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Notes on Latour

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University of Toronto Scarborough
Alejandro Paz

LatourThe 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 dont 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 reskilled. 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 character 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 the door. 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 actors. 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
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