Latour’s goal of Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory is re-imagine the work of sociology. Latour says that for too long sociologists have been practicing a ‘social explanation’ discipline. Instead, he calls for a sociology of associations, which is focusing the tracing of associations, or “social does not designate a thing among other things, like a black sheep among other white sheep, but a type of connection between things that are not themselves social” (5, emphasis his).
He believes ANT provides a way of tracing these associations in a robust way, a way that requires a researcher to continue to find more and more traces, ultimately that can never all be found. The book provides a framework for researchers in medias res.
Some of the important terminology that Latour explores to help researchers have a vocabulary to discuss what they are seeing as they trace these associations includes terms such as: actor (actant), agency, intermediary, mediator, and figuration.
Actor/Actant – I really struggled to find the differentiation between these two words. Finding a blog about Bruno Latour and actor-network theory helped me some. Actant can include material causes that are non-human, whereas Actor is reserved for humans in the network.
Agency -“are part of an account; they are given a figure of some sort; they are opposed to other competing agencies; and finally, they are accompanied by some explicit theory of action” (52). ** “actors are also able to propose their own theories of action to explain how agencies’ effects are carried over” (57).
Figuration – A description of the actant; “ideo-, techno-, or bio-morphisms are ‘morphism’ just as much as the incarnation of some actant into a single individual” (54). So I think this means what kind of actant it is.
Intermediary – “that which transports meaning or force without transformation: defining its inputs is enough to define its outputs. Can be taken not only as a black box, but also as a black box counting for one, even if it is internally made of many parts” (39).
Mediator – “transform, translate, distort, and modify the meaning or the elements they are supposed to carry. Cannot be counted as just one; they might count for one, for nothing, for several, or for infinity, while intermediaries can only count for just one, or even for nothing because they can be easily forgotten” (39).
Privileging of Actor Experiences and Narratives
One of the main things that I noticed as I worked through Latour’s book was a focus on trying to make researchers aware that the experiences of the actors and how the actor describes the theories of action to explain what is taking place is important. Latour points out that it is actually a drawback for sociologists (or researchers of any kind, really) to just assume that they know more than the actors (participants). I could see how actor-network theory could draw from narratives for the purpose of studying these traces.
I personally thought of interface usability when I connected it to my OoS. It would be very beneficial to actually have actors (players) in the network discuss how they interact with the interface because it may provide insights that the researcher may have overlooked. So it would allow the researcher to trace associations between the actor and the interface. Especially when actors may modify the interface in a game like World of Warcraft by creating their own interface add-on or using a community made one, rather than the default one in the game.
The following are just three different ways that players have customized their interfaces, but they are significantly different. The first is the default setting (however, the player still picks where to place action buttons):
Blizzard Entertainment. World of Warcraft: Warlords of Draenor. Activision Blizzard, 2012. Online.
Latour, Bruno. “Reassembling the social.” Hampshire: Oxford University Press, 2007. Print.
Lena. “Actor-Network-Theory: Terms and Concepts.” The Bug’s Blog: Bruno Latour, Action-Network-Theory, and Dismantling Heirarchies. Blogspot, 26 Jan. 2009. Web. 27 Feb 2016.