Things and categories. Actions and reactions.

October 1, 2014

Part 1. Thing > Category? Thing < Category?

The thing is (or can be), as described by Elisabeth Grosz, “what we make of the world rather than simply what we find in the world, the way we are able to manage and regulate it according to our needs and purposes”. It is the way in which the human, and the human mind, makes sense of an enormously complex world. The object is what one could say “is” whereas the thing is what we perceive it to be. It is important to note that it’s hard to have knowledge of the object itself since our perception will always mediate. It has to be possible, but all knowledge based purely on measurable facts will miss something essential to the human understanding. The facts are only one story of
the thing.

Looking also at Zygmunt Baumans work “Modernity and Ambivalence” there is a connection to be made to his idea of categorization. That there is a constant work to define things, of themselves and in relation to each other. This constant work of categorization leads in turn to more ambivalence, since the world does not easily conform to rigid systems. Moving from this there is an interesting question of how the human mind creates categories, which properties these categories ascribe to the members of the respective categories and in turn how these properties are figured out to begin with.

Just applying common sense it wouldn’t seem improbable that a category is created when a human observes a correlation of properties between different things. These shared properties should then be the basis for the properties that the category “ascribes” to the members. What’s interesting is that it often seems to be the other way around, that the category ascribes properties to the members even though they actually don’t conform to the actual properties of some or all members. Maybe there is a rigidity or slowness in redefining categories when our understanding of the members change or the members themselves change.

Looking at this from a gender perspective in architecture it could be exemplified with a boss seeing a new hire for the first time. Based on superficial properties, “how she looks” the new hire would be
categorized with other “somethings” that share this properties. Nothing strange thus far. But what seems to also happen is that the new hire will have properties ascribed to her based on that same
category in which she was just inserted. These properties might, of course, not apply at all. So instead of continuously modifying categories or moving members around based on new observations or new information the “somethings” are assumed to conform to whatever category they were put in until proven otherwise.

 

Part 2. Thing, action – action, reaction.
Every object, thing or happening (“something”) is placed in between actions (before it) and reactions (after it). Contrary to how I understand Jane Bennett’s text I don’t believe we have to assume a certain essence of being in these “somethings” but rather can merely assume that they are the result of actions and will cause re-actions. This can in this instance be assumed to be true of humans as well.

There are two things that should not be inferred from this. The first is the assumption that this leads to determinism. There seems to be a certain amount of uncertainty at every step in the web of action, reaction. That there are many different possible outcomes at every turn, one of which is chosen. Why that one in particular happens to be chosen I can’t say, but there seems no way of predicting exactly what will happen based only on what has happened up to that point. Whether that is because we lack tools or because of a randomness to the world I don’t know.

The second is that this action, reaction relationship should be viewed as a chain of events. Every “something” is the result of not one but many actions, some which happen at the same time and it will also cause many reactions, some of those also happening at the same time. Every one of those actions and reactions are an object or happening of their own that will also have many actions and reactions related to them. Thus what we and up with is an enormous web of actions and reactions.

When considering the life of a “something” one can situate it in a given point in space and time. A fixed point from which its actions and reactions can be traced. This is not meant to say that this point
in space and time is this “somethings” true identity, it’s an arbitrarily chosen point. A start. From this starting-point one can then trace an object lineage backwards and forwards. A diagram that in theory is only limited by knowledge and creativity. From such a diagram one can try to trace the effects that a single “something” has had on the world, both as what was needed to cause it and what it in turn causes. In the case of gender or intersectional arguments it can show how a “something” is related to for example oppression. In this case I made a quick, slightly (very) sketchy, example using a hamburger being sold at a hamburger place at Sergels Torg. The complexity can of course be far higher but view this as a simple illustration of the method.

 

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/Gustav Knochenhauer

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