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Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology

Search Brown



Joukowsky Institute for Archaeology & the Ancient World
Brown University
Box 1837 / 60 George Street
Providence, RI 02912
Telephone: (401) 863-3188
Fax: (401) 863-9423
[email protected]

Bruno Latour's The Berlin Key is a perfect example of the power dynamics that a key can connote. To read the full text, read the article in it's original format. [link] A brief summary of the function of this particular key can be given as thus: one side has a lip that necessitates the bolting of the door to reclaim the key when the concierge changes the aperture of the keyhole. Typically this cycle means that the residents cannot bolt the door during the day, and must bolt it at night.

“The Berlin key, the door, and the concierge are engaged in a bitter struggle for control and access…the social relations b/w inhabitants are mediated by the key and the lock. From being a simple tool, the steel key assumes all the dignity of a mediator, a social actor, an agent, an active being.”

This example raises fascinating questions concerning control, access, trust, power, secrecy and technological choice. Obviously the power in this situation is given to the concierge who constructs the parameters of the resident’s interaction with the front door. In terms of technological choice: the same result can be achieved through modern technological means, just think how some doors on Brown’s campus are open to all during the day but require card access after a certain time. So why have Berliners stuck with the same method despite advances?

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