Ist Foucaults ›dispositif‹ ein Akteur-Netzwerk? FoucaultBlog@UZurich

Following Stuart Elden's blog named 'Progressive Geographies' you pick up a lot. By writing his own insightful blog posts, and reblogging from what seems a quite vast and relevant network of blogs and websites across the Internet, as a follower you are taken into contact to many thoughts and places. Recently he travelled to Palestine to lecture and work with Palestinian students. Its really inspiring.

Last weeks blog summary had several interesting posts. One around a new blog been created on Foucault at the University in Zurich, which I followed up and found this piece comparing Foucault's idea of 'dispositif' and actor-networks from Callon, Latour, Mol and Law etc—asking if dispositif are 'actor-networks' (see the introduction to the post in German below, and link here). While having the chance to reconnect to my German, this is a post that connects to my other readings.

The blog demonstrates the various debates held on how dispositif is interlinked conceptually with actor-networks, providing samples of debates among scholars like Latour, Law etc. For me, the blog really connects to my work on different ways of knowing Capetonian urban natures—contrasting more expert-biased actor-networks around 'Biodiversity Mapping' and 'Ecosystem Services', with those of in-place way of knowing that aligns plants, wetlands and parks with memories of apartheid and colonial oppression.

In my article "Re-translating nature in post-apartheid Cape Town", I draw upon John Law's argument that actor-network theory is a 'scaled down' (and more humble) mode of Foucault's work on regimes of power/knowledge. For John Law these are 'material semiotics', which links to Annmarie Mol's work on ontological politics. I write in my piece on Bottom Road the following (link to article here):
Departing from a Foucauldian notion of power, ‘empowerment’ is in this paper thought about as ‘the ability to act and change the order of things’. This includes changes in material and symbolic order; or in other words, when collective action changes the distribution of material resources and the way reality is conceived, including shifting or shuffling who can claim to be in the know (cf. Swyngedouw, 2009). Following this notion of empowerment, the following paragraphs shows theoretically how ANT provides an ethnographic repertoire to observe, record and report concrete action, but also to analyse epistemological and ontological dimensions of collective action.
In recording action, ANT might be most notorious for allowing non-humans like plants, animals, and machines to be actors, or actants, on par with humans in producing action. For instance, Callon (1986) allowed sea currents and scallops, alongside scientists and fishers to participate in building collective action, and Law (2003) described how the Portuguese held together their vast 16th century empire through boat and navigation devices. However, ANT’s notion of actor is profoundly relational (Harman, 2009). ANT holds that an actor is its relations, and consequently that action can only be materially produced through stabilizing networks of relations that can carry, or translate, action across space to make effects—the ability to ‘act at a distance’ is performed through aligning, or negotiating a string of mediators that all need to actively participate to carry action (Latour, 2005; Law, 2009; Murdoch, 2006). Rather than placing agency within individuals, or within human groups, ANT thus plays with the idea that the ability to act and change the order of things, lies in stabilizing heterogeneous collectives of humans and things—a distributed agency (see e.g. Latour, 1994, 1996, 2010; Murdoch, 2006: 68). The collective—or the heterogeneous actor—carries its agency distributed across many relations. 
Collective action is however more than the movement or translation of physical and material action, but also about constructing knowledge and shifting cultural codes of meaning (Melucci, 1996). In relation, Law has suggested that actor-networks “can be seen as ‘scaled-down’ versions” of Foucault’s discourse or episteme, as the tracing of “particular translations [...] rather than a diagnosis of an epochal epistemic syntax” (Law, 2009: 145). Importantly for this paper, Law (2009) therefore prefers to speak about actor-networks as a “material semiotics”, to emphasize that things and people, in stabilizing relations to one another, come to code a way of knowing and being through their relation to one another (see also Mol, 2010)). He emphasizes that these stabilizations are not rigid, but happen in fluidity; what is traced are provisionally stable arrangements, in continuous need of re-enactment to remain. 
The post in German at the Foucault blog starts like this:

Ist Foucaults ›dispositif‹ ein Akteur-Netzwerk?Simon Ganahl, simon.ganahl[at]uzh.ch
01. April 2013
Keywords: Dispositif | Actor-Network | Panopticon | Oligopticon
Das network ist in aller Munde, aber nur ein paar Unbeugsame sprechen noch vom dispositif. Zu gestrig, zu strukturalistisch klingt das Wort in einer Zeit, wo die Institutionen in der Krise sind, sei es das Gefängnis oder die Fabrik, das Spital oder die Ehe. Der Begriff, der aus dem Paris der 1970er Jahre stammt, wurde im Deutschen mit Anlage, Vorrichtung und Dispositiv, im Englischen mit apparatusmechanism und deployment übersetzt. Michel Foucault führte das dispositif zwar nicht ein, prägte seine Bedeutung jedoch nachhaltig. Als 1977 in einer Diskussion die Frage aufkam, was der Ausdruck bezeichnen solle, sagte Foucault, es handle sich um ein »ensemble résolument hétérogène«, bestehend aus Gesagtem wie Ungesagtem. Das dispositif sei das »réseau« zwischen diesen Bestandteilen. Ein Netz also, das diskursive und materielle Elemente verknüpft? Mit anderen Worten: Nimmt das Konzept des dispositif die Idee vom Akteur-Netzwerk vorweg?

I need to conclude with a favourite comic strip I found a while ago and that I use for teaching. It makes reference to Bruno's continuous and useful playing with the word/abbreviation ant/ANT. In his 2005 book on 'Re-assemblig the Social', the only effort of a (kind of a) textbook on ANT, he writes that 'you need to walk slowly as an ant' in recording action and all translations that goes on in order to make action happen (I need to check exact quote). 




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