Saturday, 19 October 2013

Metaphysics as equipping; Seeing every problem as a nail; Becoming more impressionable

In reply to my argument that we need to trace the networks that produce the human in order to produce a new humanism, an alter-humanism, dmf (now my most dedicated interlocutor!) writes:
my preference in terms of sorting out descriptions/techniques would be to take on case-studies and show (rather than abstractly say) what is gained and lost (to the degree that we can capture such things, obviously any view-point/lens by foregrounding certain things leaves others out of focus, and than many things just exceed our grasps) by the applications of the differing approaches/styles.
Case studies are indeed essential.  The central intuitions of ANT have to be maintained, one of which is: we can only learn through trials in which the researcher makes herself open to transformation by her participants; she makes herself plastic, quite literally impressionable.

However, we cannot go into a case study 'unequipped'; without 'tooling up,' so to speak, beforehand!  This brings me back to the modes project and the relationship between fieldwork and metaphysics in general.

Can't we take metaphysical arguments as 'wagers' that practically precede but do not empirically predetermine fieldwork?  We might never be sure when turning up for work whether we'll need a hammer or a scalpel but if we familiarise ourselves with both tools and bring them along with us then we will be both sensitive to and prepared to deal with the issues that arise.

Arriving with only one tool, one mode - that of networks - brings to my mind a joke: give a man a hammer and every problem starts to look like a nail...

Having a whole set of tools (not just one or two) requires us to make a decision, it requires us to think about the kind of problem we are facing.  It may even prompt us to realise that none of our tools fit and we have to go 'back to the drawing board' - that is, back to the space of abstraction, of planning, of architecture, of philosophy.

A plurality of metaphysics makes us more impressionable because it makes us more uncertain, more hesitant as to our next step.  It makes us a little bit more 'lost' in our moment but, at the same time, increases the number of routes open to us.


  1. "A plurality of metaphysics makes us more impressionable because it makes us more uncertain, more hesitant as to our next step. It makes us a little bit more 'lost' in our moment but, at the same time, increases the number of routes open to us."
    I don't think that as individuals this is accurate/possible (going back to my phenomenological point that we cannot will ourselves to see things as other than how they currently strike us, and as research into cognitive biases, and any trip thru blog comment threads shows when faced with opposing views/facts we often get more entrenched), but as I said we could/should welcome a number of approaches to problems/projects as we don't know which might than strike us (we do of course shift over time/experience) as useful/correct when we come to working on/out the local specifics. And of course there may be publics involved which require a framing/translation of grammars/approaches which might not be ours and this will require some hybridization/diplomacy. But as I have pointed out elsewhere there can't be neutral ways of deciding what problems are (what projects are and which should be undertaken), what goals are, and how we go about making choices/judgments along the way, so we are back (well never left) the rough ground of politicking.

  2. It's not about neutrality, it's about sensitivity. Completely different thing. We can't step outside our senses and see things 'as they really are' but we can increase our sensitivities and the number of pathways that lead from them. This can lead to qualitatively improved knowledge as well as superior plurality in a political sense. I don't believe that everything is political. Politics is everywhere, sure, but not everything is political. It isn't just about political plurality but about cognitive plurality (which, as a starting point, makes for better cognition). I don't think that research can be severed from politics but I don't think that it needs to be reduced to it either. Consequently, I think that we need 'metaphysical equipment' for doing research as well as politics and potentially some different equipments for these distinct activities. So, becoming more impressionable is, I think, a realistic ambition. The fact that we cannot, in the end, stand outside our impressions is precisely the reason why we need to be so sensitive to nuances in our subject matter.

  3. By the by, I don't know if you've read this article by Latour:

    It's quite an amusing one and deals with 'becoming sensitive' to things. Particularly 'becoming a nose' in wine tasting!

  4. how does an " increase our sensitivities" make "us more uncertain, more hesitant as to our next step...makes us a little bit more 'lost' in our moment"?