The monad and the digital dataset

After a late lunch-break I got onto some of Latour’s more recent work again. Namely his MACOSPOL (Mapping Controversies on Science for Politics) project. Lots of cartographical metaphors being slung about here. The paper I read was a joint one accepted by the British Journal of Sociology, alongside Pablo Jensen, Tommaso Venturini, Sébastian Grauwin and Dominique Boullier, entitled ‘The Whole is Always Smaller Than Its Parts: A Digital Test of Gabriel Tarde’s Monads’. Just as the preceding three texts, this is also available on Latour’s website. The paper’s a little tricky to boil down to just the single extract, so I’d suggest you just read it together with some accompanying videos, sites and texts (this really is what the article’s about). His CSISP talk on the same subject is here, some further work on ‘issue mapping’ (or controversy mapping, issues of concern etc.) is discussed on the CSISP blog here too. And to end, here’s another quote:

‘If we take into account the experience of digital navigation, what happens to the notion of ‘whole’? When we navigate on a screen, zooming in and out, changing the projection rules, aggregating and disaggregating according to different variables, what stands out is what remains constant through the shifting of viewpoints (Gibson, 1986). This is our ‘whole’. As expected, its size has shrunk considerably! Instead of being a structure more complex than its individual components, it has become a simpler set of attributes whose inner composition is constantly changing. The whole is now much smaller than the sum of its parts. To be part of a whole is no longer to ‘enter into’ a higher entity or to ‘obey’ a dispatcher (no matter if this dispatcher is a corporate body, a sui generis society, or an emergent structure), but for any given monad it is to lend part of itself to other monads without either of them losing their multiple identities.’

Latour et al. (2012: 13-14; forthcoming in BJS)


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