The Powers of Association

Bruno Latour. This article starts with a paradox: when an actor simply has power nothing happens and s/he is powerless; when, on the other hand, an actor exerts power it is others who perform the action. It appears that power is not something one can possess – indeed it must be treated as a consequence rather than as a cause of action. In order to explore this paradox a diffusion model of power in which a successful command moves under an impetus given it from a central source is contrasted with a translation model in which such a command, if it is successful, results from the actions of a chain of agents each of whom ‘translates’ it in accordance with his/her own projects. Since, in the translation model, power is composed here and now by enrolling many actors in a given political and social scheme, and is not something that can be stored up and given to the powerful by a pre-existing ‘society’, it follows that debates about the origins of society, the nature of its components, and their relationships become crucial data for the sociologist. It also follows that the nature of society is negotiable, a practical and revisable matter (performative), and not something that can be determined once and for all by the sociologist who attempts to stand outside it (ostensive). The sociologist should, accordingly, seek to analyse the way in which people are associated together, and should, in particular, pay attention to the material and extra-somatic resources (including inscriptions) that offer ways of linking people that may last longer than any given interaction. In the translation model the study of society therefore moves from the study of the social as this is usually conceived, to a study of methods of association.


About Giorgio Bertini

Research Professor. Founder Director at Learning Change Project - Research on society, culture, art, neuroscience, cognition, critical thinking, intelligence, creativity, autopoiesis, self-organization, rhizomes, complexity, systems, networks, leadership, sustainability, thinkers, futures ++
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