Friday, January 30, 2009

Latour's PARIS

Here's a link to Latour's "Virtual Book," Paris. It's an experimental text, related to our discussions about networks. Paris also deals with perspective in interesting ways.

Latour's Virtual Book: Paris

Wednesday, January 28, 2009

networks are EVERYWHERE

so i'm sitting at a bar (yes, a BAR) talking to a guy about what he does because i'm online and he's on his blackberry and he felt the need to apologize for "our" rudeness being engaged with "nonactors" rather than one another (which was actually my point;). anyway, he works for an office furniture company that works with other companies to research their needs and find the most effective and lucrative (i assume) ways to sell their furniture to these companies. but they have an entire component of their company devoted to "Network Research." how do companies work? who makes the decisions? where should each component of a company be situated for the sake of entering customers?? should Customer Service be the first visible department? or Sales? they have hired PhDs to analyze their target "networks" and identify and locate their weaknesses and strengths (and I guess relate this to office furniture somehow??). it was just so random because he said so many things that related directly to our discussion last night, and to Spinuzzi's Network, reinforcing my belief that everything i read in T&T relates to my life that week;)

Actor-Network Theory and My Work

I'm attaching a link to one of my articles that was informed by actor-network theory (and Haraway, Foucault, and others we will read/read about:

In the coming days, look for post to our class blog by other T&T faculty.

Thanks to Leandra and Sonia for designing this site for our continued conversation about Latour, networks, and our (possible) uses of them.

ANT and "The Death of Environmentalism"

Here's an attempt to use some of the rules and principles from Science in Action to analyze a paper written about the environmental movement. It's not a perfect 'fit', but may give you an idea of how you could apply his ideas... References and links to the articles are at the end of the post.

Rule 1: Study science & technology (technoscience) in action, rather than as "finished" science.
Here let's simply substitute the environmental movement (EM) for "technoscience". Obviously, the EM is not "finished", but what this rule suggests is that we not look at the EM in its current form. Rather, we should look at its development.

The environmental movement in the U.S. is frequently traced back to Henry David Thoreau and his colleagues in the early conservation movement. Many of these early environmentalists held a romanticized view of nature as something semi-sacred that should be kept separate from the human sphere. Others took a more utilitarian approach, and advocated sustainable resource extraction (again, with nature separate from civilization). These two strands of environmental philosophy led to the formation of the National Park and National Forest systems, respectively (with the caveat that limited human activity in nature [i.e., National Parks] would lead to a greater appreciation of it, and hence to stronger support for conservation).

In the middle part of the nineteenth century, several events brought pollution (among other environmental problems) into public consciousness; these included the publication of Rachel Carson's Silent Spring in 1962 (on the effects of chemicals in the environment), the catching on fire of the Cuyahoga River in the late 1960s, oil spills off the coast of CA in the 1970s, and birth defects among the Pacific population exposed to fallout from nuclear testing. At the same time, scientists like Paul Ehrlich and Barry Commoner introduced concerns about the impact of human population growth. The EM gained massive support among the public as an alliance of scientists and grassroots organizations. In the 1970s, the Clean Water Act, Clean Air Act, Endangered Species Act, and National Environmental Policy Act were passed; these acts (and later ones) are the foundation of current U.S. environmental policy. Coupled with these events was an alternative vision of humans as an intrinsic part of nature- not separate from it.

According to one view, after the success of these massive policy changes, the EM lost cohesion; the big threats had been addressed, and now the many environmental groups could focus on smaller ones. In an essay entitled "The Death of Environmentalism", Shellenberger and Nordhaus say that "modern environmentalism is no longer capable of dealing with the world’s most serious ecological crisis" (global climate change) because of its focus on "promoting technical policy fixes like pollution controls and higher vehicle mileage standards — proposals that provide neither the popular inspiration nor the political alliances the community needs to deal with the problem." (6) Needless to say, this view is highly controversial in the environmental community. However, it does represent a starting point which we can use as inspiration for a way we might apply Latour's rules and principles for analysis (Latour has also addressed the arguments of a later, longer version of their paper).

Principle 1: The fate of what we say and make is in later users' hands.
A conclusion must be cited positively by the next "generation" of texts many times in order to become a fact. One example of this in the EM is the acceptance of Rachel Carson's conclusions in "Silent Spring": her research showed that the pesticide DDT caused bird eggshells to thin and break (thus the ominous prediction of a "silent spring"). Once this conclusion was widely accepted, the use of DDT was banned in the U.S. In another example, Shellenberger and Nordhaus' arguments are widely discussed in the EM (whether viewed positively or not), so in this sense they have had an effect.

Rule 2: Don't look at the intrinsic qualities of a statement to evaluate it; instead, look at its later transformations by others.
One can also read this as "our statements will be either "black-boxed" or "unpacked" by later users". As an example, the scientific consensus that CO2 is increasing in the atmosphere is based upon decades of observations at several locations worldwide. The statement that this CO2 is primarily from human sources is based upon similar interconnected observations, as well as computer modeling. Latour says that, for a scientific argument, the more dense the interconnections and types of data used (e.g., tables, graphs) the stronger the text is. These scientific statements of fact are black-boxed by the environmental movement, which uses them as support for its own agenda. However, climate change deniers unpack these statements as a rhetorical tactic to cast doubt on the scientific consensus.

In their paper, Shellenberger and Nordhaus unpack the EM's methodology: "... first, define a problem (e.g. global warming) as “environmental.” Second, craft a technical remedy (e.g., cap-and-trade). Third, sell the technical proposal to legislators through a variety of tactics, such as lobbying, third-party allies, research reports, advertising, and public relations." (9) They suggest instead a broader vision relating human health and economic growth to green industries.

Principle 2: Allies used to back up position can include other scientists as well as experimental results, etc.
The EM as it stands today formed because of alliances between local community groups (who bring in anecdotal data and emotional drive), scientists (who bring in experimental results and data collected using set methodologies), and public policy experts and lawyers (legal experience). Both these human allies and different parts of the environment itself are actants in this network.

Rule 3: Since the settlement of an argument is taken to represent "Nature", one can't use an appeal to "Nature" as support to win an argument.
We have to base our arguments on the social and environmental situations we observe, rather than an appeal to a theoretical romantic (or strictly utilitarian) view of how the environment should be. These specific situations are put together by the connections between them to define our understanding of "the environment".

Principle 3: Associations are all there is- "Science", "Society" and "Technology" are not separate entities.
According to Shellenberger and Nordhaus, "...environmentalists suffer from a bad case of group think, starting with shared assumptions about what we mean by “the environment” – a category that reinforces the notions that a) the environment is a separate “thing” and b) human beings are separate from and superior to the “natural world. ...Why, for instance, is a human-made phenomenon like global warming — which may kill hundreds of millions of human beings over the next century — considered “environmental”? Why are poverty and war not considered environmental problems while global warming is?" (12) Instead of focusing on the environment as a thing, they suggest highlighting the connections between the environment and human lifestyles; for example, flooding leading to a refugee crisis, heat waves killing the urban elderly, warm winters allowing the spread of tropical diseases, or the possibility of more hurricanes. This sort of appeal to the explicit interests of different actants is how Latour suggests we enroll allies in our networks.

Rule 4: Since the settlement of an argument is taken to represent "Society", one can't use an appeal to "Society" as support to win an argument.
As in Rule 3, society is defined by the connections between actants and our understanding of these connections. Rather than saying society is to blame for our past environmental excesses and must now limit itself, Latour suggests "no longer seeing a contradiction between the spirit of emancipation (from nature) and... catastrophic outcomes, but to take it as the normal duty of continuing to take care for the unwanted consequences all the way" (9).

Principle 4: The more technical the inside of a specialty is, the more outside support must be drawn into it.
Inside/outside distinctions are a key problem of the EM movement, according to Shellenberger and Nordhaus: "Environmentalism is today more about protecting a supposed “thing” – “the environment” – than advancing the worldview articulated by Sierra Club founder John Muir, who nearly a century ago observed, “When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”" (9) In this situation, the EM is constantly working to fundraise and litigate, rather than articulating a grand vision for everyone.

Rule 5: When analyzing a network, don't try to decide what is "social" and what "scientific"- focus on listing all the connections.
Shellenberger and Nordhaus say: "The tendency to put the environment into an airtight container away from the concerns of others is at the heart of the environmental movement’s defensiveness on economic issues." (29) Rather than defining EM as a movement springing from specific social conditions, they believe there are ways to enroll many different actants into the EM network (as a historical analysis of the early movement shows).

Principle 5: "Irrationality" occurs when people are operating in a short (simple) network- this is not "bad" because "soft" (everyday) facts suffice in most situations (and, because all knowledge is sociological, one can always work towards enrolling them in the longer networks of "hard" facts).
Environmentalists can view non-environmentalists' decision-making as irrational. Hence "the question of alliances, which goes to the core of political strategy, is treated within environmental circles as a tactical question — an opportunity to get this or that constituency — religious leaders! business leaders! celebrities! youth! Latinos! — to take up the fight against global warming. The implication is that if only X group were involved in the global warming fight then things would really start to happen." (Shellenberger and Nordhaus 9)

Rule 6: When a rule of logic has been broken, don't look at the structure of logic or "societal difference" to explain it- rather, look at the length and type of network.
According to Shellenberger and Nordhaus, "Issues only matter to the extent that they are positioned in ways linking them to proposals carrying within them a set of core beliefs, principles, or values." (32) The EM, with its focus on specific issues rather than a grand vision, is a short network, and ineffective.

Principle 6: The history of technoscience is the history of the inventions that have accumulated to make action at a distance possible.
In the EM, we can consider these "inventions" to be the laws and regulations, but also the social mores and opinions, that have surrounded the movement. According to Latour, "N&S’s book ... relate(s) four elements" which have damaged the EM: "a stifling belief in the existence of Nature to be protected; a particular conception of Science; a limited gamut of emotions in politics; and finally the direction these give to the arrow of time." (4) (Note: these are some of Latour's main themes in his more recent work.)

Rule 7: Technoscience can be explained by connections; only if this fails should you talk about minds.
According to Latour, "in the name of indisputable facts portraying a bleak future for the human race, Green politics has succeeded in depoliticizing political passions to the point of leaving citizens nothing but gloomy asceticism, a terror for trespassing over Nature and a diffidence toward industry, innovation, technology, and science. ...N&S are right on one essential feature: no matter how important the work that has been done so far, ecological questions are still taken as peculiar to one specific domain of concerns, not as the core of politics. Never are these issues treated with the same sense of urgency and centrality, with the same passions, the same moral energy than the rest of public issues. At the very least, they don’t mobilize in the same ways the democratic ideals so essential to the pursuit of civilized life." (2). In failing to emphasize the connections between nature and human society, the EM has not chosen the most useful tactic.

Bruno Latour. "'It's development, stupid!' or: How to Modernize Modernization." Essay from Postenvironmentalism, Ed. J. Proctor, 2008.
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus. "The Death of Environmentalism: Global Warming Politics in a Post-Environmental World." The Breakthrough Institute, 2004.

For more info:
Michael Shellenberger and Ted Nordhaus can be found at the Breakthrough Institute.

Monday, January 26, 2009

Blogging for Bugs

--from "A Plea for Earthly Sciences" by Bruno Latour

While thirty years ago, it took sociologists and historians of science and technology enormous efforts to associate a given matter of fact to the human groups responsible for its coming into existence, it seems nowadays that there is hardly a matter of fact left without its associated constituency. Have you noticed it? every disease now has its patient organization, every river its advocacy group, every Swiss glacier, it seems, its protective cover, every bird, every tree, its own group of volunteers and militants —it is as if every bug had its blog! When last year astronomers turned lexicographers modified the list of planets in good standing, that too made the headlines—and some planetoids had their vociferous defenders! I have learned recently that even nettle, this real nuisance of my garden, benefits from a group caring for it and trying to redress what they see as sheer plant discrimination! Nettle?!

To qualify such a sea change, this fast disappearance of “nature” & “society,” I have proposed to say that all matters of fact have become matters of concern —or, more philosophically, that objects have become things that is, issues, gatherings, assemblies of some sort. Whatever the name, one consequence is sure: this is the new turf of the newly redefined social sciences. The ecological crisis has forced us to abandon the nature and society collectors, reinforcing to a degree none of us thought imaginable, I swear, the feeble insights of early science studies.

Aramis, meet SunRail

Aramis, Or The Love of Technology by Bruno Latour

“I’d like to do a book in which there is no metalanguage, no master discourse, where you wouldn’t know which is strongest, the sociological theory or the documents or the interviews or the literature or the fiction, where all these genres or regimes would be at the same level, each one interpreting the others without anybody being able to say which is judging what.” (298)

This book describes efforts by the French to design and build a Personal Rapid Transit (PRT) technology called Aramis, which covered some 20 years and involved substantial public and private expenditures to develop an urban transportation technology that could be used in French cities as well as be an important export product. The theme of the book is "Who killed Aramis?" and it reads like a detective story. Its contents were derived from extensive interviews with the key people in government and industry that were involved in this research and development effort. A great many documents were also reviewed and assessed. It is not highly technical and is written in a very engaging style. The reader is eventually led to see the project from the point of view of Aramis, and along the way gains insight into the relationship between human beings and their technological creations. The lessons learned are relevant to engineers, public officials and industrial managers who would engage in a similar effort to develop an urban transportation technology. Aramis is a useful text for T&T scholars and practitioners for the interesting method(ologies) he employs. It's also a fun and creative text.

One might think about how Aramis relates to contemporary local efforts, such as the Central Florida Light Rail and how Actor-Network-Theory can be applied to better understand the past and potential successes and failures of this particular transportation system. The following links will assist in compiling your own research and evidence surrounding the Central Florida Light Rail in order to assess the complex "network" and relationships of this controversial plan:

Commuter Rail Myths and Facts (even the terms "myths" and "facts" are problematic in an ANT context because what constitute "facts" is contestable)

History of Passenger Rail through Headlines (trace the history of Central Florida's Light Rail plan through headlines from various local newspapers and periodicals; provides various perspectives and connections through media texts)

Stats/Figures (including Environmental Figures and Measurements; from 1998)

What's in a Name? (an extensive list of possible names for the light rail system; how does this connect to Aramis and/or ANT, naming, language and power? P.S. Sun Rail won out in late 2008)

Community Education Pamphlet
(Q&A and facts about SunRail; designed for the public)

Actor-Network-Theory: Terms and Concepts

Key Concepts and Terms:

Infralanguage: remains strictly meaningless except for allowing displacement from one frame of reference to the next; deemphasizes social scientist and emphasizes actors

Actants rather than actors is a term used to stress that material causes as well as human actors may be determinants of social interactions and outcomes. The concept of actants in a network also stresses the interaction between material and human factors in any process. Actants may be sea scallops in the study of a network of marine biologists by Callon (1986), or may be technology in the organization, or may be data supporting a scientist's arguments. Human actors define representation of material actants, affecting how material environment interacts with actors in the network. Though representation is necessary for non-human actants, for some authors an "actor" is any system element which influences others in the network, be it a human being, a text, or an artifact. The machine in a network is an actor, shaped by the network and interacting with human actors. Other authors use "actor" to refer to humans and "actant" to refer to other influential system elements.

"An actor-network is composed of many entities or actants that enter into an alliance to satisfy their diverse aims. Each actant enrolls the others, that is, finds ways to convince the others to support its own aims. The longer these networks are, the more entities that are enrolled in them, the stronger and more durable they become. An actor-network is spliced; the actants intersect" (Spinuzzi, Clay. Network. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 2008).

Black box is a technical term for a device, system or object when it is viewed in terms of its input, output and transfer characteristics without any knowledge required of its internal workings. Almost anything might occasionally be referred to as a black box: a transistor, an algorithm, humans, the Internet. Latour defines black box as a term “used by cyberneticians whenever a piece of machinery or a set of commands is too complex” (DNA / double-helix as example).

Cooptation: a subprocess by which actants seek to have their individual objectives become agreed to by other actants as part of defining network objectives. Actors advance favored goals and solutions, then recruit other actors to be allies in the process of forming commitments to emerging networks. Immutable and combinable mobiles are artifacts (inscriptions?) that allow accumulation of

Intermediary: that which transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs. Can be taken not only as a black box, but also as a black box counting for one, even if it is internally made of many parts.

Mediators: transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry. Cannot be counted as just one; they might count for one, for nothing, for several, or for infinity, while intermediaries can only count for just one, or even for nothing because they can be easily forgotten.

Methodology: The primary ANT method is ethnographic, based on interviews with actors. ANT scholars also study "inscriptions," a phrase which refers to all texts and communications in all media. In the study of science and technology, inscriptions may be conference papers, journal articles, grants, and patents. The two methods are related, since inscriptions are the path used by actors to gain credibility in enrolment and cooptation processes during translation. That is, inscription is a process of creating text and communication artifacts that enhance and perpetuate the interests of an actor.

Networks: are the integration of the material and semiotic environments. ANT may be seen as a type of "material semiotics." The concept of generalized symmetry is the presumption that the material and semiotic components of networks are co-equal in importance. The concept of entelechy describes the mixing of material and human factors in networks. The term actor-network in ANT's name conveys the idea that the actor does not act "on his own" but only under the influence of a complex network of material and semiotic influences. Those in a network make a distinction between knowledge (ideas generated within the network) and beliefs (ideas generated outside the network)

Network instability: Actor-networks are in a continual state of becoming, including possible dissolution. From the viewpoint of the primary actor, networks demand continual maintenance or order. Among the ongoing processes of actor-networks are challenges to the role of the primary actor, desertion, betrayal, recruitment by competing networks, and all manner of changes in the constituent elements of the network.

Obligatory points of passage (OPP) are critical network channels. often designed by the primary actor to ensure communication must pass through his or her domain. That is, through obligatory passage points the actor becomes functionally indispensible to the network.
Punctualisation refers to the concept that the whole network is greater than the sum of its constituent parts. As networks build, synergistic capabilities are enabled; as networks fall apart, de-punctualisation refers to the collapse of networked capabilities as individual components struggle to pursue their individual goals separately.

Semiotics: the theory and study of communication and language in terms of signs and symbols. As such, ANT is closely related to symbolic interactionism

Simultaneous becoming: Culture, society, and nature are constructed simultaneously (Latour, 1992: 281) and are in a perpetual state of becoming. Therefore it is incorrect to think social causes can explain nature, or that natural science can explain the construction of culture. All are part of an interactive network in constant transition. Social and organizational life may be seen as an attempt to form and stabilize networks, a goal achieved only temporarily and transitionally in an unending process..

Stories: The complex process of translation which forms a network also occasions some actors to emerge as spokespersons, articulating the views and wishes of other silent actors in the network.

Texts are documents used in science to support rhetorical arguments

Tokens are the quasi-objects created through the synergy of network punctualisation. Their repeated creation strengthens and reifies the network. Failure of constituent parts to perform their roles, whether material or human, and whether through incapacity or disinterest, leads to network breakdown and de-punctualisation.

Translation is the term Callon (1986) used to refer to the process of forming a network, in his case a network of marine biologists seeking to restock the St. Brieauc Bay for the scallop industry. In Callon's conceptualization, the process occurs in four moments or steps, which by their original French labels are:
1. Problematisation, which defines the problem and the set of relevant actors who, by defining the problem and the program for dealing with it, make themselves indispensible;
2. Interessement, during which the primary actor(s) recruit other actors to assume roles in the network, roles which recognize the centrality of the primary actor's own role;
3. Enrolment, during which roles are defined and actors formally accept and take on these roles; and
4. Mobilisation, during which primary actors assume a spokesperson role for passive network actors (agents) and seek to mobilize them to action.Translation involves negotiations among human actors and representatives of material actants. Negotiations establish common sets of definitions and meanings for understanding the phenomena with which the network is concerned. The outcome of successful negotiations is an actor-network characterized by aligned interests. The degree of alignment is the degree of convergence of an actor-network.

Credit for many of these definitions should be given to G. David Garson's "Actor-Network-Theory". Otherwise, they are drawn from Latour's Reassembling the Social and Science in Action.