Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Chreod: Alignment of Set-ups

Reading more than writing today, I planned to get down notes on another run through Porter, Sullivan, et. al.'s "Institutional Critique," (re: my own little life raft in postmodern geography) the same for Richards' short piece on "The Resourcefulness of Words," from Speculative Instruments (re: wandering resourcefulness, another spatial, and I would say networked, consideration) , and the same, yet again, for Miller's latest (Spring 2007) RSQ essay on automation, agency, and assessment, "What Can Automation Tell Us about Agency?"--not for the diss., this last one, but because I need to know more about it before responding to an email marked urgent. Only, rather than note-making, the day turned to night, and my efforts grew more digressive when I sought out one of Miller's references to Latour, an article I hadn't heard of called, "Mixing Humans and Nonhumans Together: The Sociology of a Door-Closer" (Social Problems 35.3). Here is Latour, er, "Jim Johnson," at his most playful. Terrific. Coincidentally, I also have an special place in my heart for compression door-closers.

A selection:

A scene, a text, an automatism can do a lot of things to their prescribed users at close range, but most of the effect finally ascribed to them depends on a range of other set-ups being aligned. For instance, the groom closes the door only if there are people reaching the Sociology Department of Walla Walla. These people arrive in front of the door only if they have found maps and only if there are roads leading to it; and, of course, people will start bothering about reading the maps, getting to Washington state and pushing the door open only if they are convinced that the department is worth visiting. I will call this gradient of aligned set-ups that endow actors with the pre-inscribed competences to find its users a chreod (a "necessary path" in the biologist Waddington's Greek): people effortlessly flow through the door, and the groom, hundreds of times a day, recloses the door-when it is not stuck. The result of such an alignment of set-ups is to decrease the number of occasions in which words are used; most of the actions become silent, familiar, incorporated (in human or in nonhuman bodies)-making the analyst's job so much harder. (308)

Before reading this, I'd never heard of chre-od ("we need" and "path"...a variation of met-hod, no? needful path or necessary path). For me, Latour, as usual, triggers a number of clicks and instigations. Something in the effortless flow and series of set-ups reminds me of disciplinarity and institution (Porter and Sullivan's concerns), but in a way that lightens the load on discursive structuring of these entities. Chreod incorporates actions in such a way that demands a rhetoric suited to the extra- (or is it non-?)discursive (institutions and disciplines are rhetorical constructs, but that's not all...Porter and Sullivan make this point, more or less directly, I would say, in their emphasis on the micro).

For reasons that are hard for me to pinpoint, I appreciate that chreod--this alignment of set-ups--turns away from words. Or it doesn't rely exclusively on inscription. It's not all textuality that determines the chreod. Texts are influential, yes, but actions, (redundant) performances, and things are, arguably, as forceful in the "holding together" of this alignment. Would Richards, in suggesting the resourcefulness of words as adequate for holding together a dialectic course of study, be receptive to this expansion that saves room for non-human actors and their speechless persuasion?

Bookmark and Share Posted by at August 22, 2007 9:00 PM to Networks