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

Science for them is a product of discourse that scientists believe in and work, within the technical language of science.

Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.2 In Discipline and Punish Foucault talks about the creation of docile (that is. .7 2 After all. (Vintage: New York.). in Paul Rabinow (ed. But for Latour the role of science does not end there. 76-100. 1995). In addressing the question of the ozone hole or the control of Aids science must be focussing on certain real problems. (Vintage: New York. History”. Genealogy. 4 Michel Foucault. real because they affect the life of people. 3 Foucault’s approach is not exactly in alliance with the social scientific claim of the disinterest of scientific processes in the real world. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. “breakage”. 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. Going by the Latour-ian logic. 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.2 position of Foucault under such a social scientific approach towards the functionality of science. All that science has done is just not the proliferation of discourse but it has also addressed various real issues.3 For Foucault such processes produce a discursive truth/real where docility is produced under the tripartite process of “exploration”. 6 7 Michel Foucault. 1995). and “rearrangement”4 for its subjection and usage. The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon. 6 For Latour. 5 Michel Foucault. quiet and easy to control) bodies by disciplinary power under the modern regime that used elaborate scientific techniques to produce a productive human body. “Nietzsche. have a possibility of annihilating it. Of course. pp. such a Foucauldian take on science would be to approach it in a partial way. such reports affect the daily life of people through various disciplinary constrictions. 1984). in other words “to obtain an efficient machine”. scientific descriptions of the impending danger in the widening of the ozone hole or the control of Aids are not merely rhetorical representations.

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”).8 As Foucault’s analysis of “Docile Bodies” would show. the Latour-ian schema would deal with the act of “purification” (the separation into “nature” and “culture”) as well. we can say that the “among” and the “in” in the above-mentioned phrases are discursively produced. The “non-human”—for the modern—has no agency on its own. 9 Ibid. there are actually no pure “humans-inthemselves”. There can never be a space for “humans-among-themselves” because the category of the human is not inherent. After all. Latour tries to investigate the subsumption of “non-human” by the subject by critiquing modern historicity 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. while Foucault’s objective was to document the production of a docile human mind-body under Discipline’s scientific mechanism. 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. . The Foucauldian and Latour-ian schemas are not exactly binary opposites in understanding socioscientific phenomena. This flow.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. albeit in his way. Very interestingly. or the act of mediation between the subject (“human”) and object (“non-human”) happens under a medium where the “non-human” (like the “machine”) does nothing of its own but is worked upon or transformed by human labour. “Culture” or the realm of sociality among humans is not an a priori in life. 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. On the other hand.

the passage from bad to good.4 and making in turn a historical analysis of the modern theory of progress10.11 Since “progress” aligns itself to development. “mediation”. and “translation”. (Harvard: Cambridge. to invest into a certain progress devoid of the effect of the past. trying to disentangle a pre-modern hybrid to create pure categories which can mediate objectively. 14 No doubt the discursivity underlying the universal application of Boyle’s law in unavoidable. 1 11 Ibid. We Have Never Been Modern. 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. trans. Catherine Porter (Harvard: Cambridge. While the act of purification separates the pole of “nature” from that of “culture”. 10 Latour criticizes a modern theory of progress that he thinks functions under the tripartite structure of “purification”. the non-human seizes to be a mere object. What becomes very clear is the unavoidability of this fear. Every laboratory is a constructed fact. 1993). The main objective of Latour through such an elaborate description is to shift the attention of social scientists to the practice of science. 1993). For the modern theory of progress and historicity (passage of time) events are situated. Such a stance is. 1 12 The linear development to the future bases itself on the elimination of the past. .12 The act of denigrating the past coincides with the act of purification or is purification. trans. working essentially through suppression. unlike calendar time “with respect to their intensity”. 1 13 For further discussion on the “Gordian Knot” see Bruno Latour. Chapter 1. Here Latour’s reference to Shapin and Schaffer’s analysis of Boyle’s experiment becomes very crucial. an act of human intervention producing a natural law as a result of that intervention. The constant need to purify is to cleanse the present. For further reference see Bruno Latour. to observe what scientists actually do. Catherine Porter. Massachusetts.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. Contrary to modernist logic therefore. modernity undergoes a break with the past. such an “objective” mixture of pure categories actually feed into highlighting one “type” of category over another. We Have Never Been Modern. nevertheless. 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. Massachusetts.

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-”. 16 The hybridity exists too well from the laboratory (non-human witness and human observation producing hybrid knowledge) to the factory. . “Actants” are not subjective or objective “who”.15 Latour here introduces the concept of the “Quasi-”. The world. Such an experiment disrupts the entire modernist enterprise of the subject controlling the object. a construct that makes one an agent. 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. 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. a combining form in adjectives and nouns meaning: that appears to be something but is not really so. Hence a historical analysis of “actants” would fail to trace any permanent quality in them. Hence there are no inner attributes attributable to “actants”. Conceptualizing time according to qualitative change is a methodological tool that modernity adopts to actually suppress not the past but its fear. a prior.5 a recipient. is a shifting network of “actants”. the equation of the act of manipulation flowing from the active agent (subject) to the “inert” object. modernity would suppress such hybridity and try to discursively control the degree of 1 15 The functionality of agency necessitates a before. They have no essence because their actions are singular and variable. Not only are the self-explanatory 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. Hence the possibility of any precedence is annihilated. Furthermore. However. here paradoxically lies modernity’s endeavour in purifying. However. for Latour. 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. Neither are they completely active conscious beings. there is possibly no agency of the chicken feather in Boyle’s experiment for the particularity in the task of the agent.

the pupils.17 However. Like the Latour-ian analysis of the variability in the 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. his focus—as I have already mentioned—is on the disciplinary construction of the human mind-body. 18 Human beings like the soldiers. The shift from spectacular violence on the body of the condemned to its disciplining. Foucauldian genealogy necessarily looks for events that occur abruptly. In Foucault’s analysis the scientific object employed to regulate the life of human beings18 like the timetable. or the condemned. Unlike Latour. 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. 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.6 stabilization of the quasi-object for human progression. Interestingly. without addressing the possible reasons behind such change the genealogical analysis would remain incomplete. . the routine or the mode of hierarchical observation had evolved over time to be used differently under different circumstances. However. There is no definite point of change within monarchical power. it would be a major flaw to say that “objects” or “non-humans” do not play any part under such a mechanism. The point is to see how. Foucault is not interested in the singularity or variability of non-humans but in turn focuses on the power relations involved within disciplinary mechanism. 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. Coming back to Foucault’s analysis of docile bodies. for the control over the static object by the subject. accidentally and exterior to the mode of pre-existing power though without a fundamental break with it. an “origin” inside monarchy that can vow for the change to discipline.

19 or that of “eyes that must see without being seen”20 must have undergone changes. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. humans for Foucault are hybrids. The body of the soldier is instrumentally coded but that codification depends on the skilful mastery of the rifle. 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”. he criticizes the social but brings back another image of the social and can never overstep the boundaries set by the human. under discipline) in exactitude from the monastic space or technology of the telescope.22 1 19 Michel Foucault. The idea of established rhythms. Hence for Foucault. the law of firing the gun. “misfiring” the gun is a certain disruption of the rule of firing and never the variability of the rifle.. 1995). one fundamental difference between the Latour-ian analysis and Foucault genealogical understanding lies in the concept of unpredictability of the “non-human”.21 However. 22 Foucault as we can therefore see also adheres to a certain law. In learning to hold the rifle in the correct posture and also in learning to shoot. Under the Foucauldian paradigm there are no “humans-in-themselves” because the docile body is a discursive creation. the time-table or the design of hierarchical observation haven’t followed into present actions (i. 2 21 Humans are never “pure” categories and if the Latour-ian lexicon can be borrowed. 2 20 Ibid. 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. It depends on the manipulation of the object by the subject. it revolves around an entire set of practices and guidelines that teach the usage of a rifle and hence codifies the human body. modifications or disruptions to feed into the present.e.7 functionality of “actants”. Foucault is guilty of the notion of the human. 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. the subject—for Foucault—manipulates the object. imposition of “particular occupations”. (Vintage: New York. . For Latour therefore. However.

Genealogy. by using the term “quasi-” he has been able to break the strict compartmentalization between “nature” and “culture”. trans. pp. Michel Foucault. a language that he claims not many social scientists have understood. One might therefore wonder what Latour secretly whispers into the ears of the “quasi-object”. Michel Foucault. 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. (Vintage: New York. 1984). . Bruno Latour. 2. Catherine Porter (Harvard: Cambridge. 3. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. One cannot help but notice a secret desire in Latour to stretch the “quasi-” to the realm of the human.8 I would like to end this paper with a short insight on Latour’s endeavour to bring the objectification of “non-humans” into question. History”. The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon. We Have Never Been Modern. 1995). Bibliography: 1. 76-100. in Paul Rabinow (ed. In and with the “quasi-” not only is a degree of mobility attained but the distinction between an “agent” and a “recipient” is challenged.). 1993). “Nietzsche. Massachusetts. No doubt. What however is the necessity behind this sameness? Foucault fails to recognize the presence of “things” of course.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful