Friday, 24 April 2009

Actor Network Theory and Cultural Studies

Joost van Loon introduces us to some key issues from Latour to mark the introduction of a new reading group at NTU.

Bruno Latour’s Reassembling the Social has been given quite considerable attention across the social sciences. It is a provocative and somewhat controversial book that has a tendency to polarize opinions (see for example contrasting book reviews on the Space and Culture blog.) Apart from controversies, the book has also lent itself to considerable misinterpretation, which, sadly, reflects a longer history within social sciences as failing to properly engage with empirical philosophy.

Whereas ANT has at least been subject to debate within social sciences, it is largely left untouched within media and cultural studies. It is for this reason that we must seek to open up debate around what its underlying empirical philosophy might mean for the ways in which media and cultural studies analyze the world. And this should not be taken as another excursion into methodological debates around ethnography. Instead, it goes at the hart of the implicit philosophical grounding of this subject area. Can it afford to abandon the Cartesian split between res extensa and res cogitans? Can it afford to question the Hegelian optimism that knowledge will engender emancipation? Can it afford to abandon Kant’s sacred vowels that still serve as the principles for a critique of reason, ethics and aesthetics?

The Institute for Cultural Analysis at Nottingham Trent University will host a short series of sessions based on a collective reading of Reassembling the Social which hopefully lead to a fruitful debate about the pros and cons of a different, radically empirical, philosophy, that has its roots in a metaphysics that takes a different turn from the one that has dominated modern thought for the last 300 years.

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