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Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies) [Paperback]

Bruno Latour
3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
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Book Description

25 Oct 2007 0199256055 978-0199256051 New Ed
Reassembling the Social is a fundamental challenge from one of the world's leading social theorists to how we understand society and the 'social'.

Bruno Latour's contention is that the word 'social', as used by Social Scientists, has become laden with assumptions to the point where it has become misnomer. When the adjective is applied to a phenomenon, it is used to indicate a stablilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that in due course may be used to account for another phenomenon. But Latour also finds the word used as if it described a type of material, in a comparable way to an adjective such as 'wooden' or 'steely'. Rather than simply indicating what is already assembled together, it is now used in a way that makes assumptions about the nature of what is assembled. It has become a word that designates two distinct things: a process of assembling; and a type of material, distinct from others.

Latour shows why 'the social' cannot be thought of as a kind of material or domain, and disputes attempts to provide a 'social explanations' of other states of affairs. While these attempts have been productive (and probably necessary) in the past, the very success of the social sciences mean that they are largely no longer so. At the present stage it is no longer possible to inspect the precise constituents entering the social domain.

Latour returns to the original meaning of 'the social' to redefine the notion, and allow it to trace connections again. It will then be possible to resume the traditional goal of the social sciences, but using more refined tools. Drawing on his extensive work examining the 'assemblages' of nature, Latour finds it necessary to scrutinize thoroughly the exact content of what is assembled under the umbrella of Society.

This approach, a 'sociology of associations', has become known as Actor-Network-Theory, and this book is an essential introduction both for those seeking to understand Actor-Network Theory, or the ideas of one of its most influential proponents.

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Product details

  • Paperback: 312 pages
  • Publisher: OUP Oxford; New Ed edition (25 Oct 2007)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0199256055
  • ISBN-13: 978-0199256051
  • Product Dimensions: 23.4 x 15.7 x 1.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 3.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (4 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 77,228 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

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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Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews
33 of 38 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Latour de force 13 Dec 2007
By Reader
Format:Paperback
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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12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars 'Introduction' to Actor Network Theory? 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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12 of 17 people found the following review helpful
2.0 out of 5 stars Retelling the social 5 Jun 2011
Format:Paperback
This is a quite readable book in the context of its topic area. It is not a book I personally like although I think it is widely read.

The key problem of the book is its tendency to largely ignore swathes of existing mainstream sociology (particularly American). Many of the gaps or problematizations Bruno identifies with our orthodoxy are questionable given my (more sympathetic) reading of the mainstream sociology. Some of the claims he makes to justify his ANT approach are simply false. Consequently, I would recommend PhD students not to read ANT extensively as a basis for their understanding of the field -- lest they reinvent the wheel. Rather, ANT can be a source of inspiration (particularly the empirical stories). ANT is not sufficient due to its inability to build knowledge that accumulates over existing knowledge, unless you work in some weird academic context enamoured by ANT and largely ignorant of the 'lamestream scholarship'.

Many of Bruno's insights, I feel personally, are just rhetoric tricks where the old is said in a new way. Of course the new way of saying things 'reveals' or 'highlights' aspects we might otherwise miss but from a more analytical perspective the insights tend to often be not much else but footnotes to the existing understanding. Well, in all honestly there are not many scholars who can do even that. He bravely seeks to reinvent a field. It is an impossible project, which I guess we should admire.
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4 of 35 people found the following review helpful
1.0 out of 5 stars overuse of metaphors 9 Jan 2009
Format:Paperback
I might be wrong, but I believe that the book is translated from French into English. To me, it is a badly translated/written book, I find myself trying very hard to understand. The excessive use of metaphors have the opposite effect, render the content even harder to comprehend.
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Most Helpful Customer Reviews on Amazon.com (beta)
Amazon.com: 4.4 out of 5 stars  10 reviews
39 of 45 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Latour de force 13 Dec 2007
By Reader - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
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 guide or handbook 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.
40 of 47 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The Clearest ANT 18 Feb 2006
By young blaze - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Hardcover
Perhaps it has a lot to do with the book being written in English (or at least it appears to have been, there is no translator listed), but this is by far the most lucid thing I've read by Latour. In a way it's a radical break, he finally embraces his troubled intellectual child Actor Network Theory, stops expecting its meaning to magically emerge from the context and sets forth exploring what it actually is and how it can work.
21 of 24 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars another model for a non-Durkheimeian sociology 22 Aug 2008
By ingonyama - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
This is a book which deserves a wide reading in the social sciences for its brazen and determined effort to deeply problematize the notion of the "social."

At the same time, as I read the first few chapters, I had a sense of deja vu. The program Latour is putting forth--at least initially-- appears not so different from that of Fredrik Barth -- not Barth's early transactionalist stuff, but his later work on the anthropology of knowledge. Specifically,

Barth, F.
1992 Towards greater naturalism in conceptualizing societies. In Conceptualizing Society. Kuper, A., eds. Pp. 17--33. : Routledge.

and

Barth, F.
1993 Balinese worlds. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

put forth a very similar approach to the "social." Barth himself is a great admirer of Latour (see his praise for Laboratory Life and Science in Action in his 2002 piece in Current Anthropology) but Latour--at least here--doesn't seem to be reading Barth....

Latour is also taking great pains to distance himself from Bourdieu's reflexive sociology, and from critics who would label ANT as postmodernist. Highly recommended if you're interested in this sort of thing.
12 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars ANT for dummies. Which would be us all. 26 April 2011
By MHunter - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Simply the best introduction to ANT available. Latour's prose seems effortlessly easy here; the concepts are accessible, the insights stark, and the organization lucid. In its first section you will find the presentation of the case which motivates the use of ANT so compelling that you may begin to wonder how, and why, other approaches can properly be called sociology. There is a charming, funny, and helpful middle section in which Latour writes in dialog. A testament to the degree with which one can engage this work: not a single one of its 262 pages in my text avoided some highlighting, underlining, or maringal notes. Since many readers will be familiar with "We Have Never Been Modern" it is important to note that "Reassembling the Social" is altogether more focused. Its target is smaller, so this is no mystery. But here you find a concrete and practical account of how to treat objects and actors in an appropriately relative way, so as to render them both full participants in stabilizing the social. Put short, a masterwork.
1 of 1 people found the following review helpful
3.0 out of 5 stars "Introduction" ANT it is not. 26 Mar 2014
By Pandora - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback|Verified Purchase
The audience for this book seems to be one of two groups: People already familiar with ANT and theorists. In this sense the title is misleading. Those looking for a more clear introduction to the concept and method are likely to be frustrated and see themselves in the dialog offered in the middle of the book. I often found myself asking how I could actually use this with little answers.

That said, its commentary on the state of sociology, and in particular its call to ask us to slow down and reconsider the things we take for granted is a noble effort. However, it is one made only more frustrating by its lack of practicality. I would recommend it to any sociologists, but with some slight hesitation as I think it benefits those who are much more interested and well versed in theory than the title would imply.
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