Interpassive Agency: Engaging Actor-Network-Theory's View on the Agency of Objects
Theory & Event , Volume 14 - Issue 2 p. 1- 19
:With increasing frequency, questions about 'what things do' and 'evocative objects' pop up in philosophy and theoretical sociology. They direct our attention to an important phenomenon: the agency of objects. In this article, I contrast Bruno Latour's, and ANT's, view on the agency, or actancy, of objects with my own view of the 'interpassive' role of objects. In reaction to traditional interactivity, interpassivity indicates that our contribution to the realization of a work of art, or an institution, is now taken over by the artwork or institution itself. This is a consequence of the success of emancipation. Our emancipatory privilege to live only in accordance with norms we have interactively subscribed to, is now starting to turn into a burden: we feel an obligation to always live up to our emancipatory promise. Interpassivity, the inability to act according to norms we ourselves subscribe to, is a form of resistance to the pressures exerted by successful emancipation. In contrast with Latour's view that objects can become 'actors' but not for particular reasons, I argue that objects become actors because our interactivity is increasingly being 'outsourced' to them. Paradoxically, we need objects to relieve us from our emancipatory burden, in order to sustain our emancipatory ambition. In turn, the condition of interpassivity implies that objects may acquire a more emancipatory status. As carriers of interactive responsibilities, they now interact with us on a more equal footing. Certainly in that sense I agree with Latour/ANT that the agency of objects should be more seriously considered.