1

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
1

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

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

After all. . albeit in his way. 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. there are actually no pure “humans-in-themselves”. the Latour-ian schema would deal with the act of “purification” (the separation into “nature” and “culture”) as well. “Culture” or the realm of sociality among humans is not an a priori in life. Very interestingly. The Foucauldian and Latour-ian schemas are not exactly binary opposites in understanding socioscientific phenomena. 9 Ibid. 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”). we can say that the “among” and the “in” in the above-mentioned phrases are discursively produced. There can never be a space for “humans-among-themselves” because the category of the human is not inherent. This flow. while Foucault’s objective was to document the production of a docile human mind-body under Discipline’s scientific mechanism. 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. The “non-human”—for the modern—has no agency on its own. 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. 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. On the other hand.8 As Foucault’s analysis of “Docile Bodies” would show.

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

is a shifting network of “actants”. for Latour. a prior. 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.15 Latour here introduces the concept of the “Quasi-”. Hence there are no inner attributes attributable to “actants”. 16 The hybridity exists too well from the laboratory (non-human witness and human observation producing hybrid knowledge) to the factory. modernity would suppress such hybridity and try to discursively control the degree of stabilization of the quasi-object for human progression. Conceptualizing time according to qualitative change is a methodological tool that modernity adopts to actually suppress not the past but its fear. However. Furthermore. Hence the possibility of any precedence is annihilated. 1 15 The functionality of agency necessitates a before. The world.5 modernist enterprise of the subject controlling the object. 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. there is possibly no agency of the chicken feather in Boyle’s experiment for the particularity in the task of the agent. for the control over the static object by the subject. here paradoxically lies modernity’s endeavour in purifying. Neither are they completely active conscious beings. 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. 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. They have no essence because their actions are singular and variable. 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. “Actants” are not subjective or objective “who”. However. a construct that makes one an agent. 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-”.

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

It depends on the manipulation of the object by the subject. the subject—for Foucault—manipulates the object. it revolves around an entire set of practices and guidelines that teach the usage of a rifle and hence codifies the human body. 2 20 Ibid. “misfiring” the gun is a certain disruption of the rule of firing and never the variability of the rifle. the law of firing the gun. For Latour therefore. 2 21 Humans are never “pure” categories and if the Latour-ian lexicon can be borrowed.21 However. However. (Vintage: New York.7 The idea of established rhythms. 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. 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. 1995). Hence for Foucault. one fundamental difference between the Latour-ian analysis and Foucault genealogical understanding lies in the concept of unpredictability of the “nonhuman”. 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”. 22 Foucault as we can therefore see also adheres to a certain law. imposition of “particular occupations”. Foucault is guilty of the notion of the human. he criticizes the social but brings back another image of the social and can never overstep the boundaries set by the human. modifications or disruptions to feed into the present. humans for Foucault are hybrids. Under the Foucauldian paradigm there are no “humans-in-themselves” because the docile body is a discursive creation. by using the term “quasi-” he has 1 19 Michel Foucault. In learning to hold the rifle in the correct posture and also in learning to shoot. The body of the soldier is instrumentally coded but that codification depends on the skilful mastery of the rifle. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison.19 or that of “eyes that must see without being seen”20 must have undergone changes.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. No doubt. .

8 been able to break the strict compartmentalization between “nature” and “culture”. 76-100. History”. (Vintage: New York. We Have Never Been Modern. trans. .). 2. Michel Foucault. a language that he claims not many social scientists have understood. Bibliography: 1. Catherine Porter (Harvard: Cambridge. Genealogy. The Foucault Reader (New York: Pantheon. 1993). Massachusetts. 1995). One might therefore wonder what Latour secretly whispers into the ears of the “quasi-object”. One cannot help but notice a secret desire in Latour to stretch the “quasi-” to the realm of the human. What however is the necessity behind this sameness? Foucault fails to recognize the presence of “things” of course. pp. “Nietzsche. Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. In and with the “quasi-” not only is a degree of mobility attained but the distinction between an “agent” and a “recipient” is challenged. Bruno Latour. 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. 1984). Michel Foucault. 3. in Paul Rabinow (ed.

Sign up to vote on this title
UsefulNot useful