Object-oriented Democracy

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Concept by Bruno Latour, presented by Warren Sack.


"A few years ago, computer scientists invented the marvelous expression of ‘object-oriented’ software to describe a new way to program their computers. We wish to use this metaphor to ask the question: ‘What would an object-oriented democracy look like?’… It’s clear that each object – each issue – generates a different pattern of emotions and disruptions, of disagreements and agreements. … Each object gathers around itself a different assembly of relevant parties. Each object triggers new occasions to passionately differ and dispute. Each object may also offer new ways of achieving closure without having to agree on much else. In other words, objects – taken as so many issues – bind all of us in ways that map out a public space profoundly different from what is usually recognized under the label of ‘the political.’ (Latour, 2005, p. 14 & 15).

(source: Bruno Latour, “From Realpolitik to Dingpolitik or How to Make Things Public,” in Making Things Public: Atmospheres of Democracy, Bruno Latour and Peter Weibel (editors) (Cambridge, MA: MIT Press, 2005): 14-41.)

Warren Sack:

"Object-oriented programming was invented over forty years ago (Nygaard, 1962) and incorporates both a means for describing structures and processes. The definition of an “object” incorporates both a description of its structure and a definition of associated processes (usually called “methods” or “handlers”) that might be used to query or change the structure. For example, graphical computer interfaces are usually programmed using object-oriented methods. The interface’s structures – its buttons, windows, menus, and their arrangement – are defined as objects and then “handlers” are added to the objects to define what should happen if, for example, a user pushes a button or clicks the mouse on an item of a menu. “Object-oriented publics” improves upon the network metaphor insofar as it both incorporates a means for describing processes—the dynamics and changes that can occur over time—and a framework for retaining distinctions between opposing entities. It enables us to ask a new set of questions about publics and their actions. Marres’ anachronistic employment of a 1960s computer science term to characterize Lippmann and Dewey’s ideas of the 1920s, suggests the current fascination with networks may simply be one more metaphor in a long line of others. Soon, perhaps, it will be quite dated to imagine oneself as a node in a social network of friendsters. Maybe, following the language of computer science, we will soon understand ourselves as “object handlers.”

(source: PICTURING THE PUBLIC, Warren Sack, at [email protected])

More Information

Structures of Digital Participation, ed. Joe Karaganis, SSRC Books, 2007 - http://www.ssrc.org/blog/category/ssrc-books/

warren sack - http://people.ucsc.edu/~wsack/