Latour’s theory is very sophisticated and should fall as an anvil on the head of scholars who consider that new technologies are a result of internal dynamics and combinatorial evolution, “constructed mentally before they are constructed physically” (Arthur, 2009).
While Arthur’s passive voice above testifies the centrality of technology itself in his theoretical approach, Latour is clear in saying that behind an object, there are innumerous mediators, from engineers to lawyers, and ultimately, corporations, which make technical objects and also human beings what he calls object-institutions. This powerful idea prevents one to understand an object as made by matter, simply. As the author explains, when in contact with a technical object, one is in the end of an extensive process of proliferating mediators. De-blackboxing it means understanding these relations.
Technology and society are, thus, embedded. Through delegation, objects gain actions to execute human tasks. To imagine a world where human beings would be independent of objects is to imagine a nonhuman world, in Latour’s terms. Objects are agents, actants, and through the articulation of characteristics with human beings they become part of the collective of humans and nonhumans.
For many people, the Latour’s perspectivism can sound difficult to understand. The symmetry between agents and actants, where responsibility for actions are shared, imposes a new way of looking at mediation. A human being is so different with a technical object in hands as the latter is with the former. In the contact, they exchange competences and transform themselves.
In this sense, the speed bump is partially a sleeping policeman, as my cellphone is partially my father helping me to wake up in the morning. In a study that I conducted among the Kambebas, an indigenous community in the Amazon region, when asking the mother how she would translate the word computer into Kambeba language, she answered: “the man who knows”. She, unsurprisingly, understands deeply what Latour is saying, thanks to the perspectivism characteristic of their culture. For us, western culture, however, the articulation is yet a blurred zone that needs to be better revealed.