Third Source of Uncertainty: Actor-Network Theory

Posted: February 8, 2012 by jnnice in Feb 8

The focus of this weeks reading by Latour is this term, ANT: Actor-Network Theory. This theroy is a way to perceive the relationship between the the human and non-human (e.g. artifacts) in a systematic way. In short cut, the point of this theory is to say, no one is acting alone and the agency is not only assigned to the humans but almost everything in the surrounding environment whether that is just some artifacts associated, or conceptual factors, and therfore, there we as people considering social factors should count these ‘netwok’ of things around an event/a phenomenon. 

To get to his point, he firstly talkes about the existence of social heirarchies and that is what the discipline is studying and analysing for; but something is missing in many discourses: “where do they come from and what are they made out of?” (64) For this question he reveals step by step what were the technical problems.

First he redefine the original meaning of ‘social’. He uses the metaphor of supermarket to differentiate two types of meaning in the term. One is ‘social’ as in ‘social ties’, and the other is ‘social’ as in ‘associations’.  To him ‘social’ is “the multiple modifications made throughout the whole place in the organization of all the goods–their packaging, their pricing, their labeling” for it is what is revealed to observers as  new combination, having its newly defined value on its own. He concludes: “Thus, social, for ANT, is the name of a type of momentary association which is characterized by the way it gathers together into new shapes” (65). With that in mind, he states that society as in the ‘power of society’ is not society itself, but is sort of summary for all th entities already mobilized to render asymmetries longer lasting. (68)

Then he moves on how the objects are not only the tools for human activities but what the actions are actually done through. They can are part of agent for the action. The whole concept of analysing social phenomena is switched from human-central view to the environmental-whole view. This means that in terms of taking an action, it is not neccessary to put human in a subject position but the objects in subject positions (e.g. “Kettles ‘boil’ water). Interestingly, he points out the acting is not same as ‘determining’. And perhaps that is where it is different from human agency to the obejct agency. Humans are designed to will and they will to use other object agency in any way for an action probably, whereas the objects simply becomes the cause forthe action affecting the surroundings without their intentions in it.

For what I have tried to figure out what the author was claiming, I have agreed most of it. However, that the objects help trace social connections only intermittently is what I can agree the most. For it is actually the humans who has will to use the objects, their function or place or appearance can be determined by human actions. This is more actively done and can be more vivid for it is at the end, the humans who are analysing the cause-effect scenarios and it matters to the human society. However, the actions made by objects onto the humans and made humans to accept their actions can be really subtle. The objects can send out certain messages without physically doing things. Nevertheless, that can ‘do’ something to a human mind. And that is how human actions can be triggered or even the identity can be formed.

To understand the sociological factors of human society and phenomena is, therefore, a very hard to grasp sometimes, from even to define it. The scrutinazing sociological fundamentality in this way was something quite astonishing to me, although it was really hard to follow. This article makes coherence to see the importance of object as an actor although the agency is not as symmetrial to the human agency.


He mentioned about the Supermarket mataphor to explain what social means… and the ‘social’ is the newly put together thing, which went through so many processes. Then in the process of making or inventing or designing things, not about the variation of same thing for same concepts, there must be an agency for the producer to be affected. What can those be?





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