List

Latour, Bruno.  “Pursuing the Discussion of Interobjectivity With a Few Friends.”  Mind, Culture and Activity 3 4 (1996):  266-269.  Print.

  • Latour confesses that his article on interobjectivity and it’s companion paper “On Technical Mediation” are efforts to create a Master Narrative on the common evolution of humans and non-humans (266).
  • In his response, Latour highlights how his theory differs from Engstrom’s (and others) by drawing attention to the ways that AT overestimates the importance of human action.  Latour critiques Engestrom’s argument that the “Postal Buddy” example he provided [a machine that was automated post service] was “materially imprinted” with the morality and action of social roles.  In other words, Latour is pushing against the idea that objects merely operate in the background, infused with human ingenuity but only able to act at the will of the human.  Latour claims that these understandings of technology as “congealed, reifying, embodying or crystallizing” human intention/design is convenient because it is based on Marx’s theory of “dead labor” (humans in command, empowered by what has been taken away from them through the processes of fetishization and naturalization).  This is different from genuinely attempting to share actions with other actants.  This doesn’t mean turning humans into the things that are held by objects; rather, it means trying to toe the line by authorizing agency in objects in direct proportion to deauthorizing agency in humans until a point of equilibrium is reached (267).
  • Latour reiterates his critique of “scales” or levels wherein we live because this is the central problem in a framing sociology.  As he notes, “The shifting scale and the impossibility of defining an everyday world is what Michel Callon and I have been trying to probe for twenty years.  Actor-network theory, because it deals with trajectories, is indeed different from interactionist arguments which deal with people in practice” (268).
  • Latour takes on Engstom’s critique of interobjectivity concerning a lack of cultural-historical context embedded in systems of activity this way:  Engstrom is also proposing the sanctity of a singular subject acting in a system of activity that occurs at different levels.  Here’s his original quote:  “Yet individual actions are embedded in concrete local activities.  Behind a momentary action performed by a singular actor there is a long-term collective activity, a community of practice.  Abandoning levels makes it difficult to account for this embeddedness” (268, Latour’s emphasis).  This runs perfectly counter to Latour’s project: no frames, no embeddedness, no levels – only activity that occurs among humans and non-humans across networks.  As Latour notes, E.’s theory “offers a dialectic loop that will allow us to reconcile the collective level of action with the singular actor” (269).
  • Finally, Latour rejects the use of mediation because it can be read as both intermediation (transmission) or true mediation (transformation).  He also rejects the dialectical criticsm provided by E. by claiming that dialectical reasoning “is the way invented to entrench even deeper the dualism between individual and collective action and to behave as if it had been triumphantly overcome.  To take an example we are all familiar with, Ed Hutchins is not using dialectical reasoning:  cognition, human action, and social realities have been redistributed, not reconciled” (ibid).

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