Saturday, January 30, 2010

Update 2

Allright, everyone--here's a quick update. Evan's finished traveling, Mike's finished doing some stuff that needed to be done, and Paul is at the ready. We'll be a little slower, probably, than last year though: everyone's got a lot of work to do, and we'll be fitting in the reading more and more in our spare time. Thanks to everyone who has commented on the blog though so far, or even seen this and thought we were up to something good--I (Mike, though I know I speak for Evan too) can't tell you how great it feels to know at least something you're doing might be helpful, intriguing, or just comment- or even note-worthy.

The next couple weeks we'll be finishing up Latour, reflecting on Latour coming out as a philosopher and moving into Harman's cases for the relevance of Latour for philosophy.

Then it's Prince of Networks. We originally were going to do the whole of Harman, and I had the sweet idea of reading Harman backwards--something I always wanted to do with an interesting thinker, as it sort of is an easy way to destabilize the increasingly arrowlike (thinking of Husserl's diagram) shape that intellectual development is perceived as taking, and blast things into constellations and regions of uneven development (which is great with Harman anyway, since he is much more honest than others about the discontinuity, the jumpstarts and lightning strikes involved in philosophic thinking, as much as he also--as I've emphasized on my own little blog--attempts to historicize his own thought and provide narratives for it). But we don't have time--we want to get to Brassier someday, so we're just going to stick with PoN, and perhaps make some references to the Harman we've already read independently.

Then we'll be jumping headlong into SR (or whatever the people involved care at this point to call this general area of work) with Meillassoux and After Finitude. Some Badiou might pop up as well.

After that, we're revisiting ANT with John Law's After Method (so many afters! you can see the pressures to push things past [post?] the post- or postal [as Derrida might quip] generation preceding [post-ceding?]).

Then we're Nihil Unbound.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Beneath contempt, beyond critique: Bourdieu on Latour

Having given a couple of posts over to Latour's critiques of Bourdieu, it's now time to do the reverse. (This actually means going backward in time, since Bourdieu's discussion of his junior took place in his final course of lectures at the Collége de France in 2001, while Latour, as far as I can tell, was mostly silent on the subject of Bourdieu until the publication of Reassembling the Social in 2005, three years after Bourdieu's death.)

Bourdieu devotes one of his last works to the sociology of science because, as he explains in a foreword, he believes that "the world of science is threatened by a serious regression." In Bourdieu's view, the historically acquired autonomy of science is being encroached upon by neoliberal political and economic forces, a state of affairs leading him to this portentuous pronouncement: "in short, science is in danger, and for that reason it is becoming dangerous" (vii). Science is thus more in need than ever of the critical reflexivity provided by the social sciences, in order to help prevent the gains in autonomy that are the legacy of the past several centuries of modernization from being pushed back or erased.

Perhaps all of this is true, perhaps not, but either way, how does science studies fit into this ominous master narrative? Sadly Bourdieu is not entirely clear on this matter (though other critical sociologists, like Steve Fuller, are ready with a number of suggestions). The rhetorical purpose of Science of Science and Reflexivity, then, like that of so many of Bourdieu's later works, is concretely political, an attack on the neoliberal establishment's erosion of the field's autonomy more than a disinterested contribution to the field itself. But he does take the opportunity to express his opinions on science studies and related trends, and those opinions — while not coherently connected to his larger point about the "danger" of the scientific field as currently constituted — are far from favorable.

The first serious invocation of Latour in the book is in the introduction, where Bourdieu borrows the rhetoric of science studies in an oddly ambiguous way: in opposing the "logicism" of philosophers of science, he writes that "[i]t seems to me to be an exemplary manifestation of the typically scholastic tendency to describe not science being done, science in the making, but science already done, a finished product from which one extracts the laws according to which it is supposedly done" (2-3). And then: "Sociologists have, to varying degrees, opened up the Pandora's box of the laboratory" (3). In the space of two pages, Bourdieu has invoked two of Latour's titles, Science in Action and Pandora's Hope (published in 1999, right before Bourdieu's lectures were delivered, though otherwise unmentioned in the text). Thus one would be forgiven for thinking, on the basis of this introduction, that Bourdieu was largely sympathetic to science studies. As we'll soon see, this is not really the case, but as long as we keep things vague we can hold on to the feeling of mutual agreement for a little longer: "The realistic and often disenchanted vision that sociologists have … formed of the realities of the scientific world has led them to put forward relativistic, even nihilistic theories which are the very opposite of the official representation. There is nothing inevitable about this conclusion, and one can, in my view, combine a realistic vision of the scientific world with a realist theory of knowledge" (3). A "realistic vision" and a "realist theory" — this is sounding an awful lot like Latour, isn't it?

But the illusion of Bourdieu's amenability to science studies is quickly dispelled by his hostile remarks on Latour in "The state of the question," his first lecture, which runs down what he considers to be the tenable positions in the sociology of science (with a little typical grousing about the perpetuation of "false problems" by those who insist on taking positions other than the three logically possible ones). These positions include a Mertonian structural-functionalism (which studies citations, "reward systems," and other purely "social" aspects of the world of science), a Kuhnian "discontinuist" history of scientific paradigms, and the "strong programme" of the Edinburgh and Bath schools. Bourdieu specifies, somewhat confusingly, that there are only "three positions" (6), and then follows his discussions of the aforementioned three with a fourth section, headed "A well-kept open secret," which considers the work of Karin Knorr-Cetina, G. Nigel Gilbert and Michael Mulkay, and Latour and Woolgar. Here Bourdieu's curious, and uncharacteristic, coyness about the status of science studies continues: does the work considered here constitute a "real" position? Does an empirical investigation of the laboratory (a methodological trend which, as far as I can tell, Bourdieu is wholly in support of) really lead to a new perspective on "science in the making," distinct from Merton's, Kuhn's and David Bloor's? If it's not even a coherent position, can it still be critiqued, or does it just have to be dismissed out of hand? Bourdieu, for once, seems hesitant, not quite comfortable doing either (although he ultimately comes a lot closer to the latter option, as we shall see). As a matter of fact, Bourdieu seems to miss a lot of the real issues surrounding the sociology of science, forgetting about realism and objects and so on and assimilating all would-be occupiers of this mysterious fourth position to the terms of his own problematic, that is, the determination of motivations:

One would therefore be tempted to ratify the — it seems to me, fairly indisputable — conclusion reached by Gilbert and Mulkay, or Peter Medawar, if it were not most often associated with a philosophy of action (and a cynical vision of practice) which is fully developed in most of the writings devoted to "laboratory life" … The simultaneously scientific and social "strategies" of the scientific habitus are envisaged and treated as conscious, not to say cynical, stratagems, oriented towards the glory of the researcher. (25)

What is that strange sensation — déjà vu, or is it irony? Bourdieu accuses Knorr-Cetina, in particular, of cynicism, using much the same terms that have been leveled at his own demonstrations of the "logic of practice." (The difference which makes the difference, for Bourdieu, is that between "conscious" and "unconscious": for Bourdieu, strategy can be used to account for individual decisions provided it is assumed to be mostly unconscious and incorporated, the product of an interaction between a habitus and a field. But from the perspective of scientific realism, of course, this distinction is pretty much moot: either we're saying that scientists' decisions are cynically motivated or they're unknowingly cynically motivated; either way we're rejecting the idea that they're motivated by the search for truth.)

But it's obvious that Bourdieu's principal target in his hedged polemic against science studies is Latour:

…I must now turn, to conclude, to a branch of the socio-philosophy of science that has developed mainly in France, but which has enjoyed some success on the campuses of English-speaking universities: I mean the works of Latour and Woolgar and, in particular, Laboratory Life, which gives an enlarged image of all the aberrations of the new sociology of science … This current is very strongly marked by the historical conditions, so that I fear I shall find it difficult to distinguish, as I have for the previous currents, the analysis of the theses in question from the analysis of their social conditions of production. (26)

In other words, Latour — and let's note, with one eye on the ambiguous remarks from the book's introduction cited above, the early Latour, the Latour of Laboratory Life — is taken as symptomatic of a historical moment. His popularity is inseparable, in Bourdieu's analysis, from trends in postmodern philosophy of the 70s and 80s (a short excursus mentions Derrida and Foucault) and their miraculous success on American and British campuses. And Bourdieu's critique — or rather, refusal to critique — of his theory is tied to his (Bourdieu's) principled disapproval of "socio-philosophy," of the liminal, interdisciplinary space that Latour occupies. (In this respect, it's very close to Bourdieu's charges against Derrida in the postscript to Distinction.)

Bourdieu later refers to "the sociology of science occupies a very special position in sociology, on the ill-defined border between sociology and philosophy, so that it is possible there to avoid a real break with philosophy and with all the social profits associated with being able to call oneself a philosopher in certain markets … Socially constituted dispositions towards audacity and facile radicalism which, in scientific fields more capable of imposing their controls and censorship, would have had to be tempered and sublimated, have found there a terrain on which they can express themselves without any mask or constraint" (31). This all points back to Bourdieu's complicated personal history with the discipline of philosophy (summarized in the 1985 interview "'Fieldwork in Philosophy'") more than it does forward to Latour and science studies, although it's undeniable that, from the strict disciplinary perspective Bourdieu ostensibly espouses, Latour is guilty of playing the philosopher to sociologists and the sociologist to philosophers.

None of it, however amounts to an actual critique of Latour, or science studies, or really anything (except maybe interdisciplinarity as an academic phenomenon). I would like to ascribe it to the pedagogical imperatives of the lecture format, or the fact that this text was composed quite late in a heroically busy working life, but in "A well-kept open secret" Bourdieu is mostly content to summarize and describe Latour's work and then sit back with an air of satisfaction, as if the enterprise were so patently absurd he doesn't even need to poke holes in it. If there is a charge, it's of semiotic bias, or "textism," based on the fact that (again, in early work like Laboratory Life and The Pasteurization of France ) Latour reduces all scientific practice and phenomena to inscriptions and texts: "The semiological vision of the world which induces them to emphasize the traces and signs leads them to that paradigmatic form of the scholastic bias, textism, which constitutes social reality as text … Science is then just a discourse or a fiction among others, but one capable of exerting a 'truth effect' produced, like all other literary effects, through textual characteristics such as the tense of verbs, the structure of utterances, modalities, etc." (28). This is not a particularly sophisticated accusation: it sounds, indeed, like nothing so much as the angry voices of reactionary anti-deconstructionists circa the early 1970s. (A little more constructively, Bourdieu also takes Latour to task for neglecting prosopography, a useful word I had to look up: it means the collective biography of historical groups or populations.) Again, Bourdieu performs a sort of drive-by execution of The Pasteurization of France, accusing it, like Knorr-Cetina's work, of advancing "a naively Machiavellian view of scientists' strategies" (28) — very odd, since it seems to me that the portrait of Pasteur in that book comes closer to glorifying him as a selfless savoir of mankind than demonizing him as a Machiavellian schemer. And, again opening up his own Pandora's box of déjà vu, Bourdieu claims that "Latour treats Pasteur as a kind of semiological entity who acts historically, and who acts as any capitalist would act" (29) — what, meaning he's motivated by a quest for acquisition of symbolic capital? Sound like anyone (or everyone) else we know?

The last shot fired across Bourdieu's bow is the weakest and least directed. Again it amounts to little more than a brisk summary — this time of "Where are the Missing Masses?" — followed by an incredulous sneer. This was particularly disappointing for me, because I really think a good-faith Bourdieuvian critique of Latour's proposal to treat nonhuman objects sociologically would be valuable, and would perhaps help supply a lot of what many critical sociologists (Fuller, for example) consider a missing normative dimension in ANT. But Bourdieu reads the essay only as an empty gesture of audacity ("He proposes to do nothing less than challenge the distinction between human agents (or forces) and non-human agents"; "the most astonishing example is that of the door and the automatic door closer…", 29 — sacre bleu!), a fake radicalism designed only to capture the academic public's attention: Latour is only, as Bourdieu puts it a little earlier, "playing on words or letting words play … mov[ing] to apparently radical propositions (calculated to make big waves, especially on American campuses dominated by the logical-positivist vision)" (26). "Radical propositions … calculated to make big waves" — isn't Bourdieu reducing Latour the same way he claims Latour reduced Pasteur? And where is the scholarly "principle of charity" that Bourdieu elsewhere invokes so piously?

Anyway, it's quite true that Latour is trying to get our attention — and why not? What remains of Bourdieu's objection to science studies if we give up the strict academic corporatism (a place for every discipline and every discipline in its place) that underpins it? Ultimately Bourdieu's remarks on science studies reflect his distrust of Latour's publicity much more than they do a real opposition to his theory. I think this is truly unfortunate, and might well have changed had Science of Science and Reflexivity not been one of its author's last works. (Bourdieu was sometimes slow to engage with intellectual trends, and quick to attack or explain them away, that later had significant impact on his thought: I believe this to be the case with feminism and psychoanalysis, for instance.) As it stands, the text of "A well-kept open secret" amounts to a decent preliminary introduction to the (early) work of science studies for those oriented toward critical sociology, but little more — certainly not a serious critique.

So I'm not even sure why Bourdieu feels he has to apologize for it, as he oddly — and again, very uncharacteristically — does in a final parenthetical postscript:

I cannot help feeling some unease at what I have just done. On the one hand, I would not want to give this work [i.e. Latour's, not sociology of science as a whole] the importance it gives itself and even risk helping to give it value by pushing the critical analysis beyond what this kind of text deserves … But, on the other hand, I have in mind a very fine article by Jane Tompkins (1988), who describes the logic of "righteous wrath," the "sentiment of supreme righteousness" of the hero of a Western who, having been "unduly victimized," may be led to "do the villains things which a short while ago only the villains did"… (30)
This meditation would be a bit more convincing if Bourdieu had just subjected Latour to a devastating critique (which of course he is capable of: I want to emphasize, for the benefit of anybody who might be reading this who's not familiar with the rest of Bourdieu's work, that this lecture is him in diminished form — he's really much more interesting and intelligent a critic when he's on top of his game, and the general Latourian/Harmanian animus against critique shouldn't lead us to forget the value of truly incisive, stringent critique). As I hope I've made clear above, Bourdieu barely touches the substance of Latour's arguments: he takes them either to be depressingly familiar (just more postmodern "textism"/deconstruction) or patently absurd (door closers! come on!). But the "unease" Bourdieu describes here gets a little more interesting as it goes on:

…And Jane Tompkins points out that this legitimate fury may lead one to feel justified in attacking not only the faults and failings of a text but the most personal properties of the person. Nor will I conceal the fact that behind the "discourse of importance" (an essential part of which is devoted to asserting the importance of the discourse — I'm referring to the analysis I made of the rhetoric of Althusser and Balibar …), its incantatory and self-legimitating formulae (one is "radical," "counterintuitive," "new"), its peremptory tone (designed to overwhelm), I was pointing to the dispositions statistically associated with a particular social origin (it is certain that dispositions toward arrogance, bluff, even imposture, the quest for the effect of radicality, etc., are not equally distributed among researchers depending on their social origin, their sex, or more precisely their sex and their social origin). (31)

Again, this is odd because Bourdieu has not attacked any of Latour's (or anyone else's) "personal properties"; he is exculpating himself from a crime he doesn't seem to have actually committed. But he quite slyly manages to commit it, at least by imputation, here: he's saying that Latour's social origin is the key explanatory factor for the development of his sociological theory, the way to account for its otherwise inexplicable "arrogance," "imposture," "radicality" and overall sense of "importance." (The citation of the article on Althusser — which I haven't read — is also interesting, as in a certain sense Bourdieu himself stands to Althusser as Latour does to Bourdieu.) This line of thinking is, of course, totally consistent with Bourdieu's own standards of what constitutes a good sociological explanation: one must always take into account the class position and disposition of agents in a given field, of course — he's been saying this tirelessly since Distinction. And while his offhand and oblique references to Latour's heritage don't amount to a full-fledged sociological analysis, of course (any more than his "sketch for a self-analysis," included at the end of the book and later published in expanded form as a volume in its own right), it does at least suggest what might emerge from a Bourdieuvian perspective on the propositions of actor-network theory, one that might, by doing more than simply dismissing and denouncing, actually constitute a real critique. Could there, for instance, be a sort of "social capital" of objects? Mightn't objects too be said to have a variety of "social origins" — some are artisanally crafted rather than mass-produced, say, or extensively safety-tested rather than rushed on to the market — which endow them with properties that function as a kind of habitus, a predetermined power to act, while the various markets in which they circulate and human uses to which they are put could be likened to fields? This is only the vaguest of gestures towards reconciling Bourdieu's conceptual vocabulary with Latour's, but my point is I think it absolutely could be done, with potentially amazing results: and it would happen only when one side or another began to really critique, rather than criticize, the other.

Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Agents —> Actors: Latour on Bourdieu Pt. 2

In my last post I talked about habitus, and about how Latour tries to refashion the concept in a less structural way: it's not a "structuring structure" any more, it's now a collection of "plug-ins" acquired (and lost or phased out) over time. While this is a Bourdieuvian concept Latour seems happy to keep, there are plenty of others he criticizes or simply jettisons: the idea of "fields," for instance, and of "capital," to name two of the most famous. There are of course large practical consequences that follow from these theoretical refusals: Latour takes the concept of habitus very far from its roots as a refinement of Althusser's "ideology" (this is my interpretation, not necessarily sanctioned by Bourdieu) and, thus, seemingly, from the political sphere. Because one of the reasons Bourdieu makes use of habitus so extensively is that he's committed to the idea of a critical sociology that can effect epistemological breaks, and that can thus produce the conditions for both personal autonomy and collective political action. And doing away with "capital," similarly, makes it quite quite a bit harder to talk about "capitalism" (though it should be noted that Bourdieu himself rarely used this word either).

So what about Latour and Bourdieu and politics? Latour's not silent on this matter; in fact much of the last third of Reassembling the Social is devoted to defending ANT against accusations of political complicity and quietism, and showing how sociology can still be politically efficacious while refusing a "critical edge." But to stick for now to his critique of Bourdieu, a passage from the little Socratic dialogue Latour includes as an "interlude" in RTS should serve to indicate what he thinks is wrong with Bourdieu's politics:

[Professor]: Now you have to tell me what is so politically great about transforming those you have studied into hapless, "actless" placeholders for hidden functions that you, and you only, can see and detect?
[Student]: Hmm, you have a way of turning things upside down. Now I am not so sure. If actors become aware of what is imposed on them, if they become more conscious, more reflexive, then is their consciousness not raised somewhat? They can now take their fate into their own hands. They become more enlightened, no? If so, I would say that now, and in part thanks to me, they are more active now, more complete actors.
Bravo, bravissimo! So an actor for you is some fully determined agent, plus a placeholder for a function, plus a bit of perturbation, plus some consciousness provided by enlightened social scientists? Horrible, simply horrible. And you want to apply ANT to these people! After you have reduced them from actors to placeholders, you want to add insult to injury and generously bring these poor blokes the reflexivity they had before and that you have taken away by treating them in a structuralist way! Magnificent! They were actors before you come in with your 'explanation.' Don't tell me that it's your study that might make them so. Great job, Student! Bourdieu could not have done better.
S: You might not like Bourdieu very much, but at least he was a real scientist, and even better, he was politically relevant. As far as I can tell your ANT is neither. (154-155)

The student has put his finger on two important, but separate, issues: first, whether Bourdieu is more of a "real scientist" than Latour; and second, whether he is more politically relevant. I think Latour has a very convincing argument about the first; I'm much less sure about the second. I'll try to do justice to both charges in what follows, though if I focus more on the former it's because I feel less conflicted about it myself.

In a way the critique of Bourdieu that Latour advances is a pretty old, familiar one, often made against structuralism (and Marxism) of various kinds. For Bourdieu and his student disciple in the passage above (Latour claims), the agent is just an effect of structure: the agent/object is just a hollowed out, empty place where something happens. Where Bourdieu differs from straight structuralism — and particularly from Althusser — is in his insistence that, through reflexivity, through careful and scientific description of structural determinations, one can widen and extend this empty place of action (or at least make its real dimensions known, and he says somewhere that it is "not that large"), and thus make genuine autonomy — political, moral, aesthetic, whatever — possible. In other words, we are not absolutely determined by the economy (which for Bourdieu, of course, includes the "symbolic" as well as the material economy), but we are much much more determined than we think: and our only hope of establishing the parameters of this determination, and breaking out of them, is reflexive social science. Thus, one might say there is a certain disinterest in what the object actually is in Bourdieu: he's much more interested in articulating baroque contextual frames than in pinning down exactly what's happening in the center. (See also the remark by Hélène Mialet, in her review of Science of Science, that Bourdieu repeatedly conflates the "empirical" with the "statistical": "Bourdieu, it seems, bases his arguments on his métier as a sociologist, which enables him to refine established concepts and to apply them to another 'field.' This experience is what seems to count for him as empirical," 617-618.)

For Latour, on the other hand, a proper scientific object is full, well-defined, and unpredictable, much more so than the structures that surround it: the object is not what is given by structures but what makes networks (which are called structures if we zoom out far enough) by virtue of its activities. He totally rejects the predictive and generalizing aspects of Bourdieu's sociology: the idea that we could extrapolate from data to make large a priori claims about the social world is anathema to him. (It's significant, I think, that Latour almost never uses statistics in his work, though he talks about them sometimes as forms of metrology.) Instead, he wants to be as specific as possible about what occurs in that tiny space that Bourdieu left for action; and, contra Bourdieu, he insists it can be filled in pretty exactly, without need for any margin of freedom or undecidability (I'm beginning to think that there's no real interest in moral autonomy in Latour's thought, despite his occasional rhetorical invocations of it).

We shouldn't think, then, that Latour refuses the bad news of Bourdieu's quasi-structuralism for a return to the old autonomous moral subject. But he also refuses to get all that depressed about it: an advantage of his anti-Kantianism is he doesn't have to share the eternal disillusionment of sociologists like Bourdieu (and his disciple Luc Boltanski) who have to run up against the obstacles that society places in the way of real moral freedom over and over and over. Action, for Latour, has never been a heroic overcoming of determination but is always a "slight surprise," which is why it has to be empirically, not theoretically, accounted for. This is why I don't think we should be too convinced by the moralizing tone of passages like the one I quoted above, where Latour seems to display a (quasi-ethnomethodological) ethical qualm about "critical sociology." It might bother Latour that sociologists like Bourdieu think they know better about the social than the people they study, but his objection to the method doesn't come down to only this: he also just thinks it's bad science! He "respects" his actors, certainly, but not for their moral autonomy: he respects them because one simply cannot predict what they'll do without following them; that is, he respects them for their empirical singularity. He respects them, that is, until he's managed to adequately describe them: after that, they're on their own.

It seems to me that many of the relevant differences here might be registered by the shift from Bourdieu's "agent" to Latour's "actor." An agent, as the legal sense of the word implies, is given the power to act by someone or something else: the important thing is it's been invested with power. An actor, on the other hand, plays a part for a while, interacts with other actors. The emphasis thus shifts, when we move from talking about "agents" to talking about "actors," from talking about whence the objects get their power to what they do with it. But we're also talking temporally: Latour's actors are temporary in a way Bourdieu's agents aren't.

Thus it seems to me Latour has very nearly reversed Bourdieu's theory of action: we've passed from a tiny space of indeterminacy and freedom in the center of an enormous determining social structure to a tiny point of empirical traceability in the center of a huge unformatted mess. For Latour — and he makes this fully clear only in Reassembling the Social, I think — the object or actor is not only affected by other actors it is directly engaging with but also impinged upon from the outside, from things that emerge from what he calls the "plasma," or the vast areas in between networks.

I'll stop there, for now… Next and last, I'll consider Bourdieu's critique of Latour in Science of Science and Reflexivity.

Tuesday, January 12, 2010

Creature of habitus: Latour on Bourdieu Pt. 1

Hi guys. Back from my road trip and returning to active duty. I definitely want to weigh in on the plasma/secularism question, but in the meantime here is the first of a few posts I started preparing before the holidays, on Latour and Pierre Bourdieu.

The subject of Latour's relation to Bourdieu is so complicated that I'm going to have to split it up over several posts. Before I get started, I'll quickly indicate what I think the complications are. There are basically four: (1) Bourdieu was arguably the central figure in French sociology from the early 1960s until his death in 2002 and Latour is, from what I understand, frequently seen to be his successor in this role; (2) Latour is heavily critical of Bourdieu in Reassembling the Social; (3) Bourdieu, for his part, attacked Latour and science studies in one of his last books, Science of Science and Reflexivity; and finally (4) Bourdieu has been a very strong influence on me personally, basically serving as my entry point into the world of sociology and social theory — so for me to accept Latour's pretty much wholesale dismissal of "critical sociology" requires a good deal of rethinking and unlearning on my part, a process which is still taking its way. (And this is interesting, actually, because one of the points of disagreement between Bourdieu and Latour is, essentially, about the way learning works, and how permanent and conscious it is — more about this in a moment.) So we have (1) what sociology thinks of Bourdieu and Latour, (2) what Latour thinks of Bourdieu, (3) what Bourdieu thinks of Latour, and (4) what I think of both of them, and whether they admit of being combined — that's a lot to cover. I'll do my best.

In this first post I'll have nothing to say about (3) — Bourdieu's Latour — and I'll focus on (2), with (1) and (4) perhaps bleeding in at the edges.

According to the index of Reassembling the Social, there are ten direct references to Bourdieu, though he's present by implication in many other passages — whenever Latour starts referring to "critical sociology" or "reflexivity," for example. In fact, despite the general spirit of opposition, a number of the citations of Bourdieu's work are rather admiring, though nearly all of these refer to Bourdieu's 1977 Outline of a Theory of Practice (cf. 101, 169, 175). Thus it seems fairly easy to see that the Bourdieu that Latour values is the close examiner of local interactions and the thinker of habitus, not the analyst of fields and capital that emerges in Bourdieu's work from Distinction on. This is a Bourdieu that Latour can plausibly associate with interactionism and ethnomethodology, a "micro" or "local" Bourdieu, as opposed to the "macro" or "global" Bourdieu we get with the subsequent development of field theory. This is consistent with Latour's general resistance, all throughout Reassembling the Social, to "contexts" or "frameworks" of any kind: it makes sense that he would like the "genetic" Bourdieu that is attentive to the tiniest behavioral tics and traces, but not the "structural" Bourdieu that uses all this data to build new versions of the class structure to correlate with this behavior. That is, Latour doesn't want to know, or claim to know, what the outside of the network consists of; he doesn't want to "fill in the blanks" as he puts it somewhere.

So one could imagine many of Bourdieu's analyses of social causation of seemingly natural human behavior adapted to actor-network theory — in a sense he's all about breaking up the nature-society divide, after all — but not the claim that such causation forms a rational structure or system. The point here is, Latour likes habitus, and he makes advances on the concept in the latter part of his chapter "Second Move: Redistributing the Local." For instance, here's Latour at his most Bourdieuvian (in thought, if not in style):

How many circulating clichés do we have to absorb before having the competence to utter an opinion about a film, a companion, a situation, a political stance? If you began to probe the origin of each of your idiosyncrasies, would you not be able to deploy, here again, the same star-like shape [i.e., a network] that would force you to visit many places, people, times, events that you had largely forgotten? That tone of voice, this unusual expression, this gesture of the hand, this gait, this posture, aren't these traceable as well? And then there is the question of your inner feelings. Have they not been given to you? Doesn't reading novels help you know how to love? How would you know which group you pertain to without ceaselessly downloading some of the cultural clichés that all the others are bombarding you with? (209)

Again, though it's a little more lyrical in tone, this could be taken from Distinction, Bourdieu's massive "social critique of the judgment of taste." So far it sounds as though Latour is merely recapitulating Bourdieu's own meditations on habitus: we incorporate into our bodies something from outside, which then gets reproduced as seemingly spontaneous and context-specific action (judging a film, taking a political stance, loving a person, et al.). But where Bourdieu always insists on the habitus as a "structuring structure" — that is, not so much habits or skills as a way of seeing the world ("principles of vision and division," is the way he frequently puts it) — Latour characteristically wants to keep each habit or competence discrete. That word "downloading" should tip us off that something different is going on here: and in fact Latour's (admittedly, somewhat sketchy) rethinking of habitus is built around the internet-era idea of "plug-ins," "borrowing this marvelous metaphor from our new life on the Web":

When you reach some site in cyberspace, it often happens that you see nothing on the screen. But then a friendly warning suggests that you "might not have the right plug-ins" and that you should "download" a bit of software which, once installed on your system, will allow you to activate what you were unable to see before. What is so telling about the metaphor of the plug-in is that competence doesn't come in bulk any longer but literally in bits and bytes … Being a fully competent actor now comes in discreet [sic] pellets or, to borrow from cyberspace, patches and applets, whose precise origin can be "Googled" before they are downloaded and saved one by one. (207)

Rather than just somehow absorbing a principle of vision and division and then unconsciously letting it dictate the way we respond to any given situation (the way Bourdieu argues that class habitus, preeminently, does), Latour proposes that we grab very specific competences that will only come in handy in a very few situations, and then either use them or not. Also, where Bourdieu would insist that a habitus, once acquired, can only be altered or replaced by stringent conditioning, Latour rather suggests a "use it or lose it" proposition: we have to "ceaselessly download" competences or we forget them. In sum, Latour has a more volitional and specific idea of how habitus works: it's not a mysterious creature that gets inside you and bursts out of you just when you think you're all alone (in An Invitation to Reflexive Sociology Bourdieu compares it to the creature in Alien), but a guest you willingly invite inside (more vampire than alien?), or, better, a party favor you take home, but are always at the risk of misplacing. The difference from Bourdieu gets underlined here: "If you take each of the rubrics as the mere 'expression' of some dark social force, then their efficacy disappears. But if you remember that there is nothing beyond and beneath, that there is no rear-world of the social, then is it not fair to say that they make up a part of your own cherished intimacy?" (209)

So, to finish this up in the spirit of Latour — and very much not in the spirit of Bourdieu — with a personal reminiscence. I spent basically a year reading through Bourdieu's work (and, as you've reported elsewhere, it really takes about a year of serious reading to get fully comfortable with a theorist). I gained a tremendous amount from it: it gave me an amazing sense of the field of theory, as well as providing numerous stylistic and conceptual tools I could put to work, and it even affected my political and moral opinions. In a real sense, then, it changed the way I think. On Bourdieu's view, I significantly altered my habitus by reading him: I made a series of epistemological breaks with my old, pre-Bourdieuvian self and ended up with new "principles of vision and division" that governed how I saw and thought about everything.

The trouble was, it also made me deeply unhappy in a lot of ways. (I can't lay all of this at Bourdieu's doorstep: last year was a tough one for a number of reasons, but certainly reading him was a major part of it, and the only one that's relevant here.) I felt, as I think many graduate students feel when immersing themselves in a single theorist's work, taken over or subjected t0 Bourdieu's thought more than I wanted to be. The influence was too powerful, too total. And beginning to read Latour seriously has been part of a larger project of attempting to extricate myself from Bourdieu a little, or eliminate some of what Bourdieu had managed to incorporate into me (along the lines of the logic of the pharmakon: the cure for too much social theory is… more social theory!). But I also haven't wanted to lose what I gained from reading Bourdieu and being, in some sense, "taken over" by him. On Latour's view — and this is the great thing about it, I think — I don't have to make yet another epistemological break and throw over Bourdieu for Latour, reflexive critical sociology for ANT (however much the rhetorical antagonism toward "the sociology of the social" throughout RTS might make that seem to be the case). In fact, on his view, I never acquired a Bourdieuvian habitus in the first place: I just subscribed to so many Bourdieuvian "plug-ins" that I was tricked into thinking that he really had taken me over and changed the whole way I see the world. So what I can do now, if I want, is download some new plug-ins from Latour, which may or may not be compatible with those previously acquired from Bourdieu — and if they're not and I find Latour's more useful, I can delete the old plug-ins. Not only this, but if I don't keep "ceaselessly downloading" Bourdieu's plug-ins — by rereading him, and talking about him, and putting his ideas to work — then they will stop acting on and in me whether I voluntarily delete them or not. And this seems true: what's surprising to me now is how much cognitive work I have to do to access Bourdieuvian concepts that at one time I could barely manage to think outside of. Depending on how you look at it, then, this whole question of "theoretical influence" has become either much less terrifying or much more daunting: because you don't have to worry so much about being "taken over," but you do need to do a lot more maintenance work.

OK, so that's habitus. I'll move from here into a post on structure and agency, and then finish by considering Bourdieu's critique of Latour.