Archived entries for ontology

Despising agency

This means that we decline to answer the general question of whether entities like trees have ‘agency’ and are capable of normative or political action ‘in and of themselves’. Instead, we consider material participation as a specific mode of engagement, which can be distinguished by the fact that it deliberately deploys its surroundings, however widely these must be defined, and entails a particular division of roles among the entities involved – things, people, issues, settings, technologies, institutions and so on. Rather than concentrating on a secular version of the metaphysical question about causality – do non-humans have agency? – we then consider material participation as a specific phenomenon, in the enactment of which a range of entities all have roles to play.” Noortje Marres in Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics.

…But this enactment is the materialization/actualization of a certain configuration of potentials, of agencies. If we despise that fact, if we decide not to go into that, we are turning a constant process of reconfiguration into a frozen final state. Reifying what is essentially processual.

Archaeology: the discipline of things

‘Ta archaia’, quite literally ‘old things’ are at the etymological root of archaeology. So a concern with things, an obligation to ‘materiality’, a commitment to landscape runs to the heart of the profession.

(…) Archaeology and its changing faces are also products of the proliferation of instruments and media, of changing modes of material engagement with the past. This is the material component of disciplinary practice ignored in most histories of archaeology.

via Symmetrical Archaeology on ARCHAEOLOGY: THE DISCIPLINE OF THINGS by Bjørnar Olsen, Michael Shanks, Timothy Webmoor and Christopher Witmore

an actor whose definition of the world outlines, traces, delineate, limn, describe, shadow forth, inscroll, file, list, record, mark, or tag a trajectory that is called a network

Now that the basic topological properties of networks have been sketched -second section- and that the basic ontological features of actors have been outlined -section above- there is no difficulty in seeing that AT is not about traced networks by about a network-tracing activity. As I said above there is not a net and an actor laying down the net, but there is an actor whose definition of the world outlines, traces, delineate, limn, describe, shadow forth, inscroll, file, list, record, mark, or tag a trajectory that is called a network. No net exists independently of the very act of tracing it, and no tracing is done by an actor exterior to the net. A network is not a thing but the recorded movement of a thing. The questions AT addresses have now changed. It is not longer whether a net is representation or a thing, a part of society or a part of discourse or a part of nature, but what moves and how this movement is recorded.

We cannot say that what moves inside networks are informations, genes, cars, bytes, salutations, words, forces, opinions, claims, bodies, energy, etc. since AT also wants to reconstruct nets before there is any distinction between what circulates inside and what keep them on track, so to speak, from the outside. Again, as I said at the beginning, the technical metaphor of networks is a latecomer for AT and does not capture the tracing activity. No, what circulates has to be defined like the circulating object in semiotics of texts -especially scientific texts (Bastide, 199-). It is defined by the competence it is endowed with, the trials it undergoes, the performances it is allowed to display, the associations it is made to bear upon, the sanctions it receives, the background in which it is circulating, etc.

Bruno Latour: On actor-network theory. A few clarifications plus more than a few complications(1990, English version 1996)

Spinoza, Ethics Part IV, Axiom

“There is in Nature no individual thing that is not surpassed in strength and power by some other thing. Whatsoever thing there is, there is another more powerful by which the said thing can be destroyed.”

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