List

Latour, Bruno.  “On Interobjectivity.”  Mind, Culture, and Activity 3 4 (1996).  228-245.  Print.

  • Latour echoes the questions that come to the fore at the beginning of Reassembling the Social early on this piece: namely, how do we understand society?  Is it determined by a superstructure or does it only occur through interactions between two participants?  Is there a middle ground?  When we observe interaction are we merely observing the ways that “society” manifest through the interlocutors? (SURELY NOT!)
  • Latour notes that primate research has revealed the social fact of consciousness and agency: every actor’s every action is interfered with by others; as such, the acts of continual negotiation in primate behavior surely must translate to the human condition (228).  In other words, even in the “state of nature” complex sociality exists.  What are the implications of such a claim?  Sociobiology seems to pose an interactionist rather than a “social structure as a superorganism” model of social behavior (the superstructure of the social can’t exist because of the continual renegotiation of action every time primates interact).  Yet, because we’re talking about primates no language or technology mediate the interaction; further, there doesn’t even seem to be a representation of self and other.  In other words, there isn’t a superstructure governing the composition of the social nor is there an interactionist model predicated on language use or tool use.  Yet, social interaction certainly exists.
  • Why does Latour’s theory reject articulations of society predicated on the social contract?  L. states that, “Society does not begin like Hobbes’ with preformed human bodies, with brains capable of calculation, with distinct individuals who choose to agree together through the mythology of the social contract.  As far as we can understand through this calibration of our origin stories with the example of primates, the humanization of our bodies and brains was on the contrary shaped by a fine tissue of complex social interactions whose matrix precedes us by several million years” (230).  Why doesn’t interactionism work in Latour’s mind?  Because to observe interaction means sheering off the individuals involved from the rest of “social life” in such a way that portrays them as isolated actors performing interaction outside the influence of context. . . in other words, an arhetorical conception of human action/agency (230).  The interactionists call their object of observation “framed interactions” because it allows for a consideration of the dyad outside the influence of the rest of the social.
  • Latour critiques sociology for moving too quickly from interaction to structure in both human and primate research (232).  He eventually moves to define interaction and structure as “co-extensive” or mutually constitutive.  In other words, no interaction is protected, bounded-off from other interactions at any time. . . hence, interactionist theories present a false vision of the real; further, because each interaction that does occur must retest every set of relationships that occurs across a social group.  This means that structure is infinitely being reconfigured through interactions.  Seen through these definitions, interactionist and structural explanations of society share the same limits (232).
  • L. claims that the adjective “complicated” is actually more useful than “complex” when describing societies because complicated = black box.  In other words, because we are able to make static some social relations we can “black box” them, turning them away from an always conscious negotiation of every element of an interaction toward a situation where some elements of an interaction are not negotiated but assumed.  The baboon’s sociality is complex because it is in a state of constant negotiation. . . the humans’ is complicated because it requires negotiation; however, some of the variables of an interaction are already decided (232-3).
  • What’s the import here for you Justin?  Well, the act of framing allows for a reduction of complexity in social interactions.  Framing renders local by drawing boundaries and partitions in order to make sense of interaction; further, black-boxing renders global by reducing incredibly complex negotiations across space-time into instrumentalized things that obscure all the interactions that went into making the thing possible.
  • Latour asks a great question on 234:  “What do symbols hold on to?  If the social is not solid enough to make interactions last – as examples from simian societies show – how could signs do the job?  How could the brain alone stabilize that which bodies cannot?”  L. answers this question by stating plainly: objects.  Objects are the referents that symbolic languages use to draw coherence.  So, if sociology wants to be a science of the social it must incorporate into its theory objects beyond subjects.  Interactions occur in context and symbolic language refers to objects. . . not merely subjects.  As Latour ntoes, we need to serve “as comrades, colleagues, partners, accomplices, or associates in the weaving of social life” (235).  We MUST consider objects as the determinant for the social world (235).
  • What is the cause of sociology’s problem of not being able to recognize the object in the constitution of the social?   To some degree it is rooted in a denial of objects – a denial of fetishism.  Instead objects are considered mere reflections of the social life that humans project onto them – they are the “retroprojectors of our social life” (236).
  • What is “action?”  It is to mediate another’s action; however, in the act of mediation we are exceeded by what we create (237).  In other words, action is never born of the Cartesian self – it is born from without, born in objects that frame our interactions.  How must we think of interactions in this new sociology?  Interaction “signifies that action must be shared with other kinds of actants dispersed in other spatio-temporal frameworks and who exhibit other kinds of onotology” (239).  So, how does the individual exist over time in relation to this constant state of interobjectivity?  Well, NARRATIVE – “How can an actor endure in this midst of diversity?  Through the work of narrative creation that permits ‘I’ to hold together over time.  How is this narrative construction itself maintained?  By the body, by that old basis of primate sociality that renders our bodies skillful in maintaining interactions” (239).
  • In order to deal with the social body as a body, we need: a) to treat things as social facts; b) to replace the two symmetrical illusions of interaction and society with an exchange of properties between human and non-human actants; and c) to empirically follow the work of localizing and globalizing” (240).

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