“Reality’s principle is to be found in others” (Bruno Latour)

Tonight, I was listening to the lectures given by Michel Callon and Bruno Latour at a seminar organized at EHESS by Cyril Lemieux who, I found, gave sharp and relevant introduction to their ideas. The texts that were under scrutiny, and which outlined in the 80’s the basis of ANT that would made both of them famous, bear the weight of their age, which Latour very honestly recognized. I have to say that reading his Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory before listening to this seminar has proved helpful in overcoming some theoretical pitfalls. However I have been surprised to hear about new directions in Latour’s work which seem, as far as I have understood, slightly antagonistic with most of what he has written during the last 2 decades. Go, listen and make your mind (oups, in French, again…)

Echoing ethnomethodology and ANT, I will be attending a lecture at Copenhagen Business School (CBS) tomorrow (well, later today) on “users as innovators”. Eric von Hippel from MIT will be the keynote speaker… like last year. I remember letting him perplex when asking about the future of the consumption/production dichotomy and a possible recasting of those categories (hmm, very Latourian, indeed) As the issue still matter a big deal to me, I may ask again this year but in a bit more subtle fashion and less in abstract terms. I will aslo try liveblogging to share his views otherwise you will get a summary later on.

The field of user-centered innovation has received top priority in Denmark for a couple of years now and partners ranging from public authorities, higher education, design and innovation consultancies as well as big companies like Coloplast or B&O have join forces in order to establish a leading cluster in the field. User-centered economy is a strategic area of excellence for the international ambition of the CBS as well as a potential source of national high added value competitive advantage for the country according to many national politicians. Lastly, in the wake of that interest some original and exciting consultancies have emerged bringing together ethnographers and consultants in the name of user’s untapped creativity.

My personal opinion is that the problematic behind this can very much be framed in terms of ANT but should not be limited to product development, design or innovation : if we pretend to follow the “associations” and the “actors” (people & objects) without defining a priori categories in terms of which we ought to explain usage of products and services (e.g. social classes; gender; product objective features and qualities) , this philosophy should not only apply to product design and the preliminary market research it requires. The consequences in terms of communication mix and more generally of relations of brands and products with the surrounding “social context” (aka all relevant actors whose status/role in relation to those and toward each other is unknown beforehand : prescriptors, brand communities, distributors, media, etc) should be investigated both from theoretical and managerial perspectives. In other words if the product is relational and emerging (Semprini, 1995) and the context within which its significance appears too, thereby mutually defining each other, at a given moment, what does that implies for marketing ?

Semprini A. (1995) L’Objet comme procès et comme action. De la nature et de l’usage des objets dans la vie quotidienne. L’Harmathan.


2 Responses to ““Reality’s principle is to be found in others” (Bruno Latour)”

  1. 1 ajmulder 17/11/2008 at 12:34 pm

    i’m really interested in latour’s theory and lemieux’s point of view. i’m not sure if it is ok to ask you if you had actually got the record of that seminar and if you could send it to me. but if you could it would be great. (cause doing a research in other fiel – sociologie de milentatism- i’ve little time to read all these books.. listening would be great)
    thanks anyway, your notes are interesting.

  2. 2 klaustoon 25/03/2009 at 8:18 am

    Bruno Latour and Peter Sloterdijk at Harvard GSD (via Klaustoon): http://klaustoon.wordpress.com/2009/03/24/bruno-latour-and-peter-sloterdijk-ii/

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Let this diversity of opinions be propounded to, and laid before him; he will himself choose, if he be able; if not, he will remain in doubt. "Che non men che saver, dubbiar m' aggrata." ["I love to doubt, as well as to know."-- Dante, Inferno, xi. 93] for, if he embraces the opinions of Xenophon and Plato, by his own reason, they will no more be theirs, but become his own. Who follows another, follows nothing, finds nothing, nay, is inquisitive after nothing. "Non sumus sub rege; sibi quisque se vindicet." ["We are under no king; let each vindicate himself." --Seneca, Ep.,33]"
Montaigne - Essais I, XXVI, Of The Education of Children
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