Actor-network Theory

Actor-network theory (ANT) was developed to understand the processes of innovation and knowledge creation in science and technology.

As suggested by the name, ANT describes the relationships (network) between parties (actors). It is not intended so much to predict (as a theory) relationships, but rather describe those relationships.

ANT assumes that all the elements in a network, human and non-human, can and should be described in the same terms. This is called the principle of generalized symmetry. The rationale for this is that differences between them are generated in the network of relations, and should not be presupposed. [1]

This approach disturbs some critics of ANT. They object to the implied intentionality of non-human actors. For human artifacts (for example, computer applications), this intentionality could come from the artifact designers and builders.

Actants are the functional roles of actors. One Actor can have different Actant roles. The activity of actants are ''mediation'' or ''translation''. [2]

Punctualisation is where the sub-components of an actor (whose parts are also actors), are hidden from other actors, who treat the aggregation as a single actor. An example may be a car which is made of many components, but the driver only thinks of as a car. This becomes important when punctualisation breaks down, and the componentisation becomes important, such as when a car will not start and the driver starts thinking about fuel and battery and electrical circuits.

Key to ANT analysis is the idea that the network needs to be continually re-inforced. Like dynamic memory, unless the relationships are refreshed regularly, they will dissolve.

Analysis

Central to ANT is the concept of translation … where innovators attempt to create a forum, a central network in which all the actors agree that the network is worth building and defending. [1]

Mediators are entities which multiply difference and so should be the object of study. Their outputs cannot be predicted by their inputs. [1]

Note that in comparision to Mediators, Intermediates only transfer for of some other entity, but do not change it, and so can be ignored (under the ANT model).

Consider this in light of the claim that far links or links between network clusters are more important. In this light, ANT translation the creation of the "local" network clustering, but these local networks are less important than the far links, which are controlled or at least inflused by the mediators. Maybe even intermediates are more important than ANT suggests, not in their own right, but in their capability to link local cluster network elements.


Related Material

Wikipedia — Actor-network theory


References
1. Wikipedia - Actor-Network Theory
2. Wikipedia - Actant
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