Quasi-subjects weaving relations

Quasi-objects, quasi-subjects:
Circulation in the Virtual Society

“Michel Serres describes how human relations emerge from the circulation of quasi-objects. Sociality takes place in the wake of things as they pass between humans. This makes the fate of the human powerfully tied to that of the object (…) Technologies supporting generalised communication do not so much speed up the circulation of objects, but rather increase the circulation of subjects and their avatars. Bits of us are fed around global networks. We should then speak of how the circulation of quasi-subjects creates what we usually recognise as sociality. This paper describes a double movement – that of the quasi-object and that of the quasi-subject – at work in new technologies. Drawing on an empirical study of the adoption of groupware technologies in two organisations, the paper displays how relations are spun out and unravelled along two different vectors. Going one way, the increasing rapidity with which new versions and upgrades of software are introduced across the regional sites of an organisation lead to the production of power differentials. Here, the objects weave the relations. Going in a different direction, the use of email as the primary means of conducting ‘official’ communications leads to entirely different strategies for organising and maintaining relations of mutual accountability. Here, quasi-subjects are sent out to hold things together. The tensions between these two movements is discussed in relation to the ‘virtual society'”

Paper by Steven D. Brown and Geoff Lightfoot
presented at Sociality/Materiality: The status of the object in social science
at Brunel University, Uxbridge, UK, 9-11th September, 1999.