Stroking a Pumpkin

I was just leafing through Latour’s Reassembling again.  I can’t
quit this damn book.  I keep picking it up, leafing around, mulling
over the marginalia, adding underlines, junking up the edges of the pages with
more check marks and asterisks.

This morning I was also looking back again at "Visualization and Cognition," the
1986 article that begins to outline immutable mobiles, a concept further defined
in Science in Action. It led me back around to Reassmebling; I was
looking for the spot where he lists the properties of the face-to-face
interaction as non-isotopic (a-ha! p. 200). A few weeks’ Latour binge, so what?
(L.’s mention of "the ethnography of abstraction" has me thinking maybe I can
subtitle the diss. "an ethnography of disciplinary abstraction" or, at the very
very least, write it as if).

While digging around for that other part, though, I saw a rare exclamation
point in the margin. A spot where Latour writes of extreme shifts in scale:

Have you ever noticed, at sociological conferences, political meetings,
and bar palavers, the hand gestures people make when they invoke the ‘Big
Picture’ into which they offer to replace what you have just said so that it
‘fits’ into such easy-to-grasp entities as ‘Late Capitalism’, ‘the ascent of
civilization’, ‘the West’, ‘modernity’, ‘human history’, ‘Potcolonialism’,
or ‘globalization’? Their hand gesture is never bigger than if they were
stroking a pumpkin! I am at last going to show you the real size of the
‘social’ in all its grandeur: well, it is not that big.  It is only
made so by the grand gesture and by the professional tone in which the ‘Big
Picture’ is alluded to. If there is one thing that is not common sense, it
would be to take even a reasonably sized pumpkin for the ‘whole of society’.
Midnight has struck for that sort of social theory and the beautiful
carriage has been transformed back into what it should always have remained:
a member of the family Cucurbitaceceae. (186)

Touché: Use caution with the pumpkin-sized gestures.

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