Rhea Myers

Comrades, Social Objects and Affordances

Imagine No Possessions

gapingvoid on social objects

Wikipedia: Affordances


Both state capitalism and neoliberalism have produced devices that are meant to be more than commodity fetishes. Are these just reification, however much academia and the blogosphere may protest to the contrary?

Under the theory of affordances the online social graph is produced through social objects, that is it is afforded by them. Is this reification? Are online social networks themselves hypostatization? Or are they intensification (pace Christine Harold’s OurSpace), or just implementation (utilities, to take them at Facebook value)?

If social objects are fetishized/reified they must at most be arcs, not nodes (lines not points). They will be the value of any line that they afford between other nodes. But if they are not fetishized/reified then they could be represented as nodes/points, with the lines they afford more clearly identifying that they are “comrades”, peers, or at least mediators.

Constructivist and technogeek objects, objects as comrades or social drivers, are affordative objects. They are morphisms on the social category. To avoid the “what is art” equivalent question for this we can declare all objects socially affordative and then ask which are better at it. Is an iPhone really a better socially affordance than a cup of coffee? Is a Facebook widget really a better way of making links really or virtually than meeting for a realtime conversation?

Online social networks would at most be events or contexts in a sociologist’s Social Network Analysis matrix. Would the telephone get a row, or a lonely hearts column? What kind of theory of society would that illustrate? What kind of theory of society would it illustrate if between Mrs Ingram and Mr Ippolito there was a column marked “iPhone”? And would every iPhone get its own column? Or everyone’s Facebook usage its own column? If not, why not?

Looking back into the history of ideas can expand the frames of reference that contemporary phenomena are considered in relation to. And applying contemporary sociological and mathematical concepts to social networks and affordative devices will be very fruitful. The problems of classifying relationships and of measuring relations in large populations were faced a long time ago in sociology but have just started to be of interest to bloggers encountering the iPhone. Treating social networks as sets, categories, topographies or graphs affords (fnarr) all kinds of analytical and philosophical tools.