This week’s solitary reading focused on the ‘Actor-Network Theory’ (ANT), which is an approach to social theory and research, and is written by the man behind this theory, Bruno Latour.
I found the reading very heavy going, and got continuously bogged down by the specific terminology used and my apparent lack of understanding of this area.
After finishing the ten or so pages, and starting at my computer screen with a throbbing head, I started googling for information on this concept, and found this Youtube clip, aiming to summarise this theory:
This simple video helped me to get my head around what I was actually reading about previously, and worded it in a much more concise and relatable way.
From what I can gather, this is a social theory that treats this society as a complex network, one where anyone and anything can be an ‘actor’, not just humans. This is apparently the most controversial aspect of this theory, and Latour explains this by saying an ‘actor’ can “literally be anything provided it is granted to be the source of an action”.
So in these networks, people and other objects interact together to create these links and connections, further creating a larger and more interactive network. Early in the article, Latour identifies the troubles in using the term ‘network’, due to its numerous connotations, but he later states that his reasoning for using the word was because “it has no priori order relation; it is not tied to the axiological myth of a top and of a bottom of society”, making it an effective term to employ.
The central concept of the theory is that neither technological or social aspects or given any more privilege or weight, they are treated as equals. These offsets the arguments between technological determinism and social determinism that we saw in the last lecture, with the theory considering both of these concepts as flawed, and choosing to operate on a “socio-technical account”.
From what I can see, it seems like the Actor-Network Theory is sitting on the fence in terms of a social theory, but not necessarily in a bad way. It doesn’t choose to agree with either of technological or social determinism, but rather incorporates aspects of both of these concepts, and in a way, gets the best of both worlds, as well as including both human and non-human agents.
As the reading identifies, actors aren’t just singular objects, but rather are networks in themselves, as they are in reality made up of multiple other actors. For example, the laptop that I’m typing this post on is usually viewed as a single ‘actor’ or object: a laptop. But when you think about it, it is also made up of multiple actors working together: the keyboard, the screen, the technical parts that I don’t know the names of, and again, these parts are made up of other actors.
This theory extends this idea to social relations and networks, and I think can be applied to the online networks of the internet that we’ve been studying this whole semester.