Bruno Latour. The argument of this book can be stated very simply: when social scientists add the adjective ‘social’ to some phenomenon, they designate a stabilized state of affairs, a bundle of ties that, later, may be mobilized to account for some other phenomenon. There is nothing wrong with this use of the word as long as it designates what is already assembled together, without making any superfluous assumption about the nature of what is assembled.
What I want to do in the present work is to show why the social cannot be construed as a kind of material or domain and to dispute the project of providing a ‘social explanation’ of some other state of affairs. Although this earlier project has been productive and probably necessary in the past, it has largely stopped being so thanks in part to the success of the social sciences. At the present stage of their development, it’s no longer possible to inspect the precise ingredients that are entering into the composition of the social domain. What I want to do is to redefine the notion of social by going back to its original meaning and making it able to trace connections again. Then it will be possible to resume the traditional goal of the social sciences but with tools better adjusted to the task. After having done extensive work on the ‘assemblages’ of nature, I believe it’s necessary to scrutinize more thoroughly the exact content of what is ‘assembled’ under the umbrella of a society. This seems to me the only way to be faithful to the old duties of sociology, this ‘science of the living together’.
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