Friday, June 18, 2004

Politics of hybridity

Which politics for which artifacts?
Bruno Latour

That designers use detours through material objects to enforce types of behaviour, everyone who has been made to slow down near a school because of the silent presence of a speed trap (also called a 'sleeping policeman') would readily agree. Yes, we are made to do things we would not have done otherwise every time we enter into contact with an artifact... This doesn't mean however that only oppression and discrimination are expressed through those humble and devious techniques. We are also, thanks to them, 'allowed', 'permitted', 'enabled', 'authorised' to do things.

When you begin to read artifacts not as neutral objects indifferent to goals and values, but as the central node of a power struggle, it's true that you enter into politics, but the question then becomes which sort of politics? But if artifacts do more than 'objectifying' some earlier political scheme, if their design is full of unexpected consequences, if their durability means that all the original ideas their designers entertained about them will have drifted in a few decades, if, in addition, they do much more than carrying out power and domination and are also offering permissions, possibilities, affordances, it means that they are doing politics in a way not anticipated by Langdon Winner's seminal article. In other words they have to be represented. They are a material assemblage in dire need of an assembly.

The problem is that if we sort of know how to describe a bridge or a building in its material composition, we are yet unable to draw together all the stake holders which have to be assembled for this bridge or this building to have a political representation.

Mmm. Mapping assemblages. Slippery. See also: mobile speed bump

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