John Law

John Law
The Open University (UK) · Department of Sociology

About

207
Publications
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Introduction
How are knowledges shaped? How do they enact realities? What metaphysical agendas to they carry? How are they complicit with power? How might alternative knowledges and politics be imagined? These are my core concerns. Empirically I work on the performativity of science methods in postcolonial contexts. I am particularly interested in environmental struggles because nature/culture binaries work poorly outside EuroAmerica. Many of my papers are available at www.heterogeneities.net

Publications

Publications (207)
Article
How might we think about the fluidities of those who live in high variability environments when they butt up against state and disciplinary stabilities? This Afterword explores this question by distinguishing between infrastructures of stability and infrastructures of fluidity . The differences between these – which the paper calls the infrastructu...
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In the Covid-19 pandemic, the immediate concern of European citizens is with the spread of the virus and the public health crisis, with the lock downs and their economic consequences and with the response of governments. The crisis demonstrates the importance of the foundational economy. This is the part of the economy which cannot be shut down bec...
Article
This article is about translating and mistranslating a Sámi landscape word. That word is meahcci. In what follows we start by exploring the logic of meahcci, contrast this with Norwegian land practices, with utmark – the term which is usually used to (mis)translate it into Norwegian – or such English-language terms as wilderness. We show that meahc...
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Present-day academic work is mostly done in English. What happens, or so the contributions to this monograph ask, when we open a few windows, let in some air, and invite elements drawn from other linguistic traditions into our texts? Doing so does not simply mean welcoming other words. Along with this it also changes the conditions, the terms, that...
Article
The international spread of STS has reshaped the discipline in many ways, pushing it from its original core focus on technoscience in Euro-America to embrace new and wider agendas in other locations. For the practitioners of STS in East Asia, the complex relations between geographical region and forms of knowledge in technoscience are firmly on the...
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This article describes a colonial encounter in north Norway between Sámi practices for fishing and knowing the natural world, and the conservation policies of state policy makers. In Sámi practices the world is populated by powerful and morally lively human and nonhuman actors. In caring for the land and its lakes in practical ways it is important...
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This paper explores a colonial controversy: the imposition of state rules to limit salmon fishing in a Scandinavian subarctic river. These rules reflect biological fish population models intended to preserve salmon populations, but this river has also been fished for centuries by indigenous Sámi people who have their own different practices and kno...
Article
How to think about salmon in the Deatnu River in northern Norway? Sámi local ecological experts and biological modellers respond to this question in quite different ways. Local people are embedded in complex and situated webs of relations which include people, salmon, different kinds of fishing, forms of salmon unknown to biology, the state of the...
Article
When technoscience and state policy interact with indigenous knowledges and practices they usually do so asymmetrically. Within relations of domination indigenous knowledges are treated as ‘beliefs’ or ‘culture’ whereas technoscience qualifies as ‘knowledge’ or truth. This paper explores one such interaction: a controversy in north Norway and Finla...
Article
A language, a culture, or a thought, in its divergence, furnishes other engagements with (another glimpse of) the unthought. And its fecundity is measured by the power of this engagement and this glimpse. François Jullien, On the Universal
Book
How might we think differently? This book is an attempt to respond to this question. Its contributors are all interested in non-standard modes of knowing. They are all more or less uneasy with the restrictions or the agendas implied by academic modes of knowing, and they have chosen to do this by working with, through, or against one important West...
Article
Western assumptions about the character of the world tend to distinguish between nature, the natural, or the physical on the one hand, and culture, people, and their beliefs on the other: between mononaturalism and multiculturalism. This argument has been well rehearsed in post-colonial and anthropological literatures where it is linked to dominato...
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In this article, we explore the potential of actor network theory and feminist material semiotics as a set of tools for critical policy analysis. We describe their focus on material heterogeneity, ontological multiplicity and performativity, and consider how this both generates political and policy possibilities and impossibilities and also creates...
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In this contribution to the Common Knowledge symposium “Fuzzy Studies,” the authors, all of whom work in the field of science, technology, and society, begin from the assumption that, as Bruno Latour has put it, “we have never been modern.” They accept the STS thesis that, while modern practices purport to be entirely rational and coherent, on clos...
Article
How might Science and Technology Studies learn more from the intersection between 'Western' and 'other' forms of knowledge? In this article, we use Eduardo Viveiros de Castro's writing on equivocal translation to explore a moment of encounter in a Chinese Medical consultation in Taiwan in which a practitioner hybridizes Chinese Medicine and biomedi...
Book
For thirty years, the British economy has repeated the same old experiment of subjecting everything to competition and market because that is what works in the imagination of central government. This book demonstrates the repeated failure of that experiment by detailed examination of three sectors: broadband, food supply and retail banking. The boo...
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While it is possible to define ANT in a series of abstract bullet points to do so is to miss most of the point. Instead it explores and theorises the world through rich case studies. This means that, like symbolic interactionism, for ANT words are never enough: you need to practice it. In this paper we work empirically, drawing on an ANT-inflected...
Article
The collection focuses on ‘the device’ to explore how methods for knowing and handling the world have their own social life or even triple social life: how they are shaped by the social;work to format social relations; but also how they are used opportunistically by social actors in the systematic pursuit of political, economic and cultural advanta...
Article
In this paper we seek to expand the sense of what a device is. We draw from ethnography about contemporary farming practices, and in particular beef cattle farming, as we explore the craft of farming. Our concern with practices on the farm considers, in particular, the Cattle Tracing System (CTS) of the British Cattle Movement Service (BCMS). The C...
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The aim of the article is to intervene in debates about the digital and, in particular, framings that imagine the digital in terms of epochal shifts or as redefining life. Instead, drawing on recent developments in digital methods, we explore the lively, productive and performative qualities of the digital by attending to the specificities of digit...
Article
This paper explores actor-network theory as a form of research practice sensitive to material heterogeneities, relations, and processes. Using material from an ethnography of salmon farming, it explores the relational character of events on the farm, showing that such relations extend into different contexts that include environmental modelling, st...
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28 th July 2010; Slippery13.docx) 1 We are grateful to the anonymised 'Sjølaks AS' for their kind agreement to let us locate our study within the firm, and for its additional generous practical support. We would like to thank all those who work for Sjølaks (they too are anonymised) for their warm welcome, their help, and their willingness to let us...
Article
Abandoning Method: Sociological Studies in Methodology by D. L. Phillips
Article
This paper considers the relevance of the sociology of science for the study of power. Though there is by no means complete agreement between sociologists of science, recent work in this area has suggested that (a) scientists negotiate not only about scientific but also social reality, and (b) the distinction between macro- and micro-sociology is a...
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This article asks how contexts are made in science as well as in social science, and how the making of contexts relates to political agency and intervention. To explore these issues, it traces contexting for foot-and-mouth disease and the strategies used to control the epidemic in the United Kingdom in 2001. It argues that to depict the world is to...
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Atlantic salmon aquaculture has become one of the most profitable industries in Norway, a country which is also known for its large population of wild salmon. We explore some ways in which Atlantic salmon, an icon of wilderness, is enrolled in regimes of domestication. Inspired by material semiotics, we treat domestication as a set of practices who...
Article
This paper explores the epidemiology of the culling policies used to control the UK 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. It treats these as a set of political technologies for defining and implementing a version of the common good, and for distinguishing between those parts of the animal-related collective that were to be saved from slaughter, and those t...
Chapter
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Animals are effects. They may be understood as the performative consequences of sets of somewhat choreographed but largely unknowable practices. This implies that however much they may be engineered up, animals are also elusive, excessive and mysterious. These are the claims that we make in this chapter. But we make this argument only at the end. T...
Article
As veterinary science diagnoses, treats, and seeks to prevent animal diseases it draws on different traditions for knowing and acting, mobilises different kinds of materials, and takes on board different techniques. In this article we explore the character of this heterogeneity and the tensions that arise when the various traditions of veterinary s...
Article
In this paper we explore a moment of intersection between ‘Western’ and Taiwanese social science knowledge that took place in a Taiwanese seminar in 2009. Our interest is post-colonial: we treat this as an encounter between dominant and subordinate knowledge systems, and follow Helen Verran by conceiving of the bodily disconcertment experienced by...
Article
Using a case study, this piece reviews the multiple character of care by vets involved in the culling of farm animals during the UK's 2001 foot and mouth epidemic.
Article
This article explores a performative understanding of social science method. First, it draws on STS to consider the plausibility of the claim that research methods generate not only representations of reality, but also the realities those representations depict. Second, it undertakes an archaeology of a major survey — a Eurobarometer investigation...
Article
About the book: Michel Callon a marqué les sciences humaines et sociales par sa production académique, par ses activités d’animateur de la communauté scientifique et par son rôle de médiateur entre la recherche et le monde de la politique, de l’administration et de l’entreprise. Il a multiplié les espaces d’entente et de confrontation, en se déplaç...
Article
This paper starts by exploring the development of Science, Technology and Society (STS) in the UK in the late 1960s, emphasising its interdiciplinary roots, and comparing and contrasting it with the concerns of Sociology. It then turns to more recent developments in STS, outlining the importance of material semiotics to important traditions within...
Article
This chapter analyses the question of agency considering the animal agency of Cumbrian sheep in the uprising of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK in 2001. The article explores the conditions required for an actor to be able to act as such. In that direction it shifts the usual meaning of the concept of actor separating it from the anthropocentric mo...
Article
This paper is about ‘material politics’. It argues that this may be understood as a material ordering of the world in a way that contrasts this with other and equally possible alternative modes of ordering. It also suggests that while material politics may well involve words, it is not discursive in kind. This argument is made for the mundane and m...
Article
Matter matters - this is the issue which is explored in this article. How science, technology, and society (STS) imagines that matter matters. In STS, materiality is usually understood as relational effect. Something becomes material because it makes a difference, because somehow or other it is detectable. It depends, then, on a relation between th...
Article
This article, which is a translation of a paper that was originally published in English, analyses the question of agency considering the animal agency of Cumbrian sheep in the uprising of foot-and-mouth disease in the UK in 2001. The article explores the conditions required for an actor to be able to act as such. In that direction it shifts the us...
Article
This paper explores the character of the 2001 UK foot and mouth epidemic by offering a patchwork of different narratives, arguing that the event was complex and irreducible to a single form of representation. It rehearses the importance of non-coherent social science method.
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¿Qué sería "hablar por" una teoría o una tradición en ciencia, tecnología y sociedad? ¿Qué sería "representar" una teoría? ¿Ofrecer una interpretación? ¿Una interpretación autoritaria de su carácter, su desarrollo, sus fortalezas y sus debilidades? A veces me enfrento con esta cuestión. Se me pide hablar por la teoría del actor red. Hablar sobre el...
Article
This paper is an exploration of the dynamics of the outbreak of foot and mouth disease in the United Kingdom in 2001. Following Perrow’s analysis of the catastrophic breakdown of technological systems, the author treats the UK agricultural system as a set of flows that are both tightly coupled and complex. This suggests that the stability of the ag...
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An interview with John Law on actor network theory and its successor project, on fluid objects, and on maps and pinboards. (In Spanish)
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This chapter reviews Kai Erikson's account of the impact of disaster on communities in the context of the UK's 2001 foot and mouth epidemic. Though the disaster was deeply destructive, it is argued that the 2001 events also led to creativity and sociality.
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Purpose ? Seeks to explore the assumptions and limitations of current programmes for the creation of electronic patient records by comparing ICT programme statements with hospital uses of information. Design/methodology/approach ? Compares qualitative data from medical ICT programmes statements with data from ethnographic studies of hospital decisi...
Article
This introduction to a themed section of Society and Space explores some of the implications that boundaries are enacted rather than given.
Article
In this paper we explore the boundary between calculative and noncalculative action by arguing that these are separate but mutually constitutive. By using the notion of qualculation, a neologism coined by Cochoy, we redefine the notion of calculation to include judgment. We then argue that making qualculability is not trivial: that it takes effort...
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During research on the management of alcoholic liver disease the authors found that it was difficult to keep the condition in focus through the course of the study. Perhaps this was a sign of methodological failure, but this paper explores an alternative possibility: that social science methods are ill adapted for the study of complex and messy obj...
Article
To document the organisational response of Furness General Hospital to the large outbreak of legionnaire's disease in April 2002 and assess the contribution made by the hospital's major incident plan. Qualitative analysis of interview transcripts and written comments from some staff involved in the management of the incident. Documentary analysis o...
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This paper is concerned with the power of social science and its methods. We first argue that social inquiry and its methods are productive: they (help to) make social realities and social worlds. They do not simply describe the world as it is, but also enact it. Second, we suggest that, if social investigation makes worlds, then it can, in some me...
Article
We all know that we have and are our bodies. But might it be possible to leave this common place? In the present article we try to do this by attending to the way we do our bodies. The site where we look for such action is that of handling the hypoglycaemias that sometimes happen to people with diabetes. In this site it appears that the body, activ...
Article
What is it to be big? What is it to be small? And what is it to be global? Common sense, including a good deal of the common sense underlying network metaphors for complex globality, involves the assumption that the global is large, that it includes the (smaller) local, and that to understand it we need to adopt a holistic approach in which we look...
Article
John Law argues that methods don't just describe social realities but are also involved in creating them. The implications of this argument are highly significant. If this is the case, methods are always political, and it raises the question of what kinds of social realities we want to create. Most current methods look for clarity and precision. It...
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Editor—Zambon's editorial describes the challenge that outbreaks such as that of the severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) might pose for healthcare systems.1 We have analysed the local organisational response to the outbreak of legionnaires' disease in Barrow in Furness last summer. Some features may be relevant to large scale “medical” inciden...
Article
We all know that we have and are our bodies. But might it be possible to leave this common place? In the present article we try to do this by attending to the way we do our bodies. The site where we look for such action is that of handling the hypoglycaemias that sometimes happen to people with diabetes. In this site it appears that the body, activ...

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Projects (2)
Project
Realities, knowledges, institutions, power asymmetries, subjectivities and materials are all generated in practices. This project explores how technoscience practices intersect with and displace those of indigenous knowledge. Empirically it has two distinct foci: (1) nature, culture and environmental disputes in Sápmi in north Norway, where Sámi ecological knowledge is marginalised by technoscience; (2) the possible character of an alternative postcolonial, Chinese-inflected, STS. The projects are collaborative (with colleagues at the Sámi University of Applied Science, Norway, and the National Tsing Hua University, Taiwan respectively). The longer term goal of both is to imagine knowledge practices that recognise and make it possible to go on better together in difference. You'll find more details and online papers at: www.heterogeneities.net. If you want a copy of a paper please contact me at john.law@open.ac.uk