“All the Things You Are”. How to Investigate Sociologically Human Dependence on Familiar Things and Places

Wednesday, July 16, 2014: 8:55 AM
Room: 416
Oral Presentation
Gildas RENOU , Strasbourg University (Sage/CNRS), France
In the last two decades, the “pragmatic turn” in French sociology brought to a radical critique of the triad subject/object/representation to understanding action and knowledge. Bruno Latour’s contribution, by stressing the key-role played by materiality in accounting for individual and collective agency, was crucial to this move. In parallel, Pierre Bourdieu started to explore the relevance in social life of an infra-representational relation human beings develop with their material world. He reduces however the practical sense to the non-reflexive reproduction of pre-existing social structures through embodiment. In our contribution we discuss how the concept of familiar engagement with the environment as theorized by Laurent Thévenot provides a frame to investigate practice in terms of a kind of reflexive human agency based on a specific dependency from the non-human environment, which is ensuring the human being with a fundamental sense of ontological stability. This enduring consistence assured by familiar engagement is necessary to the exercise of further capacities to engage with the world requiring to perform the separation of a subject vis à vis her environment. That is why in our opinion to recognize and to investigate this specific dependency is a crucial task for a new-materialist approach to the study of social life. The specific human-non human entanglement of the familiar engagement gives rise to a human agent as endowed by a personality to which things and places, personally appropriated through repeated use and frequentation, are consubstantial. It accounts for human experiences such as that of being at ease, but as well of longing and belonging and of becoming in terms of flourishing. However to investigate sociologically the experience of being familiarly engaged with the world raises a number of methodological challenges that we will discuss relying on our own fieldworks on political participation and environmental mobilisations.