Week 4 – Assemblages and Actor-Network Theory

I found the Actor-Network Theory (ANT) quite difficult to get my head around. It was developed by Bruno Latour and Michel Callon in the 1980s and is defined as “an approach to social theory and research, originating in the field of science studies, which treats objects as part of social networks” (Wikipedia, 2014).

These networks of social and technological interaction centre on publishing and distributing content through human and non-human ‘actants’, which are Latour calls an assemblage. An assemblage is an assembling of elements and actants in a flat ontology, meaning treating the elements equally – in simple terms, a modern approach to the egg v. chicken debate.

Oxford Dictionary's definition of assemblage (Oxford Dictionaries, 2014)
Oxford Dictionary’s definition of assemblage (Oxford Dictionaries, 2014)

There are many different types of human and non-human actants:

  • human actants
    • publishers
    • software developers
    • readers/buyers
    • writers
    • advertisers
    • critics
    • editors
    • reporters
    • journalists
  • non-human actants
    • iPad/Kindle
    • software
    • libraries
    • ink
    • paper
    • computer
    • email
    • internet
    • archives

The following diagram illustrates how the Actor-Network Theory is an example of assemblage

screen-shot-2013-03-24-at-2-58-26-pm

The following video provides a clearer understanding of the Theory and the notion of assemblage. It explains how the predominate aspect to Latour’s theory is being able to distinguish and differentiate between technological and human interaction actants and therefore mediators such as the ANT are necessary, thus fitting together as an assemblage.

“What seems to be Technical, is partly Social; and what seems to be Social, is partly technical” – (Delukie 2009)

A criticism I found is that technology and social aspects are equal. In today’s society this theory lacks development for the current period, for example with publishing; publishers like Amazon choose the technological tools such as iPad and Kindle. As well, new technologies are being developed constantly and are determined by social interaction. However, if people are not purchasing Kindles, publishing companies stop allowing the selling of their e-book. Therefore publishers are in control and there is not equality between the social and technological aspects of the Actor-Network Theory.


References

  1. Wikipedia, 2014, Actor-Network Theory[online], Available at: <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor-network_theory> [Accessed: 17 August 2014]
  2. delukie, 2009, ’Actor-Network Theory in Plain English’, Khaki Films, [YouTube Video], Available at: <https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2YYxS6D-mI> [Accessed: 17 August 2014]
  3. Banks, David, 2011,  A Brief Summary of Actor-Network Theory, Cyborgology, Available at: <http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/12/02/a-brief-summary-ofactor-
    network-theory> [Accessed: 17 August 2014]
  4. Ryder, Martin, n.d., What is Actor-Network Theory?, Carbon.ucdenver.edu, Available at: <http://
    carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc/ant_dff.html> [Accessed: 17 August 2014
  5. Oxforddictionaries.com, 2014, assemblage: definition of assemblage in Oxford dictionary [online] Available at: <http://www.oxforddictionaries.com/definition/english/assemblage> [Accessed 17 August 2014]

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