On Actor Network Theory by Bruno Latour

How wonderful! Latour makes explicit his acknowledgement of important metaphysical concepts in his work, which is much too rare in the writings of humanities scholars.

So, a few of Latour’s important points:

–     The platitudes ‘network’ and ‘actor’ have led to Actor Network Theory being widely and grotesquely misunderstood:

Latour says of network: “It is a mistake to give network a common technical meaning – such as in reference to a telephone ‘network’.”

The French to English translation seems to have stuffed up the definition of actor. Actor in Actor Network Theory does not mean Actor as “human intentional individual actor” but an actant which “can literally be anything provided it is granted to be the source of an action”.

– ANT is a way of explaining the connections in society that does not have first premises on a shared ontology.

– Latour lists the simplest properties common to all networks as:

Far/close: proximity does not neccesaarily define the closeness of nodes because their connections are what define the distance between nodes. He uses the example of being next to someone whilst talking to your mother on the phone, and states that you are more connected to your mother.

Small scale/large scale: “A network is never bigger than another one, it is simply longer or more intensely connected.” I like his style here, “the notion of network allows us to think of a global entity -a highly connected one- which remains nevertheless continuously local”. This kind of relates to the absurdity in the meaning of life that we’ve been studying in philosophy recently. And it kind of relates to what I’ve been studying in economics recently – the problem of globalization for trade and local production. And it makes sense that it relates to both of these because one is us trying to make a network to justify our place in the world and the other is a network of trade.

Inside/Outside

– The implications of the notion of network are massive: “in its barest topological outline, allows us already to reshuffle spatial metaphors that have rendered the study of society-nature so difficult: close and far, up and down, local and global, inside and outside”. Pity this sentence is rendered unmeaningful in the translation: “It is only when a third strand is added to those two and that networks are made an ontological claims that ANT escapes criticisms”. Because I take this to be one of the most important points in the article..

– ANT is very French