Tag Archives: Latour

Dumit – Is It Me or My Brain?

Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts

by Joseph Dumit

[Dumit, Joseph. 2003. “Is It Me or My Brain? Depression and Neuroscientific Facts.” Journal of Medical Humanities 24 (1–2): 35–47.]


  • Wittgenstein says that there are certain points about which we no longer ask for an explanation or a test of its truth, and explanations come to an end:
    • “Giving grounds, however justifying the evidence, comes to an end; —but the end is not certain propositions’ striking us immediately as true, i.e. it is not a kind of seeing on our part; it is our acting” (On Certainty, p. 204) (39).
  • We might call the set of acts that concerns our brains and our bodies deriving from received-facts of science and medicine the objective-self”
    •  The objective- self consists of our taken-for-granted notions, theories, and tendencies regarding human bodies, brains, and kinds considered as objective, referential, extrinsic, and objects of science and medicine. That we “know”we have a brain and that the brain is necessary for our self is one aspect of our objective-self” (39).
  • “Furthermore, objective-selves are not finished but incomplete and in process. With received-facts we fashion and refashion our objective-selves.
    • Thus it is we come to know our bodies as endangered by poisons like saccharine, our brains as having a “reading circuit,” and humans as being either mentally ill or sane or borderline.
    • I call this “objective-self fashioning” to highlight our own activity in encountering “received-facts.”
    • I emphasize “received-facts” rather than just “facts”to highlight the activity of translation that has taken place in order for the results of a scientific or medical project to reach us.
      • Each of these movements of facts from one media to another is also necessarily a transformation of the fact. Science studies scholars Bruno Latour and Michel Callon call this process “translation,” a term connoting both movement and change in meaning. We all know that a fact established in a lab is not known immediately by everyone, everywhere. It must travel through specific channels” (39).
  • “Each of the aspects of our objective-selves has this personal history (of coming-to-know via received-facts) and also a social history. (39-40)
    • “Some human kinds that we are starting to take for granted, e.g., depressives, require attending to broader social and institutional forces in order to understand how it is that we look to the brain for an answer” (40).
    • “These social histories enable and constrain science at every level of fact conception, experimentation, publication, and dissemination and reception, but this does not imply that science is culture. Science produces facts in spite of and because of these constraints—laboriously, continuously, and creatively” (40).
    • “And we fashion our objective-selves with the fruit of this labor in the form of received-facts in our own continuous and often creative manner, no matter how skeptical we are. This way of living with and through scientific facts is our form of life” (40).


  • Examining sufferers of mental illness pints Dumit to a type of selfhood he wants to “a pharmaceutical self whose scale is one of days and weeks.
    • Contrary to a Heideggerian phenomenology in which one is passively thrown into moods, here one’s abnormal neurochemistry actively throws one into depression or mania. Sometimes one can respond to this by taking drugs that, days or weeks later, throw you into yet a third state—not normal, but better.”
  • This pharmaceutical Self brings forth “three critical aspects of objective-self fashioning for our purposes.”
    • First, there is a tremendous flexibility and openness of explanation of the objective-self”
      • Even in the face of specific received-facts about ourselves such as brain images, there is room for negotiation and redefinition. Sociologists and anthropologists of psychology have called this the “pandemonium” of folk psychology. But they also note that even as we can play with mind and brain, motivation and behavior, we also ultimately must satisfy local common sense” (44).
    • “The second aspect … is the need for a nuanced, complex cultural, historical and institutional as well as scientific or biomedical understanding of context.
      • Objective-self fashioning is an ongoing process of social accounting to oneself and others in particular situations in which received-facts function as particularly powerful resources because they bear the objective authority of science” (44).
    • “The third critical aspect of objective-self fashioning is the fundamental connection between the brain as objective-self and one’s own personal identity.
      • When genes are invoked as the cause of one’s objective-self and aspects of one’s personality they can become synecdoche for one’s identity. If one has a gene for depression, one can fear becoming depressed.”
      •  “We can note here that brain images further confuse the part with the whole—even though brain images only show a slice of the brain, they show the slice as representing the whole brain, which in turn is the person” (44).
  • “Individual sufferers are trying to both understand their illness and live with it. These are activities that are not necessarily compatible. Using the notion of the pharmaceutical self, I would suggest that they have entered into a relationship with their brain that is negotiated and social” (46).



objective-self—our taken-for-granted notions, theories, and tendencies regarding human bodies, brains, and kinds considered as objective, referential, extrinsic, and objects of science and medicine (39)

objective-self fashioning—”an ongoing process of social accounting to oneself and others in particular situations in which received-facts function as particularly powerful resources because they bear the objective authority of science” (44)

identification— borrowed from psychology and semiotics, “we can characterize our relationship to culture as identification.In Kenneth Burke’s definition, identification includes the “ways in which we spontaneously, intuitively, even unconsciously persuade ourselves” (Burke, 1966, p. 301)” (36)



This article considers the roles played by brain images (e.g., from PET scans) in mass media as experienced by people suffering from mental illness, and as used by scientists and activist groups in demonstrating a biological basis for mental illness. Examining the rhetorical presentation of images in magazines and books, the article describes the persuasive power that brain images have in altering the understanding people have of their own body—their “objective self.” Analyzing first-person accounts of encounters with brain images, it argues that people come to understand themselves as having neurotransmitter imbalances that are the cause of their illnesses via received facts and images of the brain, but that this understand- ing is incomplete and in tension with the sense that they are their brain. The article concludes by querying the emergence of a “pharmaceutical self,” in which one experiences one’s brain as if on drugs, as a new form of objective self-fashioning.”

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Kohn—How Forests Think

How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human

by Eduardo Kohn

[Kohn, Eduardo. 2013. How Forests Think: Toward an Anthropology Beyond the Human. Berkeley: University of California Press.]


“How other kinds of beings see us matters. Th at other kinds of beings see us changes things. If jaguars also represent us—in ways that can matter vitally to us—then anthropology cannot limit itself just to exploring how people from different societies might happen to represent them as doing so” (1).

“This book is an attempt to ponder the Sphinx’s riddle by attending ethnographically to a series of Amazonian other-than-human encounters. Attending to our relations with those beings that exist in some way beyond the human forces us to question our tidy answers about the human. Th e goal here is neither to do away with the human nor to reinscribe it but to open it. In rethinking the human we must also rethink the kind of anthropology that would be adequate to this task. Sociocultural anthropology in its various forms as it is practiced today takes those attributes that are distinctive to humans—language, culture, society, and history—and uses them to fashion the tools to understand humans. In this process the analytical object becomes isomorphic with the analytics. As a result we are not able to see the myriad ways in which people are connected to a broader world of life, or how this fundamental connection changes what it might mean to be human. And this is why expanding ethnography to reach beyond the human is so important. An ethnographic focus not just on humans or only on animals but also on how humans and animals relate breaks open the circular closure that otherwise confines us when we seek to understand the distinctively human by means of that which is distinctive to humans” (6).

“I seek to contribute to these posthuman critiques of the ways in which we have treated humans as exceptional—and thus as fundamentally separate from the rest of the world—by developing a more robust analytic for understanding human relations to nonhuman beings. I do so by refl ecting on what it might mean to say that forests think. I do so, that is, by working out the connection between representational processes (which form the basis for all thought) and living ones as this is revealed through ethno-graphic attention to that which lies beyond the human. I use the insights thus gained to rethink our assumptions about the nature of representation, and I then explore how this rethinking changes our anthropological concepts. I call this approach an “anthropology beyond the human” (7).

“But symbols, those kinds of signs that are based on convention (like the English word dog), which are distinctively human representational forms, and whose properties make human language possible, actually emerge from and relate to other modalities of representation. In Peirce’s terminology these other modalities (in broad terms) are either “iconic” (involving signs that share likenesses with the things they represent) or “indexical” (involving signs that are in some way affected by or otherwise correlated with those things they represent). In addition to being symbolic creatures we humans share these other semiotic modalities with the rest of nonhuman biological life (Deacon 1997) … though signs may be extralinguistic (with the consequence that language can be treated as something more than symbolic) the contexts that make them meaningful are human sociocultural ones” (8).

“Life is constitutively semiotic” (9).

“This way of understanding semiosis can help us move beyond a dualistic approach to anthropology, in which humans are portrayed as separate from the worlds they represent, toward a monistic one, in which how humans represent jaguars and how jaguars represent humans can be understood as integral, though not interchangeable, parts of a single, open-ended story” (9).

“In sum, an anthropology beyond the human is perforce an ontological one. That is, taking nonhumans seriously makes it impossible to confine our anthropological inquiries to an epistemological concern for how it is that humans, at some particular time or in some particular place, go about making sense of them. As an ontological endeavor this kind of anthropology places us in a special position to rethink the sorts of concepts we use and to develop new ones. In Marilyn Strathern’s words, it aims “to create the conditions for new thoughts” (1988: 20)” (10).

“My argument is that we are colonized by certain ways of thinking about relationality. We can only imagine the ways in which selves and thoughts might form associations through our assumptions about the forms of associations that structure human language. And then, in ways that often go unnoticed, we project these assumptions onto nonhumans. Without realizing it we attribute to nonhumans properties that are our own, and then, to compound this, we narcissistically ask them to provide us with corrective reflections of ourselves … Forests are good to think because they themselves think. Forests think. I want to take this seriously, and I want to ask, What are the implications of this claim for our understandings of what it means to be human in a world that extends beyond us?” (21-22).

“Signs don’t come from the mind. Rather, it is the other way around. What we call mind, or self, is a product of semiosis. Th at “somebody,” human or non-human, who takes the crashing palm to be significant is a “self that is just com-ing into life in the fl ow of time” (CP 5.421) by virtue of the ways in which she comes to be a locus—however ephemeral—for the “interpretance” of this sign and many others like it. In fact, Peirce coined the cumbersome term interpretant to avoid the “homunculus fallacy” (see Deacon 2012: 48) of seeing a self as a sort of black box (a little person inside us, a homunculus) who would be the interpreter of those signs but not herself the product of those signs. Selves, human or nonhuman, simple or complex, are outcomes of semiosis as well as the starting points for new sign interpretation whose outcome will be a future self. They are waypoints in a semiotic process” (34).

“We need to provincialize language because we conflate representation with language and this conflation finds its way into our theory. We universalize this distinctive human propensity by first assuming that all representation is some-thing human and then by supposing that all representation has language like properties” (39).

“To summarize: signs are not exclusively human affairs. All living beings sign. We humans are therefore at home with the multitude of semiotic life. Our exceptional status is not the walled compound we thought we once inhabited. An anthropology that focuses on the relations we humans have with nonhuman beings forces us to step beyond the human. In the process it makes what we’ve taken to be the human condition—namely, the paradoxical, and “provincialized,” fact that our nature is to live immersed in the “unnatural” worlds we construct—appear a little strange. Learning how to appreciate this is an important goal of an anthropology beyond the human” (42).

“Thinking with images, as I do here with the Sphinx’s riddle, and as I do throughout this book, with all kinds of images—be they oneiric, aural, anecdotal, mythic, or even photographic (there are other stories being “told” here without words)—and learning to attend to the ways in which these images amplify, and thus render apparent, something about the human via that which lies beyond the human, is, as I’ve been arguing, also a way of opening ourselves to the distinctive iconic logics of how the forest’s thoughts might think their ways through us. How Forests Think aims to think like forests: in images” (222).

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Gershon & Manning—Language and Media

Language and Media

by Ilana Gershon and Paul Manning

[Gershon, Ilana, and Paul Manning. 2014. “Language and Media.” In The Cambridge Handbook of Linguistic Anthropology, edited by N.J. Enfeild, Paul Kockelman, and Jack Sidnell, 559–76. Cambridge University Press.]


examines media in terms of the materiality of the medium and how that affects mediated communication

in three parts:

  1. Materiality of the Medium
    • Bauman’s entextualization basically makes an utterance material:
      • “because it is “the process by which a text is bound and made available for circulation in other contexts … serving to “objectify it as a discrete textual unit that can be referred to, described, named, displayed, cited and otherwise treated as an object” (Bauman 2004: 4, emphasis added)” (561).
      • So—in turning to materiality “one can begin to focus on some aspects of entextualization as a process in which the ways in which a text is a material form is integral to how a text can be separated from its context and integrated into other contexts” (561).
      • thus, in the process of decontextualization and recontextualization, the slight variations of the text that cause intertextual gaps are often the direct result of a material change in medium—like a printout of a document with hyperlinks, for instance
    • Goffman’s participant framework views the materiality of media as such:
      • instead of simply a ‘speaker’ and a ‘hearer,’ Goffman breaks the message down into the
        • Principal—“someone whose position is established by the words that are spoken”
        • author—“someone who has selected the sentiments that are being expressed and the words in which they are encoded”
        • animator—“the talking machine, the body engaged in acoustic activity” (1981:144).
        • figure—not always present (a role which we argue usually complements the animator, namely the character animated by the animator
      • in this framework, “the medium will influence who can be the author of a statement, how many people can be the author, as well as who is likely to be considered the author” (564).
      • This is based partially on the affordances given by the medium
        • Through the use (trial) of the medium new uses emerge
    • “the material structure of a technology often becomes a resource for people on the ground to analyze communication itself, which in turn influences, but does not predict, how people communicate. A communication technology is not only a medium, but is also a technology that people find good to think with” (567).
      • “Every medium provides a rich supply of metaphors for analyzing unmediated communication, and in doing so, every technology also offers new ways of thinking about what it means to be human” (567).
  2. Mediation as Absence of Presence: Presence and Telepresence
    • “spoken language is aligned with the immediacy of co-present interlocutors engaging in the prototypical, indeed primordial, form of spoken language, face-to-face conversation”
    • whereas—“mediation” comes to denote what is lost when situated conversation is removed from the multi-channel indexical moorings of the face-to-face context” (568).
      • In other words—”immediacy here is once again about materiality: about the range of material channels (and associated richness of indexicality and evidential possibilities for mutual monitoring) available in face-to-face conversation. Conversations that are “mediated,” then, would be those that show a reduction of this plenitude of materiality glossed by “presence” or“situation” (568).
      • many researchers find the binarization of social and mediated/technological/etc. helpful, as they can use the social face-to-face as a baseline for communication
        • personally, I don’t understand why f-t-f  gets privileged here.
    • this opposed situation can recursively hybridized into Ito and Okabe’s “augmented ‘flesh meet'”:
      • “a face-to-face social situation that is bracketed on both sides, and sometimes permeated throughout, by telephone-mediated technosocial situations …”
      • instead of being mutually disruptive (as when one receives a cellphone call in the middle of some other social situation), or “disjunctive,” instead become “contiguous,” parts of a larger technosocial gathering” (569).
    • SO—instead of a loss of presence,‘ mediation can form new styles of telepresence, as well as affordances of “new genres of presence in public which mediate relations to urban space and infrastructures, making them analytically useful in the way their use makes the often invisible domain of urban infrastructure powerfully present and visible for mobile technology users” (570).
  3. Media, Intermediaries, and Mediators
    • speech is not only realyed over space through technological mediation (telepresence) but can also be relayed through humans themselves in ‘mediational performances
      • This involves speech passed from one person to another along a spectrum, “so that the whole routine cannot be analyzed as separate dialogs but as one synthetic dialog including both a “source dialog” and a “target dialog” (571).
      • like Occupy’s human megaphone
    • according to Latour (2005:39), there is a difference (in this sitch) between:
      • intermediary—”what transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs. For all practical purposes, an intermediary can be taken as a black box, but also a black box counting for one, even if it is internally made up of many parts …”
      • mediator—cannot be counted as just one; they might count for one, for nothing, for several, or for infinity. Their input is never a good predictor of their output … Mediators transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry” (571).
    • this system of intermediaries draws attention to the way we can “establish a symmetry between human and non-human mediation: delegation”
      • Delegation involves, essentially, the question of whether a task or competence will be assigned to a human or non-human actant.”
      • Figuration is the related ontological question of whether the actant to which the task is delegated is viewed as a human (anthropomorphism) or a non-human (technomorphism) (Latour 1988, Akrich 1992)” (572 bullets added).


  • “When linguistic anthropologists have focused on the intersection of language and media, they often found it useful to assume a fundamental distinction at play—be it a distinction between mediated and unmediated or situated and unsituated. “
  • “choosing to think about the contrast in terms of mediation and absence led to productive explorations of how a“community of time and space” (Goffman 1983: 2) often presupposes certain interactive aspects (such as immediacy) that participants must compensate for when not present. Analyses of media fromthis perspective explore what aspects of co-present communication a particular medium occludes or amplifies, affecting how people will communicate. Choosing, by contrast, to analyze conversations in terms of situatedness led to other, equally productive, investigations of how the social and the technical are co-constructed.”
  • “In both cases, analysts could figure out what was significant precisely because they were using co-presence as an analytical baseline. As we have shown, these two epistemological choices set the terms for much of the subsequent intellectual explorations of how language and media intertwine, and how materiality plays a part.”

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Young—The Harmony of Illusions

The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

by Allan Young

[Young, Allan. 1997. The Harmony of Illusions: Inventing Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Princeton University Press.]


  • Young argues that the concept of traumatic memory, which is seen by some as having roots hundreds of years ago, is actually quite a recent invention
  • He argues that: “this generally accepted picture of PTSD, and the traumatic memory that underlies it, is mistaken. The disorder is not timeless, nor does it possess an intrinsic unity. Rather, it is glued together by the practices, technologies, and narratives with which it is diagnosed, studied,treated, and represented and by the various interests, institutions, and moral arguments that mobilized these efforts and resources” (5).

He does not deny that the suffering accompanying a PTSD diagnosis is not real:

  • “My job as an ethnographer of PTSD is not to deny its reality but to explain how it and its traumatic memory have been made real, to describe the mechanisms through which these phenomena penetrate people’s life worlds, acquire facticity, and shape the self-knowledge of patients, clinicians, and researchers” (5-6).

The book is broken into threes sections:

  1. an historical overview of trauma theories up to the beginning of WWI
    • Erichsen—”railway spine” in the 1860s—to deal with railway insurance
      • fear is the body’s memory of pain—memories come form physical stimulus, not images or words
      • So the traumatic event itself causes the continued anxiety
    • Janet & Freud
      • Repression and dissociation—horrible buried memory
      • The memory of the trauma (rather than the event) is the cause of the anxiety
    • Rivers, WWI & “shell shock”
      • Although seen by many scholars as the precursor to PTSD, Rivers is “observing that, in most cases, it is not the traumatic memory that produces the physical and emotional symptoms of the war neuroses (anxiety disorder) but rather the reverse: the symptoms account for the memory” (83).
  2. The DSM III revolution
    • 1940s pre and post WWII war neuroses
      • Kardiner—The Traumatic Neuroses of War, based on post WWI studies from the 1920s
      • Grinker & Spiegel—War Neuroses, based on field studies during WWII
      • no matching diagnostic categories between the two, so the War Department makes one…
    • The DSMs
      • DSM I—1952, nomenclature not universal, listed on spectrum from “Mental Illness, to Mental Health”
      • DSM II—1968, better, but still involved “neuroses”
      • DSM III—1980, built from scratch on completely positivist basis, that is, it was all descriptive, some critiqued this “cook book approach … making mental disorder equivalent to their aggregate of their symptomatic parts” (100).
    • PTSD
      • in DSM III, a person “gas experienced an event that is outside the range of usual human experience and that would be markedly distressing to almost anyone (124).
      • system worked like this:
        1. first order feature (PTSD) is defined by
        2. second order feature (an event outside the range of usual human experience),
        3. but then what is the third order (usual human experience)? Unlike the anecdotal research of Rivers, Freud, or Kardiner, the DSM relies on analogical comparison, which has no bounds.
    • so throughout all this time:
      • “What counts as a reasonable question, a satisfactory answer, a significant difference, an anomalous finding, or even an outcome—the criteria for each of these changed during this period. What did not change was the belief in the solidity of scientific facts and the conviction that psychiatry’s facts, being scientific, are essentially timeless” (9).
  3. PTSD in Practice
    • This section is based off of fieldwork in a U.S. Veterans Administration unit for the diagnosis and treatment of Viet Nam veterans suffering from PTSD in 1986-87
    • There is a long section that includes case studies of four different Vietnam War veterans being considered for PTSD diagnosis.
      • The four men all present psychometric and standardized diagnostic results consistent with a PTSD diagnosis
      • The case studies consist of transcripts of narratives from the men, which are significantly different
      • Following the narratives, transcripts of meetings between professionals at the center show how they rationalize these differences back into the requisite parameters using the open ended language of the DSM designation
    • the centers espouse an ideology of PTSD that allows the patients to talk about their own experiences using specific terminology that feeds back into the center, and back into the diagnosis.
      • The seventh chapter has a lot of group therapy transcripts where you can see this happening.

In the end, the book basically shows how the social creation and maintenance of PTSD (like Scott with blindness) can work in the process of creating a “kind” of people (like Hacking with MPD).

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Shapin & Schaffer—Leviathan and the Air-Pump

Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life

by Steven Shapin & Simon Schaffer

[Shapin, Steven, and Simon Schaffer. 1985. Leviathan and the Air-Pump: Hobbes, Boyle, and the Experimental Life. Princeton, N.J: Princeton University Press.]


  • To interrogate questions like “Why is it that we do experiments to determine “matters of fact?” S&S look to the controversy surrounding the first laboratory experiments=Robert Boyle’s air-pump experiment (and Hobbes’s critiques of them)
    • by approaching the topic like a “stranger”—even though we have come to see controlled experiments as creators of scientific fact, S&S ask what someone at the time would think of the controversy, avoiding presentism
  • Very basically:
    • Boyle wants to “see the house of natural philosophy in order by remedying its divisions and by with­drawing it from contentious links with civic philosophy” (21). In other words, our society is jacked-up, but we can make it so that science (natural philosophy) is not so jacked-up. How? Controlled laboratory experiments!
    • Hobbes disagreed, saying that “order was only to be ensured by erecting a demonstrative philosophy that allowed no boundaries between the natural, the human, and the social, and which allowed for no dissent within it” (21). In other words, what is true is true in all aspects and you can’t just carve one facet of that truth out.
    • In other other words: “Robert Boyle maintained that proper natural philosophical knowl­edge should be generated through experiment and that the foun­dations of such knowledge were to be constituted by experimentally produced matters of fact. Thomas Hobbes disagreed. In Hobbes’s view Boyle’s procedures could never yield the degree of certainty requisite in any enterprise worthy of being called philosophical” (22).


  • Boyle (S&S argue) used three technologies in his experiments
    1. material technology—the air-pump itself and its use in experimentation
    2. literary technology—descriptions of the apparatus, the experiments, and the laboratory space as well as the findings of the experiments published and disseminated to the public at large
    3. social technology—the idea of “witnessing” (see below).

witnessing – three ways to multiply it

  1. make it public—use a laboratory
    • “The space where these machines worked—the nascent laboratory—was to be a public space, but a restricted public space, as critics like Hobbes were soon to point out. The phenomena were not on show anywhere at all. The laboratory was, therefore, a disciplined space, where experimental, discursive, and social practices were collectively controlled by competent members” (39).
  2. make it replicable—so others can witness it by doing the same thing elsewhere
    • This was more of a theoretical aim than a realistic one. The cost pf air-pumps, their rarity, and their different designs made direct replication almost impossible.
    • Not to mention the fact that Boyles’s air-pump leaked—something that Hobbes talked about. A lot.
  3. “virtual witnessing”—write it down in detail, and readers will witness it in their imagination
    • This could possibly reach and infinite number of witnesses, but it depends completely on the reader trusting the account, which feeds back into Hobbes’s critique of the laboratory: the people involved had to be beyond reproach, so only members of exclusive social and professional circles (The Royal Society) could contribute. They got to actually witness, so countless others could virtually witness.
    • “first, the witnessing experience had to be made acces­sible; second, witnesses had to be reliable and their testimony had to be creditable. The first condition worked to open up experi­mental space, while the second acted to restrict entry” (336).

Conclusion—scientific “matters of fact” are actually political creations

  • “There are three senses in which we want to say that the history of science occupies the same terrain as the history of politics. First, scientific practitioners have created, selected, and maintained a polity within which they operate and make their intellectual prod­uct; second, the intellectual product made within that polity has become an element in political activity in the state; third, there is a conditional relationship between the nature of the polity occupied by scientific intellectuals and the nature of the wider polity” (332).
  • By the end S&S have shown “(1) that the solution to the problem of knowledge is political; it is predicated upon laying down rules and conventions of relations between men in the intellectual polity; (2) that the knowledge thus produced and authenticated becomes an element in political action in the wider polity; it is impossible that we should come to under­ stand the nature of political action in the state without referring to the products of the intellectual polity; (3) that the contest among alternative forms of life and their characteristic forms of intellectual product depends upon the political success of the various candi­dates in insinuating themselves into the activities of other institu­tions and other interest groups. He who has the most, and the most powerful, allies wins” (342).

Or more briefly said:

  • “As we come to recognize the conventional and artifactual status of our forms of knowing, we put ourselves in a position to realize that it is ourselves and not reality that is responsible for what we know. Knowledge, as much as the state, is the product of human actions” (344).
    • Even Boyle—who championed scientific experimentation and the ideals of natural fact divorced from all societal influence—could only prove his point through the use of social structures and media dissemination, erasing any pretense of nature’s ability to stand alone.
    • “Hobbes was right” (344).


Leviathan and the Air-Pump examines the conflicts over the value and propriety of experimental methods between two major seventeenth-century thinkers: Thomas Hobbes, author of the political treatise Leviathan and vehement critic of systematic experimentation in natural philosophy, and Robert Boyle, mechanical philosopher and owner of the newly invented air-pump. The issues at stake in their disputes ranged from the physical integrity of the air-pump to the intellectual integrity of the knowledge it might yield. Both Boyle and Hobbes were looking for ways of establishing knowledge that did not decay into ad hominem attacks and political division. Boyle proposed the experiment as cure. He argued that facts should be manufactured by machines like the air-pump so that gentlemen could witness the experiments and produce knowledge that everyone agreed on. Hobbes, by contrast, looked for natural law and viewed experiments as the artificial, unreliable products of an exclusive guild. The new approaches taken in Leviathan and the Air-Pump have been enormously influential on historical studies of science. Shapin and Schaffer found a moment of scientific revolution and showed how key scientific givens—facts, interpretations, experiment, truth—were fundamental to a new political order. Shapin and Schaffer were also innovative in their ethnographic approach. Attempting to understand the work habits, rituals, and social structures of a remote, unfamiliar group, they argued that politics were tied up in what scientists did, rather than what they said. Steven Shapin and Simon Schaffer use the confrontation between Hobbes and Boyle as a way of understanding what was at stake in the early history of scientific experimentation. They describe the protagonists’ divergent views of natural knowledge, and situate the Hobbes-Boyle disputes within contemporary debates over the role of intellectuals in public life and the problems of social order and assent in Restoration England. In a new introduction, the authors describe how science and its social context were understood when this book was first published, and how the study of the history of science has changed since then.

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Cool—The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic

The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic: Making an Ethnography of Networked Social Media Speak to Challenges of the Posthuman

by Jennifer Cool

[Cool, Jennifer. 2012. “The Mutual Co-Construction of Online and Onground in Cyborganic.” In Human No More: Digital Subjectivities, Unhuman Subjects, and the End of Anthropology, edited by Neil L. Whitehead and Michael Wesch, 11–32. Boulder: University Press of Colorado.]


  • based on 10 years of participant observation with Cyborganic, a “group of San Francisco web geeks who combined online and face-to-face interaction in a conscious project to build community “on both sides of the screen”’ (11).
  • Finds that Cyborganic’s activities both online and onground (offline) are mutually co-constructed—
    • builds on the idea of colocation—several entities concurrently in the same place
    • using programs that reference a user’s emplacement onground users “display [their] presence across media” (20). She calls this “presence casting.
    • in that way, the users’ online and onground presences co-construct in a symbiotic relationship
  • Includes a detailed discussion of Katherine Hayles and the posthuman.

Great definition of media from Lisa Gitelman—”socially realized structures of communication, where structures include both technological forms and their associated protocols, and where communication is a cultural practice, a ritualized colocation of different people on the same mental map, sharing or engaged with popular ontologies of representation” (Always Already New, 2006, pg 7)

Cyborganic Onground

Cyborganic Online

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Mosco—The Digital Sublime

The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace

by Vincent Mosco

[Mosco, Vincent. 2005. The Digital Sublime: Myth, Power, and Cyberspace. MIT Press.]


  • “computers and the world of what came to be called cyberspace embody and drive important myths about our time. Powered by computer communication, we would,according to the myths, experience an epochal transformation in human experience that would transcend time (the end of history), space (the end of geography), and power (the end of politics)” (2-3).
  • “it is when technologies such as the telephone and the computer cease to be sublime icons of mythology and enter the prosaic world of banality—when they lose their role as sources of utopian visions—that they become important forces for social and economic change” (6).
  • “cyberspace is a mythic space, one that transcends the banal, day-to-day worlds of time, space, and politics to match the “naked truth” of reason with the “dancing truth” of ritual, song, and storytelling (Lozano 1992: 213). Indeed,cyberspace is a central force in the growth of three of the central myths of our time, each linked in the vision of an end point: the end of history, the end of geography, and the end of politics” (13).
  • “the real power of new technologies does not appear during their mythic period, when they are hailed for their ability to bring world peace, renew communities, or end scarcity, history, geography, or politics; rather, their social impact is greatest when technologies become banal—when they literally (as in the case of electricity) or figuratively withdraw into the woodwork” (19).

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