May 17, 2017

Material Arrangements and Public Reasoning

April 8 - 9, 2016, St. Louis

The fourth annual workshop in the Social Studies of Institutions (SSI) program was held at Washington University in St. Louis, MO (WUSTL), on April 8-9, 2016. SSI is directed jointly by faculty of the University of Amsterdam, the École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales (Paris), and WUSTL. It combines collaborative training of advanced students and development of research themes.

The 2016 workshop theme grew out of our discussions about ways to articulate quite distinct theoretical orientations that we find analytical stimulating and productive. Foucault’s capacious concept of dispositif provides ways to examine power, technique, material arrangements and spatial relationships as they shape perceptions and actions. We find a very different type of starting point in the traditions of American pragmatism as they point us toward the ways that people develop practical schemas and repertoires in their interactions with others and with all that is indicated by dispositif, arrangements, assemblages and related concepts. Attention to reasoning and reflection, to deliberation and to the micro-level of everyday interactions inform the work of many of us, and, for some, link that work to theories of justice and democracy.

We wish to advance our reflections on the question of articulation raised by these concerns. We invite reflections on the interplay between these two “families” of analytical perspectives as played out over four domains: health and care, law, markets, and science and technology. Participants were asked to attend both to material arrangements and to forms of perception, interaction, and reasoning. We expect that work on one or another of the four domains will further refine and develop this conceptual interplay. Here are some initial thoughts: With respect to markets, discussions around value and values, on the one hand, and the spatial layout of actors and their sites, on the other, may structure some of our work. In approaches to law, normative repertoires are drawn on within certain material confines and facilities (files, organization of space, firms) but also with respect to ever-evolving, reflexive deliberations about justice, public order, and so on. Studies of health and care refer to the shifting legal and administrative arrangements that seekers and providers of health and care face, but also to the explicit justifications offered for particular arrangements and rules. With respect to science and technology, the interplay between forms of materiality and forms of reasoning is constitutive of knowledge. Across all these domains, we draw attention to forms of temporality, from those that are explicitly ritualized to those that emerge in new situations.