Tag Archives: Bruno Latour

#Review Actor-Network Theory’s Approach to Agency

#review Features links to, summaries of, and discussions around academic journal articles and books. This week, I’m reviewing:

Sayes, E. M. “Actor-Network Theory and Methodology: Just What Does It Mean to Say That Nonhumans Have Agency?” Social Studies of Science (2014) Vol. 44(1) 134–149. doi:10.1177/0306312713511867. [Paywalled PDF]

Update: The author, E.M. Sayes has responded to the review in a comment below.

Image from You as a Machine

Image from You as a Machine

A few weeks ago Jathan Sadowski tweeted a link to Sayes’ article and described it as, “One of the best, clearest, most explanatory articles I’ve read on Actor-Network Theory, method, & nonhuman agency.” I totally agree. This is most definitely, in spite of the cited material’s own agentic power to obfuscate, one of the clearest descriptions of what Actor-Network Theory (hereafter ANT) is meant to do and what it is useful for. Its important to say up front, when reviewing an article that’s mostly literature review, that Sayes isn’t attempting to summarize all of Actor-Network Theory, he is focused solely on what ANT has to say about nonhuman agents. It doesn’t rigorously explore semiotics or the binaries that make up modernity. For a fuller picture of ANT (if one were making a syllabus with a week of “What is ANT?”) I suggest pairing this article with John Law’s chapter in The New Blackwell Companion to Social Theory (2009) entitled “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” Between the two you’d get a nice overview of both of ANT’s hallmark abilities: articulating the character of nonhuman agency and the semiotics of modern binaries like nature/culture and technology/sociality. (more…)

On Facebook, Hating CNN

royal family story

I “Like” CNN on Facebook. Not because I enjoy getting the news on my Facebook feed (my friends do that) but because I love watching a bunch of people hate on CNN. As the above photo demonstrates, CNN tends to show its ass a lot. Asking your readers about the Royal Family’s baby on the 4th of July, will undoubtedly piss off a dozen different demographics. It is constantly being called out for doing all of the things we know are wrong with American cable news. There are dozens, in some cases even hundreds, of comments about calling a revolution a coup, ignoring the important parts of stories, and generally missing the mark when it comes to stewarding and curating these weird things we generally call “national conversations.” I just want to know why CNN chooses to subject their brand to such public, naked criticism on a daily basis. (more…)

Boundless Informant: Augmented State Surveillance

Image under Creative Commons

Image under Creative Commons

I start with a nota bene by saying that I do not self-identify as a “surveillance scholar” but given our current sociotechnical and political climates, the topic is unavoidable. One might even be tempted to say that if you aren’t thinking about state and corporate surveillance, you’re missing a key part of your analysis regardless of your object of study. Last week, Whitney Erin Boesel put out a request for surveillance study scholars to reassess the usefulness of the panopticon as a master metaphor for state surveillance. Nathan Jurgenson commented on the post, noting that Siva Vaidhyanathan (@sivavaid) has used the term “nonopticon” to describe “a state of being watched without knowing it, or at least the extent of it.” I would like to offer up a different term –taken straight from recent NSA revelations—that applies specifically to surveillance that relies on massive power differentials and enacted through the purposeful design of the physical and digital architecture of our augmented society. Nested within the nonopticon, I contend, are billions of “boundless informants.” (more…)

The Body as Materialized Action Part II



A radical act?

Last week I delineated Schraube’s concept of technology as materialized action—or the notion that material objects are simultaneously imbued with human subjectivity while independently affecting human experience. I concluded by noting that this relationship between built-in agency and independent efficacy makes the object necessarily precarious—leading often to unimagined consequences.

With this precariousness in mind, I want to focus here on the body as technology, and specifically I want to focus on the body as a potentially politicized technology. I do so using the case of body size.

The body is simultaneously infused with human meaning and independent efficacy. The body is an object created out of human choices about (literal) consumption, adornment, and sculpture. At the same time, the body tells the person to ‘eat this, wear that, desire hir, move like this.’ The body then, as materialized action, is necessarily precarious. We cannot know what affect the relationship between the person and hir body will produce. Does a thin body reflect and affect fitness, or does it reflect and affect poor body image and restrictive self-control? Does a fat body reflect and affect indulgence, or does it reflect and affect acceptance and pleasure? (more…)

The Body as Materialized Action Part I

This is part one of a two-part post in which I delineate a language with which we can think about the body as technology, and in particular, politicized technology. We can do so, I argue, with Ernst Schraube’s conceptualization of technology as materialized action. In part one I lay out the theoretical framework of technology as materialized action. In part two, I apply this conceptualization to the body, and focus on the case of body size. (more…)

We Have Never Been Actor Network Theorists

Joseph Wright's "An Experiment on a Bird in the Air Pump" Depicts the beginnings of Enlightenment science

Two weeks ago, I wrote a Brief Summary of Actor Network Theory. I ended it by saying,

My next post will focus on ANT and AR’s different historical accounts of Western society’s relationship to technology. While Latour claims “We Have Never Been Modern” we at Cyborgology claim “we have always been augmented.” I will summarize both of these arguments to the best of my ability and make the case for AR over ANT.

The historical underpinnings of ANT are cataloged in Laotur’s We Have Never Been Modern and are codified in Reassembling the Social. I will be quoting gratuitously from both.

In We Have Never Been Modern, Latour comments on a debate between the political philosopher Thomas Hobbes and natural philosopher Robert Boyle. Latour describes the debate this way: (more…)

A Brief Summary of Actor Network Theory

Bruno Latour. French Theorist and Main Architect of Actor Network Theory Photo Credit: Denis Rouvre on TheHindu.com

There are many theories that seek to clarify the relationship between our offline existence and whatever it is we are doing online. I say “whatever” not to be flippant, but because there is a great deal of debate about the ontological, conceptual,and hermeneutic ramifications of online activity. How much of ourselves is represented in our Skyrim characters? Is retweeting an #ows rally location a political act? How is access to the Internet related to free speech? These are questions that some of the greatest minds of our day are contemplating. I know some equally smart people that would throw up their hands in frustration at even considering these topics as worthy of research and critical analysis. Regardless of whether or not you think it is worth pondering these questions, people all over the world are engaging in something when they post a Facebook status or check in to a coffee shop on Foursquare. In his Defending and Clarifying the Term Augmented Reality, Nathan described how our relationship to these sorts of digital Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) fits in with our historial relationship to technology: “technology has always augmented reality, be it in pre-electronic times (e.g., architecture or language as technologies) or how those offline are still impacted by the online (e.g., third-world victims of our e-waste or the fact that your Facebook presence influences your behavior even when logged off).” I have argued elsewhere that, even if ICTs mark a fundamental shift in our relationship to technology, it is only another wave in a constantly evolving relationship to our own understanding of technological progress. I am going through this (hyperlinked) summary of many of this blog’s larger arguments because 1) we have been growing in readership, and 2) we are embarking on a new, ongoing, project to situate Augmented Reality (AR) amongst other theories of society’s relationship to technology. Today I want to introduce Actor Network Theory (ANT). (more…)

why i don’t like “augmented reality”

ok so i have a few complaints about the use of “augmented reality.” the first is primarily semantic. it seems (to me at least) like the term it implies some kind of (pre-digital?) “non-augmented” reality. this is more or less explicit when we refer to things like “augmented revolution” or “augmented conference.” it seems like the idea of augmented reality was introduced to make a point against a false binary (“digital dualism”) and i agree that this is important, both academically and in real life (see what i did there?). but i think the way we talk about augmented reality is sneaking a version of that binary back in. not the naive real v virtual but maybe something like real v “real+” and i think that is a mistake. and it is a strange mistake to read here, on a blog called “cyborgology” that proclaims (rightly i’m sure) that we have always been cyborgs. our friends from sst especially, i think, are sensitive to how reality has always been “augmented” if we are paying attention. (more…)