Valerii S. Shevchenko

MSSES, Moscow, Russia

This paper aims to articulate the conflict of alterity models in the work of John Law. These models were elaborated to overcome the critique of actornetwork theory (ANT) launched by the academic community in 1990s. A periodization of Law’s work is performed and relevant conceptual resources extracted for each of its stages. His work is periodized as a Bloorian sociology of scientific knowledge, Foucauldian actor-network theory, and Deleuzian actor-network theory. Despite using different conceptual resources, the main problem explicated by Law was the “accomplishment” character of both knowledge and the ontological characteristics of objects. The problem of the Other becomes relevant in the Deleuzian period of Law’s work, where he attempts to elaborate conceptual optics capable of overcoming the problem by appealing to social topology. However, he almost instantly tries to elaborate one more way to overcome the problem of the Other based on a metaphysics of presence. Law does not distinguish these optics. Instead, he tries to present them as complementary parts of his conception. However, an analysis of these optics shows that they are deeply contradictory: the first is within an ontological and the second is within an epistemological conceptual framework. Social topology tries to answer the question of “how do objects function when built into human social life?”, while the metaphysics of presence tries to answer the question of “how to make the elements which are invisible to the classical methods accessible to knowledge again?”. This makes it possible to distinguish those models as contributing
to Law’s theory of objects and theory of method, respectively, and to present the work of Law as two coherent theories.
Keywords: social topology, actor-network theory, alterity, other, object, method