Questions posed by the discussants




1) Is there a balance to be struck between the study of ‘change’ (as Latour argues for) and the study of how society works?  Is there merit in studying continuity?  Successful leveling mechanisms?

2) What does Latour and ANT have to offer anthropologists in 2009?  Is ANT what social anthropologists (ethnographers and archaeologists) have always done?  Is ANT simply a critique of sociological theory that did not allow for agency (e.g. Marx) or multiple identities (e.g.  Bourdieu – Distinction, Goffman – The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life)? (see p.84).  What does Latour add in “Third Source of Uncertainty” that is of use to anthropology?


3) In a follow-up to Reassembling the Social, Latour wrote a defense paper which he concluded with the following paragraph:

“ANT is a powerful tool to destroy spheres and domains, to regain the sense of heterogeneity and to bring inter-objectivity back into the centre of attention (Latour, 1994). Yet, it is an extremely bad tool for differentiating associations. It gives a black and white picture not a colored and contrasted one. It is thus necessary, after having traced the actor-networks, to specify the types of trajectories that are obtained through highly different mediations.  This is a different task and the one that will make ANT scholars busy for a number of years to come.”

But is this (specifying the types of trajectories) possible if ANT does not attempt to explain why an actor-network exists?  And can color be added to this ‘black and white picture’ say from drawing on some of the theoretical/methodological/practical proposals of authors we have previously encountered in this course?


4) There have been various criticisms leveled against ANT. These include:

  • the absurdity of assigning agency to nonhuman actors
  • that ANT is amoral
  • that because it assumes all actors are equal within the network (no accommodations for power imbalances can be made)
  • that ANT leads to useless descriptions with no delimitations and no attempt at explanation

Which of these criticisms do we agree/disagree with?  What are the advantages that we can draw from ANT?


5. According to Latour there is certain “incommensurability”  that separates humans and objects (among others, they are quite obstinate and not very vocal), which accounts for their use to facilitate, maintain,  and  prolong the existence of “what is traditionally conceived” as social ties (p. 74). What other roles does this obstinacy play?

6. The problem about taking objects into consideration is that they quickly reside into the background. As a bypass, he proposes to pay attention to some peculiar situations where their visibility is augmented (innovations, distance, breakdowns, collections, and fictions, pp. 80-81). What examples of the use of these privileged instances have we seen
in other authors’ explorations of the non-human? Are these explorations limited to the role of ‘objects’ as mediators or intermediaries? What other situations, outlooks, and/or strategies have been suggested?

7. Concerning the relation between “interrupting the task of assembling the social” and “performing it” (p. 226):  In contrast with “the sociologies of the social”, can ANT’s methodology truly prevent it from intruding upon (and “performing”) the social? What are the fixed points, material conditions and/or presuppositions, on which ANT rests? Are these so non intrusive? Can the “two tasks of taking into account and putting into order” truly be kept separate (p. 257)?




One Response to “Questions posed by the discussants”

  1. ANTHEM » Blog Archive » Bruno Latour as Rush Limbaugh Says:

    […] (29 April 2009): And we could add to this collection the Bruno Latour action figure from the thing theory blog (which, by the way, contains some great reflections on the whole […]

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