Obligatory Passage Points and Delegates

Delegates are actors who “stand in and speak for” particular viewpoints which have been inscribed in them, e.g. software frozen organizational discourse. (Dear and Flusty, 2002,    398) – “Delegation, then, may be understood in a semiotics of materiality as a way of talking about the immutable mobile. Delegation is sending something out which will hold its shape – so that the centre does not have to do the dirty work itself. Which is, to be sure, not simply a moral but also a practical matter. If the King of Portugal or Vasco da Gama has been obliged to subdue the Indians alone and with their bare hands they would not have been up to the task. Delegation, then, is also something that works through a series of tiers. It is an arrangement in which you push the levers and something happens, something that magnifies in the next stage, and then again.

 “….successful delegation, the successful creation of immutable mobiles, the capacity to know and act at a distance, has other asymmetry-relevant effects. For instance, it may be thought of as the creation of what Michel Callon calls an obligatory point of passage. For the obligatory point of passage is the central node in a network of delegation, so to speak its panopticon.” (Dear and Flusty 2002,398). They use an example of pepper growers in India who are unable to sell their crop to the Arabs because then network of the Portugese have cut all the old links. If the Indian sellers want to continue to make money then they would need to be enrolled into the Portugese network. This means that now the Indian sellers become “faithful delegates of the (newly distant) Portugese centre” (Dear and Flusty  2002,398) and they keep working and performing on behalf of their center, their obligatory point of passage. OPP can thus be defined as a “privileged location that can see and act at a distance”. (Dear and Flusty 2002, 399).

Obligatory passage point can also be defined as a “single locus that could shape and mobilize the local network” and “have control over all transactions between the local and the global networks.” (Bijker and Law 1994, 31).

 Black Boxes and OPP:

 Most of the times, users are presented with enough information needed to complete a task. If the users are overburdened with information, there is a possibility that they may lose focus from the actual task. Providing a fixed method for a reader to follow may actually stimulate completion of task as compared to exposing the reader to all the intricacies. “The reader can thus concentrate on input and output-observations, measurements, and other such data – and not concern himself with the troublesome mathematics in between. In a word, such tools may be seen as a sixteenth-century version of a black box, a device intended to shield the user from complex ideas and processes he did not need to comprehend by making it possible for him to function in a limited input-output role. (Ash 2004,150).”

 By indulging in blacboxing, the authors are able to reach out to multiple audiences. Through this process, authors “also transformed themselves into an obligatory point of passage for anyone who wished to understand fully, let alone improve upon, the newly mathematized art of navigation” (Ash 2004 ,150).

 “OPP refers to a point that channels all interests into one direction. The OPP creates a ‘black box’, and translation processes run automatically without being renegotiated case by case.” (Bernsten and Seim, missing year)


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