masochistic social scientists

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I understand and agree with Latour’s critique of the tendency of social scientists to draw on prescribed and overused explanations of social inequality such as power, domination, exploitation, etc.  However, perhaps because of my political science and public health background, I am having a more difficult time identifying exactly what inequality is for Latour and how we could study it in a way that would avoid what Latour terms a masochistic approach of “sure defeat while enjoying the bittersweet feeling of superior political correctness” (252).  

I read the following passage for another class and thought of welfare as an example of an “object” generally linked to all of the reductionist concepts Latour finds problematic and wondered if the ANT methodology would be useful in this case —  i.e. from the ANT perspective, how could we approach an object like welfare? Should we even try?  (The segment is from Phillipe Bourgois’ book, “In Search of Respect: Selling Crack in El Barrio,” an ethnography of a crack dealer in NYC):

Primo (the crack dealer): If I was to live in the City, I would have to be homeless. And if I don’t find any work, how would I provide for myself to pay for an apartment to live in. I would have to sell drugs…or…or do something to be able to live. Because if I wouldn’t do that, I would be on welfare. I don’t like to ask nobody for money, you know. I don’t wanna ask anybody for nothing. I want to earn my money.

Willie (friend): Yeah! Before it used to be everybody works, and welfare is like the lowest thing. But now, it is like the style. Now practically everybody is on it, you know. Buy my family works. We never be on welfare. 

Primo: Besides, welfare would put me into something. I would have to go to school, you know, or take some kind of training in order to keep getting the check. So how would I be able to live by myself, support myself, and go to school with the little bit of money I’m going to get from welfare? I would have to do something to get the extra money to be able to live.

One Response to “masochistic social scientists”

  1. laura Says:

    Ok, after reading the chapter on the difficulty of being an ANT, I realize that even using the word “inequality” is adding explanation…I too like Easton am feeling the pain of the graduate student. I am afraid I am indeed guilty of everything Latour is railing against.

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