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Name: Souradip Bhattacharyya M Phil First year Sub: Modern Social Thought First Assignment
Question: Latour proposes historically situated ethnographic study of specific networks in which humans and non-humans act as mediators. Foucault proposes genealogical study of disciplines. Are the two methods complementary or contradictory? Response: I should begin my paper with the remark that the final sentence in the above question really intrigues me. Especially the conjunction “or” which probably seeks to compartmentalize a priori the comparison between the analytical endeavours of Foucault and Latour under the strict boundaries of either complement or contradiction. Interestingly enough, neither Foucault nor Latour would bank much upon the process of compartmentalization as such. While a certain section of my paper deals with this approach on behalf of the two philosophers, I also investigate whether such compartmentalization is possible under the above-mentioned question. Bruno Latour in his critique of the social scientific approach towards Science Studies takes into task the formers compulsive endeavour towards discursivization of science where scientific knowledge is seen as an effect of discourse. Any new invention, discovery or disciplinary change would be for Social Science questions of discursive change, that is, a product of language—a technical language of science—a disciplinary mechanism. Placing science under the paradigm of discourse, the social scientists would claim that it speaks nothing about the real world.1The operative factor over here would be to investigate the position of
Science for them is a product of discourse that scientists believe in and work, within the technical language of science.
1995). have a possibility of annihilating it. The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon. in other words “to obtain an efficient machine”. Of course. in Paul Rabinow (ed. and “rearrangement”4 for its subjection and usage. real because they affect the life of people. 4 Michel Foucault. (Vintage: New York. . (Vintage: New York. 6 7 Michel Foucault.3 For Foucault such processes produce a discursive truth/real where docility is produced under the tripartite process of “exploration”. pp. In addressing the question of the ozone hole or the control of Aids science must be focussing on certain real problems. such a Foucauldian take on science would be to approach it in a partial way. 1995).6 For Latour.). such reports affect the daily life of people through various disciplinary constrictions. But for Latour the role of science does not end there. Genealogy. 5 Michel Foucault. History”.7 2 After all.2 In Discipline and Punish Foucault talks about the creation of docile (that is. “breakage”. All that science has done is just not the proliferation of discourse but it has also addressed various real issues. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 3 Foucault’s approach is not exactly in alliance with the social scientific claim of the disinterest of scientific processes in the real world. Foucault’s criticism of disciplinary power in its appropriation of the body and characteral traits/behaviour (what Foucault calls “gesture”) of human beings has been of insurmountable importance in the proliferation of anti-humanist scholarship. scientific descriptions of the impending danger in the widening of the ozone hole or the control of Aids are not merely rhetorical representations. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. “Nietzsche. Going by the Latour-ian logic. quiet and easy to control) bodies by disciplinary power under the modern regime that used elaborate scientific techniques to produce a productive human body. 76-100.2 Foucault under such a social scientific approach towards the functionality of science. 1984). In Foucault’s “patiently documentary”5 study of the production of the docile subject his continuous stress would lie in the procedural implications involved on behalf of disciplinary power in creating a new body (or rather mind-body) flexible and manipulable enough to the demands of that power.
we can say that the “among” and the “in” in the above-mentioned phrases are discursively produced. Latour tries to investigate the subsumption of “non-human” by the subject by critiquing modern historicity and making in turn a historical The crucial proposition in the Latour-ian tongue would be to criticize the partial falsification of the role of science by exemplifying such critical issues to say that science is just not an effect of rhetoric 8 Rather.3 To contrast the methodologies of Foucault and Latour under just the above-mentioned aspects of the Science-Social dyad would be to miss the underlying intricacies. The “non-human”—for the modern—has no agency on its own. . there are actually no pure “humans-in-themselves”. There can never be a space for “humans-among-themselves” because the category of the human is not inherent. Very interestingly. After all. On the other hand. Latour understands modernity as a work of purification that creates a non-negotiable boundary between the subject and object presupposing a flow from the subject to the object. This flow. docility is created/produced in and through the physical and behavioural aspects of man under the dual registers of the “Anatomico-metaphysical” and the “Technico-political”9 for submission and use. or the act of mediation between the subject (“human”) and object (“non-human”) happens under a medium where the “nonhuman” (like the “machine”) does nothing of its own but is worked upon or transformed by human labour. 9 Ibid. The Foucauldian and Latour-ian schemas are not exactly binary opposites in understanding socioscientific phenomena. the Latour-ian schema would deal with the act of “purification” (the separation into “nature” and “culture”) as well. albeit in his way.8 As Foucault’s analysis of “Docile Bodies” would show. “Culture” or the realm of sociality among humans is not an a priori in life. Foucault is not very far from Latour’s criticism of the modernizing procedure of disentangling the pre-modern phenomenon of a nature-culture complex into self-explanatory watertight categories of nature (or “things-in-themselves”) and “culture” (or “humans-among-themselves”). while Foucault’s objective was to document the production of a docile human mind-body under Discipline’s scientific mechanism.
4 analysis of the modern theory of progress10. 1 11 Ibid. such an “objective” mixture of pure categories actually feed into highlighting one “type” of category over another. Here Latour’s reference to Shapin and Schaffer’s analysis of Boyle’s experiment becomes very crucial. Contrary to modernist logic therefore.12 The act of denigrating the past coincides with the act of purification or is purification. While the act of purification separates the pole of “nature” from that of “culture”. Such a stance is. Every laboratory is a constructed fact. Chapter 1. 1993). trans. Massachusetts. . 1 13 For further discussion on the “Gordian Knot” see Bruno Latour. (Harvard: Cambridge. “mediation”. modernity undergoes a break with the past. a recipient. 1 12 The linear development to the future bases itself on the elimination of the past. Catherine Porter. to invest into a certain progress devoid of the effect of the past. What becomes very clear is the unavoidability of this fear. 14 No doubt the discursivity underlying the universal application of Boyle’s law in unavoidable. Massachusetts. The constant need to purify is to cleanse the present. Catherine Porter (Harvard: Cambridge. the non-human seizes to be a mere object. The main objective of Latour through such an elaborate description is to shift the attention of social scientists to the practice of science. paradoxical because it is precisely out of fear of the past that the “Gordian Knot”13 has been broken and no wonder it is this very fear that constantly drives the need to progress. Such an experiment disrupts the entire 10 Latour criticizes a modern theory of progress that he thinks functions under the tripartite structure of “purification”.14 Boyle’s experiment of the vacuum pump is significant because in here the witness of the non-human (the chicken feather) produces scientific knowledge. We Have Never Been Modern.11 Since “progress” aligns itself to development. The operative question over here is to trace this fear which has made modernity adhere to a notion of time that is contemporary and follows a progressive continuity. the passage from bad to good. unlike calendar time “with respect to their intensity”. nevertheless. to observe what scientists actually do. For the modern theory of progress and historicity (passage of time) events are situated. We Have Never Been Modern. trying to disentangle a pre-modern hybrid to create pure categories which can mediate objectively. and “translation”. For further reference see Bruno Latour. trans. 1993). working essentially through suppression. an act of human intervention producing a natural law as a result of that intervention.
Hence a historical analysis of “actants” would fail to trace any permanent quality in them. “Actants” are not subjective or objective “who”. Furthermore. for the control over the static object by the subject. Humans and non-humans for Latour are “quasi-objects” or “actants” that do not have inherent qualities but act as mediators in a particular network.5 modernist enterprise of the subject controlling the object. . Neither are they completely active conscious beings. the variability/changeability in the action of quasi-objects in accordance with the shifting nature of networks prevents the modern regime from actually breaking fundamentally with the past. for Latour. If Latour’s historical investigation disrupts the mutual exclusiveness of “nature” and “culture” to talk about the unavoidability of hybrids16 and certain mobility in the nature of the “quasi-”. 1 15 The functionality of agency necessitates a before. here paradoxically lies modernity’s endeavour in purifying. a construct that makes one an agent. 16 The hybridity exists too well from the laboratory (non-human witness and human observation producing hybrid knowledge) to the factory. Hence the possibility of any precedence is annihilated.15 Latour here introduces the concept of the “Quasi-”. This is because of the unpredictability of the arrival of quasi-objects which lack essence and cannot belong to one particular network and hence cannot be purified. there is possibly no agency of the chicken feather in Boyle’s experiment for the particularity in the task of the agent. However. Not only are the selfexplanatory categories of subject-hood and object challenged (how can the subjects be one such controlling agent if object seizes to be inert and is therefore not an object?) but the very role of agency is put into question. the equation of the act of manipulation flowing from the active agent (subject) to the “inert” object. Hence there are no inner attributes attributable to “actants”. modernity would suppress such hybridity and try to discursively control the degree of stabilization of the quasi-object for human progression. However. The world. They have no essence because their actions are singular and variable. is a shifting network of “actants”. a combining form in adjectives and nouns meaning: that appears to be something but is not really so. Conceptualizing time according to qualitative change is a methodological tool that modernity adopts to actually suppress not the past but its fear. a prior.
it would be a major flaw to say that “objects” or “non-humans” do not play any part under such a mechanism. and the scientific techniques that are borrowed from historically preceding institutions (probably belonging to a different episteme) define the technicality and objective of disciplinary mechanism. Foucault is not interested in the singularity or variability of non-humans but in turn focuses on the power relations involved within disciplinary mechanism. the pupils. The shift from spectacular violence on the body of the condemned to its disciplining. In Foucault’s analysis the scientific object employed to regulate the life of human beings18 like the time-table.. Interestingly. 18 Human beings like the soldiers.e. However. his focus—as I have already mentioned—is on the disciplinary construction of the human mind-body. There is no definite point of change within monarchical power. Foucauldian genealogy necessarily looks for events that occur abruptly. Foucault in his genealogical study of disciplines does not just trace the evolution of disciplinary mechanism from sovereign power but simultaneously and consequentially attempts a genealogy of actions on the human body.17 However. under discipline) in exactitude from the monastic space or technology of the telescope.6 Coming back to Foucault’s analysis of docile bodies. the routine or the mode of hierarchical observation had evolved over time to be used differently under different circumstances. or the condemned. accidentally and exterior to the mode of pre-existing power though without a fundamental break with it. The point is to see how. in Foucault’s analysis the politico-juridical relations that defined sovereignty did not undergo an abrupt ending and then successively give rise to disciplinary power. Unlike Latour. Like the Latour-ian analysis of the variability in the functionality of “actants”. . an “origin” inside monarchy that can vow for the change to discipline. without addressing the possible reasons behind such change the genealogical analysis would remain incomplete. the time-table or the design of hierarchical observation haven’t followed into present actions (i. 1 17 The establishment of disciplinary power doesn’t break completely with sovereign power but each seeps into another while the gradual transformation takes place.
In learning to hold the rifle in the correct posture and also in learning to shoot. by using the term “quasi-” he has 1 19 Michel Foucault. Hence for Foucault. 2 21 Humans are never “pure” categories and if the Latour-ian lexicon can be borrowed. Foucault is guilty of the notion of the human. the law of firing the gun.21 However. For Latour therefore. Under the Foucauldian paradigm there are no “humans-in-themselves” because the docile body is a discursive creation.7 The idea of established rhythms. However. Foucault criticizes the human sciences alright but—Latour asks—do “things” really occur in Foucault? Foucault’s example of the “body-object articulation” provides a glaring example. The body of the soldier is instrumentally coded but that codification depends on the skilful mastery of the rifle. . modifications or disruptions to feed into the present. “misfiring” the gun is a certain disruption of the rule of firing and never the variability of the rifle. it revolves around an entire set of practices and guidelines that teach the usage of a rifle and hence codifies the human body. humans for Foucault are hybrids. (Vintage: New York. he criticizes the social but brings back another image of the social and can never overstep the boundaries set by the human.19 or that of “eyes that must see without being seen”20 must have undergone changes. imposition of “particular occupations”. No doubt.22 I would like to end this paper with a short insight on Latour’s endeavour to bring the objectification of “non-humans” into question. the subject—for Foucault—manipulates the object. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 1995). one fundamental difference between the Latour-ian analysis and Foucault genealogical understanding lies in the concept of unpredictability of the “nonhuman”. 2 20 Ibid. he seems to be caught up much in this problematic of the human to completely ignore what the stance of the non-human could have been. 22 Foucault as we can therefore see also adheres to a certain law. For Foucault such disruptions are results of chance but in the changing power-relation between subjects within the disciplinary milieu and never the de-objectification of the object/”non-human”. It depends on the manipulation of the object by the subject.
2. In and with the “quasi-” not only is a degree of mobility attained but the distinction between an “agent” and a “recipient” is challenged. Bibliography: 1. 1984). Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. 3. Massachusetts. History”. a language that he claims not many social scientists have understood. Bruno Latour. One cannot help but notice a secret desire in Latour to stretch the “quasi-” to the realm of the human.8 been able to break the strict compartmentalization between “nature” and “culture”. pp. The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon. Michel Foucault. 1995). . trans. We Have Never Been Modern. Genealogy. Michel Foucault.). (Vintage: New York. But what is the necessity of a parliament of things? It would be surprising if Latour wasn’t aware of the metaphorical implication of “parliament” and its technical constructs to use such a political space to represent a congregation of things. Catherine Porter (Harvard: Cambridge. in Paul Rabinow (ed. What however is the necessity behind this sameness? Foucault fails to recognize the presence of “things” of course. “Nietzsche. 76-100. One might therefore wonder what Latour secretly whispers into the ears of the “quasi-object”. 1993).
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