Agency Unshackled: The origin of agency` in sociology, identity, and text

The Iollowing is a meditation on the nature oI agency as traced through a quick history oI
sociology. The concept oI agency originates in the work oI French Marxist philosopher Louis
Althusser. However, it could be argued that there are proto-Iorms oI agency in the work oI Marx
and Durkheim, as well as that oI Gabriel Tarde (1888). Althusser`s notions oI structure and
agency greatly inIluenced Pierre Bourdieu and his concept oI the habitus oI social liIe. Part oI
Bourdieu`s project was an attempt to bridge structuralism and phenomenology in dealing with
the social world. Later, Foucault described subjectivity in a tug-oI-war with ubiquitous power.
This subjectivity is arguably a Iorm oI agency, however it is locked in dialectic with power.
Judith Butler took this notion oI the individual Iurther, deconstructing gender roles with
an emphasis on perIormativity, a radical agency. Butler deconstructed the individual herselI.
Seyla Benhabib had issues with Butler`s radical Iormulation oI the individual, and with her
abandonment oI progress. What happens when agency becomes unshackled Irom identity? Who
or what can have agency? We explore some contemporary interpretations oI the term agency,
beginning with Butler but moving on to discuss Rose`s (2007) concept oI technologies oI
government and its relationship to Actor-Network Theory` (Latour, 2005). We consider the
notion oI uncommodiIiable anger in the spirit oI Artaud, and the breakdown oI the individual
voice in the writing oI Kierkegaard and the emergence oI a 'demonic writing machine.¨
All this is to ask the question, is there an agency in the notion oI text divorced Irom
identity? I conclude by attempting to mend this nullity. I want to oIIer a ray oI hope by
considering the agency oI objects in Actor-Network Theorycompanies, computer networks
and texts themselvesand Haraway`s Iormulation oI the cyborg and challenge to traditional
scientiIic epistemology. I come Iull circle to Tarde and the Iact that he considered this problem
oI unshackled agency a century ago.
Origins of Agency
The term 'agency¨ begins with Althusser (1971) but it might be worthwhile to Iirst step
back and document concepts in the work oI Marx, Weber and Durkheim related to practice and
sociability, which set the stage Ior agency. First Marx: Marx`s philosophy was grounded in
practices. Marx worked in the German Hegelian tradition oI the dialectic. Hegel`s dialectic was
a dynamic oI history, the spirit oI history pitted against anything other than itselI. A dialectical
approach is also a method used to uncover and interpret the antagonistic Iorces underlying
human history and how they are continually evolving. Marx admired Hegel`s dialectic but
disdained Hegel`s predilection Ior mysticism and abstraction. Marx thereIore resolved to 'turn
Hegel on his head or put him on his Ieet¨ (The German Ideologv) in his Iormulation oI
dialectical materialism. Marx`s idea was that history always maniIested in material stages and
he set out to chronicle these, Irom the development oI capitalism through the revolution and into
the establishment oI a communist utopia. Contrary to Hegel`s thought, Marx privileged
materiality over spirit, and he emphasized the importance oI material practice. This is where
Marx`s notion oI humans as inherently productive and creative entities originated. Everything
has íts basís ín materíaí practíce:
This emphasis on production and creativity compelled Marx to demonstrate the
dehumanization and alienation oI human beings through the division oI labor. There is a proto-
agency in Marx`s emphasis on praxis. Though much less committed to the notion oI class
Agency Unshackíed 2
struggle and property as directing Iorces in the unIolding oI history, there might also be a hint oI
agency in Weber`s Iormulation oI a variety oI classes, status groups and parties, groups that vie
Ior control beneath the crushing bureaucracy oI the 'iron cage.¨
Neither did Durkheim take labor relations to be the central determining Iorce in history
and society. Durkheim was not concerned with alienation, but rather he was aIraid oI a lack oI
meaning in society stemming Irom the division oI labor and hyper-specialization. This was what
he called anomie, or moral incoherence in society. Durkheim also saw institutions such as the
educational system and religion as inculcating people with social norms, an extension oI an
overarching Iorce in society that he called 'collective consciousness¨ (The Cultural Logic of
Collective Representations, 91).
Durkheim believed that religious liIe brought about a degree oI solidarity, but Ieared that
this religious zeal oI a collective 'eIIervescence¨ (The Cultural Logic oI Collective
Representations, 90) got lost in the hyper-segmentation characteristic oI industrial society.
However, this emphasis on socialized activity and social praxis demonstrates an aIIinity with
Marx`s production. Durkheim`s emphasis on collective consciousness and collective
eIIervescence suggest that in a sense he, too, envisioned a primordial kind oI agency, although in
his view people were more subject to this collective consciousness than agents oI it.
It is worthwhile to mention the work oI Gabriel Tarde (1888). Latour (2005) cited Tarde
as inspiration Ior his reIormulation oI the social emergent and necessitating microcosmic
observation. For Tarde, ideas precede expression; Tarde believed an individual must have an
idea beIore that idea can 'illumine the mind oI a nation.¨ Imitation, his word Ior innovation, is a
Iunction oI accumulation and substitution, oI exchange and the desire to invent, and thus his idea
that, 'The more a people invent and discover, the more inventive and the more eager Ior new
Agency Unshackíed 3
discoveries they grow,¨ (180). Imitation conjures images oI a Irenetic process, the result oI
innate human neurosisa will to create akin to Marx`s production. Still, Tarde was not
concerned with capitalist critique. A nation that is modernizing, said Tarde, 'consumes much
more than it is able, or that it desires to produce¨ (187). What kind oI inchoate notion oI agency
emerges Irom this concept innovation? We will return to this question in the conclusion.
Agency and Identity
Agency really originates with Althusser (1971) and his notion oI structure. Marx greatly
inIluenced Althusser, who Iormalized the concept oI ideology; he wanted to demonstrate how
ideology reproduces the labor power oI society. The method oI inculcation oI ideology, he
argued, is the superstructure. Althusser broke the superstructure down into the politico-legal and
ideological. That is, Althusser argued Ior an Ideological State Apparatus (ISA) distinct Irom the
(repressive) State Apparatus oI police, judges, prisons and the army. These ISA`s included
religious, legal, political, communications and educational institutions, as well as the Iamily
(142, 143). This led Althusser to the conclusion that the ISA 'interpolates¨ (172) citizens
through inculcation oI social norms, causing them to absorb social norms. Althusser`s example
is the citizen who, upon hearing the police siren, halts and looks around. In that moment he is
immediately interpolated as a subject oI the State. Althusser was inIluenced by Gramsci`s
Iormulation oI the State as being above the legal distinction oI public and private: 'I only wish to
point out that you and I are alwavs alreadv subjects¨ (Ideologv and the State, 172). Agency
comes about in the bitter class conIlict required to install the ISA`s that realize ideology (185).
The concept oI interpolation bears resemblance to Bourdieu`s habitus. French sociologist
Pierre Bourdieu attempted to bridge the structuralist tradition oI sociology and linguistics, which
Agency Unshackíed 4
stemmed Irom the work oI Althusser and Sausseur, with the phenomenological tradition oI Hegel
and Husserl. To do this, Bourdieu Iormulated his theory oI the habitus. The habitus oI the
individual is the Iamiliar world oI that individual. It represents a compromise between the
objective social dogma operating Irom above, the clearly delineated boundaries oI rational social
discourse that Bourdieu deemed Doxa, and the ability oI the individual to negotiate the
environment as iI it were a game. The habitus is an attempt to re-inIuse structuralism with the
temporality oI phenomenology. Bourdieu dismissed the notion oI society as an all-structuring
Iorce and suggested that individuals have leeway Ior action within their Iamiliar surroundings.
He posits a move Irom the rule to the strategy. This is the habitus:
The fact that there is no "choice" that cannot be accounted for, retrospectivelv at least,
does not implv that such practice is perfectlv predictable, like the acts inserted in the
rigorouslv stereotvped sequences of a rite...But even the most strictlv rituali:ed
exchanges in which all the moments of the action and their unfolding are rigorouslv
foreseen have room for strategies, the agents remain in command of the interval between
the obligatorv moments and can therefore act on their opponents bv plaving with the
tempo of the exchange. (Outline of a Theorv of Practice, 15)
Agents, but not necessarily agency; that is one way to understand Bourdieu`s habitus, and
it is certainly inIluenced by Althusser`s interpolation in that the habitus assumes some
internalization oI the externalities oI Doxa. Foucault (1978) was much grimmer on the prospect
oI agency. While he was quick to set up a multiplicity oI resistances against a pervasive and
nebulous network oI power, still he preIerred to speak in terms oI 'deployment¨ oI discourse.
With Foucault we are Iinally beginning to move into a post-structuralist realm. Foucault was not
concerned with structure and practice, as were Bourdieu and others beIore him. Rather, he was
Agency Unshackíed 5
obsessed with discourse mobilized in societies to deIine subfects, a discourse that is ultimately
an extension oI power itselI. Discourse is a multiple tug-oI-war between power and the
subjective identity.
Foucault had a cynical interpretation oI power as inextricably linked to resistance;
resistance never exists entirely outside oI power. There is no one rebellion, but a topography oI
resistances, oI 'points, knots, Iocuses oI resistance¨ (96). Unlike with Bourdieu, then, with his
notion oI the agent who uses strategy within a habitus, an agent distinct Irom Doxa, Ior Foucault
power is always the shadow-halI oI the individual, serving up subjective notions to that
individual. Notions oI identity, such as sexuality, are pre-made and seamlessly integrated into
the individual identity. Even struggling against the idea oI sexuality in and oI itselI
acknowledges the validity oI the category oI sexuality. This is precisely the Iunction oI
biopower, to bring individuals to regulate their own sexualities Ior the greater social good oI
capitalism, an 'insertion oI bodies into the machinery oI production¨ (141).
For this reason, there is a kind oI agency in Foucault, but it is stillborn, locked in a
torturous duel with power, as iI they are two sides oI a coin. Foucault himselI (1982) attempted
to convince his peers that it was not his task to subjectiIy people, but rather to empower subjects
and to attack power (784). Harstock (1990; 165-168) was not persuaded, but rather critical oI
Foucault`s inIantilization oI women. She claimed his analysis oI power Iailed because he wrote
Irom the omnipotent perspective oI the colonizer, obliterating the subject. Butler (1990)
however Iorwarded a radical notion oI gender as perIormance. Butler splayed out sexuality
along a continuum oI biology between male and Iemale, pointing to the hermaphrodite as the
Ilaw in the traditional biIurcated deIinition oI gender. To Butler, gender is an effect (1990; 45)
brought about by the repetition oI characteristics over time. Her radical notion oI agency, then,
Agency Unshackíed 6
encompasses strategies to destabilize the 'normative¨ delineations oI gender, a heterosexual
matrix. These strategies include acts oI deconstruction that trouble the binary and point to
categories that do not Iit, like the hermaphrodite.
Emphasis on pleasure and desire is also a way to get around heteronormative sexuality.
AIter wryly citing Nietzsche that 'there is no being behind doing,¨ Butler pointed out that '|a|
great deal oI Ieminist theory and literature has nevertheless assumed that there is a doer` behind
the deed. Without an agent, it is argued, there can be no agency and hence no potential to initiate
a transIormation oI relations oI domination within society¨ (Butler, 1990; 34, 35). In Iact it is
this drive to talk about a desire liberated Irom sexuality that becomes Bulter`s example oI a
radical agency stripped Irom identity. This is a point oI departure Irom Ieminists like Benhabib.
Behnabib (1995) wrote that Ieminist appropriations oI Nietzsche could 'only lead to selI-
incoherence.¨ Benhabib seemed wary oI the dissolution oI the subject into a mere linguistic
position, and with it, the loss oI intentionality, selI-reIlexivity, autonomy, etc. Some level oI
normativity is still required to deliberate on democratic ideals; Ieminists should not abandon the
'ethical impulse to utopia.¨ In other words, Ieminists should not abandon the political project oI
progress. To which Butler`s (1995) response was that we must abandon the notion oI progress,
that to rely on a stable notion oI the subject is to re-inscribe the mechanism oI subordination.
The Agency of Nihilism
There is a Iore-echo oI Butler`s radical agency in Irigaray`s meditation on Diotima`s
deconstruction oI Socrates` conIident musings about love. Diotima laughed oII Socrates`
insistence that love is a God; love is a 'daimon¨ she insisted, always in between, always
searching, terrible as magician. Love is a trickster, and love is always becoming. Thus love is a
Agency Unshackíed 7
mediator. And despite the Iact that later Diotima attempts to ground the idea oI love in
procreation (Irigaray reminds us that this is being recounted by Socrates; Diotima is not
permitted in the Symposium), still there emerges this evocation oI love as a mediator, distinct
Irom the withered concept oI Eros, to which is leIt only a dirty domination. There is something
oI Angels in this transmutable quantity oI desire, and Irigaray has no qualms about sexualizing
and corporealizing the Iigure oI the Angel:
The mucous should no doubt be pictured as related to the angel, where as the inertia of
the bodv deprived of its relation to the mucous and its gesture is linked to the fallen bodv
or the corpse. A sexual or carnal ethics would require that both angel and bodv be found
together. This is a world that must be constructed or reconstructed. A genesis of love
between the sexes has vet to come about in all dimensions. (1993, 17)
Here again is our notion oI agency stripped oI the necessity oI identity, Iound in the vital
interstitial bodily processes themselves. Benhabib critiqued Butler`s radical Iormulation oI
identity and abandonment oI normativity. Her Iear was that Butler did more harm than good
because her extreme postmodernism is Irankly nihilistic. But considering Irigaray`s evocation oI
love as desireever searching, cacodemonic, Iorever acting as mediator, Iorever interstitial, and
yet somehow Angeliccan it be said that that which lacks identity must also lack agency?
Let us consider the Ilipside. Rose (1999) brought a Foucaultian analysis to bear on
contemporary governmental regimes. He traced the deIinition oI governance over time in an
attempt to chart a 'genealogy oI Ireedom¨ (65), emphasizing a notion oI government that
transcends the state, and that in turn becomes a type oI control Ilowing through networks,
operating by institutionalizing types oI Ireedoms. Freedom itselI is deployed; an inscription oI
Agency Unshackíed 8
control within the expression oI Ireedom. Governmentality encompasses the processes that
produce citizens through networks oI power. Control is also exercised through 'technologies oI
government,¨ comprised oI non-human objects and human capacities:
These assemblages are heterogeneous, made up of a diversitv of obfects and relations
linked up through connections and relavs of different tvpes. Thev have no essence. And
thev are never simplv a reali:ation of a programme, strategv or intention. whilst the will
to govern traverses them, thev are not simplv reali:ations of anv simple will. (Rose, 52)
In Iact, this is a reIerence to the corpus oI sociology oI technology and Actor-Network
Theory` (ANT), thinkers such as Latour (1988) and Bijker and Law (1992). We will arrive at
ANT momentarily, but Ior now the most important thing to understand is that these technologies
oI government reIlect a non-human agency characteristic oI ANT. This is truly an agency
devoid oI a human Iace.
Here we stray Irom Irigaray`s vision oI desire as unIettered agency to the paranoia oI
Rose`s governmentality maniIested in the very Ireedoms we enjoy. Antonin Artaud had a
strategy to combat bourgeois society: being rude. Artaud believed in the value oI
uncommodiIiable anger and madness (Dale, 2000). Artaud adopted madness as a critique in the
Iashion oI Foucault`s examination oI insanity, or Butler`s Iigure oI the hermaphrodite, that is, to
underscore the outlying case. He Iaulted others Ior their unwillingness or Iear to understand
madness. This is the inverse oI Irigaray`s assertion oI love: blind aggression. There must be
something oI agency in this nihilistic insistence on rage that escapes the narrow 'Ireedom¨
aIIorded by neo-liberal governmentality, to the point oI a enacting a kind oI Tourette Syndrome.
Artaud: Van Gogh was not mad, but thought so by bourgeois society 'in a world in which every
Agency Unshackíed 9
day they eat vagina cooked in green sauce or the genitals oI a new born child whipped into a rage
plucked as it came out oI the maternal sex¨ (quoted in Dale, 217).
Why be so overt? Hodge (2000) posed the question oI identity in the writing oI
Kierkegaard. Was it possible, she asked, that the interstitial silences oI Kierkegaard`s work
brimmed with multiple identities? She evoked a diabolically seductive image to stand Ior the
hopeless equivocation oI good and evil in Kierkegaard`s work, the 'demonic writing machine.¨
Hodge wanted to examine the demonic 'epistemotopology,¨ borrowing that term Irom
Derrida to signal a localized, partial epistemology, or rather, the lack oI a possibility oI a grand
epistemology altogether. She distinguished between the cacodemons oI Plato and the evil spirits
oI Descartes, the latter meant to distract humanity Irom the Divine. Descartes described spirits
that know things which are excessive but useless; like Mephistopheles. They cause men to lose a
moral compass. The incommensurability oI the interpretations oI Kierkegaard`s work led Hodge
to consider it as demonic. There is a violence oI wrenching and dismemberment in the reading
the dislocation oI Adorno`s understanding oI Kierkegaard versus Benjamin`s agreement. A
third type oI violence comes Irom Derrida. Deconstructionism is a truly demonic quantity (in the
sense oI Descartes), issued Irom a text produced through reading, 'a more thoroughgoing
nihilism than any in the 19
century¨ and a 'dissociation oI energy Irom agency in writing which
gets temporarily reintegrated in an instant oI understanding produced in reading¨ (Hodge, 30).
Derrida works to annihilate the reader and reaIIirm himselI. Through endless citations and acts
oI retrieval Derrida destroys identities and meaning only to reaIIirm them again through 'auto-
inscription.¨ (37).
Agency Unshackíed 10
Kierkegarrd`s writing, on the other hand, represents a deeper subversion oI identity by
virtue oI reticence. Hodge argued that Kierkegaard did not work to smash the identity oI the
reader so much as to recuperate himselI, 'a selI Ior which the conditions oI integration are not
yet or perhaps never will be given.¨ Who is Kierkegaard?
Hodge took pleasure in unsettling Heideggerian certainty with Kierkegaard`s doubt in
much the same way as Butler reveled in troubling the binary. Hodge pointed to an
indistinguishability oI the Divine and the demonic in Kierkegaard`s silence, a multiplication oI
voices brimming beneath the surIace, Kierkegaard as a 'crypto-nihilist.¨ Derrida used
Kierkegaard to question how we know God versus the devil, the revolutionary spirit oI Marx
Irom a 'spectral monkey.¨ There is a streak oI 'demonic nihilism¨ in Derrida and Kierkegaard
because oI their acceptance oI a giIt oI meaning Irom a source external to writing, and then
subverting that source, nulliIying it. This is a 'demonic writing machine.¨ For Kierkegaard it
meant oscillation between the chatter oI the marketplace and the Divine; Ior Derrida, between
the giIt oI tradition and the chatter oI an academic market.
Hodge likened demonic nihilism to Klee`s Angel, bearing witness to all oI history as
wreckage. Humanity is unthinkable outside oI processes oI history and technology, neither oI
which center on humanity any longer. This is the transition Irom 'an active nihilism oI will to
power¨ to the 'demonic nihilism oI writing machines.¨ There is no human Iace in this
interpretation oI agency. The 'demonic nihilism oI writing machines¨ casts its gloomy shadow
over Rose`s technologies oI government. Through the lens oI a demonic eradication oI identity
it is easier to understand why Benhabib perceived a nihilistic streak in Butler`s aIIirmation oI
radical identity, and why Bulter`s style oI writing might be characterized by some as 'evil.¨
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Fig. 1: Happy Noodle Boy, rejecting the Ireedoms oI governmentality (Irom the comic series
Johnnv Homicidal Maniac by Jhonen Vasquez)
Agency, Identity & Text
The graphomaniacal metaphor oI the 'demonic writing machine¨ is but one rather bleak
interpretation oI the possibilities Ior radical identity and agency. So as to shed a little sunshine
on the idea oI a radical agency unshackled Irom identity, I reIer to a couple oI theorists who
embrace the even Iooting oI human and non-human agents: proponents oI ANT and cyborgs.
Latour (2005) wanted to completely renovate the notion oI the social, almost as radically
as Butler revised the meaning oI sexual identity. And like Butler`s argument, Latour`s argument
through Actor-Network Theory (ANT) implies a radical reinterpretation oI the meaning oI
agency. The purpose oI ANT is to do sociology Irom a highly embedded standpoint. In much
the same way that theories oI political economy mean to break down the barriers between
economic structure and the superstructure, perhaps, theorists in the vein oI social construction oI
technology attempt to break down the barriers between what is technological and what is
cultural, social and political (see Ior example Bijker, 1992, on the development oI generations oI
missile guidance systems). ANT goes Iurther to posit radical agency in the organizations,
Agency Unshackíed 12
networks and texts that Iunction to produce technology. The acknowledgement oI non-human
agency stems Irom the observation that society has undergone a radical transIormation at the
hands oI technology.
ANT is not postmodern deconstruction; it is about reconstructing technology. Latour
suggested that the concept oI 'society¨ as it is discussed in contemporary sociology (even social
construction oI technology) is too static. This static nature obscures the dynamism oI the varied
processes that converge to reshape the social. ANT becomes a process oI connecting and re-
connecting the various elements oI the social, deploying controversy and stabilizing it
'sociology oI associations.¨ This is a radical notion oI society, perhaps as ambitious as
Durkheim`s assertion oI a social Iact, except that it is a movement in the opposite direction
toward emergent processes, or as Latour put it boldly, 'as Marx did with Hegel`s dialectics, it`s
time we put social explanation back on its Ieet¨ (64). Latour was beholden to Gabriel Tarde.
Tarde and Durkheim were contemporaries, and Tarde has been overlooked Ior the past century.
Tarde clashed with the younger Durkheim; he was critical oI Durkheim Ior yoking sociology to a
political agenda. Extension oI agency to non-humans in ANT goes back to Tarde, who saw no
need to separate the social Irom other associations like biological associations, even atoms. For
Tarde, sociology was 'inter-psychology¨; sociology was a way to understand how society
coheres, rather than using it to explain other phenomena (i.e., politics) (13).
Still, ANT is not technological determinism; there is no causality in the agency oI
technical objects: 'Thus the questions to ask about any agent are simply the Iollowing: Does it
make a diIIerence in the course oI some other agents action or not? Is there some trail that allows
someone to detect this diIIerence?¨ Objects, even tags in department stores, mere texts, help
Agency Unshackíed 13
trace social connections intermittently (71-74). Is this a nihilistic interpretation oI agency? Yes!
For example, here is Latour on why the acronym ANT stuck:
I was readv to drop this label for more elaborate ones like sociologv of translation,
actant-rhv:ome ontologv, sociologv of innovation, and so on, until someone pointed
out to me that the acronvm A.N.T. was perfectlv fit for a blind, mvopic, workaholic, trail-
sniffing, and collective traveler. An ant writing for other ants, this fits mv profect verv
well' (Latour, 9)
Quite to the contrary, however, Latour asserted that the traditional view oI the social is
recognizably tautological once the agency oI objects is acknowledged. The biological parallel to
apes and ants inspires the extension oI agency to non-human actors, the generation oI a social
world understood by the entanglement oI interactions. Associations are not made by social Iorce
and in Iact, said Latour, the whole idea oI social Iorce is subject to scrutiny. No tie is made oI
the social. The traditional interpretation oI 'society¨ and 'social¨ are exposed as Iraudulent as
soon as objects are acknowledged as actors. There is simply nothing behind them.
Haraway, however, disagreed with Latour`s interpretation oI agency. In the spirit iI
Butler, Haraway situated science within a Ieminist discourse, reIormulating notions oI body in
terms oI cyborg theory. Her insight was to splay out animals, humans and machines along a
continuum oI identity much like Butler did with sexuality. From Haraway`s perspective, the
cyborg is already ubiquitous in the social integration oI humans and technology, and hence 'the
boundary between science Iiction and social reality is an optical illusion,¨ (1989; 149).
Haraway (1997) re-examined the traditional role oI scientist as 'modest witness¨ to
natural phenomena, tracing scientiIic objectivity to the 17
century chemist Robert Boyle. She
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reIerred to OncoMouse, the Iirst corporately patented mouse, as an example oI an organism that
deIied easily delineated identitiesa transgenic mammal, both animal and corporate. To preIace
her discussion oI the human genome project (HGP), Haraway reIerred to 'genetic commodity
Ietishism¨ (Haraway, 1997; 142-148). She suggested that modern genetics allows commodity
Ietishism to inIiltrate to the level oI the gene, an attempt to collapse the maniIold diversity oI
cultures and people into one continuum. The suggestion is that ownership oI this genetic
material lies with science and corporations. Haraway compared the visual and epistemological
representations oI the genome to Global InIormation Systems (GIS). Maps oI the human genome
thus Iollow the neoliberal spatialization strategy to locate the human body within traditional
power structures.
This strategy is reminiscent oI Rose`s description oI the spatialized gaze oI governors, a
deIinition which reIerences Latour`s discussion oI inscription devices (Rose, 36). However,
Haraway was not satisIied with Latour`s stepping up oI reIlexivity in sociology to Iollow
Perverselv, however, the structure of heroic action is onlv intensified in this profect, both
in the narrative of science and in the discourse of the science studies scholar. For the
Latour of Science in Action, technoscience itself is war, the demiurge that makes and
unmakes worlds. (Harawav, 34).
Haraway is very careIul to point out that the agency in the HGP, Ior example, is an
equivocation oI humans and inIormation technology. This is a strategy oI an 'InIormatics oI
Domination,¨ a reinscription oI patriarchal Iorms into inIormation technologies. For Haraway,
then, the question oI agency becomes the question oI how agency is conceived in technoscience:
Agency Unshackíed 15
Issues of agencv permeate practices of representation in manv senses of both terms.
Who, exactlv, in the human genome profect represents whom?...The human to be
represented, then, has a particular kind of totalitv, or species being, as well as a specific
kind of individualitv. At whatever level of individualitv or collectivitv, from a single
generation extracted from one sample through the whole species genome, this human is
itself an information structure whose program might be written in nucleic acids or in the
artificial intelligence programming language called Lisp×. (1997, 247)
Haraway`s agency then is to tentatively create categories'nervously work with a wordy
chart¨ (218)to chronicle the progress oI domination as it gets reinscribed into inIormation
technology. Her guise becomes that oI the vampire, a creature that is its own pathology,
creeping between categories to taint absolutes, again, an in-betweener, like Irigaray`s Angels, or
Hodge`s 'demonic writing machine.¨ Still, some Ieminists harness ANT to advance their
program, to expand the sphere oI inIluence oI women in the realm oI ICT`s and show how ICT`s
and laboratories that birth them are socially constructed as playgrounds Ior white males (Scott,
Semmens & Willoughby, 2000). Why not Iocus on the aIIordances oI more democratic
technologies such as pagers and mobile phones instead oI the sleek and sexy Virtual Reality?
Hodge and Anderson (2006) characterized Klee`s Angel most Iearsomely. For Anderson,
the Angel mourns the wreckage oI a Iailed nationalist project, Ior Hodge, he beholds a humanity
now irrelevant to the onward marching Iorces oI history and technology. How can there be
agency in this nightmare? In this brieI essay, I have done my best to chronicle the emergence oI
agency through the history oI social theory. It begins with what I interpret as a proto-agency in
Agency Unshackíed 16
Marx` belieI in the predisposition oI human beings to production, Durkheim`s emphasis on
socialized activity and praxis, and perhaps even the Weberian categories oI social groups. Tarde
even had something to say about the Irenetic capacity oI human beings to innovate, but he
mysteriously characterized this as an almost automatic process. Moving Iorward, Althusser
originated the possibility Ior agency as a radical response to interpolation oI the ISA. Bourdieu
built oII oI this to posit agents who utilized strategy to work within the structure oI habitus.
Foucault paired subjectivity with power in the ongoing struggle oI discourse, while Butler later
broke Iree oI rigid heteronormative conceptualizations oI gender to posit an anti-essentialist
notion oI identity, a desire unshacked Irom identity. This had associated with it a radical agency.
Where to go Irom here? The thread oI agency seemingly Irayed, there were maniIold
potentialities to explore. I chose to examine this creeping nihilism in Butler`s radical identity
identiIied by Benhabib. On the one hand, the idea oI an agency liberated Irom identity could
have agency in the Iorm oI rage and insanity, as in the case oI Artaud. The danger is the
incommunicability oI meaning, or worse, an egotistical destruction oI meaning by a non-
integrable entity that maniIests as graphomania (Hodge). I wager that no one can persist in such
an extreme state oI dissociation Ior long, and thereIore it has utility to explore alternative
possibilities Ior the application oI radical identity. One is the ANT oI Latour, which has an
expanded notion oI agency that encompasses networks, corporate entities and even texts
themselves. Text has agency! But Haraway just read this as another attempt to reinscribe
patriarchal 19
century scientiIic values. Although she acknowledges an agency in text, she is
careIul to not be too certain oI the categories oI agency, and to nervously taint them.
I understand that in this essay I have overlooked some critical perspectives on culturally
speciIic Iorms oI agency (Hall; Mahmood; Crenshaw), Ior which I deeply apologize. My
Agency Unshackíed 17
Ietishization oI the technoscientiIic betrays an undercurrent oI geekiness (and perhaps a lack oI
cultural identity). I only hope that this conIession will serve to alert anyone reading this that
there are many perspectives on the notion oI identity and that perhaps there might be away to
integrate notions such as 'intersectionality¨ with a radical agency as advanced in ANT. Most
likely Haraway has endeavored to do this in the Iigures oI the vampire, the FemaleMan, and
OncoMouse. In conclusion, however, I would like to return to Latour`s reading oI Tarde. Tarde
was very inspirational Ior Latour, and all accusations oI male patriarchy aside, I think there is a
thread oI brilliance in Tarde`s thought that resonates with Irigaray`s Angels, 'demonic nihilists,¨
Haraway`s vampire, et al., something perhaps lost in the century since Durkheimian notions oI
social Iact stole the stage, and it is this: the whole emphasis on innovation.
Again, Tarde (1888) described innovation as imitation. For Tarde, ideas precede
expression. Tarde believed an individual must have an idea beIore it can 'illumine the mind oI a
nation¨ (180). Imitation is a Iunction oI accumulation and substitution, oI exchange and the
desire to invent. Imitation is a Irenetic process, the result oI what would seem to be an innate
human neurosis, a will to create akin to Marx`s emphasis on human labor. How insightIul, then,
that Tarde extrapolated this 'geometric progression¨ (190) oI ideas to its logical conclusion, that
oI instantaneous transmission, a propagation through a 'perIectly elastic medium¨ (191). Did
Tarde anticipate the Internet at a time when long distance communication devices were just
coming into being? He would seem to have anticipated the description oI a postmodern
communication that is simultaneously ecstatic and chillingly schizophrenic (Baudrillard, 1983).
I will conclude with the possibility that the purest agency stripped oI identity is this
innovation. Tarde hoped that sociology would eventually expand to encompass all sciences, to
speak oI societies oI animals and even societies oI stars, a kind oI integral calculus oI sociology
Agency Unshackíed 18
(Latour, 2005; 14-16). While this is bold, it recalls Irigaray`s metaphor oI Angels as intercessors
and marginal beings. It also calls to mind Ward`s (2000) reIerence to Angels in the work oI
Michel Serres as selI-conscious communication constituted in the discourse between disciplines,
which Ilies in the Iace oI the 'aggressive hell oI commercial advertising.¨ This is a better Iate
Ior Klee`s Angel. This is where I conclude my discussion because the evocation oI a benevolent
agency, pure and unIettered by identity, is beautiIul.
Fig. 2: The Angel oI History
Agency Unshackíed 19
Althusseur, L. 'Ideology and Ideological State Apparatuses,¨ in Lenin and Philosophy.
Bantham, G. & Blake, C., Eds. (2000). Evil Spirits: Nihilism and the Fate oI
Modernity.Manchester: Angelaki. Chapter 2, Kierkegaards Writing Machines, by Joanna
Hodge, and Chapter 12, The Contemporarv Citv of Angels, by Graham Ward.
Baudrillard, J. (1983). 'The Ecstacy oI Communication.' In, Anti-Aesthetic: EssaysOn
Postmodern Culture. Port Townsend, WA: Bay Press.
Benedict, A. (2006). Imagined Communities. London, Verso. Ch. 9: The Angel oI History.
Bourdiue, P. (1972). Outline oI a Theory oI Practice. Pp. 1-29.
Butler, J. (1990). Gender Trouble. New York: Routledge.
Durkehim, E. (1999). Excerpts Irom Division of Labor, Suicide, and Elementarv Forms of the
Religious Life in Charles Lemert, ed. Social Theory. Boulder, CO: Westview Press.
Foucault, M. (1990; 1978). The History oI Sexuality, Vol. 1. New York: Vintage.
Green, E. and Adam, A., Eds. (2001). Virtual Gender. London: Routledge. Ch. 1, Women and
the Internet, by Anne Scott, Lesley Semmens and Lynette Willoughby, pps. 3-27.
Haraway, D. (1991). 'A Cyborg ManiIesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the
Late Twentieth Century,¨ in Simians, Cvborgs and Women. The Reinvention of Nature (New
York; Routledge), pp.149-181.
Haraway, D.J. (1997).
Modest¸Witness¸Second¸Millenium.FemaleMan©¸Meets¸OncoMouse¹:Feminism and
Technoscience. New York: Routledge.
Irigaray, L. (1993). An Ethics oI Sexual DiIIerence. Chapters 1 & 2, Sexual Difference and
Sorcerer Love, pps. 5-33.
Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social. OxIord: OxIord University Press. Introduction,
pps. 1-20, and 'Third Source oI Uncrtainty: Objects too Have Agency, pps. 63-86.
Marx, K. 'The German Ideology.¨
Morgan, D. & Ansell, K., Eds. (2000). Nihilism Now! Monsters oI Energy. New York: St.
Martin`s Press. Ch. 11, Artaud and the Importance of Being Rude, by Catherine Dale, pps.
Agency Unshackíed 20
Nicholson, L., Ed. (1995). Feminist Contentions. New York: Routledge. Chapter 1, Feminism
and Postmodernism by Seyla Benhabib, and Chapter 2, Contingent Foundations, by Judith
Rose, N. (1999). Powers oI Freedom. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
Tarde, G. (1888). The Logical Laws of Immitation. Reprinted Irom The Laws oI Imitation,
New York: Henry Holt, 1903, pps. 140-185.
Weber, M. (1982). Selections Irom Economy and Society, Vols. 1 & 2 and General Economic
History. In Anthony Giddens and David Held, eds. Classes, Power and ConIlict. Berkeley, CA:
University oI CaliIornia Press.
Althusser`s essay on ISA`s taken Irom B. Brewster, ed. Lenin and Philosophv (London: New
LeIt Books, 1971, pp. 127-186; New York: Monthly Review Press, 1978; and several reprintings
subsequently). The page numbers here reIer to the Monthly Review edition.
Agency Unshackíed 21

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