Draft Traceability

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Notes on Association

Trevor Giles and Cinzia Cremona

An attempt at thinking through some of the ideas presented by Bruno Latour in the lecture Another European Tradition: traceability of the social and the vindication of Gabriel Tarde at the London School of Economics (LSE) in February 2008 (podcast here). The ideas seemed to resonate with the informal reasoning for a Market of Ideas (see p.xxx)


If, with Latour, we look at what is generally described as the 'social' as a process of 'association', then culture, as one of a number of connectors - religion, law, science, technology, politics, organization, fiction, etc - is performative. Culture produces associations and 'subjects in progress' (Julia Kristeva) in the act of producing itself. Rather than an entity (or something more than the sum of its parts) think of 'the social' as a composite, a collective comprised of component monads (individuals). In other words, "the whole is never bigger than the part, but is the part itself expressed in a certain intensity and connected differently" (Latour, as accurate a quote as possible). From a scientific and philosophical point of view, the 'structure' of associations is an effect of distance - a perspective. The closer we look, the more clearly we can discern the actors and mediators that transform the composite. see note 1 Moreover, Actor-Network-Theory (ANT) understands 'structure' as a verb, not as a noun, as the process is never completed - the figurations of associations remain temporary and in flux. Also, 'distance' can be "distance in time as in archeology, distance in space as in ethnology, distance in skills as in learning." (Bruno Latour, Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory 2005 p.80)

Within Critical Practice, we appreciate the value, reflected in Latour's position, of a perspective that shifts back and forth between the composite/collective and its components. "An actor is also always a network." (John Law, Notes on the Theory of Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity 1992, p.4). This is one aspect of the process of self-reflection we sought to enact within the London Festival of Europe and its approach to culture.

Culture is empowered in some sense to be whatever it does. When we enact economics and culture in relation to each other, we reflect the complexity of the reciprocal effects of economics, culture and a variety of connectors at work see note 2. This activity is not lost on economists who, according to Bruno Latour, and also Tim Harford, for various reasons tend to work with models rather than practice or evidence (empirically flawed as science). Analysing this within the field of anthropology of economics, Donald MacKenzie suggests that markets are therefore performative - made by economists through the performance of values - and thereby produce values, cultures and economics through their temporary figurations.

Differing models of economy are informed by differing values. Transposing this to culture, is it necessary to propose Ideas in an effort to influence the structure of the composite? If culture is a network of associations, of ideas in constant flux see note 3, do we as cultural practitioners (and other 'monads') experience a similar agency to that of economists? This discussion provided the background to our engagement with the London Festival of Europe and our Market of Ideas.

According to Latour, connectors are the vehicles that carry the 'truth condition' of association. see note 4 They are not external binding conditions (as sociologist Emile Durkheim thought), but composites of individual behaviour. From this point of view, we imagine our market as a composite of composites. Each stall can be quite different, with some based on activities a bit like the Value Game see note 5, through which information can be experienced directly, experimentally, without really knowing what conclusion one will come to.

On further reading Latour: "A culture is simultaneously that which makes people act, a complete abstraction created by the ethnographer's gaze, and what is generated on the spot by the constant inventiveness of members' interactions." (Reassembling the Social, p 168) In other words, 'culture', 'economy', 'the context' and 'fields' are some of those shadowy phantoms that, like the 'social' are nowhere to be seen, but are said to account for our coming together. The Market of Ideas could be seen as an experiment on how these phantoms are materialised in our associating and, at the same time, how they can be refreshed by injecting different practices into more 'traditional' activities (such as the model of a congress).


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