Sunday, September 12, 2010

Bruno Latour, Aramis

When a technology fails, how do we explain what happened?  How do we understand what happened?  In Aramis Latour uncovers the multiple narratives that underlie failure, and perhaps, by implication, success.

Among the themes that he addresses are the sexuality of technology.  Latour wants to refute the idea that the theory of evolution can be applied to scientific progress, which assumes that later technology is an improvement over earlier technology and that it better meets/serves the needs of “the environment” (i.e., humanity).

He also advocates heterogeneous engineering in which major social questions concerning the spirit of the age or the century and “properly” technological questions are blended into a single discourse.  This leads to the notion of translation, in which a global problem is transformed into a local problem through a chain of intermediaries that are not “logical” in the formal sense.

In addition, in order for a project to succeed, an engineer has to stimulate interest and convince the public.  They must market innovation and technology.  All of which leads to the question: is technological reality rational?  Consumers, like technology, are invented, displaced, and translated through chains of interest.

He recommends two kinds of charts to help understand technology: sociograms, which chart human interests and translations; and technograms, which chart nonhuman interests and translations.  Both people and technology (human and nonhuman actors) are alike in that just as you have to compromise when dealing with a number of people, so you have to compromise when integrating any new technology.

But one of the problems of an innovative project is that the number of actors that needs to be taken into account are not known from the beginning.  If you don’t have enough actors, the project loses reality, if you have too many actors, the project becomes over-complicated and will probably fail.

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