Making sense of assemblages

Assemblages attempt to explain the relationship between individuals, people, society and technology. The notion of an assemblage can be explored through Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory that presupposes that networks are made up of human and non-human actants (essentially giving agency to non-living entities.) According to Latour each component should be treated equally or what De-Landa describes as a ‘flat ontology.’ The theory suggests that both social and technical agents have the ability to act and affect the world.  The entities within an assemblage cannot be isolated or seen from a solely technological or social standpoint. Depunctualization (the separating or disconnecting of a network’s parts) is likened to a box. “When closed, the box is perceived simply as a box, [a holistic assemblage] although when it is opened all elements inside it becomes visible.” [Both its social and technical actants.]

 

All of this sociological jargon however can overwhelm the typical 19-year-old second year media student. My first thoughts being, ‘now repeat in English please?’ So I have attempted (attempted being the operative word) to create a more fathomable real world example of this oh so foreign concept ‘they’ like to call an assemblage. So I begin. It is difficult to distinguish whether the mobile phone is a product of technological or social forces. Latour believes that there should be no need to distinguish between the two. The mobile phone is made up of both human and non-human actants, such as a camera, the keypad and the speaker– all of which are technical non-living elements, but which according to Latour still possess agency. There is also the social agents within the assemblage of a mobile phone that are generated by the human actants and reflect social concepts such as texting, making phone calls and browsing the internet. All of these agents work together to create what we know as the assemblage of the mobile phone. Without one, it would cease to function as the network that we know it to be. We cannot view the mobile phone as solely a technological entity as it relies on human agency (the social agent) to function as well as to have purpose and fulfil a need. With all agents functioning in the network the mobile phone is an assemblage, (a box) yet a phone without its user would simply become a piece of plastic containing a camera, keyboard and speaker (an open box.)

A spoof of the Actor-Network Theory created by sociology students:


References

[online] ‘Actor Network Theory’, Wikipedia,  http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor-network_theory

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