Notes from Aramis by Bruno Latour

I finished Aramis (PDF) a couple of weeks ago and this is absolutely essential reading for anybody involved with technology in a wider sense than just technology. It is also quite funny. I look forward to reading more by Bruno Latour, An Inquiry into the Modes of Existence is high on my list1 and I’ve registered to join his MOOC on the Scientific Humanities.

for life is a state of uncertainty and risk, of fragile adaptation to a past and present environment that the future cannot judge.

The actors come in varying sizes; this is the whole problem with innovation.

A signature on a contract, an endorsement, an agreement stabilizes the relative size of the actors by lending to the provisional definition of alliances the assistance of the law, a law whose weight is enormous because it is entirely formal and because it applies equally to everyone.

Woe betide those who trust the law alone to shelter their projects from random hazards.

Whereas we sociologists have to drag ourselves around everywhere. Our terrains aren’t territories. They have weird borders. They’re networks, rhizomes.

To translate is to betray: ambiguity is part of translation.

The problem is, the innovator has to count on assemblages of things that often have the same uncertain nature as groups of people.

Men and things exchange properties and replace one another; this is what gives technological projects their full savor.

We won’t keep the humans’ physical presence, their caps, their uniforms, or their outspokenness; but we’ll keep some of their knowledge, their abilities, their knowhow.

For a project to materialize, it must at once recruit new allies and at the same time make sure that their recruitment is assured.

To study a technological project, one must constantly move from signs to things, and vice versa.

A technological project is neither realistic nor unrealistic; it takes on reality, or loses it, by degrees.

“But we all know what economic studies are worth.”

The actors don’t have a strategy; they get their battle plans, contra dictory ones, from other actors.

The actors create both their society and their sociology, their language and their metalanguage.

No, because the actors also provide themselves with the means to pass from one point of view to another, and they unify, from their own point of view, and each for himself, the multiplicity of points of view thus deployed. Each constructs his own instrument in order to elaborate a synoptic view. All the actors thus repair, for themselves, the disorder they create by multiplying perspectives.

To survive in a variable-ontology world, the promoters of a technological project have to imagine little bridges that let them temporarily ensure their stability.

research is, as we know, the surest although the most enjoyable way for a company to go bankrupt.

They, too, want to stabilize a certain interpretation of what they are and what they want. And there they are, ordering notes and questionnaires, which accumulate in a file that is soon complicated enough to require new notes, syntheses, and summaries.

The human sciences do not show up as the curtain falls, in order to interpret the phenomenon. They constitute the phenomenon. And the most important human sciences, always overlooked, include accounting, management, economics, the “cameral sciences” (bureau-graphy), and statistics.

And then they reach the height of cruelty and ingratitude: here’s technological prowess that has given engineers hundreds of sleepless nights for ten years, that makes them quake with fright because it may not work, and the customers take it for granted!

The actors are always right, whether they’re multiplying viewpoints or cutting down on them. If we use the adjectives ‘irrational’ and ‘absurd,’ it’s because we haven’t made our own frames of reference supple enough.

Everything happens in defiance of common sense, but there is no common sense for innovations, since they happen, they begin, they invent common sense, the right direction , the correct procedure.”

How can I become a being, an object, a thing-finally a self, yes, a full set, saturated with being-without them, without their agreement, without their coming to terms (since I myself am made from them, flesh of their flesh, a rib extracted from theirs), without their acknowledgment that I am transports, displacements of human beings?

Technology is sociology extended by other means.

Give me the state of things, and I’ll tell you what people can do-this is how technologism talks. Give me the state of human beings, and I’ll tell you how they will form things-this is the watchword of sociology.

The soul of machines constitutes the social element. The body of the social element is constituted by machines.

Our bureaucracy-so widely scorned-is our second brain, as indispensable as the first.

The disorder that is wiped away on one side by describing the tasks meticulously in neat logical trees turns up again on the other side, among the programmers, who are having as much fun as a barrel of monkeys, shooting themselves in the foot, dividing up tasks according to procedures that can’t be described, for their part, in neat logical trees.

Humans and nonhumans take on form by redistributing the competences and performances of the multitude of actors that they hold on to and that hold on to them.

A technology isn’t one single character; it’s a city, it’s a collective, it’s countless.

You can’t give me enough orders, not fast enough, not in time. You have to let me handle things on my own.

Every part of the system is as complicated as the system as a whole. Every plate we unfold is itself made up of plates to be unfolded!

But you’re drawing the wrong lesson. It is not our creative power that we need to curtail; it is our 101le that we need to extend, even to our lesser brothers who did not ask us for life. We acquainted them with existence. We need to acquaint them with love.

They all say the same thing: what the principal actors have put in their mouths! What doormats, these scientific journalists! Always ready to popularize, never to investigate.

They throw money out the window, but they think research means throwing money out the window

You don’t think you have the power? Then don’t expect that Aramis will.

I would have been happy to be something, in the end, anything at all-but first you have to agree among yourselves. I can’t be every thing to everybody. The finest project in the world can’t give more than it has, and what it has is what you give it.

  1. Though unfortunately not available as an ebook.

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