latour on laws

Digital Humanities 2014 – Opening Night


— Hello. You talk about vibration as the third age in social studies. If there was a natural scientist in this room, very likely, when talking about vibration, things would come to mind like central limit theorem and stuff like that. And one would think if there is large numbers you would find laws. So is this the moment to be hesitant as digital humanities community to say: let’s go from an event discipline, in the words of (.?.) to a law discipline or mix both up. So where, where is this… So we’re standing on this cliff, where we, where we, you know… We should actually ask these questions. Are there laws of the large numbers and what should we do with it? Should we also become physicists of culture, or should we stay where we belong? Quotation marks. That’s my question.

Bruno Latour:
— I’m not sure I can answer that because, I’m not sure… I’m not a great believer in the laws of natural sciences as well. I think it’s a way of getting into a close attention to phenomena, if i don’t… If you take the novel, Moretti’s argument about the novel, you do get laws. But it’s much more interesting to be able to scan vast amount of literature. Is it to detect again law and to transform the field of digital humanities in an ersatz of a natural sciences? I think it’s exactly the opposite sense. But it goes into the other direction which is to equip large amount of socio-technical practices, reading books together, inquiring about complex phenomena, which then makes the link between the natural sciences. Not: “Ah! We in humanities have as much law as you have”, but on the contrary, “We are like you, get used to live through”, what, how we call, “landscape of controversial dataset”. And i think, is, this is… In my view of the way i collaborate with the natural scientists, it must have direction where you go… But you talk with geographers, who also have their own screentoria [scriptorium→screentorium] you talk… So you might have local, little laws, but that’s not the goal, I mean, as I see it. Because when… Digital humanities is not humanity becoming positivist science, it’s to learn through fact that we are also equipped with our own screentoria to share the idea with other discipline of common exegesis. It’s all about interpretation of complex data which are most of the time controversial. So navigating, in common, into landscape of controversial data, and “data” should be called in my view “sublata”, because it is obtained not doneé, sorry in french it’s… We call them doneé which means given. And they are obtained, so there are lots of other names for data: capta (fx: grab), sublata (fx: pull)… But data, no. So I… I will not go to the idea that, I mean, maybe you know much more about that, but I would not see that collaboration is going to find the laws of writing novels. But it’d certainly transform completely what it is to write novels, to have four hundred novels instead of five. Or in the case of the Venice example, I mean, transform completely what it is to do a history of Venice, if you have nine kilometers of archive that you can go through. But what you go through is actually a highly specific, highly localized element. And that’s what transforms completely the social sciences. But this is not about laws, it’s about vibration, precisely, in the sense that Gabriel Tarde, one of the founders of french sociology, use the word. And we have the word in french, but it doesn’t work in english: réplique. Lots of the things that you study with these traces are réplique. Not replicas but réplique: aftershock. Twitter is a set of réplique. Reading, interpeting, the hermeneutic circle is a set of réplique. So that’s what I meant by vibration. Not sort of a thing which will be open to the “laws” of writing novels, or the laws of interpreting city growth, or that sort of thing. Even the laws are always sort of amusing.


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