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Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) Hardcover – 1 Aug 2005


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Product details

  • Hardcover: 312 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford (1 Aug. 2005)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199256047
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199256044
  • Product Dimensions: 23.6 x 2.8 x 15.7 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.5 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (6 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 1,140,725 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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This book makes ANT accessible and therefore a great resource for any student wishing to learn the language and ways of ANT. (Gabrielle Durepos)

Book Description

Bruno Latour was awarded the Holberg International Memorial Prize in 2013

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34 of 39 people found the following review helpful By Reader on 13 Dec. 2007
Format: Paperback Verified Purchase
This book is a "paradoxical" endeavour on a number of counts, and I'm drawing here on the Greek etymology of the word meaning `beyond received opinion.' While on the surface it purports to be an introduction to a particular research methodology--presumably for the benefit of social science PhD students--appealing to common sense, at the same time it is also a philosophical tour de force, engaging with metaphysical and ontological issues of the highest order.

It is quite possible to read it in a few days, as it is written in a colourful style peppered with amusing metaphors and examples, but it is more likely that a number of reads are required to fully experience what this book has to offer (unless you are an ANT enthusiast already). In the end it is a thought experiment and it will either work for you or it won't. You will either come away hating actor-network-theory for the rest of your life or you will have a conversion experience and you will never be able to look at baboons and the map of the London Underground quite the same way again.

In many ways this book reminds me of Heidegger's Being and Time, but the differences might be more important than the similarities. For one Latour completes the book as promised in the introduction, in contrast to Heidegger. But also Latour is a lot more specific and optimistic about the outcomes of his `deconstruction' of traditional sociology, as opposed to Heidegger's pessimistic and rather vague conclusions stemming from his destruction of traditional metaphysics.

In this sense Latour's Reassembling the Social is not so much an introduction to a theory as a handbook or guide to practical living. However the practical or empirical metaphysics he proposes for (re)assembling a better world is far from being a quick-fix solution: it asks for a tireless, on-going effort to collect and rearrange the world, morsel by morsel, just like an ant.
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13 of 15 people found the following review helpful By T. J. H. Marshall on 18 Mar. 2010
Format: Paperback
In short, this book is a fantastic summary of the theoretical aspects of Actor Network Theory and should be an indispensable companion for anyone looking to situate Actor Network Theory in a theoretical context. This is a well written book, replete with the verve and élan one would associate with Bruno Latour. Despite this, it is not an easy book to read, requiring re-reading if one is to fully grasp the implications of Latour's thesis.

Given that the central problem Latour hopes to address is; `Is a science of the social possible again provided we modify what is meant by social and science?' it serves as a useful clarification of Latour's `project'. Although those familiar with his corpus will know on what side of this question he is likely to come down, it is fascinating to see how he justifies his work in relation to the history and substantive problems of social science.

The substantive content of the book is divided into two sections, the first dealing with five `uncertainties' (or theoretical problems) which Actor Network Theory reacts to and the second explores some of the moves that ANT takes in order to ameliorate the problems it has identified in non-ANT social science. Although it strikes most clearly in the sociological register, this book should also be of interest to those interested other fields, such as philosophy, literary theory and political science.

If I have one qualm with this book, it's that I'm not sure how well it serves as an introduction to ANT. Although the introductory chapter is excellent in positioning Latour's version of ANT against its competitors and reading ANT in relation to the history of social theory, the work is perhaps better described as a `theoretical clarification of ANT'.
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The answer to the headline question depends upon how familiar you are with Bruno Latour's work. I would not advise this as a point of entry (as another reviewer suggests "We Have Never Been Modern" is the easiest place to start), but it is an excellent - although frustrating - treatise on how Latour and other actor-network theorists have re-imagined the role and methods of the social sciences.

"Reassembling the Social" is a companion piece to Latour's "The Politics of Nature", also published in 2005, and is perhaps easier to understand in that prior context. But even coming to these books in that order, I swung between enrapture and teeth-gnashing ire at the circuitous way that the ANT concepts are deployed here. From Latour's perspective, this is the necessary way to frame his argument to avoid misunderstandings: I do not think most readers will agree, although this hardly means Latour is in error. The problem is that ANT is not a sociological method so much as it is a negative thesis about where social sciences fail because of a confusion between politics and science, and between facts and truth - both points being far more clearly developed in "The Politics of Nature".

While I ultimately loved this book, completing it did not eliminate my frustrations with its awkward structure. Promised that its winding journey would lead to practical standards by which to judge Latour's view of 'the social' and of 'science', in the end I fully comprehended the first but was left wanting on the second. As a philosopher whose interest was not sociological, I can live with this - but a trained sociologist is likely to be running out of hair by the time they reach the conclusion!
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