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

By Bruno Latour | Go to book overview

First Move: Localizing the
Global

The first corrective move looks simple enough: we have to lay continuous connections leading from one local interaction to the other places, times, and agencies through which a local site is made to do something. This means that we have to follow the path indicated by the process of delegation or translation explained in Part I. As we have also learned in the preceding pages, this deployment might take the shape of a network on the condition that every transport be paid in transformations, that is, if we make sure to pave the whole way from one site to the next not with intermediaries but with full-blown mediators. If we do this, we will render visible the long chains of actors linking sites to one another without missing a single step. It might be empirically hard but we should not expect major theoretical hurdles.

Unfortunately, this would mean counting without the risk of confusing one track with another that has the same departure point—let’s get away from local interactions—but not the same end point because that one goes to Context, Structure, and Framework. Depending on which path we follow, the plot ends very differently. Either Little Red Riding Hood will be able to reach grandma’s house, or else she will be kidnapped in the forest. How can one plod along safely from one mediator to the next without being swallowed whole by the Wolf of Context? A ploy has to be found to make the two social theories diverge, letting the sociology of the social go its own way while the sociology of associations should be able to keep drawing more and more accurate road maps.

It does not require a deep understanding of topology to realize that the two don’t only differ by their end point, but also by the type of deformation they permit: when you put some local site ‘inside’ a larger framework, you are forced to jump. There is now a yawning break between what encloses and what is enclosed, between the more local and the more global. What would happen if we forbade any breaking or tearing and allowed only bending, stretching, and squeezing?

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