Category Archives: Theology

Method assemblage and the good of the spiritual

Donna Haraway (1991) observed that she “would rather be a cyborg than a goddess” (p. 181). However, John Law (2004) in  After method: Mess in social science research believes we do not have to make such a choice. They are different “goods” enacted together and condensed at particular moments, while partially separated at other times. For Law, this is part of his methodology, or his method assemblage:

generally, the process of crafting and enacting the necessary boundaries between presence, manifest absence and Otherness. Method assemblage is generative or performative, producing absence and presence. More specifically, it is the crafting or bundling of relations in three parts: (a) whatever is in-here or present (for instance a representation or an object); (b) whatever is absent but also manifest (that is, it can be seen, is described, is manifestly relevant to presence); and (c) whatever is absent but is Other because, while necessary to presence, it is also hidden, repressed or uninteresting. Presence may take the form of depictions (representational and/or allegorical) or objects. Manifest absence may take the form of a reality out-there that is represented, or the relevant context for an object. Method assemblage is distinguished from assemblage in the priority attached to the generation of presence. The definition by itself is symmetrical, telling us nothing about the form taken by presence, absence, or the relations between these. A further provisional definition of method assemblage is offered in Chapter 2. Here it is treated as the enactment of a bundle of ramifying relations that generate representations in-here and represented realities out-there. This is a special case of the more general definition above. (Law, 2004, p. 161)

For Law, there are a multitude of goods generated by method assemblages. This means ‘truth’ is no longer the only arbiter, not the only good. Politics as a good, for instance, is about how to achieve better social and non-social arrangements, in which we can judge its products politically. Certain things can be made more political. Similarly, there is the good of aesthetics. What counts as beauty can be arranged more probable, or stronger, or made more real.

In this post, we are particularly interested in the spiritual as a good. Law offers two case studies of the spiritual: Quakers and the Australian Aborigines. They offer a glimpse into a world “permeated by the spiritual, and who participate in assemblages that enact its realities” (p. 150). Their spiritualities, or using Law’s terminology, inspirations, suggest three considerations. First, like the other goods of truth and politics, we cannot insist that they are the only goods, else this becomes spiritual reductionism/religious fundamentalism. Second, these spiritualities/inspirations are enacted in their specific contexts and cannot/should not be generalized across all of the spiritual. Third, we must consider whether these goods would, should, or always must be enacted. Instead, there is a temporal, or partial connection in this fractal view of world-making that re-orders the world.

For Law, method as we understood it (from a Euro-American perspective) has created a duality in which much is hidden, or becomes Othered into a kind of hinterland. Instead, his conceptualizing of multiple goods allow for different partially connected goods to be made and remade. Truths and politics, aesthetics, and spiritualities “are variously woven together and condensed at particular moments, and partially separated at others” (p. 151). The suggested image is one of choreography, a dance, or of weaving. And so, Law responding to Haraway’s observation about choosing the good of cyborg over that of a goddess, will suggest that both goods are found in this great dance, partially connecting and  separating at times, enacting alternative methods that is more generous, more modest, and perhaps more technological AND spiritual at the same time.


Haraway, D. J. (1991). A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology and Socialist Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century. In D. J. Haraway (Ed.), Simians, Cyborgs and Women: The Reinvention of Nature (pp. 149-181). London: Free Association Books.

Law, J. (2004). After method: Mess in social science research. New York, NY: Routledge.