So what…

So what… What critical value does an object-oriented philosophy add to our understanding of media, the Internet and contemporary relations of power?

I am arguing that an object-oriented approach allows us to see software, imaging and networks in a new and useful way, a way focused on objects not wider fields of power, relationality, potentiality or becoming. I argue that an object-oriented perspective gives a more coherent picture of weird objects such as protocol and its operations. I argue that addressing jpeg as an object connecting with other objects within objects. Enables an account of essence, time and space that is more coherent and has more explanatory reach when understanding jpeg-imaging. But what of its critical reach? What of its relationship to governmentality?

Harman and indeed Latour make no claims for a political project. Latour famously tells his rhetorical student to ‘just describe’:  “If I were you, I would abstain from frameworks altogether. Just describe the state of affairs at hand” (2004: n.p.). Here there is no Foucauldian field of power or Deleuzian control society. For Latour there are networks, for Harman, objects. One can criticise this ‘apolitical’ stance but, politics is not there project. But it is mine. My interest in the contemporary scopic regime is in part connected with an understanding of that Facebook/Google regime as power-full. The datamining practices and businesses are not neutral, the infinite archives are not outside power. These practices and, in my framework objects and object-connections are enfolded with power. But for me, those power-full practices and positions need to be addressed in terms of objects not at the scale of assemblages or regimes.

Galloway and Thacker (2007) are clear that protocol is a key player in contemporary movements and relations of power. They also assert that it can be the means of critical intervention. For them the object is open to reconnection, reworking, exploit. My only point of disagreement is that they see the (counter)protocological object as separate from the ‘control society’ they seek to intervene within.

From an object-oriented perspective, the disciplinary operations of data-mining software, facial-recognition algorithms or search spiders (all of which can be addressed as objects within which jpeg connects with other software actants), the software spaces and materialities that software studies has drawn attention to, need to be understood as the operations of objects if they are to be reworked.

Seeing what Eli Pariser calls ‘the filter bubble’ (2011), the disciplinary marking out of what can be said/found, can of course be addressed at the scale of the ‘control society’, relations and circulations of governmental power or context. Such a perspective can even include an account of objects as bearers or traces of that power.  An alternative account could draw those power-full operations in terms of an object-determined, technological determinist picture where that field of power is transformed and driven by particularly technologies and objects. For both perspectives, objects and power are separate.

An object-oriented perspective however refuses to leave the object in search of power. The filter bubble is an example of objects connecting (algorithms, software, protocol, business strategy, control politics, venture capital and me as subject, to name just a few). We do not need to work at the scale of context or ‘power’ to understand how that works nor to intervene in its workings.

In this perspective the power at work in the Google image search, the power of the filter bubble to incite and limit discourse or to datamine and survey, is at work in the connections between objects – jpeg, search algorithm etc. That connection has a unity that allows it to function, to filter, to survey. That connection is what makes it power-full. That conection (however short-lived it may be) has a necessary unity. It exceeds its qualities and has an actuality. It therefore meets the criteria of an object. Consequently it can be reconfigured as a new object. It can be the space of exploit. Contra Galloway and Thacker, it can be understood and intervened in at the level of objects. In fact it becomes more open to exploit because the intervention is at the scale of objects.

  • Galloway, A.R. & Thacker, E., 2007, The Exploit: A Theory Of Networks, Univ Of Minnesota Press, Minneapolis.
  • Latour 2004, A Prologue In Form Of A Dialog Between A Student And His (Somewhat) Socratic Professor, in C Avgerou, C Ciborra & F Land (eds), The Social Study of Information and Communication Study, Oxford University Press, Oxford, pp. 62-76.
  • Pariser, E., 2011, The Filter Bubble What the Internet Is Hiding from You, Penguin Books, Harmondsworth.