What is a quasi-object?

Theresa Anderson "the diagram" 2012
Theresa Anderson “the diagram” 2012

A question proposed by Bruno Latour in We Have Never Been Modern. The question leads me to the actor-network theory where the object plays a part in shaping social networks- a constructivist theory of mapping relations between material and concept.  Intermediaries are entities that make no difference. Mediators multiply difference. I come to these conclusions from a different intuitive method working as a mediator between nature and nuture (social), object (material) and subject (concept).

“For instance, a sociologist might take silk and nylon as intermediaries, holding that the former “means”, “reflects”, or “symbolises” the upper classes and the latter the lower classes. In such a view the real world silk–nylon difference is irrelevant — presumably many other material differences could also, and do also, transport this class distinction. But taken as mediators these fabrics would have to be engaged with by the analyst in their specificity: the internal real-world complexities of silk and nylon suddenly appear relevant, and are seen as actively constructing the ideological class distinction which they once merely reflected.”

an excerpt- “When the two critical resources are put together we now understand why it is so difficult for social scientists to reach agreement on objects. They, too, ‘see double.’ In the first denunciation objects count for nothing; they are just there to be used as the white screen on to which society projects its cinema. But in the second, they are so powerful that they shape the human society, while the social construction of the sciences that have produced them remains invisible. Objects, things, consumer goods, works of art are either too weak or too strong” (53).

With two opposites “the ‘soft’ list of the nature pole” and “the ‘hard’ list of all the sciences” (53).  The soft list features items social scientists despise, whereas the hard list features those which they hold belief.

“And if religion, arts, or styles are necessary to ‘reflect’, ‘reify’, ‘materialize’, ‘embody’ society — to use some of the social theorists’ favourite verbs — then are objects not, in the end, its co-producers? Is not society built literally — not metaphorically — of gods, machines, sciences, arts, and styles?… Maybe social scientists have simple forgotten that before projecting itself on to things society has to be made, built, constructed? And out of what material could it be built if not out of nonsocial, non-human resources?” (54).

We Have Never Been Modern

by Bruno Latour, Catherine Porter (Translator)


“With the rise of science, we moderns believe, the world changed irrevocably, separating us forever from our primitive, premodern ancestors. But if we were to let go of this fond conviction, Bruno Latour asks, what would the world look like? His book, an anthropology of science, shows us how much of modernity is actually a matter of faith.

What does it mean to be modern? What difference does the scientific method make? The difference, Latour explains, is in our careful distinctions between nature and society, between human and thing, distinctions that our benighted ancestors, in their world of alchemy, astrology, and phrenology, never made. But alongside this purifying practice that defines modernity, there exists another seemingly contrary one: the construction of systems that mix politics, science, technology, and nature. The ozone debate is such a hybrid, in Latour’s analysis, as are global warming, deforestation, even the idea of black holes. As these hybrids proliferate, the prospect of keeping nature and culture in their separate mental chambers becomes overwhelming–and rather than try, Latour suggests, we should rethink our distinctions, rethink the definition and constitution of modernity itself. His book offers a new explanation of science that finally recognizes the connections between nature and culture–and so, between our culture and others, past and present.

Nothing short of a reworking of our mental landscape. “We Have Never Been Modern” blurs the boundaries among science, the humanities, and the social sciences to enhance understanding on all sides. A summation of the work of one of the most influential and provocative interpreters of science, it aims at saving what is good and valuable in modernity and replacing the rest with a broader, fairer, and finer sense of possibility.”


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