Practice: Actor Network Theory - Currently no debate

Definition:

According to Jary and Jary (2000), actor network theory combines post-structuralist insights with detailed empirical studies of scientific practices and technologies, organisations and social processes. It builds on the work of Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon. The focus of actor network theory is on the reality and transformability of networks, as against such notions as institutions and society. Its conception of the social is as a circulatory field of forces beyond the agency-structure debate.

Source: Jary, D. and Jary, J. (2000). Collins dictionary of sociology, 3rd ed. Glasgow: HarperCollins.

Relevance:

The relevance of actor network theory to the design of narrative environments is double:

1. It deals with the articulation of material, textural, architectural, technological, financial, environmental, textual, discursive and subjective phenomena as a system or network acting to create coherence and subject to change or modification. Narrative environments can be conceived as having a similar range and to be similarly concerned with network effectiveness.

2. It deals with a number of themes that have to be addressed in the design of narrative environments, such as for example,

• an emphasis on semiotic relationality, i.e. a network of elements which shape and define one another;
• an emphasis on heterogeneity, in particular on the different types of actor and action, human and otherwise, that animates the network’s performativity;
• an emphasis on materiality, i.e. the heterogeneous material forms through which the network is realised;
• an insistence on processes and their precariousness, i.e. all elements need to continue to play their part or else it all falls apart;
• paying attention to power, as a function of network configuration, as networked effect and effectiveness; and
• paying attention to space and scale, e.g. how networks maintain their boundaries, extend themselves and translate distant actors.

Limitations

Actor network theory is not concerned primarily with the design or the creation of new environments but with the study of existing environments as actors-as-networks and networks-as-actors, even though it recognises its study as intervening in practice and that its descriptions, explanations and research actions extend the particular environment/network in question. Nor is actor network theory explicitly concerned with concepts of narrative, although Latour does use the phrase ‘narrative path’ when explaining actor network theory, e.g. in Latour (199?) below.

Resources:

The following items are held in University of the Arts libraries: Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

The following items are available through Google Preview:

Latour, B. (2005). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-network-theory. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

It may also be worth looking at the following online articles:

Law, J. and Urry, J. (2003). Enacting the social. Lancaster: Department of Sociology and the Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University. Available at http://www.lancs.ac.uk/fass/sociology/papers/law-urry-enacting-the-social.pdf.  Accessed 9 March 2007.

Law, J. (2007). Actor network theory and material semiotics. version of 25 April 2007. Available at http://www.heterogeneities.net/publications/Law-ANTandMaterialSemiotics.pdf. Accessed 27 November 2008.

Latour, B. (2008). A Cautious Prometheus? a few steps toward a philosophy of design (with special attention to Peter Sloterdijk). Available at http://www.bruno-latour.fr/articles/article/112-DESIGN-CORNWALL.pdf. Accessed 27 January 2009.

Latour, B.  (1996). The trouble with actor-network theory. Available at: http://www.bruno-latour.fr/sites/default/files/P-67%20ACTOR-NETWORK.pdf. Accessed 9 May 2009.

No Related Practice


Related Terms:
Agency

In actor-network theory, all things – living as well as non-living, human as well as non-human – are endowed with agency.
This means that when we look for the origin/cause of a movement or a stabilised fact, we no longer have to look to just the human faculties (Enlightenment) or a suprapersonal structure (Structuralism/Hylomorphism).
In order to emphasise this shift in how we perceive agency, ANT scholars have developed the neologism of the actant. The actant essentially is what has agency – which should be seen as the ability to (profoundly) change a situation - and it can be anything: a human being, a scallop, a certain know-how, a given technology or a bacteria.

At the limit, agency isn’t even deposited strictly in humans or non-humans but always in whatever groups or networks these might make up.
The network, then, is where heterogeneous corporeal entities (substances) and incorporeal entities (theories, methods, know-how) come together to form a seemingly coherent whole, allowing for each individual member to gain something.

An important point here, is that these networks organise and bundle together other things in order to sustain themselves. They interiorises them. They could not exist without this interiorization of what is essentially exterior to them.