The status of the object: Performances, mediations, and techniques

Pels, Dick; Hetherington, Kevin and Vandenberghe, Frederic (2002). The status of the object: Performances, mediations, and techniques. Theory, Culture & Society, 19(5-6) pp. 1–21.



In their substantive introduction, the editors first revisit two classical sites of controversy which have offered frameworks for theorizing the interplay between materiality and sociality: reification and fetishism. Obviously, these critical vocabularies emerge as crucial sites of perplexity as soon as the ontological boundary between subjects and objects is rendered equally problematic and fluid as the epistemological boundary between the imaginary and the real. A thumbnail sketch of the history of the two discursive traditions (from Marxism up to Actor Network Theory) provides an elaborate systematic framework for introducing the individual articles. The first axis of debate is generated by conceptual residues of the traditional tug-of-war between idealism and materialism which continues to infiltrate recent redescriptions of the web of sociality/materiality. The concern here is how much autonomy and agency can be granted to material objects in view of their social inscription and symbolic construction, and how far conceptual experiments with the ontological symmetry between humans and nonhumans may take us and/or should be permitted to go. The second axis of debate concerns the fate of critical theory and of ethico-political sensibility in the face of heightened uncertainties about the distinction between what is real, what is constructed, and what is imaginary, and between what may count as a person and what as a thing.

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