Actor-Network Theory (ANT): An Assemblage of Perceptions, Understandings, and Critiques of this ‘Sensibility' and how its Relatively Under-Utilized Conceptual Framework in Education Studies can aid Researchers in the Exploration of Networks and Power Relations

Actor-Network Theory (ANT): An Assemblage of Perceptions, Understandings, and Critiques of this ‘Sensibility' and how its Relatively Under-Utilized Conceptual Framework in Education Studies can aid Researchers in the Exploration of Networks and Power Relations

Denise Mifsud (School of Education, University of Stirling, Stirling, UK)
DOI: 10.4018/ijantti.2014010101

Abstract

In this theoretical paper, the author provides a critical review of the Actor-Network Theory concept, while considering the relative under-utilization of Actor-Network Theory in education studies, tracing possible ways in which this theory can contribute as an analytical framework through its strands of ‘actor-network', ‘symmetry', ‘translation', and their constituents– thus facilitating its international growth. Two concepts this paper gives prominence to are networks and power relations. The author challenges the widespread conception of the ‘network' metaphor propagated by globalization discourses, contrasting it in turn with the network conception in Actor-Network Theory, where the main premise is multiplicity. The author explores Actor-Network Theory as a theory of the mechanics of power, concerning itself with the establishment of hegemony. This paper is especially aimed at those researchers of education reform who are as yet unfamiliar with Actor-Network Theory and somewhat sceptical of socio-material approaches, in order for them to realize its unrivalled potential contribution to their work.
Article Preview

Definitions Of Ant

Law (2007a) describes ANT as “a disparate family of material-semiotic tools, sensibilities and methods of analysis ... [it explores] the webs and the practices that carry them ... [and] the enactment of materially and discursively heterogeneous relations that produce and reshuffle all kinds of actors” (p. 2). In his exploration of the definition, Law (2007a) outlines four qualifications for this concept/approach. ANT is both theoretical and empirical, as theory is embedded and extended in empirical practice. Law (2007a) refuses to regard the actor-network approach as a theory, for him it is a ‘toolkit’ rather, a ‘sensibility’ for the exploration of relations and how these assemble. He even refuses to define it as a theory, preferring the term ‘material semiotics’ rather than ‘actor-network theory’, as it better captures the open, uncertain, revisable, and diverse nature of this approach, all this hinting at Law’s desire to keep it implicit and volatile, he refuses to have it pinned down to something concrete. Callon (1999) denies the claim of ANT being a theory, at the same time stressing that this “gives it both its strength and its adaptability ... we never claimed to create a theory. In ANT the T is too much (‘de trop’)” (ibid, p. 194). Law (2007a) further acknowledges the relationality of texts, thereby indirectly admitting to the subjective nature of ANT, with no researcher able to make objective claims. He describes it as neither ‘a creed’, nor ‘a dogma’, with humility as a leitmotif. Latour (1999a) outlines the agenda of ANT as comprising: the attribution of both human and nonhuman characteristics; the distribution of properties among them; the connections generated; the circulation of these elements; as well as their transformation. Thus, ANT incorporates both relational materiality and performativity (Law, 1999). It takes a semiotic world-view, embracing a negation of conventional social dualisms, where divisions are understood as ‘effects’ or ‘outcomes’ rather than being inherent in entities – “essentialist divisions are thrown on the bonfire of the dualisms” (ibid, p. 3). As a consequence of this ‘semiotics of materiality’, entities are performed in, by, and through those relations.

Complete Article List

Search this Journal:
Reset
Open Access Articles: Forthcoming
Volume 11: 4 Issues (2019): Forthcoming, Available for Pre-Order
Volume 10: 4 Issues (2018): Forthcoming, Available for Pre-Order
Volume 9: 4 Issues (2017): 2 Released, 2 Forthcoming
Volume 8: 4 Issues (2016)
Volume 7: 4 Issues (2015)
Volume 6: 4 Issues (2014)
Volume 5: 4 Issues (2013)
Volume 4: 4 Issues (2012)
Volume 3: 4 Issues (2011)
Volume 2: 4 Issues (2010)
Volume 1: 4 Issues (2009)
View Complete Journal Contents Listing