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You are here: Home / Research / Selected publications / The whole is less than the sum of its parts

The whole is less than the sum of its parts

2012 - Bruno Latour, Pablo Jensen, Tommaso Venturini, Sébastian Grauwin & Dominique Boullier.

Abstract: In this paper we argue that the new availability of digital data sets allows one torevisit Gabriel Tarde’s (1843–1904) social theory that entirely dispensed with using notions such as individual or society. Our argument is that when it was impossible, cumbersome or simply slow to assemble and to navigate through themasses of information on particular items, it made sense to treat data about socialconnections by defining two levels: one for the element, the other for theaggregates.But once we have the experience of following individuals through their connections (which is often the case with profiles) it might be more rewarding to begin navigating datasets without making the distinction between the level of individual component and that of aggregated structure.It becomes possible to give some credibility to Tarde’s strange notion of ‘monads’.We claim that it is just this sort of navigational practice that is now made possible by digitally available databases and that such a practice could modify social theory if we could visualize this new type of exploration in a coherent way.

Keywords: Social theory; Gabriel Tarde; actor-network theory; digital methods; data visualization

British Journal of sociology, Vol 63 n° 4 pp. 591-615