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Plenary : Social Theory, Tarde and the Web

Bruno Latour

Gabriel Tarde had the idea of using Leibniz’s monadology to renew social theory. The idea had seemed absurd and has been forgotten. New digital techniques allow to take up again this idea and to render it operational. When it is impossible, or cumbersome, or simply slow to assemble and to navigate through lengthy profiles for each item, it makes sense to treat data (no matter what sort of human or non-human entity it comes from) by defining two levels: one for the element, the other for the aggregates. But when it is feasible to provide, for each item, lengthy profiles, then, it is more rewarding to begin navigating datasets without making the distinction between the level of individual component and that of aggregated structure. In this case, search results take the shape of monads (or actor-networks). It is just this sort of navigational practice that is now made available by digitally available rich databases and that such a practice could modify social theory in keeping with the statistical dreams of Gabriel Tarde as well as the early attempts of Actor-Network Theory