instrumentality is not agency


All forms of reification inhibit the development of understanding of the social complex. Ventolin is not my partner it is my tool. 

McLuhan repeatedly argued that media and other technologies were ‘extensions’ of the body and this is all the salbutamol inhaler is; an extension of the immune system of the lungs. 


The non-place as commodity. The non-place as fetish.


In Auge’s wonderful ‘Non-Places’ (Verso 1995) the coming to dominance of spaces devoid of any history of human interaction is carefully mapped. The eradication of the human through uniformity and the ever temporary use of permanent volumes through which one passes without leaving a ‘trace’ transforms social space into non-place. In this instance we are confronted by the transformation of such non-place itself into commodity through the ‘virtual’. Non-places are sites of profit, they are a function of capitalism, but in this case the non-place is the commodity. 

‘Counts-as’ procedures; the attributional character of description

In his Discourse and Cognition (Sage 1997 p39-43 & 301-20) Edwards outlines a set of descriptive practices he calls ‘counts-as’. These “post-hoc description” procedures involve “the reading-in of … categories…” by us into the phenomena we study. This ‘reading-in’ by ‘the experimenter’ (us) into the phenomena that ‘the participants’ (them – our objects of study) experienced, discussed or were is at the expense of treating the interactions we are participating in through observation as features of human life arising out of cultural practices. When we accept that what is or was is that which is or was interactionally treated as existing we realise the analytical problematic of our categories and modes of study.

My fourteen year old copy of the histories of Gregory of Tours


Irreplaceable because of the memories it evokes even though it is now almost functionally useless. It is a constant reminder not just of my attempts to study the past but of friends, family, and loss.

Benjamin’s thoughts on collecting show us that it is this connotational aspect of objects that is most fragile and most important. If we are to avoid reification or naïvety we must attend to the history of human interaction the object stands for.

The Object of Collection

Benjamin was concerned with the role of objects and our patterns of handling them throughout his work and in this remark from The Arcades Project he indicates the problematic he was working around.


What is decisive in collecting is that the object is detached from all its original functions in order to enter into the closest conceivable relation to things of the same kind.  This relation is the dramatic opposite of any utility, and falls into the peculiar category of completeness.  What is this “completeness”?  It is a grand attempt to overcome the wholly irrational character of the object’s mere presence at hand through its integration into a new, expressly devised historical system:  the collection.  And for the true collector, every single thing in this system becomes an encyclopaedia of all knowledge of the epoch, the landscape, the industry, and the owner from which it comes.  It is the deepest enchantment of the collector to enclose the particular item within a magic circle, where, as a last shudder runs through it (the shudder of being acquired), it turns to stone.  Everything remembered, everything thought, everything conscious becomes socle, frame, pedestal, seal of his possessions.  It must not be assumed that the collector, in particular, would find anything strange in the topos hyperouranios – that place beyond the heavens which, for Plato, shelters the unchallenged archetypes of things.  He loses himself, assuredly.  But he has the strength to pull himself up again by nothing more than a straw; and from out of the sea of fog that envelops his senses rises the newly acquired piece, like an island. – Collecting is a form of practical memory, and of all the profane manifestations of “nearness” it is the most binding.  Thus, in a certain sense, the smallest act of political reflection makes for an epoch in the antiques business.  We construct here an alarm clock that rouses the kitsch of the previous century to “assembly”.


Benjamin The Arcades Project Convolute H [H1a,2]

Now & Then

We treat the past as a continuum but one that is separate from now.  We treat our ‘now’ as distinct from the past in everything that we do and most especially in any kind of academic analysis or organised thinking.  In the act of reflecting on the past, for what ever reason, we set ourselves apart from it and in doing so reveal the radical dis-continuum of the past.  Foucault lead the charge in the 20th century for considering the past as a sequence of discontinuities (especially in his Orders of Discourse lecture) and Benjamin (particularly with the concept of Jetztzeit), Ferro, and the ‘Invention of Tradition’ Group all contributed to this understanding but we must now see that they did not go far enough.  The ‘counts-as’ quality of the past, its quality as discursive resource, renders it radically discontinuous.