Objects vs. Things

by Jesper Magnusson


“…all his (Heideggers) writing aims to make as sharp a distinction as possible between, on the one hand, objects, Gegenstand, and, on the other, the celebrated Thing. The handmade jug can be a thing, while the industrially made can of Coke remains an object. While the latter is abandoned to the empty mastery of science and technology, only the former, cradled in the respectful idiom of art, craftsmanship, and poetry, could deploy and gather its rich set of connections.” (Latour 2004)

Latour discloses some serious doubts on Heidegger’s dualistic categorisation of material entities as being either objects or things. Heidegger’s view can however be seen as a tentative way of examining the nature of entities, a way that can make sense. His somewhat blunt distinction still illuminates that entities are highly complex and can be perceived and interpreted in many ways. If Heidegger’s object-thing notions are transferred to architecture it´s obvious that they convey an interesting entry to a discussion on qualitative issues. A space or an artefact that is manufactured instrumentally, without social objectives or considering material/spatial agency may have different qualities than a space or artefact produced under the opposite circumstances. Or have it not?

One question could be if the distinction between object and thing is relevant, or productive, from a research perspective? What to do with it? If we could classify a piece of architecture as being either an object or a thing there are still no causal effects that can be registered. Or is there? Following Latour one could also claim that all entities are the result of, and parts of, relational (socio-material) networks, thus – all entities are things. There are simply no objects in the world.


Bruno Latour, ‘Why has critique run out of steam?’ in Critical Inquiry, 30, Winter 2004

Sven-Olov Wallenstein, ‘Noopolitics, Life and Architecture’ in Deborah Hauptman and Warren Neidlich, eds, Cognitive Architecture. From Biopolitics to Noopolitics. Architecture & Mind in the Age of Communication and Information, Rotterdam: 010 Publishers, 2010