Networks, Agents and Models: Objections and Explorations

Networks, Agents and Models: Objections and Explorations

Fabian Muniesa, Ivan Tchalakov
DOI: 10.4018/jantti.2012010102
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Actor-Network Theory proves particularly inspiring in reconsidering the tenets of quantitative research and computational methods in the social sciences. However, translating insights from this perspective into operational models is problematic. The paper examines, in the form of a dialogue, critical problems of the computational modelling of network topologies considered from the point of view of Actor-Network Theory. In particular, the paper discusses the impetus of simulation and the inappropriateness of the distinction between agents and links.
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What a network is, what a model is or what a quantity is are all questions worthwhile being asked from a methodological viewpoint. At the same time, all these things (networks, models, quantities) are all particularly relevant in the characterisation of contemporary cultures and deserve also to be studied as such. Work in Actor-Network Theory has certainly already provided good occasions to engage into discussions on network topology, on modelling and on quantification as both vehicles for scientific investigation and as constitutive features of the social world (e.g., Callon, 2006; Latour, 2010). This paper elaborates on the discussion held at a workshop hosted at the CSI (Centre de Sociologie de l’Innovation), in the Ecole des Mines de Paris, on October 30th, 2008. The workshop was part of the ATACD project (A Topological Approach to Cultural Dynamics) and consisted of an informal discussion on methods in network analysis, stochastic automata modelling and Actor-Network Theory.1 The point of the discussion is: how can Actor-Network Theory still contribute to the renewal of network topology? The question is rendered here in the form of a dialogue between two human agents, A and B, freely inspired by the transcripts of the discussion: A is working on how to use stochastic automata to model heterogeneous networks, while B is mainly formulating objections. The discussion starts with an argument about the purpose of models and simulations.

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