Bruno Latour's Reassembling the Social Summary

Instructor: Emily Cummins
In this lesson, we'll go over the major components of the French Philosopher, Bruno Latour's book 'Reassembling the Social'. We'll talk about how he understands the interaction between human and non-human actors.

Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour is a French philosopher best known for his work in science and technology studies. He is considered an interdisciplinary scholar and is well known to sociologists, anthropologists, and other social scientists.

One of his best-known works is a book called 'Reassembling the Social'. In this lesson, we'll go over some of the major arguments from this book.

What is the Social?

We probably think we know what the word social means, but Latour is using this in a very specific sense. Let's talk a little bit about what he means by this word before we get further into a summary of the book.

Latour wrote this book as a critique of the way that social scientists use the word social. He argues that sociologists conceive of the social as something that already exists. He suggests that we have taken this category for granted, assuming it's an established entity or something that is predetermined.

Latour disagrees with this. He believes the social is something that must be formed or forged. He suggests that the social is something we can study and urges social scientists to ask questions about how exactly, the social comes to be. So how does that happen? According to Latour, the social happens via networks. Let's talk about that now.

Actor-Network-Theory

The major part of 'Reassembling the Social' is Latour's concept of Actor Network Theory (ANT). This is a theory that Latour developed along with some of his colleagues. At its core, ANT is really about how people and objects come together to create the social, which consists of things like culture and knowledge.

Latour was very concerned with understanding how people and technologies or other objects interact. He wanted to know how networks of humans and technologies form. In Latour's formulation, everything can be an actor. So, people, machines, animals, books -- you get the idea. So, the network part of this equation is the assemblage of people and things. Latour calls this associations. Associations of people and objects form networks.

In this framework, these people and objects associate with one another, and it is through this that we create different kinds of knowledge about our world. Latour thinks that different individuals, objects, and institutions are fighting to create different kinds of knowledge. Every actor in the network wants their knowledge, for example, some kind of scientific knowledge, to be accepted.

Latour uses the example of a scientific laboratory to help us understand what he means. So, the scientists inside the lab interact with equipment, like microscopes, with each other, and with outside competition like other labs, to create knowledge. All of these objects come together to form associations.

Technologies, like the computer or device you're using to read this lecture, are not neutral. They take on meaning after a series of associations, or encounters, with one another, like equipment in the lab.

Technologies like the computer are not neutral
computer, social, Latour

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