Saturday, December 1, 2007

Relation and Association

Aha! I catch myself being loose with these terms (and two or three others). What is the difference between relation and association? Are they equivalent? Synonymous?

These are connective devices, right? They indicate a tie that can be expressed, though perhaps this is not always so for association. They do not seem to me equal in this job they do of indicating ties. Relation, as in relation-ship, is describable, identifiable, and perhaps even compulsory (cannot opt out; the evidentiary ground is too firm). Association, as I think of it, tends to be breezier and more speculative. Association meanders; relation takes the shortest available route. Association nods in assent; relation points its index finger. Association is spherical, maybe even elliptical, curvy; relation linear by comparison. Association is possible and sometimes roundabout; relation is direct and existent, meaning it plots a different ontology. Relation is verifiable; association is a degree removed, hazy and faint (not equally observable; therefore, refutable, enigmatic). The two terms begin to have a pact something like connotation and denotation.

Could all of this be flipped around? Reversed? Well, maybe (try it and you will see whether anything happens). Yet association has become much more theoretically important for me in the past year. With Latour's Reassembling it is the activation (and verbing) of the social that manifests in networks, and so association gives off sparks, emits a different energy than it once did (first in algebra, with the associative property). Every encounter with "social" is interrupted with this: associative how? The "social turn" is, when matched with network studies, an "associative turn," which, in effect, is an expansive turn outward. What are "social networks" if we take association for granted or treat it as a given?

This does not quite make the point I thought it might make when I first typed "Relation and Association." The point: these two have diverged (I hedge, hesitate; I am also asking). I should add that I have been thinking lately about vocabulary, about "speaking the same language" in the sense that Raymond Williams mentions it early in his introduction to Keywords:

"When we come to say 'we just don't speak the same language' we mean something more general: that we have different immediate values or different kinds of valuation, or that we are aware, often intangibly, of different formations and distributions of energy and interest" (11).
Bookmark and Share Posted by at December 1, 2007 3:30 PM to Networks