Latour ends his contribution to the Candea volume with an intriguing section called “Digital traceability … Tarde’s vindication?”.  The key idea here is that the twenty-first century permits social scientists to go decisively and transparently beyond the primitive aggregative statistics that underlay Durkheim’s approach to the “social whole.”  Tarde, and Latour, look at Durkheim’s social whole as no more than a crude statistical aggregation of data; and, according to Latour, Tarde had envisioned a time when the statistics and quantitative data deriving from social behavior would be transparent and visible.  This, Latour suggests, is becoming true.  Today we can look at social data at a full range of levels of aggregation, moving back and forth from the micro to the macro with ease.  Here is Tarde’s version of the vision:

If Statistics continues to progress as it has done for several years, if the information which it gives us continues to gain in accuracy, in dispatch, in bulk, and in regularity, a time may come when upon the accomplishment of every social event a figure will at once issue forth automatically, so to speak, to take its place on the statistical registers that will be continuously communicated to the public and spread abroad pictorially by the daily press.

And here is Latour’s comment:

It is indeed striking that at this very moment, the fast expanding fields of “data visualization”, “computational social science” or “biological networks” are tracing before our eyes, just the sort of data Tarde would have acclaimed. … Digital navigation through point-to-point datascapes might, a century later, vindicate Tarde’s insights.