Title

Reassembling the Social / Introduction Chapter: How to Resume the Task of Tracing Associations

Author

Bruno Latour

Date

2005

Summary By

Efe and Ela

Summary

By Efe:

(Disclaimer: I did not read the book, I only read the introduction chapter. So summary is limited to that chapter).

Latour, in this chapter, basically defines 'social' and explains what sociology should do. The concept 'social' refers to two things: (i) a movement during a process of assembling, (ii) a specific type of ingredient that is supposed to differ from other materials. In the first half of the chapter, he argues sociology (the study of social) can take two forms:

The first form posits "the existence of a specific sort of phenomenon variously called 'society', 'social order', 'social practice', 'social dimension', or 'social structure'" (p.3). The second rejects this idea and takes 'the existence of specific social ties' as the major puzzle (p.5).

So, the second camp makes the starting point of the first camp their end goal in research. The goal is to understand the social ties.

Critical sociology: (p.9)
1) doesn't limit itself to the social but replaces the object to be studied by another matter made of social relations.
2) claims that this substitution is unbearable for the social actors who need to live under the illusion that there is something other than social there
3) considers that the actors' objections to their social explanations offer the best proof that those explanations are right.

Latour calls the first approach as the sociology of the social, and the second sociology of association. But historically the second approach has been called actor-network-theory. Within ANT, social scientists are expected to follow the actors themselves. Moreover, this discussion is not a 'new' one. It is possible to trace this back to Durkheim v. Trade.

Summary quote: In the first approach, every activity - law, science, technology, religion, organization, politics, management, etc. - could be related to and explained by the same social aggregates behind all of them, in the second version of sociology there exists nothing behind those activities even though they might be linked in a way that does produces a society - or doesn't produce one. (p.8)

By Ela

This summary adds to Efe's by offering some key definitions/quotes, although the basic thrust is the same.

The social: “a bundle of ties that, later, may be mobilized to account for some other phenomenon.” (1) It is not, as some might think, a material or domain; it no longer makes sense to offer “a social explanation” of things. “It is no longer clear whether there exists relations that are specific enough to be called ‘social’ and that could be grouped together in making up a special domain that could function as ‘a society.’ The social seems to be diluted everywhere and yet nowhere in particular.” (2)

Sociology: “The tracing of associations,” and not the “science of the social.” For example, instead of using “the social” to explain what remains unexplained by law, economics, psychology, etc., we would use the associations provided by law, psychology, economics, etc. to explain the social. (5) For clarity, he refers to this as the “sociology of associations,” in contrast to the “sociology of the social”. It has historically been refered to as Actor-Network Theory. (9)

Critical Sociology: “replaces the object to be studied by another matter made of social relations; it claims that this substitution is unbearable for the social actors who need to live under the illusion that there is something other than the social there; and it considers that the actors’ objections to their social explanations offer the best proof that those eplanations are right.” (9)

Discussion points

- What does actor network theory contribute to our understanding of social? I mean, is it possible to do the same with any type of inductive analysis, or with discourse analysis? (Efe)

- Social theorists have long focused on how society is produced and reproduced. Is Latour’s focus on “assembling the social” in conversation with others’ focus on tracking how the social is produced? Is it possible that his goal isn’t as radical as he thinks it is, although his methods may be? (Ela)