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Chapitre D'ouvrage Année : 2019

What did we forget about ANT's roots in anthropology of writing?

Jérôme Denis
David Pontille


Beyond the scientific literacy as the starting point of ANT's investigations, such a focus on written traces calls for unfolding the utterly graphic quality of modern societies. Our world, namely writing societies (as anthropologists used to put it), is literally saturated with traces and written objects. Any human being is constantly defined with birth and death certificates, identity papers, school or professional degrees, employment contracts, fingerprints, property acts, marriage agreement… and of course handwritten signatures. Watches, calendars and diaries, clocks, rules and yardsticks, scales… and of course money are also crucial in the coordination and synchronisation of actions. Similarly, a contemporary city would not exist without its architectural plans and drawings, street plaques, directory signs, road markings, shop signs… and of course its map, on both printed and online versions. The State itself would be little, if anything at all, without administrative lists, regular population census, archives of many kinds, a lot of maps of different scales, resource inventories… and of course national statistics. In this chapter, we want to acknowledge the basic place of writing in our world by going back to ANT's roots in anthropology of writing. Such a move, we argue, is helpful in better understanding, at least, two crucial aspects of the contemporary life that are constantly performed and enacted by written traces: Forms of reasoning and modes of governing. These practices are commonplace in ANT studies, and the best-known vocabulary used by scholars to describe them is one of the 'immutable mobiles' (Latour, 1986) and their stabilising properties. However, following the developments in anthropology of writing is key in unfolding and (re)discovering how far the multiplicity of written traces goes beyond immutable mobiles, and gives access to hitherto neglected practices in producing knowledge and performing politics.


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Dates et versions

hal-02172971 , version 1 (04-07-2019)
hal-02172971 , version 2 (30-08-2019)



Jérôme Denis, David Pontille. What did we forget about ANT's roots in anthropology of writing?. Anders Blok; Ignacio Farías; Celia Roberts. The Routledge Companion to Actor-Network Theory, , pp.101-111, 2019, 978-1-138-08472-8. ⟨10.4324/9781315111667-12⟩. ⟨hal-02172971v2⟩
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