vendredi 27 décembre 2013

Gris/Grau/Grey.

Visage, Fade to Grey, 1982.

Bronski Beat, Smalltown Boy, 1984.

DAF, Der Mussolini, 1981.

Koudlam, Wave of Mutilation, 2009.


Santigold, Disparate Youth, 2013.


The Human League, Life Kills, 1980.

 
Les Surfs, T'en Vas Pas Comme Ça, 1963.

Grauzone, Eisbär, 1981.

Elvis Presley, Are You Lonesome To-Night?, 1960.

Johnny Cash, Personal Jesus, 2002. 


ASMZ, 13 Angels Standing Guard 'Round the Side of your Bed, 2000.

Reach out and touch faith.

vendredi 20 décembre 2013

Gens Ordinaires.

Klaus Kinski, Jesus Christus Erlöser, 1971.

Klaus Kinski, Jesus Christus Erlöser, 1971.

Klaus Kinski, Jesus Christus Erlöser, 1971.

Klaus Kinski, Jesus Christus Erlöser, 1971.

Les débats sur l'éducation ressemblent aux débats sur la famille, qui est un thème étroitement apparenté. La droite parle de faillite et de crise, la gauche de pluralisme et de diversité. La droite ne propose pas d'explication convaincante du problème, et encore moins de solution convaincante, mais elle a au moins le mérite de reconnaître que le problème existe : la fréquence des divorces ; l'augmentation des familles mono-parentales où la mère est seule ; l'instabilité des rapports entre individus ; les effets dévastateurs de cette instabilité sur les enfants. Pour la gauche, il s'agit là des signes salutaires d'un changement, de l'abandon de la famille nucléaire dominée par les pères au profit d'une structure familiale pluraliste dans laquelle les gens pourront choisir dans une large gamme de configurations de vie. Que l'une de ces configurations soit socialement avalisée semble non moins critiquable pour des progressistes qu'une culture commune ou un programme scolaire commun. Ils soutiennent que le passage de l'uniformité au pluralisme engendrera peut-être de la confusion mais que cette confusion est un faible prix à payer pour la liberté de choix.

Pour ceux qui sont incapables d'adopter une vision aussi optimiste des choses, ces arguments ne font que déguiser l'effondrement de la famille sous l'étiquette du progrès. De leur point de vue, la même objection vaut contre ceux qui soutiennent les tendances récentes dans l'enseignement des humanités pour le motif que "ce sont précisément les choses qui sont identifiées aujourd'hui comme des échecs dans les humanités qui signalent en réalité des transformations vivifiantes" (1).

Il est facile de montrer que la perception d'une crise culturelle par les conservateurs, qu'elle leur soient inspirée par la condition de la famille ou par l'état de l'enseignement supérieur, est souvent exagérée ou mal informée. La thèse selon laquelle le marxisme en est arrivé à dominer la vie universitaire ne saurait résister même à l'examen le plus superficiel. Si le marxisme n'est plus automatiquement suspect, c'est parce qu'il ne constitue plus la source principale des idées radicales. Comme l'observe Martin Jay, le marxisme a "tacitement cédé sa prétention à posséder un statut dominant dans le discours radical". Mais cela ne règle pas la question de savoir si c'est oui ou non "le discours radical" qui donne le ton de la vie universitaire, du moins dans les humanités. Jay relève lui-même que l'on "invoque à présent certaines discussions académiques avec une infaillibilité accablante" la "nouvelle formule magique "race-sexe-classe"". Si tel est le cas, il nous faut prêter attention à ce que disent les critiques conservateurs sur cette nouvelle forme de "discours radical". Et nous ne pouvons pas ignorer non plus ceux qui attaquent ce pseudo-radicalisme depuis une position de gauche. Avec ce que l'on pourrait appeler une infaillibilité accablante, Jay rejette dédaigneusement les critiques formulées par Jacoby contre le gauchisme universitaire dans son livre The Last Intellectuals, n'y voyant qu'une "lamentation nostaligique" sur le déclin des "intellectuels soi-disant universels, capables de parler à toute la société et au nom de toute la société". Savoir si la critique sociale demande vraiment un tel postulat d'universalité est une question importante, et j'y reviendrai dans un moment, mais la question que Jay laisse sans réponse dans son rejet désinvolte des arguments de Jacoby est la suivante : une critique sociale d'aucune sorte peut-elle se développer quand le "discours radical" de plus en plus en faveur dans les humanités est si peu en contact avec le monde extérieur à l'université ?

Roger Kimball ne s'intéresse pas particulièrement au sort de la critique sociale, mais son pamphlet contre le gauchisme universitaire, Tenured Radicals : How Politics Has Corrupted Higher Education, peut se lire avec grand profit si on s'y intéresse. Kimball est rédacteur en chef de la revue de Hilton Kramer, New Criterion, qui est à présent l'un des derniers bastions du modernisme et de la culture reconnue. Ce qui en soit suffit pour le discréditer aux yeux de ceux qui lisent principalement des publications telles que Yale French Studies, New German Critique, Critical Inquiry, Social Text et October. En ce temps du "post-moderne", du "post-humanisme", du "post-structural" et du "post-contemporain", la défense par New Criterion du modernisme littéraire - combat qui autrefois était en grande partie laissée à des intellectuels d'avant-garde identifiés à la gauche - place cette revue sans équivoque dans le camp réactionnaire. Mais quiconque lit le livre de Kimball avec un esprit ouvert reconnaîtra que bon nombre de ses observations sont exactes. En traduisant en bon anglais le "verbiage surchargé" de la déconstruction, il dégonfle ses prétentions et montre "à quel point" il "peut s'imposer à la crédulité du lecteur sans faire de concessions au sens commun". Par exemple, il montre comment Michael Fried peut torturer le tableu de Courbet La Curée pour en faire une représentation métaphorique de la castration, de la violence infligée par l'artiste à la nature; comment certains théoriciens de l'architecture "peuvent faire comme si le vrai sens de l'architecture était d'"interroger la forme", de subvertir "la logique du mur", etc., et non de construire des édifices adaptés, commodes et peut-être même beaux"; et comment les apologistes de Paul de Man, confrontés à ses articles pro-nazis du temps de guerre, peuvent réduire tout la controverse autour de de Man à un débat sur le langage.

Kimball dénonce le carriérisme qui sous-tend toute cette "intellectualisation frivole" sur l'indétermination du langage et le statut problématique de la vérité et du sujet. Apparemment indifférents au monde pratique et ordinaire tant ils tiennent à ce que le langage, l'art et même l'architecture ne renvoient qu'à eux-mêmes, ces nouveaux humanistes redeviennent très terre-à-terre quand il s'agit de leur propre progression sur l'échelle académique. Les études littéraires sont devenues auto-réferentielles dans un sens dont se gardent bien de parler ceux qui insistent sur la dimension inéluctablement auto-référentielle du langage : leur fonction principale est de constituer des réputations universitaires, de remplir les pages des publications savantes et de soutenir l'entreprise des études littéraires. Le mépris pour le grand public, présent de façon si peu ambigüe dans le travail des nouveaux théoriciens littéraires reflète la conviction, dénuée de tout fondement, de leur supériorité intellectuelle mais reflète également le fait qu'ils savent bien que nul ne décroche un poste de professeur en écrivant pour le grand public.

Puisque la nouvelle intelligentsia humaniste en place prétend combattre toutes les forces établies, pour se ranger aux côtés des minorités opprimées exclues du "canon" universitaire, il est important de bien voir la condescendance avec laquelle elle considère non seulement le public extérieur à l'université, mais aussi les minorités au nom desquelles elle feint de parler. Comme le soutient Kimball, l'affirmation que la littérature produite par des auteurs "hommes, blancs, occidentaux, avant 1900" - ce qui est à présent une formule de reproche standard - est inaccessible aux femmes, aux noirs et aux hispaniques fait preuve de peu de respect pour l'intelligence de ces groupes ou pour leurs pouvoirs d'identification par l'imagination. Ce type de pensée "sous-entend que les plus hauts chefs-d’œuvre de la civilisation sont mystérieusement tabous ou inaccessibles pour certains groupes", pour citer Kimball. La "rhétorique émancipatrice" de l'université s'avère donc "profondément exclusionnaire - on pourrait même dire raciste et sexiste" dans les postulats qui la sous-tendent. Il apparaît que les gens ordinaires - spécifiquement s'ils appartiennent au mauvais groupe ethnique ou à la mauvaise race - ne savent pas lire les classiques avec la moindre compréhension, si tant est qu'ils sachent lire quoi que ce soit. Il faut donc reconcevoir le contenu des programmes en mettant l'accent sur le cinéma, la photographie et des livres qui ne présentent pas des exigences particulières pour le lecteur - le tout au nom de la démocratisation de la culture.

Christopher Lasch, Le Pseudo-Radicalisme Universitaire in La Révolte des Élites et la Trahison de la Démocratie, Édition Flammarion, collection Champs, 2007 (1995), p.185-189.

Notes

1. Ces propos rassurants se trouvent dans un rapport daté de 1989, Speaking for the Humanities, publié par l'American Council of Learned Societies, sous la direction de George Levine, et rédigé conjointement par Peter Brooks, Jonathan Culler, Marjorie Garber, E. Ann Kaplan et Catharine R. Stimpson. Un certain nombre d'autres spécialistes y figurent comme "adhérant à la position défendue par le rapport" - citons Jules Chametzsky, Murray Krieger, Dominique LaCapra, Richard L. McCormick, Hillis Miller et Richard Vann, qui sont tous des phares dans leurs disciplines respectives.

Là où les critiques des humanités voient confusion et désordre, ces auteurs voient une "fermentation intellectuelle", un débat en profondeur et de l'innovation hardie. Rien ne vient ébranler leur optimisme décidé, ni le déclin des effectifs, ni l'excès de spécialisation, ni le jargon incompréhensible ni la subordination de l'enseignement à la recherche. Ils pensent que "l'activité trans-disciplinaire" fournira un correctif de spécialisation. La baisse des effectifs reflète "des pressions économiques" et non pas "un échec intellectuel et pédagogique". Le jargon est certes un problème mais c'est un constat sur lequel il y a généralement accord - "en tout cas chez les auteurs du présent rapport". L'enseignement et la recherche se complètent, etc. Ces auteurs ne disent mot de la plus importante de toutes les critiques dirigées contre l'enseignement littéraire : les étudiants sortent du premier cycle universitaire avec leur diplôme dans un état de profonde ignorance du monde. La possibilité qu'il puisse y avoir une bonne part de vérité dans cette critique ne semble pas les avoir effleurés. Peut-être cela ne les gêne-t-il pas.

vendredi 13 décembre 2013

Prospective Ontology.

Arie Rip, Fig.1. Time-line of actor-networks (AN) and actor-worlds (AW), 2009.

Engineers add to the furniture of the world, and thus shift its ontology - if we use the term "ontology" in a simplistic way (Rip, 2000 : 8). This "adding" is not a simple, linear activity of first making something, and making it available, which is then added to the world. There is a storng prospective element. Artefacts start as technological options, a promise of functionalities, in other words "hopeful monstrosities" (Mokyr, 1990 ; Stoelhorst, 1997). This is visible, sometimes literally, in the prototypes : these embody a prospective. When they are developed further, introduced and taken up on location, they remain unfinished. Technologies are configurations that work (Rip & Kemp, 1998), but always precariously. In a sense, in their practices technologies are unruly (Wynne, 1988).

Scenarios, embedded in the configurations, are an integral part of their working, including the prospect of a world in which they can function optimally, at first as a "fictive script" (De Laat, 1996 ; 2000). A key element of such a script is that the promises of a technological configuration can be realised only by changing the world so that it can accomodate the new technological options. Artifical fertilisers were effective only if the land they were applied to was reshaped so as to resemble the test plots, i.e., the circumstances under which they had been tried out. Atomic energy required a reorganisation of liabilities (insurance companies did not want to carry all the risk) and extensive safety measures.

In general, the configuration constucted by engineers promise functionalities, but it takes time and effort to realize them (precarioulsy). Also because the world has to adapt to their "fictive script", and need not accommodate fully. In other words, they are always prospective configurations (cf. Van Lente & Rip, 1998 on prospective structures to be filled in by agency), and remain so because they are never finished.

Why use the term "ontology"? The notion of ontology as "furniture of the world" is not very sophisticated philosophically, but it serves to introduce the topic of my article (1). It can be read as similar to the pre-Socratic idea of the "stuff" of the world, with the additional connotation that the shapes of the "stuff" will evolve. This "stuff" of the world has a prospective element, not because there are promises and "fictive scripts" being made, but because the future is already there, prefigured in the present and evolving configuration (2).

The idea of prospective ontology actually implies a general ontological point, even if I will develop it mostly in terms of technology. This general point derives from my work in actor-network theory, even if it does not depend on the details of this theory. In Callon et al. (1986) a distinction was made between existing and evolving actor-networks, i.e. assemblages of circulating "intermediaries" which add up to actors (human and non-human) but which can be decomposed again into the networks out of which they are built, and actor-worlds, the projections of future worlds, like "fictive scripts" (De Laat, 1995 ; 2000). At any one moment, the evolving "stuff" of the world is a patchwork of actor-networks. The evolution is shaped by the actor-worlds contained in them and sometimes articulated, and the responses to them in terms of circulating "intermediaries". 

At the time, we experimented with representations as in Figure 1, a timeline of actor-networks and actor-worlds.

Such a representation can be read as how strategy and planning are commonly visualized : anticipation and then feedback into action. The point, however, is that anticipations and networks are an evolving whole, changing actor-networks are de facto enactment of overlapping and contrasting actor-worlds. Still keeping close to the strategy and governance literature, I have taken this up as "anticipation-in-action" (Rip, 2006). For ontology, it implies a monistic view: the future is part of the ontology, not separate as just human projection (3). This can be brought out by emphasizing that expectations are embodied, and conversely, that the material has a narrative character (sections 2 and 3) (4).

Arie Rip, Technology as a Prospective Ontology in Synthese, vol. 168, issue 3, 2009, p.405-408.

Notes

1. The concept of "ontology" as used in information science specifies the units or elements that will make up the software world, often with the additional requirement that these units resemble the units in the real world that is to be modelled in the software. In contrast, the notion of ontology I am using here is open-ended: it need not and cannot be fully specified, its "units" will be discovered and articulated in practices. The debate on the reduction of a chemical ontology to a physics ontology or its autonomy sits in between, because it can be limited to the epistemological status of entities like molecules, as perhaps just a specification of the kind of "software" that the discipline of chemistry will use (cf. Lombardi and Labarca, 2005). Such usages of the term "ontology" are widespread. Nersessian (2006: 131) discusses the "ontology" of artefacts in a lab as its furniture, with devices, instruments and equipment. Van de Ven and Poole (2005) disucss alternative "ontological views of organizations as things and organizing as processes" (p.1377), and quote Tsoukas (2005) on two versions of the social world: "one, a world of processes in which things are reifications of processes" (p.1379). They do refer, following Reschear (1996), to a philosophical tradition of process ontologies, including Whitehead's notion of ongoing activities "prehending" what goes on in their environement (p.1378). Later, they take this up again as "temporal predispositions" (p.1391), similar to what I call embedded anticipation.
2. Cf. Dupuy and Grinbaum (2006) at p.312, about the "common but mistaken conception of the future as unreal".
3. The monims is a monism of process ontologies, e.g. Whitehead (1929) on the actual world as process, and the process is a becoming of actual entities (see) and in another vein Bergson (1911) - on the flow of the real -, and his contemporary successor Deleuze (as Wood 2002, p.157 phrases it). While both Whitehead and Bergson experience a revival (cf. Barry (2001, pp.154-155), and Callon (1999)), I want to avoid their reliance on creativity, and the idea (mainly in Whitehead) that "experience" pervades everything. Instead, I emphasize the prospective, and take technology (and landscape) as my entrance point rather than the living. In this paper, my intellectual strategy is to start (also in later sections) with commonsensical discussions of technology - and simplistic ideas of ontology - and then address further and deeper questions.
4. Conversely, narratives are material, even when they are take up as just a story. They are voiced on location, or embodied/embedded in ink on pages of text which are lay-outed, bound in a book or some other concrete package.

References

Barry, Andrew (2001), Political Machines. Governing a Technological Society, London and New York: The Athlone Press.
Bergson, Henri (1911/1983), Creative Evolution (translation Arthur Mitchell), Lanham, MD: University Press of America.
Callon, Michel, John Law and Arie Rip (1986), Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology, Basingstoke and London: Macmillan.
Callon, Michel (1999), "Whose imposture? Physicists at war with the Third Person", Social Studies of Science, 29, pp. 261-286.
De Laat, Bas, Scripts for the Future. Technology foresight, strategic evaluation and socio-technical networks: the confrontation of script-based scenarios, PhD Thesis, University of Amsterdam, 18 December 1996.
De Laat, Bas, Future Scripts, in Nik Brown, Brian Rappert and Andrew Webster (eds.), Contested Futures. A Sociology of Prospective Techno-Science, Aldershot etc: Ashgate, 2000. 
Dupuy, Jean-Pierre, and Alexei Grinbaum (2006), "Living with Uncertainty: Toward the Ongoing Normative Assessment of Nanotechnology", in Schummer and Baird (eds.), Nanotechnology Challenges, pp. 287-314. 
Lombardi, Olimpia, and Martin Labarca (2005), "The Ontological Autonomy of the Chemical World", Foundations of Chemistry, 7, 125-148.
Mokyr, Joel: The Lever of Riches, Oxford University Press, New York, 1990.
Nersessian, N.J. (2006). The cognitive-cultural systems of the research laboratory. Organization Studies, 27(1), 125–145.  
Rip, Arie, and Rene Kemp, "Technological Change", in S. Rayner and E.L. Malone (eds.) Human Choice and Climate Change, Columbus, Ohio: Battelle Press, 1998, Volume 2, Ch. 6, pp. 327-399.
Rip, Arie, "There's no turn like the empirical turn", in Peter Kroes and Anthonie Meijers (eds.) The Empirical Turn in the Philosophy of Technology, Amsterdam etc.: JAI, an imprint of Elsevier Science, 2000, 3-17.
Rip, Arie (2006), A co-evolutionary approach to reflexive governance—and its ironies. In J.-P. Voß, D. Bauknecht & R. Kemp (Eds.), Reflexive governance for sustainable development (pp. 82–100). Cheltenham, UK: Edward Elgar. 
Stoelhorst, Jan-Willem, In Search of a Dynamic Theory of the Firm. An evolutionary perspective on competition under conditions of technological change, with an application to the semi-conductor industry. University of Twente, 03-12-1997.
Tsoukas, Haridimos (2005), Complex Knowledge: Studies in organizational epistemology, Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Van de Ven, Andrew H., and Marshall Scott Poole (2005), "Alternative Approaches for Studying Organizational Change", Organization Studies, 26(5), 1377-1404.
Van Lente, Harro, and Arie Rip, "Expectations in technological developments: An example of prospective structures to be filled in by agency", in C. Disco and B.J.R. van der Meulen (eds.), Getting New Technologies Together (Berlin: Walter de Gruyter, 1998), pp. 195-220.
Whitehead, Alfred North (1929), Process and Reality, London: Macmillan.
Wood, Martin (2002), "Mind the Gap? A Processual Reconsideration of Organizational Knowledge", Organization, 9(1), 151-171.
Wynne, Brian (1998, "Unruly Technology: Practical Rules, Impractical Discourses and Public Understanding", Social Studies of Science, 18, 147-167.

vendredi 6 décembre 2013

Speculative Everything.


Dunne & Raby, A/B, 2009 (see here

Speculative Everyting began as a list we created a few years ago called A/B, a sort of manifesto. In it, we juxtaposed design as it is usually understoof with the kind of design we found ourselves doing. B was not intended to replace A but simply add another dimension, something to compare it to and facilitate discussion. Ideally, C, D, E, and many others would follow.

Anthony Dunne & Fiona Raby, Preface in Speculative Everything, MIT Press, 2013, p.vi

vendredi 29 novembre 2013

Fantasy Prototypes.


Bruce Sterling, Fantasy Prototypes and Real Disruption, 2013.

Those who live by disruption die by disruption.

vendredi 22 novembre 2013

Monarchie & République.

Affiche non attribuée, Affiche électorale pour les législative de 1986, 1986.
 
Ce que je pense du vote et du droit d’élection. Des droits de l’homme.
Ce qu’il y a de vil dans une fonction quelconque.
Un dandy ne fait rien. Vous figurez-vous un dandy parlant au peuple, excepté pour le bafouer ?
Il n’y a de gouvernement raisonnable et assuré que l’aristocratique.
Monarchie ou république, basées sur la démocratie, sont également absurdes et faibles.
Immense nausée des affiches.
Il n’existe que trois êtres respectables : le prêtre, le guerrier, le poète. Savoir, tuer et créer.
Les autres hommes sont taillables ou corvéables, faits pour l’écurie, c’est-à-dire pour exercer ce qu’on appelle des professions.

vendredi 15 novembre 2013

Concentrated Deskwork.

Martin Jaubert & Flavien Menu, A Slight Change of Angle, 2011 (see here).
 
Here is probably an apt place for some exposition on my background re: silence and concentrated deskwork. In hindsight, I know that there was something about the silent, motionless intensity with which everyone in that opened door's instant was studying the tax-related documents before them that frightened and thrilled me. The scene was such that you just knew that if you were to open the door for another brief instant ten, twenty, or forty minutes later, it would look and sound just the same. I had never seen anything like it. Or rather I had, in a way, for of course television and books often portray concentrated study or deskwork just this way, at least by implication. As in e.g. "Irving knucled down and spent the entire morning plowing through the paperwork on his desk"; "Only when she had finished the report did the executive glance at her watch and see that it was nearly midnight. She had been completely absorbed in her task and was famished. Gracious, wherever did all the time go? she thought to herself". Or even just as in "He spent the day reading". In real life, of course, concentrated deskwork doesn't go this way. I had spent massive amounts of time in libraries; I knew quite well how deskwork really was. Especially if the task at hand was dry or repetitive, or dense, or if it involved reading something that had no direct relevance to your own life and priorities, or was work that you were doing only because you had to - like for a grade, or part of a freelance assignment for pay for some lout who was off skiing. The way hard deskwork really goes is in jagged little fits and starts, brief intervals of concentration alternated with frequent trips to the men's room, the drinking fountain, the vending machine, constant visits to the pencil sharpener, phone calls you suddenly feel are imperative to make, rapt intervals of seeing what kinds of shapes you can bend a paperclip into & c. (1). This is because sitting still and concentrating on just one task for an extended length of time is, as a practical matter, impossible. If you said, "I spent the whole night at the library working on some client's sociology paper", you really meant that you'd spent between two and three hours working on it and the rest of the time fidgeting and sharpening and organizing pencils and doing skin-checks in the men's room mirror and wandering around the stacks opening volumes at random and reading about, say, Durkheim's theories of suicide.

David Foster Wallace, The Pale King, Penguin Books, 2012, p.293.

Notes

1. For me, the pencil sharpener is a big one. I like a very particular sort of vert sharp pencil and some pensil sharpeners are a great deal better than others for achieving this special shape, which then is blunted and ruined after only a sentence or two, requiring a large number of sharpened pencils all lined up in a special order of age, remaining height, & c. The upshot is that nearly everyone I knew had distracting little rituals like this, of which rituals the whole point, deep down, was that they were distracting.

vendredi 8 novembre 2013

Attachement & Detachement.

Christian Zander, n/a, 2013.

Il faudrait une histoire sociale des sciences sociales (sur l’anthropologie voir Stocking) qui reste en grande partie à écrire pour montrer le déploiement et la dynamique des solidarités. Mais celles-ci, et c’est là que le changement se trouve si changement il y a, sont maintenant revendiquées par certains sociologues. À une sociologie du dévoilement (le sociologue rend visibles des liens que les acteurs ne voient pas), succède une sociologie qu’on peut qualifier de constructiviste et qu’il serait plus juste d’appeler performative . Son ambition est de restituer et d’analyser la capacité des acteurs à construire les collectifs dans lesquels ils vivent. Aux acteurs agis par des structures, noyés dans des contextes, ballotés par des champs, mis en scène par la sociologie du dévoilement (ou de l’Auflklärung), cette deuxième forme de sociologie substitue des acteurs faisant flèches de tout bois pour constituer de nouveaux collectifs, pour se donner de façon réflexive et volontaire des environnements à leur action et pour les mettre en forme. Cette sociologie attentive aux phénomènes émergents opère en quelque sorte un transfert de compétences. Ce qui caractérisait jadis le savoir-faire du sociologue sert désormais à définir l’acteur qui se dote d’outils lui permettant de reconstituer ces trames invisibles et d’agir sur (et avec) elles. Les questions, généralement qualifiées de théoriques, que le sociologue se posait, voilà qu’on découvre que certains acteurs se les posent, et que c’est parce qu’ils se les posent que ces questions ont des réponses: celles, pratiques, inventées et sanctionnées, dans les cours de l’action elle-même. Le sociologue n’est plus celui qui fait apparaître des explications cachées. Il laisse les acteurs construire leurs identités et les négocier avec d’autres acteurs (Strathern), inventer de nouvelles formes d’organisation, s’interroger sur les conséquences attendues ou non de leurs actions, et il s’efforce de restituer les mécanismes complexes, changeants, foisonnants qui permettent aux acteurs de parvenir à leurs fins. Il participe avec ses propres outils à l’entreprise réflexive, et c’est précisément cette participation qui lui permet à la fois de produire des connaissances et de contribuer à la performation continue du social. L’homo sociologicus est devenu un hybride, à la fois acteur et sociologue.

Le choix des acteurs auxquels le sociologue s’associe est par conséquent crucial. De lui dépendent le contenu et la qualité des connaissances qu’il va produire. On dit dans l’industrie des services que la force d’une entreprise dépend désormais des compétences et de l’imagination des ses clients. La maxime s’applique à la sociologie qui ne peut faire l’économie de cette collaboration avec ceux qu’elle étudie, collaboration qui laisse aux sujets sous analyse tout l’autonomie dont ils ont besoin et qui les dote de tous les instruments d’auto-réflexivité qu’ils requièrent.

(...)

S’attacher à des acteurs pour produire avec eux la théorie de leurs pratiques émergentes, et faire proliférer, avec eux, les porte parole et les entités nouvelles, suppose, par symétrie, une volonté de détachement. 

Détachement de ces acteurs, une fois le travail de transport et de mise en politique realisé (Barthe), mais également travail de détachement d’autres acteurs qui auraient pu être candidats à cette coopération. Tous les acteurs réflexifs et émergents se valent-ils? Je dois dire que je bute sur cette question qui est à la frontière de la morale et de la politique. J’aurais tendance à répondre, et je vois évidemment la filiation avec les Lumières qu’implique ma réponse, que ce qui fait l’intérêt de la vie en société et ce qui la rend tout simplement humaine, c’est cette faculté constante qu’on les acteurs de se déprendre des liens qu’ils tissent dans leur actions, pour ouvrir de nouveaux espaces. Se detacher pour s’attacher autrement: telle me semble être la seule définition acceptable de l’action, qui sans cesser d’être dépendante des actions passées, devient moins déterminée par ces dernières. S’attacher puis se détacher, telle me semble être la seule definition possible du travail sociologique. Ce chassé-croisé définit les positions et les rôles respectifs tout en montrant les complémentarités et les solidarités entre action et analyse de l’action. Aller vers les acteurs qui se donnent pour raison d’être ce travail de détachement et d’attachement, s’attacher à eux pour faciliter le détachement, et s’en detacher quand ils sont pris dans leurs nouveaux attachements (sur les dilemmes moraux engendrés par cette double stratégie d’attachement et de détachement, voir les profondes réflexion de Moser et Law) telle me semble être la seule morale à suivre . 

La période actuelle, avec le retour en force du débat ancien sur le role des intellectuels, est sans doute une des moins favorables qui soit pour ouvrir à nouveaux frais le débat sur la place du sociologue dans la cité. Ce que j’ai essayé de montrer c’est qu’il fallait avoir le courage de se débarasser de ces notions d’un autre temps et qui ont fait leur temps. Ne plus parler d’intellectuel, spécifique ou non, collectif ou non, organique ou non, ne plus s’interroger sur les conditions de l’engagement ou du dégagement, faire son deuil de la prise de distance et de l’universalité: tel me semble être l’effort collectif que nous devons entreprendre. Tous ces mots sont impuissants pour decrire les pratiques réelles des sociologues et la contribution des sciences sociales à la performation toujours locale, toujours recommencée des collectifs hybrides dans lesquels nous vivons. 

La vision que j’ai proposée devrait nous soulager. Au lieu de nous laisser écraser par des responsabilités qui nous dépassent et qui nous accablent, au lieu d’avoir devant les yeux cette terrible interrogation, source de tant de malheurs et d’erreurs: que faire?, laissons nous guider par ces simples questions que nous avons à résoudre au jour le jour: à qui décidons-nous de nous attacher? De qui est-il temps de se detacher? Comment organisons-nous ce détachement et le transport d’un lieu à un autre? Je ne dis pas que les réponses à ces questions sont évidentes; je dis qu’elles sont tout simplement à notre portée, et que, dans les solutions que nous inventons, nous avons le droit à l’erreur sans risquer autre chose que notre propre peau.

Michel Callon, Ni intellectuel engagé, ni intellectuel dégagé : la double stratégie de l’atta­chement et du détachement in Sociologie du travail, vol. 41, 1, 1999, p.71-72 & 76-77.

vendredi 1 novembre 2013

Objet Technique.

Gilbert Simondon, Entretien sur la Mécanologie, 1968.

Jean-Yves Chateau a raison de le rappeler dans la longue introduction qui ouvre ce recueil : le souci de l’invention, chez Simondon, n’est pas une manière de dramatiser l’histoire des techniques, c’est une véritable méthode de recherche et d’analyse - mieux, un critère de ce qui est proprement technique, de ce qui fait de la technique "un ordre original de réalité" (p. 14). Aussi l’invention dans le domaine des techniques ne relève-t-elle pas à proprement parler d’une investigation psychologique "au sens habituel du terme", comme le précise Simondon (p. 332). Elle ne se confond pas avec la "créativité" de l’inventeur au travail ; elle ne peut apparaître que rétrospectivement, dans les gestes matérialisés, stabilisés en procédés, dans les objets inventés et les indices matériels de leur élaboration (schémas, prototypes, etc.). On ne lit pas à livre ouvert dans l’esprit des inventeurs : l’esprit est une boîte noire. Qu’il s’agisse du fil à couper le beurre ou de la turbine Guimbal, l’invention doit se lire dans les "traces". La psychologie de l’invention technique suppose donc une forme d’archéologie, et le sujet de l’invention, qu’il soit individuel ou collectif, laborieux ou génial, est toujours un sujet reconstruit à travers ses objets - un sujet technologique plutôt que psychologique. Ainsi la psychologie se confond finalement avec une phénoménologie des objets techniques dont les chemins ne cessent de recroiser ceux de la technologie et de l’histoire des techniques. Mais elle n’est pas séparable non plus d’une ontologie qui interroge le "mode d’existence" de l’objet technique à partir de ce qui fait proprement sa technicité (6). On objectera peut-être ici qu’à moins d’être technicien ou technologue, nous n’avons quasiment jamais affaire à des "objets techniques", mais d’emblée à des ustensiles ou à des machines dont le mode d’être n’est pas séparable de modes d’emploi ou d’usages particuliers. Il y a trois manières de répondre à cela. D’abord, l’objection concède à Simondon le point essentiel, à savoir que les objets techniques n’ont pas l’évidence qu’on leur prête habituellement. À strictement parler, nous ne savons pas ce qu’est un objet technique ; nous ignorons ce qu’il y a de spécifiquement technique dans les objets artificiels dont nous usons le plus souvent sans y penser. L’objet technique est-il d’ailleurs un objet ? Les catégories ordinaires qui nous servent à déployer les modes de l’objectivité ne nous masquent-elles pas l’essentiel ? Ensuite, au niveau fondamental où Simondon prend les choses, le point de vue de la fonctionnalité ou de l’utilité nous détourne de ce qui est proprement technique. L’objet technique n’est d’ailleurs pas nécessairement un outil ou un instrument : il peut être un ustensile, ou une machine présentant des degrés de complexité variables. Or un balai, un aspirateur, peuvent bien servir tous deux à ramasser de la poussière, cet usage commun ne les rapproche pas davantage que le fait de voisiner dans un placard. Enfin, si l’outil et l’instrument remplissent en effet une fonction médiatrice, une fonction de couplage entre un organisme et son milieu, l’essentiel pourtant n’est pas dans ce couplage et les diverses fonctions qu’il remplit : fonction de prolongement (cas de la pince à long bec), fonction de transformation (bras de levier de la pince), fonction d’isolement (pince gainée). Leroi-Gourhan, parmi d’autres, a produit des descriptions et des classifications précises des formes fondamentales de la médiation opérée par l’outil. Cependant, tout reste à faire pour ce qui est d’isoler les critères de la "technicité" et de cerner la nature de l’objet technique. Car "la fonction relationnelle n’est pas la seule : même au niveau le moins élevé, les objets techniques ont une logique interne, une auto-corrélation sans laquelle ils ne pourraient exister" (p. 91).

Elie During, Simondon au Pied du Mur in Critique, 706, 2006.

vendredi 25 octobre 2013

Legible Hive.

Joao Batista Vilanova, School of Architecture and Urbanism, Sao Paulo,  1969.

This book grew out of an intellectual detour that became so gripping that I decided to abandon my original itinerary altogether. After I made what appeared to be an ill-considered turn, the surprising new scenery and the sense that I was headed for a more satisfying destination persuaded me to change my plans. The new itinerary, I think, has a logic of its own. It might even have been a more elegant trip had I possessed the wit to conceive of it at the outset. What does seem clear to me is that the detour, although along roads that were bumpier and more circuitous than I had foreseen, has led to a more substantial place. It goes without saying that the reader might have found a more experienced guide, but the itinerary is so peculiarly off the beaten track that, if you're headed this way, you have to settle for whatever local tracker you can fin.

A word about the road not taken. Originally, I set out to understand why the state has always seemed to be the enemy of "people who move around", to put it crudely. In the context of Southeast Asia, this promised to be a fruitful way of addressing the perennial tensions between mobile, slash-and-burn hill peoples on one hand and wet-rice, valley kingdoms on the other. The question, however, transcended regional geography. Nomads and pastorialists (such as Berbers and Bedouins), hunter-gatherers, Gypsies, vagrants, homeless people, itinerants, run-away slaves, and serfs have been a thorn in the side of states. Efforts to permanently settle these mobile peoples (sedentarization) seemed to be a perennial state project - perennial, in part, because it so seldom succeeded.

The more I examined these efforts at sedentarization, the more I came to see them as a state's attempt to make a society legible, to arrange the population in ways that simplified the classic state function of taxation, conscription and prevention of rebellion. Having begun to think in these terms, I began to see legibility as a central problem of statecraft. The premodern state was, in many crucial respects, partially blind ; it knew precious little about its subjects, their wealth, their landholdings and yields, their location, their very identity. It lacked anything like a detailed "map" of its terrain and its people. It lacked, for the most part, a measure, a metric, that would allow it to "translate" what it knew into a common standard necessary for a synoptic view. As a result, its interventions were often crude and self-defeating.

It is at this point that the detour began. How did the state gradually get a handle on its subjects and their environment ? Suddenly, processes as disparate as the creation of permanent last names, the standardization of weights and measures, the establishment of cadastral surveys and population registers, the invention of freehold tenure, the standardization of language and legal discourse, the design of cities, and the organization of transportation seemed comprehensible as attempts at legibility and simplification. In each case, officials took exceptionally complex, illegible and local social practices, such as land tenure customs or naming customs, and created a standard grid whereby it could be centrally recorded and monitored.

The organization of the natural world was no exception. Agriculture is, after all, a radical reorganization and simplification of flora to suit man's goals. Whatever their other purposes, the designs of scientific forestry and agriculture and the layouts of plantations, collective farms, ujamaa villages, and strategic hamlets all seemed calculated to make the terrain, its products, and its workforce more legible - and hence manipulable - from above and from the center.

A homely analogy from beekeeping may be helpful here. In premodern times the gathering of honey was a difficult affair. Even if bees were housed in straw hives, harvesting the honey usually meant driving off the bees and often destroying the colony. The arrangement of brood chambers and honey cells followed complex patterns that varied from hive to hive - patterns that did not allow for neat extractions. The modern beehive, in constrast, is designed to solve the beekeeper's problem. With a device called a "queen excluder", it seperates the brood chambers below from the honey supplies above, preventing the queen from laying eggs above a certain level. Furthermore, the wax cells are arranged neatly in vertical frames, nine or ten to a box, which enable the easy extraction of honey, wax, and propolis. Extraction is made possible by observing "bee space" - the precise distance between the frames that the bees will leave open as passages rather than bridging the frames by building intervening honeycomb. From the beekeeper's point of view, the modern hive is an orderly, "legible" hive allowing the beekeeper to inspect the condition of the colony and the queen, judge its honey production (by weight), enlarge or contract the size of the hive by standard units, move it to a new location, and, above all, extract just enough honey (in temperature climates) to ensure that the colony will overwinter successfully.

I do not wish to push the analogy further than it will go, but much of early European statecraft seemed similarly devoted to rationalizing and standardizing what was a social hieroglyph into a legible and administratively more convenient format. The social simplifications thus introduced not only permitted a more finely tuned system of taxation and conscription but also a greatly enhanced state capacity. They made possible quite discriminating interventions of every kind, such as public-health measures, political surveillance, and relief for the poor.

These state simplifications, the basic givens of modern statecraft, were, I began to realize, rather like abridged maps. They did not successfully represent the actual activity of the society they depicted, nor were they intended to ; they represented only that slice of it that interested the official observer. They were, moreover, not just maps. Rather, they were maps that, when allied with state power, would enable much of the reality they depicted to be remade. Thus a state cadastral map created to designate taxable property-holders does not merely describe a system of land tenure ; it creates such a system through its ability to give its categories the force of law. Much of the first chapter is intended to convey how thoroughly society and the environment have been refashioned by state maps of legibility.

This view of early modern statecraft is not particularly original. Suitably modified, however, it can provide a distinctive optic through which a number of huge development fiascoes in poorer Third World nations and Eastern Europe can be usefully viewed.

But "fiasco" is too lighthearted a word for the disasters I have in mind. The Great Leap Forward in China, collectivization in Russia, and compulsory villagization in Tanzania, Mozambique, and Ethiopia are among the great human tragedies of the twentieth century, in terms of both lives lost and lives irretrievably disrupted. At a less dramatic but far more common level, the history of Third World development is littered with the debris of huge agricultural schemes and new cities (think of Brasilia and Chandigarh) that have failed their residents. It is not so difficult, alas, to understand why so many human lives have been destroyed by mobilized violence between ethnic groups, religious sects, or linguitic communities. But it is harder to grasp why so many well-intended schemes to improve the human condition have gone so tragically awry. I am, in what follows, to provide a convincing account of the logic behind the failure of some of the great utopian social engineering schemes of the twentieth century.

I shall argue that the most tragic episodes of state-initiated social engineering originate in a pernicious combination of four elements. All four are necessary for a full-fledged disaster. The first element is the administrative ordering of nature and society - the transformative state simplifications described above. By themselves, they are the unremarkable tools of modern statecraft ; they are as vital to the maintenance of our welfare and freedom as they are to the designs of a would-be modern despot. They undergird the concept of citizenship and the provision of social welfare just as they might undergird a policy of rounding up undesirable minorities.

The second element is what I call a high-modernist ideology. It is best conceived as a strong, one might even say muscle-bound, version of the self-confidence about scientific and technical progress, the expansion of production, the growing satisfaction of human needs, the mastery of nature (including human nature), and, above all, the rational design of social order commensurate with the scientific understanding of natural laws. It originated, of course, in the West, as a by-product of unprecedented progress in science and industry.

High modernism must not be confused with scientific practice. It was fundamentally, as the term "ideology" implies, a faith that borrowed, as it were, the legitimacy of science and technology. It was, accordingly, uncritical, unskeptical, and thus unscientifically optimistic about the possibilities for the comprehensive planning of human settlement and production. The carriers of high modernism tended to see rational order in remarkably visual aesthetic terms. For them, an efficient, rationally organized city, village, or farm was a city that looked regimented and orderly in a geometrical sense. The carriers of high modernism, once their plans miscarried or were thwarted, tended to retreat to what I call miniaturization : the creation of a more easily controlled micro-order in model cities, model villages, and model farms.

High modernism was about "interests" as well as faith. Its carriers, even when they were capitalist entrepreneurs, required state action to realize their plans. In most cases, they were powerful officials and heads of state. They tended to prefer certain forms of planning and social organization (such as huge dams, centralized communication and transportation hubs, large factories and farms, and grid cities), because these forms fit snugly into a high-modernist view and also answered their political interests as state officials. There was, to put it mildly, an elective affinity between high modernism and the interests of many state officials.

Like any ideology, high modernism had a particular temporal and social context. The feats of national economic mobilization of the belligerents (especially Germany) in World War I seem to mark its high tide. Not surprisingly, its most fertile social soil was to be found among planners, engineers, architects, scientists, and technicians whose skills and status it celebrated as the designers of the new order. High-modernist faith was no respecter of traditional political boundaries ; it could be found across the political spectrum from left to right but particularly among those who wanted to use state power to bring about huge, utopian changes in people's work habits, living patterns, moral conduct, and worldview. Nor was this utopian vision dangerous in and of itself. Where it animated plans in liberal parliamentary societies and where the planners therefore had to negotiate with organized citizens, it could spur reform.

Only when these first two elements are joined to a third does the combination become potentially lethal. The third element is an authoritarian state that is willing and able to use the full weight of its coercive power to bring these high-modernist designs into being. The most fertile soil for this element has typically been times of war, revolution, depression, and struggle for national liberation. In such situations, emergency conditions foster the seizure of emergency powers and frequently delegitimize the previous regime. They also tend to give rise to elites who repudiate the past and who have revolutionary designs for their people.

A fourth element is closely linked to the third : a prostrate civil society that lacks the capacity to resist these plans. War, revolution, and economic collapse often radically weaken civil society as well as make the populace more receptive to a new dispensation. Late colonial rule, with its social engineering aspirations and ability to run roughshod over popular opposition, ocasionally met thus last condition.

In sum, the legibility of a society provides the capacity for large-scale social engineering, high-modernist ideology provides the desire, the authoritarian state provides the determination to act on that desire, and an incapacitated civil society provides the leveled social terrain on which to build.

(...)

As I make clear in examining scientific farming, industrial agriculture, and capitalist markets in general, large-scale capitalims is just as much an agency of homogenization, uniformity, grids, and heroic simplifcation as the state is, with the difference being that, for capitalists, simplification must pay. A market necessarily reduces quality to quantity via the price mechanism and promotes standardization ; in markets, money talks, not people. Today, global capitalism is perhaps the most powerful force for homogenization, whereas the state may in some instances be the defender of local difference and variety. (In Enlightenment's Wake, John Gray makes a similar case for liberalism, which he regards as self-limiting because it rests on cultural and institutional capital that it is bound to undermine). The "interruption", forced by widespread strikes, of France's structural adjustments to accomodate a common European currency is perhaps a straw in the wind. Put bluntly, my bill of particulars against a certain kind of state is by no means a case for politically unfettered market coordination as urged by Friedrich Hayek and Milton Friedman. As we shall see, the conclusions that can be drawn from the failures of modern projects of social engineering are as applicable to market-driven standardization as they are to bureaucratic homogeneity.

James C. Scott, Seeing Like a State, Yale University Press, 1998, p.1-8.

vendredi 18 octobre 2013

Work & Network.

Tobias Revell, 88.7; Stories from the First Transnational Traders, 2012

Collaborative arrangements between different institutions (firm-firm, firm-public sector, government-academic, etc.) have been widely studied in the 1980s and 1990s from the disciplinary perspectives of economics, sociology, public policy, marketing and geography as well as by interdisciplinary groups. While it might be argued that linkages between institutions are always parts of networks (since very institution has many linkages), these agreements have not necessarily been studied in the context of networks. The type of linkages also varies. Some studies focus on collaborations between business firms, where there is usually a formal contract of some kind in order to establish intellectual property rights and avoid opportunist behavior on the part of the partners. Others are concerned with informal as well as formal linkages, between individuals and between organizations, and involving both the public and private sectors. An overview is given in Coombs et al. (1996).

The actor-network perspective of Callon, Latour and others at the Ecole des Mines de Paris differs from other network analyses in a number of ways. The idea of the actor-network (with a hyphen) suggests a combination of agency and structure or context, neither of which exists independently of the other. Networks cannot exist without the actors which make them up, but neither do actors exist independently of their linkages with a variety of other humans and nonhumans - the networks they create in the course of their social existence (including innovation processes), which define who they are and how they function. Emphasis is often placed on the "works" in the word "networks", suggesting the work of constructing the network that takes place when new actors are enlisted. This may be likened to a spiralling process, which widens out as the network of interests expands, like ripples on a pond. Each participant is drawn in by one or more of the others, and the commitment of one is built on that of each of the others. A variety of individuals with different interests are thus all able to realize their separate aims by the achievement of a common goal, with which all their interests become bound up. This enlistment process is called intéressement in actor-network wrtitings.

The concept of translation is particularly important in this approach. It defines the relationship between two actors or intermediaries; that is, one defines the other, thus, imputing it/him/her with certain interests, plans, desires, strategies, reflexes or afterthoughts. These are then inscribed in intermediaries. For example, if one actor is the author of a scientific paper and the other is its audience, the first actor will have defined the target audience and in writing the paper in such a way as to appeal to that audience, will have inscribed that definition on the paper, the intermediary.

A TEN is a term developed by proponents of the actor-network approach to describe the kind of organisational form resulting from links between a variety of heterogeneous actors such as university laboratories, technical research centres, financial organizations, users, public authorities and so on. The definition of Callon (1992) (p.73) is as follows.

"A techno-economic network is a coordinated set of heterogeneous actors... who participate collectively in the conception, development, production and distribution or diffusion of procedures for producing goods and services, some of which give rise to market transactions. In certain cases... the actors behave predictably, and the technology and its products evolve along lines that are relatively easy to characterize... In other cases, the actors composing TENs... develop complicated strategies, there may be a number of innovations, and these provoke unexpected rearrangements. They can seperate into smaller networks, or they can join other TENs to form more or less extensive ones".

Such organisational forms are developed to carry out cooperative research, such as that conducted within the framework of European programmes, and to gain maximum benefit from the output, though they also exist outside the framework of formal agreements or technological co-operation programs. These organised relations mobilise various types of intermediaries and coordination mechanisms embracing all elements and actors in the innovation process, not just research. Larédo and Mustar (1996) argue that the TEN is a new form of economic actor, which creates collective knowledge and skills. They call the research carried out "basic technological research". It is "basic" because a large majority of the research teams, not just academics, place a great deal of emphasis on outputs normally regarded as "academic" such as PhD theses and publications in refereed journals. It is "technological" because a majority of the teams, and not just those from industry, take part on the assumption that a new commercial product or process will (eventually) result from work. It is generally argued that TENs are organised around three "poles", though de Laat (1996) has produced a model with a fourth pole, one around government agencies and other public authorities. The three poles (Callon, 1992; OECD, 1992) are the scientific, the technical and the market poles.

As Callon sees it, in economics, it is things - intermediaries - which bring actors in relationships with each other. The intermediary passes between them and constitutes the form and substance of the relationship between them (e.g., a product passing from producer to customer). In sociology, the behaviour of actors can only be understood in the context within which they are being analysed and actors cannot be dissociated from the relationships into which they enter. Callon suggests that the viewpoints of sociologists and economists can be brought together by focusing on actors who recognise themselves in interaction, and interaction embodied in intermediaries that they themselves put into circulation.

Ken Green, Richard Hull, Andrew McMeekin & Vivien Walsh, The Construction of the Techno-economic: Networks vs. Paradigms in Research Policy, 28, 1999, p.778-779.

vendredi 11 octobre 2013

Organized Complexity.

Professor Bourbaki, Shenyang, 2009.

A few decades before Deleuze and Guattari’s conception of the rhizome, American scientist Warren Weaver was already aware of the inherent complexities of nature and the hurdles anticipated by the scientific community in deciphering them. In 1948 in an article entitled ‘Science and Complexity’, Weaver divided the history of modern science into three distinct stages: The first period, covering most of the seventeenth, eighteenth, and nineteenth centuries, encapsulated what he denominated as ‘problems of simplicity’. Most scientists during this period were fundamentally trying to understand the influence of one variable over another. The second phase, taking place during the first half of the twentieth century, involved ‘problems of disorganized complexity’. This was a period of time when researchers started conceiving systems with a substantial number of variables, but the way many of these variables interacted was thought to be random and sometimes chaotic. The last stage defined by Weaver, initiated in the second half of the twentieth century and continuing to this day, is critically shaped by ‘problems of organized complexity’. Not only have we recognized the presence of exceedingly complex systems, with a large number of variables, but we have recognized the notion that these variables are highly interconnected and interdependent.

Manuel Lima, Visual Complexity: Mapping Patterns of Information, Princeton Architectural Press, 2011, p.45.