Risk and Technological Culture: Towards a Sociology of Virulence

By Joost Van Loon | Go to book overview

3

Enrolling risks in technocultural practices

Notes on Actor Network Theory

One important lacuna in the work of Beck is the lack of embedding of the risk society thesis in the social logic that is operational in everyday practices of science and technology. His observations are general and rather abstract and do not engage in much detail the inherent ambivalence of technoscience (Clark, 1997a). One way to supplement the risk society thesis and meet this criticism would be to look what has been produced under the label of ‘Actor Network Theory’ (ANT), in particular the work of Bruno Latour. The notion of ‘actor networks’ in which humans, technologies and gods are connected in ensembles, or indeed assemblages, is a very useful approach to analysing the way in which particular truths are being established and particular facts being boxed off from further inquiry. The specific notion of enrolment, as a mode of socio-political mobilization, is central to the general argument of this book, namely that technological culture frames risks in particular ways, but cannot contain the contingencies their social and symbolic organization sets into work, as a result of which it destabilizes. Latour’s work is particularly useful to generate insights into the way in which risks may constitute a crucial ‘agent’ within the establishment of technoscience itself.

The enrolment of actors into particular networks is facilitated in terms of ‘urgency’ and ‘necessity’ when they are being mediated by a sense of risk. Risk sensibility is fundamental to the mobilization of energy and resources to ‘reveal’ and ‘contain’ risks. Risks are what John Law (1995) refers to as ‘virtual objects’ in the cultivation of technoscientific practices of risk containment. This theoretical analysis suggests that the actor networks that are engaged through risks may be extremely different in make up and form, they will have to engage with three essential practices: attributing insight, attributing meaning and attributing value. These practices however, are never merely instrumental or neutral but ‘motivated’ by particular political and ethical concerns.


Technoscience in action

The real is not one thing among others but rather gradients of resistance.

(Latour, 1988:159)

-45-

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Risk and Technological Culture: Towards a Sociology of Virulence
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Preface viii
  • Acknowledgements x
  • 1 - Introduction 1
  • Part I - Theoretical Framework 17
  • 2 - Cultivating Risks 19
  • 3 - Enrolling Risks in Technocultural Practices 45
  • 4 - Assemblages and Deviations 63
  • 5 - A Theoretical Framework 88
  • Part II - The Four Riders of the Apocalypse 103
  • 6 - Cultivating Waste 105
  • 7 - Emergent Pathogen Virulence 123
  • 8 - Cyberrisks 147
  • 9 - Race, Riots and Risk 169
  • 10 - Conclusion 185
  • References 212
  • Index 227
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