Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory

By Bruno Latour | Go to book overview

Fifth Source of Uncertainty:
Writing Down Risky
Accounts

This introduction to ANT begins to look like another instance of Zeno’s paradox, as if every segment was split up by a host of mediators each claiming to be taken into account. ‘We will never get there! How can we absorb so many controversies?’ Having reached this point, the temptation is great to quit in despair and to fall back on more reasonable social theories that would prove their stolid common sense by ignoring most of the sources of uncertainty I have reviewed. We could swallow one, maybe two, but not four in a row. Unfortunately, I have not found a way to speed things up: this type of science for that type of social should be as slow as the multiplicity of objections and objects it has to register in its path; it should be as costly as it is necessary to establish connections among the many mediators it finds swarming at every step; and it should be as reflexive, articulated, and idiosyncratic as the actors cooperating in its elaboration. It has to be able to register differences, to absorb multiplicity, to be remade for each new case at hand. This is why the four sources of uncertainty have to be tackled courageously all at once, each adding its set of differences to the others. If one is missing, the whole project falls apart.

But I confess the difficulty: Is it not counterproductive in the end to abandon the convenient shorthand of social explanations, to split hairs indefinitely about what is or is not a group, to trick intermediaries into behaving as mediators, to register the queerest idiosyncrasies of the humblest actors, to set up long lists of objects participating in action, and to drop the background made of solid matters of fact for the foreground of shifty matters of concern? How ridiculous is it to claim that inquirers should ‘follow the actors themselves’, when the actors to be followed swarm in all directions like a bee’s nest disturbed by a wayward child? Which actor should be chosen? Which one should be followed and for how long? And if each actor is made of

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