Latour’s thoughts on inscription and mobilization as the driving considerations of visualizing, dispensing, aggregating scientific thought are framed within a decidedly Foucauldian concept of power. This is evidenced by his treatment of Foucault, of course, but maybe even more so in the conclusion that “the role of the bureaucrat qua scientist qua writer and reader is always misunderstood because we take for granted that there exist, somewhere in society, macro-actors that naturally dominate the scene” (28). These “summed up” givens of science ought, Latour argues, to be the subject of our attention to data rather than the dominant theories that delimit its field.
This reminded me of the WEIRD acronym I have encountered recently (Western Educated Industrially Rich Democracies). The distinction this category seeks to make is between globally, pluralistically dominant tendencies in thought and perception and the more cited, publicized, and accepted results of tests done on subjects living in WEIRD places. This article, for example, discusses the theory that it is via a disproportionate exposure to right angles that WEIRD people are fooled by an optical illusion which, by and large, fails to stump people in other parts of the world. While I don’t really know enough about psychology or these studies to argue the WEIRD theories, I do think they illustrate some of what is really exciting, interesting, problematic about what Latour asks us to do.
Considering the possibility that vision itself (as in the perception of color) and certainly one’s investment and approach to visual information is culturally determined, raises obvious to see, but difficult to deal with, questions about how we can interrogate the assumptions we make when we represent something visually, to what extent we can make a work pivot on different sets of assumptions and to what end we can reasonably expect to control any of it. I opened with Foucault (I promise to never do it again) because this process seems a lot like reading him and having to try really hard to not lapse into a sort nihilism –nothing is outside the problem and therefore all things are equally a part of it– that is neither especially true nor even a little bit helpful. All the same, I think it is worth discussing even the really really big, Western Civ size assumptions of a project if only to make as many informed, conscious decisions about it as possible.