Latour—The Missing Masses
•Actor network theorists argue that the material world pushes back on people because of its physical
structure and design.
•Bruno Latour, explores how artifacts can be deliberately designed to both replace human action and
constrain and shape the actions of other humans
•He argues that even technologies that are so commonplace that we don’t even think about them can
shape the decisions we make, the effects our actions have, and the way we move through the world
•A law of the excluded middle has been built, rendering logically inconceivable as well as morally
unbearable a driver without a seat belt. Not quite
•As a more general descriptive rule, every time you want to know what a nonhuman does, simply
imagine what other humans or other nonhumans would have to do were this character not present.
This imaginary substitution exactly sizes up the role, or function, of this little character.
•only function is to open and close the door. This is called a groom or a porter (from the French word
for door), or a gatekeeper, or a janitor, or a concierge.
•A nonhuman (the hinges) plus a human (the groom) have solved the wall-hole dilemma
•In other words, when humans are displaced and deskilled, nonhumans have to be upgraded and
•An unskilled nonhuman groom thus presupposes a skilled human user. It is always a trade-off.
•To avoid this discrimination, inventors get back to their drawing board and try to imagine a nonhuman
•that will not prescribe the same rare local cultural skills to its human users
•When you write that a groom is ‘‘on strike,’’ this is only seen as a ‘‘projection,’’‘‘Where Are the
Missing Masses?’’ 159
•as they say, of a human behavior onto a nonhuman, cold, technical object, one by nature impervious to
any feeling. This is anthropomorphism, which for them is a sin akin to zoophily but much worse.
•The groom is indeed anthropomorphic, in three senses: first, it has been made by humans;second, it
substitutes for the actions of people and is a delegate that permanently occupies the position of a
human; and third, it shapes human action by prescribing back what sort of people should pass through
•we can call sociologism the claim that, given the competence, pre-inscription, and circumscription of
human users and authors, you can read out the scripts nonhuman actors have to play; and
technologism the symmetric claim that, given the competence and pre-inscription of nonhuman
actors, you can easily read out and deduce the behavior prescribed to authors and users
•The label ‘‘inhuman’’ applied to techniques simply overlooks translation mechanisms and the many
choices that exist for figuring or defiguring, personifying or abstracting, embodying or disembodying
•Depending on where we stand along this chain of delegation, we get classic moral human beings
endowed with self-respect and able to speak and obey laws, or we get stubborn and efficient machines
and mechanisms; halfway through we get the usual power of signs and symbols. (16)
•There is an inflation for delegated characters, too. After a while they weaken. In the old days it might
have been enough just to have a door for people to know how to close it (17)
•Even if it is now obvious that the missing masses of our society are to be found among the nonhuman
mechanisms, it is not clear how they get there and why they are missing from most accounts (19)
•It is not that society and social relations invade the certainty of science or the efficiency of machines.
It is that society itself is to be rethought from top to bottom once we add to it the facts and the artifacts
that make up large sections