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The Life Inside/The Left-Hand Side

The Body Multiple: Ontology in Medical Practice by Annemarie Mol


Review by: Malcolm Ashmore
Social Studies of Science, Vol. 35, No. 5, Scientific Collaboration (Oct., 2005), pp. 827-830
Published by: Sage Publications, Ltd.
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SISIS
REVIEW
The Life Inside/The Left-Hand
Malcolm

Side

Ashmore

Annemarie
(Durham,

Mol,
NC:

The Body Multiple:


Duke
University

l50.00/$74.95
(hbk), ?16.96/
?45.95/
0-82232-902-6
(hbk), 0-82232-917-4

in Medical
Practice
Ontology
224
Press,
pp.,
2002),
17.50/$21.95
(pbk). ISBN
(pbk).

to people
in science
is1 a very good book. It is multiply
interesting:
to
to
in the
and ethnographers,
studies,
philosophers
anybody interested
It is rich and multi-layered.
social sciences of medicine.
Beautifully writ
ten. Unusually
well-made
Press was
(as amaterial
object; Duke University
a sound choice). Buy it and read it; think about it; then use it and cite it

This

in it.
and read it again. Above all, take pleasure
In an ideal world,
in which reviewing a text was simply and common
sensically a matter of 'giving one's opinion' as a guide and recommenda
tion for those who currently do not know the text, that would be it; job
in this
done. But of course,
that is not the main
function of reviewing
'scientific' context (for a comprehensive
analysis of the functions of scien
tific reviews, see Restrepo Forero
[2003]). And anyway, it would be quite
are
if
there
readers
of this journal, and hence this review,
many
surprising
of The Body Multiple.
Arthur Frank,
in his
who are currently unaware
review in the American Journal of Sociology (no less),
complimentary
'Awards
committees
should take notice of this major con
that
suggested
tribution' (Frank, 2003: 534). They have: the book won the 2004 Ludwik

highly

of the Society for Social Studies of Science


(thereby providing
an 'Author meets Critics'
session at the Society's Paris con
as well as the British
of
Association's
Sociology
ference)
Sociological
function of this
Health
and Illness Book Prize, 2004. The commonsense
particular review is thus very likely to be redundant. You already know this
book. You have already been told, officially, that it is good. At any rate, I am
Fleck

Mol

Prize

with

going to proceed on that assumption.


is a relatively lowly task in the academic division of
Book reviewing
labours. Not too many British academics will (hope to) include one in their
Exercise returns. (I haven't written one in years.) The
Research Assessment
Social
?

SSS

ISSN
www.

2005) 827-830
of Science 35/5(October
and SAGE Publications
(London, Thousand
0306-3127
DOI:
10.1177/0306312705056053

Studies

sagepublications.

Oaks

CA, New

Delhi)

com

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828

Social

Studies

of Science

35/5

of the practice: you get the book, and you get a 'proper' (that is,
reason for reading it; the best result of which is that you read
instrumental)
itmore thoroughly
than is often the case with academic writing that tends
to be mined for quotes and cites. The cons of reviewing are its low status as
an activity and its character (more often than not) as a chore, undertaken

pros

for some vague collegiate reason, rather than for any intrinsic pleasure.
I am happy to report that the task I have undertaken
here has
Thus,
- so
involved two linked pleasures:
the reading of a very fine book
fine, in
fact, that I had already bought and started it well before I was asked to
review it - and this writing, particularly
the argument you will find in the
footnote
which
is, of course, my small and relatively unaccomplished
to achieve a Mollian
of my
double-text
within
the constraints
attempt
and
this
journal's
fading imagination
typesetting capabilities.
Note
1. The

Moi's
she has been working
text, which
story of Annemarie
up for
such as Marc
(together with collaborators
Berg
[Berg & Mol,
1998] and John
Law
is a novel account
of ontology;
of, that is, the practices
[Law & Mol,
2002]),
involved
in the making
It is novel
in two senses: first, multiplicity:
of 'this is' assertions.
main

some

theoretical

time

not existence
but existences;
singular,
plural; not 'This'
no-thing
every-thing
from Marilyn
Or, inMoi's
unrevolutionary)
(surprisingly
phrase, borrowed
'more than one, but less than many'
(and here a wag of a weblogger
quips,
be ... two?' [Spinuzzi,
this fit of moderation,
I suspect that
2004]). Despite
the news of
these' ('This are these'?) will be the gist, the takeaway message,

but

'These'.

Strathern,
'That would
'This

is

the main

doubled
text, produced
part of this appropriately
serif-fonted)
(first, top-of-the-page,
in the Netherlands
narrative
of her ethnography
of hospital Z, somewhere
through Moi's
- or
of disease' (p. 151); the disease
of
rather, as she insists, her 'ethnography
atherosclerosis.
of Moi's
'ontic turn' consists
in what
it turns away from,
and
second novelty
to replace; namely,
in philosophy
the centrality
of epistemology
and science
as the sociology
of scientific
studies.
Instead of concerning
ourselves,
knowledge
(SSK)
used to do, with how knowledge
is achieved,
and lost, and destroyed,
and maintained,
The

wishes

instead we will

on that
like the actors in the settings we examine,
focus our attention,
on what
is the object of their attention,
the focus of their practices:
'it' is, on its
or characters.
And what,
inMoi's
ontic character,
links these novelties?
account,
as opposed
to representation.
Practice.
Intervention
What
folks do, not what they 'think'

which

(though
[Edwards,
Pickering,

in and as the practices


of discourse
too, is, in practice,
only analysable
new idea (Hacking,
in itself is not a particularly
1983;
1997]). Which
enacted via Moi's
1992; Turner,
1994), though here it is pretty thoroughly

thought,

term, 'enactment'.
preferred
link ontological
and the rejection
of epistemology?
So how does 'practice'
multiplicity
...
not
is
in
the
of
This way (among possible
order
others):
given
things
'ontology
or allowed
to wither
into being,
away, in
instead, ontologies are brought
sustained,
two things here: the
sociomaterial
(p. 6, top). Note
day-to-day
practices'
this account
of the bringing
into being of ontologies,
and my account,
similarity between
in the gloss,
of SSK; and the hiding of epistemic
above, of the concerns
activity
'brought
or allowed
to wither
into being,
sustained,
away'. Is there such a thing as 'ontic practice',
of, and distinct from,
clearly thinks there is:
independent
'epistemic
practice'? Mol
common,

are the third step 'of the social sciences


in the field of medicine',
she writes,
the first is the analysis of illness as patients'
is the analysis
lived reality, the second
of medical
the world Mol
of perspectival
discourse, in which we enter a world
meaning;
... [by]
now invites us to leave with her third step, which
takes us 'into disease
"itself"

ontics,
where

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Review:

The

Ashmore:

Life

Inside/The

Left-Hand

829

Side

events. If we take this step, "disease"


becomes
materialities,
practicalities,
is done in practice'
(pp. 12-13,
top).
a matter
for Mol,
is a term of art in professional
of
'Epistemology',
philosophy:
- or at
of correspondence,
of normativity.
But this image is irrelevant
representation,
retro - in contemporary
science
studies
least, seriously
inquiry, as I am sure she is well
aware. The
actor
of SSK and its successors
programme
(social) constructivist
including
has made
it so. But then Mol
is a
network
and its successors
theory (ANT)
foregrounding
a part of what

in a philosophy
and it is an oddity of this book to
(she works
department);
of science
is
and how directly,
old-fashioned,
pre-SSK
philosophy
no doubt, Mol's
even
to this audience,
addressed.
And
is startling,
approach

philosopher
notice how
being

often,

seem that Mol


Even within
it can sometimes
STS,
shocking.
(along with fellow spirits
is leading an incipient movement.
As Ronlyn Duncan
such as John Law)
reports being
it seemed, was pass?'
is the fundamental
issue. Epistemology,
told, 'ontology
(Duncan,
2004:
17).
is most
here is another odd thing: it is the 'top text' which
(Parenthetically,
to philosophers.
The
addressed
two-columned,
secondary,
bottom-of-the-page,
now I come to think of it, is one of the reasons
is not. Which,
serif'd, narrative

strongly
sans
that I

on the page as a
and more
of the two. Positioned
successful,
interesting,
to
this text is wholly
concerned
with another practice:
that of'relating
running footnote,
a text of mine
and not only because
the literature'. And I find it quite wonderful
[I
mean
ours -Ashmore
et al., 1989] is related to for all the right reasons
[pp. 161-64,
I think
its style. It is a matter,
and I share this view with Ronald
bottom]
including
defeat and instantiation
of that most boring of
of its simultaneous
[2004]
Frankenberg
of breathing
life into this corpse
is
the literature review. The
achievement
genres,
it the more

find

in itself.)
I do not wish

remarkable

as opposed to ontics. Rather,


to endorse
in the spirit of
epistemics
as a further
can be understood
I want to suggest that Mol's
the Both/And,
approach
move
the modernist
in the dynamics
of unmasking
that has always characterized
project
on a distinction
between
the 'standard
of knowledge.
of sociology
SSK was founded
But

view'

of science

1979). This
uncontentious

beloved

dichotomy
versus

of normative
has

several

controversial;

of SSK

philosophy
names: normal
ready-made

and

its own

versus

'new view'

(Mulkay,
cold versus

hot;
The classic texts
in-the-making.
the right-hand
side of the dichotomy
revolutionary;

versus

1985; Latour,
1987) opened up
(Collins,
to examination
of current controversy,
and uncertainty
for the first time: the excitement
in the lab and in the world;
these became
labour of fact-making
the hard and difficult
in STS. And the left-hand
side of
relevant work
the object of epistemically
and remained
- as
if it really was as lifeless
the founding
division was left for dead (and for philosophy)
asserted.
and static and finished as the SSK critical mythology

inMol's
is neither novel nor uncertain.
Nothing
ethnography
that
contested. Yet Mol
shows beautifully
its reality and truth are anywhere
to medical
its appearance,
1993) despite
(a fact) is still an epistopic
(Lynch,
and finished
and so, so, dull!
and many
STS practitioners
alike, of being black-boxed
to show that the assumption
of stability
contribution:
This
then isMol's major
(of
Atherosclerosis

suggests
a disease

coldness)
'finished'.
and

that

in 'finished
The

inclusion

action
continues.

it now appears,
is inappropriate.
Nothing,
not stop; the epistemic
labour of coordination,
the trope of 'more than one
This I think is what

science'
does

is really
distribution
and

less than

to. And
otherwise
this too explains Mol's
is most
puzzling
many'
pointing
interestingly
to the concerns
after all, this
and conceptions
of professional
attention
philosophers:
side had hitherto
always been theirs.
territory of the left-hand
it seems less than
and that of her followers,
occasional
rhetoric,
as the instantiation
of
of a brand new programme
of The Body Multiple
I suggest,
to replace the tired old routines
of Epistemics.
and destined
Ontics,
designed
move
inside a mere
the life hiding
of uncovering
classic ethnographic
instead, that Mol's
is an important
(if ironic) renewal of the
here, the object of settled science
object
is that branch of our mutual
of SSK. So let us see it like this: epistemics
dynamic
Despite Mol's
to conceive
useful

own

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830

Social

enterprise
ontics has
Peace,

that deals with


as its object
then?

the hot

the (not

side of science, with novelty


side of (un)finished,

so) cold

Studies

of Science

35/5

and controversy,
while
science.

(un)settled

References
& Trevor Pinch
and Efficiency: A
Michael
Malcolm,
(1989) Health
Mulkay
Bucks.: Open University
(Milton Keynes,
Press).
Sociology
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Mol
inMedicine:
Practices,
(eds) (1998) Differences
Unravelling
Berg, Marc & Annemarie
and Bodies
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(Durham, NC: Duke University
Techniques,

Ashmore,

in Scientific Practice
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and Induction
(1985) Changing
& Beverly H?ls,
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'Science Narratives',
EASSTReview
(2004)
23(2):
Ronlyn

H.M.

Collins,

(London
Duncan,

Derek
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(London, Thousand
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Delhi:
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and Illness Book Prize Winner,
(2004) Sociology
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.Accessed
at < www.britsoc.co.uk>
12
Available
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Association.
2004.

December

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Hacking,
Natural
Science

Representing

and Intervening:

Introductory

Topics

in the Philosophy

of

Press).
University
(Cambridge:
Cambridge
MA: Harvard University
Bruno
Latour,
Press).
(1987) Science in Action
(Cambridge,
Practices
Mol
Social Studies ofKnowledge
Law, John & Annemarie
(eds) (2002) Complexities:

Duke University
Press).
and Social
(1993) Scientific Practice and Ordinary Action: Ethnomethodology
& NewYork:
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(Cambridge
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Michael
(1979) Science and the Sociology
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IL: University
of
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(ed.) (1992) Science as Practice and Culture
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NC:

(Durham,
Michael

Chicago

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Fields of Study,
Olga
(2003) On Writing Review Articles and Constructing
of Sociology,
of York.
D.Phil
dissertation,
University
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the eyes of texas
clay spinuzzi's website:
Clay (2004)
'reading: the body multiple',
Spinuzzi,
are upon you. Available
at <http://babbage2.cwrl.utexas.edu/~spinuzzi/spinuzzi_
= node/view/200044
> .Accessed
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2004.
drupal/?q
and
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(1994) The Social Theory of Practices: Tradition, Tacit Knowledge,
Stephen
Restrepo

Forero,

Unpublished

Presuppositions

(Chicago,

IL: University

of Chicago

Press).

Ashmore
is author of The Reflexive Thesis (University of Chicago
Press, 1989) and co-author of Health and Efficiency (Open University Press,
1989). Interested in the sociodiscursive analysis of science and expertise, he
is currently researching the false/recovered
memory controversy, the
and the
visuality of text, the ironies of document authentication,
of
love.
knowledges

Malcolm

Department of Social Sciences, Loughborough


University,
Leicestershire LE11 3TU, UK; fax: +44 1509 223944;
Loughborough,

Address:

M.T.Ashmore@lboro.ac.uk

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