The problem of the object in contemporary social theory
Сand. Sci.(Soc.), Senior Research Fellow, International Center for Contemporary Social Theory, Moscow School of Social and Economic Sciences; Research Fellow, Center for Sociological Research, Russian Presidential Academy of National Economy and Public Administration, Moscow, Russia firstname.lastname@example.org
The following article investigates the growing attention to ‘objects’ in contemporary social theory, also known as the ‘material turn’. The aim of the article is to demonstrate why the material turn requires a sociological theory of objects and why actor-network theory (ANT) is unable to provide it. ANT proposes a relational ontology of the social, a conception of distributed agency and ‘acting things’. All these changes in the fundamental assumptions of sociology blur the ‘action/structure’ dichotomy, as both lose their ontological status. The article subsequently focuses on the concept of ‘acting things’ as a basis for an object-oriented social theory. The author argues that there is both an ontological and methodological argument for creating a sociological theory of objects. The former takes into account the consequences of the growing number of complicated ‘entangled’ technological objects for the contemporary global world. The latter stresses the invisibility of such objects for social sciences, as well as the necessity to create an object-oriented theory. The above arguments form the foundation for the ‘material turn’ in the social sciences. The article concentrates on a radical version of the material turn that eliminates distinctions between human and non-human rather than merely studying the materiality of things. Although ANT was one of the pioneers of the material turn, the paper argues that it cannot provide adequate tools for a sociological theory of objects. It proposed a methodology rather than a theory, whilst, at the same time, shattering the old theoretical foundations of sociology.
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