Object-Oriented Sociality

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Object-Oriented Relationality = theory which stresses that human relationship-forming and group-forming needs an 'object' to coalesce around; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object.


"[There is a] profound confusion about the nature of sociality, which was partly brought about by recent use of the term 'social network' by Albert Laszlo-Barabasi and Mark Buchanan in the popular science world, and Clay Shirky and others in the social software world. These authors build on the definition of the social network as 'a map of the relationships between individuals.' Basically I'm defending an alternative approach to social networks here, which I call 'object centered sociality' following the sociologist Karin Knorr Cetina. I'll try to articulate the conceptual difference between the two approaches and briefly demonstrate that object-centered sociality helps us to understand better why some social networking services succeed while others don't.

Russell's disappointment in LinkedIn implies that the term 'social networking' makes little sense if we leave out the objects that mediate the ties between people. Think about the object as the reason why people affiliate with each specific other and not just anyone. For instance, if the object is a job, it will connect me to one set of people whereas a date will link me to a radically different group. This is common sense but unfortunately it's not included in the image of the network diagram that most people imagine when they hear the term 'social network.' The fallacy is to think that social networks are just made up of people. They're not; social networks consist of people who are connected by a shared object. That's why many sociologists, especially activity theorists, actor-network theorists and post-ANT people prefer to talk about 'socio-material networks', or just 'activities' or 'practices' (as I do) instead of social networks.

In my experience, their developers intuitively 'get' the object-centered sociality way of thinking about social life. Flickr, for example, has turned photos into objects of sociality. On del.icio.us the objects are the URLs. EVDB, Upcoming.org, and evnt focus on events as objects.

For a much more elaborate academic argument about object-centered sociality, see the chapter on 'Objectual Practice' by Karin Knorr Cetina in The practice turn in contemporary theory, edited by Theodor R. Schatzki, Karin Knorr Cetina, and Eike von Savigny (London 2001: Routledge.)" (http://www.zengestrom.com/blog/2005/04/why_some_social.html)


Object-oriented design for the web

"Five Principles of Social Objects

  • 1) Define clearly what the objects are and then give each object a unique URL so you can comment, tag, link in

  • 2) Define the VERBS which show what users can do with the objects

eg on Ebay - its BUY and SELL

on dogster it's ADD A DOG

maybe invent a new verb

  • 3) Make the objects shareable - widgets, thumbnails, embed code etc

  • 4) Enable gifts - because it's being able to give something to a friend that motivates virality. Turn the invitations into gifts.

Soon, people will not pay to download music, but they will pay to publish their playlists

Browsing photos in Flickr is free, but if you want to UPLOAD lots, you have to upgrade.

which is turning the business model around fom charging the spectators to charging the publishers:

  • 5) Charge the publishers not the spectators."


Sociality As Information Objects

Contribution by George Siemens at http://www.connectivism.ca/?p=127

More Information

Summary of presentation by Zengstrom, at http://distributedresearch.net/wiki/index.php/Object_centred_sociality

See the related notion of Boundary Objects

Tag for updates at http://del.icio.us/rss/tag/object-centered-sociality


  • Knorr Cetina, Karin (1997). Sociality with objects: social relations in postsocial knowledge societies,Theory, Culture & Society, vol. 14, no. 4, pp. 1–30.
  • Lash, Scott and Celia Lury (2007). Global Culture Industry: The Mediation of Things. Cambridge:Polity Press
  • Marres, Noortje (2012). Material Participation: Technology, the Environment and Everyday Publics.London: Palgrave McMillan.
  • Marres, Noortje and Javier Lezaun (2011). Materials and devices of the public: an introduction.Economy and Society,vol.40,no.4.doi:10.1080/03085147.2011.602293
  • Ratto, Matt and Megan Boler (Eds.) (2014). DIY Citizenship: Critical Making and Social Media.Cambridge, MA.: MIT Press.
  • Schatzki, Theodore R., Karen Knorr-Cetina and Eike von Savigny (Eds.) (2001). The Practice Turn in Contemporary Theory. London: Routledge