The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory

Turner, B. S. (2009). The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory. John Wiley \& Sons.

BibTex

BibTex

BibTex

@book{Turner2009The-New-Blackwell,
abstract = {A comprehensive new collection covering the principal traditions and critical contemporary issues of social {theory.Builds} on the success of The Blackwell Companion to Social Theory, second edition with substantial revisions, entirely new contributions, and a fresh editorial {directionExplores} contemporary areas such as actor network theory, social constructionism, human rights and {cosmopolitanismIncludes} chapters on demography, science and technology studies, and genetics and social {theoryEmphasizes} key areas of sociology which have had an important impact in shaping the discipline as a whole},
annote = {Extracted Annotations {(Mon} Feb 3 13:12:44 2014) {"In} the late 1970s and early 1980s Thomas Hughes, historian of technology, wrote about Thomas Edison, engineer and manager, and his new New York electricity supply network. Hughes showed that this was an artful combination of transmission lines, generators, coal supplies, voltages, incandescent filaments, legal maneuvers, laboratory calculations, political muscle, financial instruments, technicians, laboratory assistants, and salesmen. In short, it was a system, and it worked because Edison engineered the bits and pieces together. Hughes emphasizes that the architecture of the system was the key. Its individual elements, people or objects, were subordinate to the logic of that architecture, created or reshaped in that system {(Hughes} 1983)." {(Turner} 2009:158) {"Callon's} problem, which was to become the key problem for actor network theory 1990, was: how can we describe socially and materially heterogeneous systems in all their fragility and obduracy {(Callon} 1980)? This is the first context for actor network theory." {(Turner} 2009:158) "truth-claims. He noted that in the laboratory most claims about the world are vague and promiscuously mix the social and the natural. {{\textquotedblleft}Jones} told me that his {PhD} student saw this blip on the graph, and he suspects it might be a sign that . . .{\textquotedblright} says a post-doc over coffee. A tiny handful of these suggestions subsequently get transmuted into the much harder statements about nature that circulate in scientifi c papers ({\textquotedblleft}the figures in the table show . . .{\textquotedblright}). Latour observed that by the time this has happened the social has disappeared, along with almost everything to do with how the new truth was produced." {(Turner} 2009:159) {"Latour} does not talk of actor network theory here, but many of its elements are present: materially heterogeneous relations analyzed with semiotic tools; a symmetrical indifference to the truth or otherwise of what it is looking at; concern with the productivity of practice; an interest in circulation; and the predisposition to exemplary case studies; all of these are signatures of actor network theory." {(Turner} 2009:159) {"So} how might we study relationality and its productivity? Latour used Greimas, but he and Michel Callon also drew on philosopher of science Michel Serres. Serres writes about order and disorder. In his world there are patches of order in a sea of disorder. The most interesting places lie on the boundaries between order and disorder, or where different orders rub up against one another. Serres generates endless metaphors for imagining the uncertain messengers that pass between different orders or between order and disorder. Angels, parasites, Hermes, the {North-West} Passage, all of these make precarious links between places that do not belong to the same world. The notion of translation is another of his metaphors {(Serres} 1974)." {(Turner} 2009:159) Is this small scale also a weakness? Or is it only a matter of finding more and more relevant {\textquotedblleft}centers of calculation{\textquotedblright}? (note on p.160) ~ {"Fishermen}, scallops, and scientists are all being domesticated in a process of translation that relates, defi nes, and orders objects, human and otherwise. Callon adds that they hold themselves together but they do so precariously. All it takes is for one translation to fail and the whole web of reality unravels." {(Turner} 2009:160) {"Precarious} relations, the making of the bits and pieces in those relations, a logic of translation, a concern with materials of different kinds, with how it is that everything hangs together if it does, such are the intellectual concerns of the actor network tradition." {(Turner} 2009:160) {"Foucault} asks us to attend to the productively strategic and relational character of epochal epistemes {(Foucault} 1979). The actor network approach asks us to explore the strategic, relational, and productive character of particular, smaller-scale, heterogeneous actor networks." {(Turner} 2009:160) {"In} 1986 Law brought the two narratives together. He asked how the Portuguese generated a network that allowed them to control half the world. His answer was that ships, sails, mariners, navigators, stores, spices, winds, currents, astrolabes, stars, guns, ephemeredes, gifts, merchants' drafts were all translated into a web. That web, precarious though it was, gave each component a particular shape or form that was to hold together for 150 years. He added that result was a structure of asymmetry. Like Pasteur's lab in Paris, Lisbon became an obligatory point of passage for a whole set of tributaries. Law also argued, following Latour, that the ships became {\textquotedblleft}immutable mobiles{\textquotedblright} circulating to and fro in space whilst holding their form and shape constant. This, he said was crucial to the success of the system {(Law} 1986)." {(Turner} 2009:161) {"This} study displays all the ingredients of actor network theory 1990. There is semiotic relationality (it's a network whose elements define and shape one another), heterogeneity (there are different kinds of actors, human and otherwise), and materiality (stuff is there aplenty, not just {\textquotedblleft}the social{\textquotedblright}). There is an insistence on process and its precariousness (all elements need to play their part moment by moment or it all comes unstuck). There is attention to power as an effect (it is a function of network configuration and in particular the creation of immutable mobiles), to space and to scale (how it is that networks extend themselves and translate distant actors). New for actor network theory, there is an interest in large-scale political history." {(Turner} 2009:161)},
author = {Turner, Bryan S.},
date-added = {2014-02-16 15:58:45 +0000},
date-modified = {2014-02-16 16:01:09 +0000},
isbn = {9781444305005},
keywords = {\_tablet\_modified, bibdesk, ontology, Social Science / Sociology / General, sociology},
publisher = {John Wiley \& Sons},
title = {The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory},
year = {2009},
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}

Key Ideas.

The article in question by John Law in the book deals with Actor-Network Theory and Material Semiotics. In particular it features a discussion about if ANT can be used to study large-scale phenomena spread over multiple sites.

Links here

Highlights (0%)

In the late 1970s and early 1980s Thomas Hughes, historian of technology, wrote about Thomas Edison, engineer and manager, and his new New York electricity supply network. Hughes showed that this was an artful combination of transmission lines, generators, coal supplies, voltages, incandescent filaments, legal maneuvers, laboratory calculations, political muscle, financial instruments, technicians, laboratory assistants, and salesmen. In short, it was a system, and it worked because Edison engineered the bits and pieces together. Hughes emphasizes that the architecture of the system was the key. Its individual elements, people or objects, were subordinate to the logic of that architecture, created or reshaped in that system (Hughes 1983). p. 158

Callon’s problem, which was to become the key problem for actor network theory 1990, was: how can we describe socially and materially heterogeneous systems in all their fragility and obduracy (Callon 1980)? This is the first context for actor network theory. p. 158

He noted that in the laboratory most claims about the world are vague and promiscuously mix the social and the natural. “Jones told me that his PhD student saw this blip on the graph, and he suspects it might be a sign that . . .” says a post-doc over coffee. A tiny handful of these suggestions subsequently get transmuted into the much harder statements about nature that circulate in scientific papers (“the figures in the table show . . .”). Latour observed that by the time this has happened the social has disappeared, along with almost everything to do with how the new truth was produced. p. 159

Latour does not talk of actor network theory here, but many of its elements are present: materially heterogeneous relations analyzed with semiotic tools; a symmetrical indifference to the truth or otherwise of what it is looking at; concern with the productivity of practice; an interest in circulation; and the predisposition to exemplary case studies; all of these are signatures of actor network theory. p. 159

So how might we study relationality and its productivity? Latour used Greimas, but he and Michel Callon also drew on philosopher of science Michel Serres. Serres writes about order and disorder. In his world there are patches of order in a sea of disorder. The most interesting places lie on the boundaries between order and disorder, or where different orders rub up against one another. Serres generates endless metaphors for imagining the uncertain messengers that pass between different orders or between order and disorder. Angels, parasites, Hermes, the North-West Passage, all of these make precarious links between places that do not belong to the same world. The notion of translation is another of his metaphors (Serres 1974). p. 159

Fishermen, scallops, and scientists are all being domesticated in a process of translation that relates, defines, and orders objects, human and otherwise. Callon adds that they hold themselves together but they do so precariously. All it takes is for one translation to fail and the whole web of reality unravels. p. 160

Precarious relations, the making of the bits and pieces in those relations, a logic of translation, a concern with materials of different kinds, with how it is that everything hangs together if it does, such are the intellectual concerns of the actor network tradition. p. 160

Foucault asks us to attend to the productively strategic and relational character of epochal epistemes (Foucault 1979). The actor network approach asks us to explore the strategic, relational, and productive character of particular, smaller-scale, heterogeneous actor networks. p. 160

Is this small scale also a weakness? Or is it only a matter of finding more and more relevant “centers of calculation”? p. 160

In 1986 Law brought the two narratives together. He asked how the Portuguese generated a network that allowed them to control half the world. His answer was that ships, sails, mariners, navigators, stores, spices, winds, currents, astrolabes, stars, guns, ephemeredes, gifts, merchants’ drafts were all translated into a web. That web, precarious though it was, gave each component a particular shape or form that was to hold together for 150 years. He added that result was a structure of asymmetry. Like Pasteur’s lab in Paris, Lisbon became an obligatory point of passage for a whole set of tributaries. Law also argued, following Latour, that the ships became “immutable mobiles” circulating to and fro in space whilst holding their form and shape constant. This, he said was crucial to the success of the system (Law 1986). p. 161

This study displays all the ingredients of actor network theory 1990. There is semiotic relationality (it’s a network whose elements define and shape one another), heterogeneity (there are different kinds of actors, human and otherwise), and materiality (stuff is there aplenty, not just “the social”). There is an insistence on process and its precariousness (all elements need to play their part moment by moment or it all comes unstuck). There is attention to power as an effect (it is a function of network configuration and in particular the creation of immutable mobiles), to space and to scale (how it is that networks extend themselves and translate distant actors). New for actor network theory, there is an interest in large-scale political history. p. 161

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