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 email@example.com
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.
Astakhov S. S. (2016) Are the objects capable of action? The version of the Actor-Network Theory. Filosofiya I kul’tura [Philosophy and culture]. No. 8: 1091–1098. (In Russ.)
Be´natouїl T. (1999) A Tale of Two Sociologies. The Critical and the Pragmatic Stance in Contemporary French Sociology. European Journal of Social Theory. Vol. 2. No. 3: 379–396.
Bloor D. (1976) Knowledge and Social Imagery. London, Boston: Routledge & K. Paul.
Bourdieu P. (2001) Le Sens Pratique. Transl. from Fr. Saint-Petersburg, Moscow: Aleteiia; Institut eksperimental’noi sotsiologii. (In Russ.)
Callon M. (1999) Actor-Network Theory – the Market Test. In: Law J., Hassard J. (eds) Actor network theory and after. Oxford: Blackwell: 181–195.
Cerulo K. A. (2009) Nonhumans in Social Interaction. Annual Review of Sociology. Vol. 35: 531–552.
Erofeeva M. A. (2015a) Actor-network theory and problem of social action. Sotsiologiya vlasti [Sociology of power]. No. 1: 17–36. (In Russ.)
Erofeeva M. A. (2015b) On the Possibility of Actor-Network Theory of Action. Sotsiologiya vlasti [Sociology of power]. No. 4: 51–71. (In Russ.)
Gad C. (2010) On the Consequences of Post-ANT. Science, Technology, & Human Values. Vol. 35. No. 1: 55–80.
Giddens A. (2005): The Constitution of Society. Outline of the Theory of Structuration. Transl. from Eng. 2nd ed. Moscow: Akademicheskii Proekt. (In Russ.)
Harman G. (2005) Guerrilla metaphysics. Phenomenology and the carpentry of things. Chicago: Open Court.
Harman G. (2009) Prince of Networks. Bruno Latour and metaphysics. Melbourne: re.press.
Harman G. (2014): Bruno Latour. Reassembling the Political. London: Pluto Press.
Hennion A., Muecke S. (2016) From ANT to Pragmatism. A Journey with Bruno Latour at the CSI. New Literary History. Vol. 47. No. 2–3: 289–308.
Kharkhordin O. V. (2012) Where to the theory of practices are heading: the material turn. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological studies]. No. 11: 20–34. (In Russ.)
Kohn E. (2013) How forests think. Toward an anthropology beyond the human. Berkeley: University of California Press.
Koveneva O. V. (2008) French pragmatic sociology: from the model of “cities” towards the theory of “multiple modes of inclusion”. Sotsiologicheskiy Zhurnal [Sociological journal]. No. 1: 5–21. (In Russ.)
Laet M. de, Mol A. (2000) The Zimbabwe Bush Pump: Mechanics of a Fluid Technology. Social Studies of Science. Vol. 30. No. 2: 225–263.
Latour B. (1988) Irreductions. In: Latour B. The pasteurization of France. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press: 151–236.
Latour B. (1992) Where Are the Missing Masses? The Sociology of a Few Mundane Artifacts. In: Bijker W. E., Law J. (eds) Shaping technology/Building Society. Studies in sociotechnical change. Cambridge, Mass., London: MIT Press: 225–258.
Latour B. (1993) We have never been modern. New York, London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.
Latour B. (1996) On actor-network theory. A few clarifications plus more than a few complications. Soziale Welt. Vol. 47: 369–381.
Latour B. (1999): On recalling ANT. In: Law J., Hassard J. (eds.) Actor network theory and after. Oxford: Blackwell: 15–25.
Latour B. (2004) Why Has Critique Run out of Steam? From Matters of Fact to Matters of Concern. Critical Inquiry. Vol. 30: 225–248.
Latour B. (2006) Nous n’avons jamais e´te´ modernes. Transl. from Fr. Saint-Petersburg: European University in Saint Petersburg. (In Russ.)
Latour B. (2007) On interobjectivity. Sotsiologicheskoe obozrenie [Russian Sociological Review]. Vol. 6. No. 2: 79–96. (In Russ.)
Latour B. (2012) The politics of explanation: an alternative. Sotsiologiya vlasti [Sociology of power]. No. 8: 113–143. (In Russ.)
Latour B. (2013) An inquiry into modes of existence. An anthropology of the moderns. Cambridge Mass.: Harvard University Press.
Latour B. (2014) On selves, forms, and forces. Hau: Journal of Ethnographic Theory. Vol. 4. No. 2: 1–6.
Latour B. (2014) Reassembling the social: an introduction to actor-network theory. Transl. from Eng. Moscow: Higher School of Economics. (In Russ.)
Latour B. (2015) Les microbes. Guerre et paix suivi de, Irre´ ductions. Transl. from Fr. Saint-Petersburg: European University in Saint Petersburg. (In Russ.)
Latour, B. Harman G, Erde´ lyi P., eds. (2011) The prince and the wolf. Latour and Harman at the LSE. Ropley: Zero Books.
Law J. (1999) After ANT: complexity, naming and topology. In: Law J., Hassard J. (eds.) Actor network theory and after. Oxford: Blackwell: 1–14.
Law J. (2006) Objects and spaces. Sotsiologicheskoe obozrenie [Russian Sociological Review]. Vol. 5. No. 1: 30–42. (In Russ.)
Maltseva D. V., Romanovsky N. V. (2011) Contemporary networks theories in sociology. Sotsiologicheskie issledovaniya [Sociological studies]. No. 8: 28–37. (In Russ.)
Mol A., Law J. (1994) Regions, Networks and Fluids: Amaemia and Social Topology. Social Studies of Science. Vol. 24: 641–671.
Napreenko I. V. (2013) Semiotic Turn in STS: Bruno Latour’s theory of referent. Sotsiologiya vlasti [Sociology of power]. No. 1–2: 75–98. (In Russ.)
Steen J., Coopmans C., Whyte J. (2006) Structure and agency? Actor-network theory and strategic organization. Strategic organization. Vol. 4. No. 3: 303–312.
Vakhshtayn V. S. (2006a) The sociology of things and the material turn in social theory. In: Vakhshtayn V. S., ed. Sociology of things. Moscow: Territoriia budushchego: 7–39. (In Russ.)
Vakhshtayn V. S. (2011) Sociology of everyday and frame analysis. Saint Petersburg: European University in Saint Petersburg. (In Russ.)
Vakhshtayn V. S., ed. (2006b) Sociology of things. Moscow: Territoriia budushchego. (In Russ.)
Volkov V. V., Kharkhordin O. V. (2008) Theory of practices. Saint-Petersburg: European University in Saint Petersburg. (In Russ.)