Actor-Network Theory

Actor-Network Theory Sociology Definition


The actor-network theory method, principally attributed to the French social scientists Michel Callon and Bruno Latour, looks at how breakthroughs, whether in information or technology, become ingrained in society. They make a case for a “sociology of translation,” the central tenet of which is that innovations thrive when other players’ interests are included in the new venture. For instance, Latour contends that Pasteur’s well-known work on disease prevention was successful because Pasteur incorporated the interests of veterinarians, farmers, and cattle into his research program, making pasteurization seem in their best interests.

The development of actor-network theory has combined research in science, technology, and spatial data to comprehend the interactional relationships between people and the physical environment.

Latour and Callon emphasize that innovations often succeed because their proponents are adept at creating coalitions amongst diverse actor networks. Alliances between human and non-human agents are also possible.


Six Assumptions of Actor-Network Theory

A series of social analytic methods known as actor-network theory (ANT) is based on six fundamental tenets.

  1. It begins by treating institutions, practices, and actors as materially diverse entities made not only of people but also of various materials and technology.
  2. Second, it assumes that the components of practices are relational and only take on their structure and characteristics through interaction with other elements. Nothing has reality or is essentially fixed outside of the network of relationships.
  3. Thirdly, it supposes that the network of disparate relationships and behaviors is a process. Structures, institutions, and realities vanish if they are not constantly implemented.
  4. Fourthly, it consequently presupposes that realities and structures are unstable in theory, if not in actuality.
  5. Fifth, this raises the possibility that the world may differ, which increases intriguing political options.
  6. Sixth, it looks at how realities are created and sustained rather than why. This is such that even the most evident social causes, which are relationship effects, are flexible.

The sociology of science movement that gave rise to actor-network theory in the 1980s was based at the Paris School of Mines. Michel Callon, Antoine Hennion, John Law, and Bruno Latour were essential developers. It was harshly critical of past historical and sociological interpretations of science that had created a clear line between a science’s “inside” and “outside” and judged whether or not it adhered to a unitary scientific process in the application.

Three moves of Actor Network Theorists

Theorists of actor networks made three crucial choices.

They first argued in favor of viewing scientific practice as a semiotic network. In the same way that a ring or a prince may occupy the same structural place in a fairy tale, human and non-human actors (actants) were thought to be susceptible to the same analytic categories. They could be a part of a network or not, they might have particular moral convictions or not, and so on. The theory’s most important but least understood component is its profound ontological position.

Second, they suggested that scientists create relatively stable network nodes, or “black boxes,” by combining human and non-human actors in their ideas. So a particular astronomer may construct an impregnable castle using her telescope, a few far-off stars, and a financing source, and to refute her findings, another person would need to discover their own telescope, stars, and financial sources. In actuality, this implied a posture of agnosticism towards the “truth” of science. In reality, they promoted a symmetry principle that held that the same set of explanatory variables should explain both successful and unsuccessful scientific ideas. The final arbitrator of good and wrong does not exist.

Third, they argued that scientists created contingent nature-society divisions while creating these more stable network topologies. Nature and society were the results of the labor done to conduct technoscience; they were not pre-given things that could be utilized to explain anything else. This was dubbed the “Janus face” of science by Latour. It was viewed as contingent while it was being generated, but once it had been, it was considered permanent and authentic.

Together, these three actions rendered the intermediary’s role in the central analytical unit. No external civilization influences scientists as they develop their ideas, and no external natural system limits how they may tell their stories. Instead, the techno scientist mediates between politics and technology and also between society and the environment. They may serve as a spokesperson for their diverse cast of actors, and if successful, they can black box these to give the impression that they are speaking the truth.


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