditional actor, like a single clapping person. Instead, it might be the laws that organize complicated networks that we may identify as actors. It turns out that one of the implications shared by both the network science and Actor Network Theory is that the agency is not only a consequence of network laws, but it is a network itself.

Now I want to show in what way ANT could benefit from the insights developed in network science.

First advantage is connected with the idea of ‘small world theory’ (Watts). When we analyze the hubs and connecteions  we can discover some other network laws governing power distribution within the network. Important hubs have tendency to become bigger and bigger and internal structure of the whole network is based on the existence of these hubs. But it means that the distribution of power within the network is very “unequal’ or “aristocratic”. It is desribed as a ‘power laws’ or – if we refer to Barabasi – by the term ‘free–scale networks’. (The phenomenon of ‘free-scale networks’ is often known as an 80/20 Pareto rule, or a Saint Mathew effect, etc.) 

The highest-degree ‘nodes’ called ‘hubs’ play a significant role in the whole network. The most important and valuable insight of the network science is that the condition of having control over or influence on the network is the knowledge of the network’s structure. This knowledge must include the localization of clusters, cliques and – most of all – the position of ‘hubs’. It is only this knowledge that opens possibility to influence the network as a whole. In this context we can conclude that the structure itself is the information.

Conclusion

I wanted to show that incorporating ideas from network science into Actor Network Theory research program may seem to destroy simple and elegant “flat” ontology of ANT. I also wanted to show that if we want to compare the two network approaches (ANT and network science) we have to take up the problem of a growth of the network and of creation new macro actors. By referring to the ‘small world’ theory I wanted to show that the possible influence the actors may have on the network as a whole depends not only on their size but mainly on their localization in this network. As I mentioned before it is the hubs that concentrate the power in the network.

I wanted to show that apart from “black boxing” practice there is another way of creating macro actors. Macro actors can be also created by the internal laws of complex network system. This kind of macro actors, like the laws of complex network systems, should be treated as independent nonhuman actants. In Latour’s theory the collectivity of humans and nonhuman actants also include such actants as the laws of complex collectivity.

Network science and Actor Network Theory try to blur or invalidate the distinction between natural and social science, although they do this form opposite directions. I am strongly convinced that these two tradition should draw extensively from each other.

I would like to discus here, in public draft, some ideas which I get some time ago. I presented this ideas first time, in a paper at Wittgenstein Symposium (here).  Now I am working on a article about this topic (still in progres). Feel free to give me feedback and suggestions.

/Andrzej W. Nowak/

Happy Holidays! See you all next year

This has been an interesting year for all of us at installingorder.org. We had a number of good topics this year and we are very happy that the blog is now way more interactive than it was before. We have been a little quite over the summer, sorry for that, but we are back since 4S 2013 in San Diego which was a great conference and a fantastic meeting for all who study societies sociotechnical nerves.

Stefanie Fishel joined us, first as a guest blogger, then as full time author. Thanks for the great input, Stef! Next year will see guest bloggers again, starting with Andrzej W. Nowak from the  Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań, Poland. (See his TedXPoznan talk on youtube, sad that I don´t speak polish). We are looking forward to that! And there will be more! Expect 2014 to be as interesting as the last.

For the rest of the year we will, as most of you will too, take a little break and rest over the holidays. Have yourself a merry Christmas, if you want to have it, or happy Hanukkah, if that is yours, or a great flying spaghetti monster gathering. However you spend your days, think about Santa´s little elves at Amazon, FedEx or DHL and about the massive infrastructural work necessary to let you have some Eggnog, Chestnuts or that box of Breaking Bad episodes that you need for the upcoming festivities. See you all next year!

Law Blog

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Law at the end of the day is run by Law Professor Larry Backer (PSU, Dickinson School). Between some of the issues we deal with here and those found at a favorite site of mine (orgtheory.org), there is the potential for some synergy between organizations, law, and infrastructure.

Check it out: these days, Larry seems to be interested in the goverance without government debates that have been gonig on in IR, public administration, and international law. In particular, check out his most recent post: its about the re-stating (let’s say) of the oil infrastructure/industry in Argentina and putting it back into the hands of the state (where it previously was before mid-1990) even though a Spanish company now owns much of the industry privately. State or public intervention into market or private operations with heavy, highly-localized non-transportable/transferable infrastructure might be uniquely appreciated/analyzed from an infrastructure perspective too (although as a law professor, Larry prefer law as the inroads for analysis)…

Thanks to Kathryn, and welcome to Govind!

Kathryn Furlong has been contributing to the blog for the last month and shared a number of updates on her emerging work as well as some wonderful photographs of “science in action” (if I may). Thanks, Kathryn for all you contributions.

That said, Govind Gopakumar, whose book I just reviewed for Social Studies of Science, and which Mike Lynch just told me would appear in an April or June edition of the journal devoted to water issues (I think the special edition is called “Water Worlds”). Welcome to Govind!

Thank you, Endre Dányi Welcome Karthryn Furlong!

Endre Dányi, a student of Lucy Suchman and John Law at Lancaster University’s Department of Sociology, joined the blog for the month of October into November wherein he shared six great posts about what I suppose we could call “the Parliament multiple.” A real highlight for me was Endre’s point about Parliamentary efficiency: “There’s a double demand here: the legislative machine should operate smoothly, but not too smoothly.” That is an idea worth developing in this age of hyper-efficiency and transparency! Bravo!

So, from Installing (Social) Order, thank you for your detailed and throught-provoking posts, and we hope you stay engaged in the discussions here on the blog.

Kathryn Furlong is the project director the “Water, Urban, and Utility Goverance” and assistant professor in geography at University of Montreal. She was first mentioned on the blog as a “new scholar to watch” because of her paper “Small technologies, big change: Rethinking infrastructure through STS and geography” published in Progress in Human Geography. The paper illuminates a few ways that STS might learn from geography, and the inverse is also presented. After our meeting at 4S a few days back, I am not convinced that STS has a ton to learn from geography on the topic of infrastructure. She is currently attending a conference, and will hopefully tell us a little about it and other topics over the next month or so.

Karthryn, welcome aboard!

Endre’s second post

What do buildings do? The question has been addressed several times in STS (see, for instance, Thomas Gieryn’s paper here, and Michael Guggenheim’s paper here), but I don’t think it’s possible to find a general answer. So let me be more specific: what does the Hungarian parliament building do?

I spent a long time thinking about this question, both during fieldwork in Budapest and during writing-up in Berlin. One day I decided play a game and pile up as many books as I could find in the Grimm Zentrum – Humboldt University’s new open shelf library – that had an image of the Hungarian Parliament on its cover. The result was quite surprising: the books fell into two distinct categories. Either they were about the parliament building, which was constructed in the end of the 19th century, but had nothing to say about politics, or they were about the current political regime, born after the collapse of communism in 1989, but had nothing to say about architecture. There was materiality on the one hand, and democracy on the other.

The only exception I could find was a large-sized exhibition catalogue, published in 2000 by the Museum of Fine Arts in Budapest. The title of the catalogue was House of the Nation: Parliament Plans for Buda-Pest, 1784-1884, and according to the preface, it was supposed to be more than a supplement to architectural history – it was meant to be the documentation of the realisation of ‘a ramifying high-political programme’. To understand what this programme might have meant, I decided to follow a material semiotic strategy, articulated in John Law’s Aircraft Stories (especially in Chapter 2), and do an anti-reading of the catalogue. The aim was not to faithfully reconstruct how the imposing Parliament was built in the centre of Budapest, but to explore what made its construction possible – indeed necessary.

The answer is that there was not one but at least three reasons for its construction. The first had something to do with the political community. I don’t want to go into the details, but Hungary in the second half of the 19th century was still part of the Austro-Hungarian Monarchy, and so the demonstration of the country’s autonomy was of crucial importance. The story about how the Hungarian government came up with the idea of celebrating the 1000th anniversary of the conquest of the land in 1896 would have been a nice addition to Eric Hobsbawm & Terence Ranger’s The Invention of Tradition – the point is that the permanent home of the legislature was intended to be a memorial of the thousand-year-old nation.

The second reason is much more prosaic. After the Austro-Hungarian compromise, signed in 1867, the two houses of the Hungarian Parliament moved into two temporary locations, and for more than three decades the House of Lords held its sessions in the main hall of the National Museum, while the House of Representatives assembled in the place of a former military barracks. The latter was too small, the acoustics was bad, the insulation was even worse, and there was hardly any room for the administrative staff. If Hungary wanted a new parliament building, many MPs argued, it had to be large enough to accommodate both houses, the entire administration associated with the legislature, not to mention its library, archives, post office, and so on.

So the new parliament building, which was commissioned in 1880, had to be memorial-like, and it had to be large. But this doesn’t explain why it had to be neo-Gothic. Indirect evidence suggests the decision to choose Imre Steindl as the architect of the Hungarian Parliament was made by former Prime Minister Gyula Andrássy, who was very much impressed by Steindl’s neo-Gothic designs. Not because he was interested in revivalism as such, but because he wanted the new parliament building to resemble the Palace of Westminster as much as possible. He was absolutely fond of English political culture, and his understanding of parliamentarism was strongly influenced by his regular visits to London. He thought it was important to have an independent legislature, to have a House of Representatives that consisted entirely of  elected members, but he was against the extension of the franchise to workers and women, and was definitely against republicanism. As a liberal politician, he believed a constitutional monarchy was the best model a modern nation could hope for.

To make the long story short: the anti-reading of the House of the Nation catalogue revealed that there were at least three different reasons for the parliament building’s construction in the end of the 19th century. In my view, these reasons or justifications (see Luc Boltanski & Laurent Thevenot’s On Justification) point towards three changes in the practice of doing politics: the definition of the political community, the specification of the legislature’s continuous operation, and the birth of the professional politician. I think it’s fair to say that these three changes together constituted the high-political programme mentioned in the catalogue – a political programme that could just as well be called liberal democracy. And what the Hungarian parliament building did, at least until the First World War, was that it held together this political reality, which consisted of three distinct modes of doing politics. What these were and what they look like today is going to be discussed in subsequent posts…

Endre’s first post

Once again, many thanks to the Installing (Social) Order team for inviting me as a guest blogger! Let me start this first post with a short introduction that hopefully helps to situate my research within science and technology studies.

Sociologists and anthropologists of science know a lot about laboratories, innovation centres, museums, design studios, hospitals, and the politics of related material practices, but curiously there’s hardly any STS work that focuses on explicitly political institutions. Perhaps the most notable exception is the thousand page long Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy catalogue, edited by Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel. As many readers of this blog probably know, the catalogue was published in 2005 as a companion to a fascinating exhibition, held at the Karlsruhe-based Center for Art and Media (http://on1.zkm.de/zkm/stories/storyReader$4581#), but I stumbled upon it only a year later, in the library of Lancaster University. It was the very beginning of my PhD at the Department of Sociology (http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/), and I was looking for studies on political technologies when I discovered the massive blue book on one of the shelves. My idea at the time was to compare three or four distinct political configurations or arrangements (street demonstrations, public debates, election campaigns), but flipping through the essays in the catalogue made me realise that it would be much more interesting to focus on the entity that in one way or another coordinates these arrangements: the parliament. (The term ‘arrangement’ comes from Andrew Barry’s Political Machines.)

I can’t say I immediately had a clear idea about what an STS-informed research of a parliament would look like, but I knew where it could take place. As someone who grew up in Hungary, I remembered that the parliament building in the centre of Budapest was once the largest (and arguably the most impressive) of its kind – quite bizarre for a country that is not only small, but in most political scientists’ view also counts as a ‘new democracy’. Either they are right, I thought, and then props really don’t matter in politics, or the idea that liberal democracy in Central and Eastern Europe fell from the sky in 1989 – like in Peter Sloterdijk’s thought experiment (http://www.g-i-o.com/pp1.htm) – needs to be rethought.

So there was a problem, there was a site, and thanks to a friend from undergraduate times, who started his second term as a Member of Parliament in 2006, soon there was access. The fourth component, funding, came from The Leverhulme Trust, which generously supported a larger research project entitled Relocating Innovation: Places and Material Practices of Future Making (http://www.sand14.com/relocatinginnovation/). I’ll write more about my MP friend and the research project that involved Lucy Suchman, Laura Watts and myself in subsequent posts. For now, let me just say that my fieldwork began in Budapest in 2008 and – somewhat surprisingly – ended in Berlin in 2011. The main idea was very simple: instead of treating the Hungarian Parliament as a local manifestation of liberal democracy as a universal concept, I wanted to understand what liberal democracy was by focusing on the Hungarian Parliament. In practice, however, the research very quickly became very complex. As a sociologist, all of a sudden I had to find ways of relating to architecture, Hungarian history, constitutional theory, political science and political philosophy, while constantly keeping an eye on STS. It was overwhelming.

Between 2008 and 2011 I spent four extended periods doing ethnographic and historical research in and around the Hungarian parliament building, and a longer period as a visiting researcher at the Institute for European Ethnology at Humboldt University (http://www.euroethno.hu-berlin.de/), trying to make sense of my empirical material. Finally, less than two weeks ago I submitted my dissertation, which is entitled Parliament Politics: A material semiotic analysis of liberal democracy. My plan in this space within the Installing (Social) Order blog is not to provide a summary of the dissertation, but to offer some sort of a problem map. First I will focus on architecture, and discuss what we can learn about liberal democracy if we concentrate on the construction of the Hungarian parliament building in the end of the 19th century. Then I will briefly recount what happened to this building (and the political reality it was supposed to hold together) in the 20th century in order to highlight some tensions related to the definition of a political community. I’ll then concentrate on the parliament’s role in the current political regime – the Republic of Hungary – and examine some of the most important aspects of the legislative process. After this, I’ll (re-)introduce my MP friend and summarise what I’ve learned from him about political representation, which sometimes takes place in the parliament building, but some other times in TV studios, party congresses, street demonstrations, and various other places. All of my stories will be full of political objects, but the picture wouldn’t be complete if I remained silent about political subjects. This part will be a little complicated, because I don’t think STS is very well equipped to deal with questions related to citizenship, but I might be wrong. In the end, I’ll say something about the implications of my research, and the Relocating Innovation project in general, which will probably coincide with a workshop I’m going to attend at MEDEA at Malmö University in the end of October (related to this event: http://medea.mah.se/2011/09/medea-talks-presents-lucy-suchman/).

I hope these posts will be useful and entertaining, and generate some interesting discussions! If you have any questions and/or suggestions, please don’t hesitate to post them as comments or send them in an email to edanyi -at- gmail.com.

Guest Blogger: Endre Danyi

Endre Dányi is going to join the blog for the month of October. He is the student of Lucy Suchman and John Law at Lancaster University’s Department of Sociology, and he writes on what I shall dare say “the parliment multiple.” Like Anna Marie Mol’s work on the “body multiple,” Endre’s work aims to capture the ontologies of parliment, and he does this with some attention to the interface of the future and the past.

Join me in welcoming Endre Danyi to installing social order!

NOTE: A short snippet about his Ph.D. work:

What is a parliament? And how does it work? In order to answer these questions I suggest that we consider ‘the parliament’ not as a general metaphor for democratic politics, but a specific site that lies at the intersection of distinct political imaginaries. Following a material semiotic approach my research focuses on the Hungarian Parliament – a hundred-year-old socio-technical assemblage that at the time of its opening was the largest parliament in the world. Building upon recent works in science and technology studies (STS) and cultural anthropology that conceive of politics as a set of located material practices, I argue that this seemingly singular iconic site in Budapest sometimes functions as an historical monument, sometimes as a professional organisation, and sometimes as an elaborate set for politicians. Based mainly on ethnographic and archival research, I examine the ways in which versions of a national past, the workings of a political regime, and acts of decision-making get materialised in the Hungarian Parliament, and the political futures that these narratives render real(istic) while keeping others invisible.

Wake-up in the mornin’ feeling like Bruno Latour

orgtheory is a blog written by a number of scholars in organization studies of various sorts, among them is a mentor of mine and all around cool dude, Fabio Rojas.

Omar Lizardo recently posted a thought-provoking post “What it is like to be Bruno Latour” and this made for some interesting comments as well.

As a one-time, now emeritus guest blogger, I took some heat in the name of Latour and ANT, so much so that Fabio joked that Latour ought not be mentioned in certain company.

As this group is generally sympathetic to Latour and Co., what is it about ANT that draws the ire of so many folks?