Actor network theory
Actor network theory
Main dependent construct(s)/factor(s)
Main independent construct(s)/factor(s)
Key terms: actor, network, translation, problemization, OPP, interessement, enrollment, inscription, irreversibility
Concise description of theory
Actor-network theory, sometimes abbreviated to ANT, is a sociological theory developed by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law. It is distinguished from other network theories in that an actor-network contains not merely people, but objects and organizations. These are collectively referred to as actors, or sometimes actants.
The primary tenet of actor-network theory is the concept of the heterogenous network. That is, a network containing many dissimilar elements. These coextensive networks comprise of both social and technical parts. Moreover, the social and technical are treated as inseparable by ANT. When buying produce from a supermarket, for example, the actor-network involved would include the purchaser and the cashier, as well as the cash register, the money and the produce involved. It also includes other, less obvious objects, such as the clothes the purchaser wears, without which they would most likely not be served. The task of trying to identify all of the heterogeneous elements in an actor-network like this can be difficult, and is ultimately up to the discretion of the researcher. This is known as the problem of selection.
Actor-network theory claims that any actor, whether person, object (including computer software, hardware, and technical standards), or organization, is equally important to a social network. As such, societal order is an effect caused by an actor network running smoothly. This order begins to break down when certain actors are removed. For example, the removal of telephones, banks or the president may all result in significant break-downs in social order.
Source: Wikipedia ([http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor_network_theory])
Diagram/schematic of theory
Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law
Callon, M. (1986a). ‘The Sociology of an Actor-Network: The Case of the Electric Vehicle’. Mapping the Dynamics of Science and Technology. Callon, M., Law, J. and Rip, A. (Eds). Macmillan Press, London: 19-34.
Callon, M. (1986b). ‘Some Elements of a Sociology of Translation: Domestication of the Scallops and the Fishermen of St Brieuc Bay’. Power, Action & Belief. A New Sociology of Knowledge? Law, J. (Ed). Routledge & Kegan Paul, London: 196-229.
Callon, M. (1987). ‘Society in the Making: The Study of Technology as a Tool for Sociological Analysis’. The Social Construction of Technological Systems. Bijker, W. E., Hughes, T. P. and Pinch, T. P. (Eds). The MIT Press, Cambridge, Ma.: 85-103.
Callon, M. (1997). ‘Actor-Network Theory - The Market Test (draft)’ Actor Network and After Workshop. Centre for Social Theory and Technology (CSTT), Keele University, UK, http://www.keele.ac.uk/depts/stt/stt/ant/callon.htm, 31 July 1997.
Latour, B. (1986). ‘The Powers of Association’. Power, Action and Belief. A new sociology of knowledge? Sociological Review monograph 32. Law, J. (Ed). Routledge & Kegan Paul, London: 264-280.
Latour, B. (1987). Science in Action: How to Follow Engineers and Scientists Through Society. Open University Press, Milton Keynes.
Latour, B. (1988a). The Pasteurization of France. Harvard University Press, Cambridge, Ma.
Latour, B. (1988b). ‘The Prince for Machines as well as for Machinations’. Technology and Social Process. Elliott, B. (Ed). Edinburgh University Press, Edinburgh: 20-43.
Latour, B. (1991). ‘Technology is society made durable’. A Sociology of Monsters. Essays on Power, Technology and Domination. Law, J. (Ed). Routledge, London: 103-131.
Latour, B. (1997). 'On Actor Network Theory: A few clarifications.' http://www.nettime.org/Lists-Archives/nettime-l-9801/msg00019.html.
Level of analysis
IS articles that use the theory
Bijker, W. and J. Law (eds.) (1994) Shaping technology / building society: studies in sociotechnical change, Cambridge Ma: The MIT Press.
Bloomfield, B. P., et al. (1992). "Machines and manoeuvres: Responsibility accounting and the construction of hospital information systems." Accounting, Management and Information Technologies 2(4): 197-219.
Bloomfield, B. P. and T. Vurdubakis (1994). "Negotiating the Boundary between the Technical and the Social in the Development of IT Systems." Information Technology & People 7(1): 9-24.
Bonner, W (Bill). T. and M. Chiasson (2005). "If fair information principles are the answer, what was the question?: An Actor-Network Theory Investigation of the Modern Constitution of Privacy." Information & Organization 15(4): 267-293.
Bonner, W (Bill). T., et al. (2009). "Restoring balance: How history tilts the scales against privacy. An Actor-Network Theory investigation." Information & Organization 19(2): 84–102.
Bonner, W. B. T. (2013). "History and IS – Broadening our view and understanding: Actor–Network Theory as a methodology " Journal of Information Technology 28(2): 111-123.
Doolin, B. and A. Lowe (2002). "To reveal is to critique: Actor-network theory and critical information systems research." Journal of Information Technology 17(2): 69-78.
Hanseth, O. and E. Monteiro (1997). "Inscribing Behaviour in Information Infrastructure Standards." Accounting, Management and Information Technologies 7(4): 183-211.
Holmstrom, J. and F. Stalder (2001). "Drifting technologies and multi-purpose networks: the case of the Swedish cashcard." Information & Organization 11(3): 187-206.
Kavanagh, D. and L. Araujo (1995). "Chronigami: Folding and unfolding time." Accounting, Management and Information Technologies 5(2): 103-121.
McGrath, K. (2002). "The Golden Circle: a way of arguing and acting about technology in the London Ambulance Service." European Journal of Information Systems 11(4): 251-266.
Larsen, T., L. Levine, and J. I. DeGross (Eds.) (1999) Information systems: current issues and future changes, Laxenburg: IFIP.
McMaster, T., E. Mumford, E. B. Swanson, B. Warboys et al. (Eds.) (1997) Facilitating technology transfer through partnership: Learning from practice and research, London: Chapman and Hall.
Orlikowski, W., G. Walsham, M. Jones, and J. I. DeGross (Eds.) (1996) Information technology and changes in organizational work, London: Chapman and Hall.
Sarker, S., Sarker, S., and Sidorova, A. "Understanding Business Process Change Failure: An Actor-Network Perspective," Journal of Management Information Systems (JMIS), Vol. 23, No. 1, Summer 2006, pp. 51-86.
Sawyer, S., and Jarrahi, M. H. 2014. Sociotechnical Approaches to the Study of Information Systems. In A. Tucker, & H. Topi (Eds.), Computing Handbook: Information systems and information technology, 3rd Edition. Boca Raton, FL: Taylor & Francis.
Scott, SV and Wagner EL, (2003) "Networks, negotiations and new times: The implementation of enterprise resource planning into an academic administration," Information and Organization, v.13, issue 4, pp. 285-313.
Strathern, M. (1999) “What is intellectual property after?,” in J. Law and J. Hassard (Eds.) Actor Network Theory and After, Oxford: Blackwell Publishers / The Sociological Review, pp. 156-180.
Walsham, G. (1997) “Actor-Network Theory and IS research: Current status and future prospects,” in A. S. Lee, J. Liebenau, and J. I. DeGross (Eds.) Information systems and qualitative research, London: Chapman and Hall, pp. 466-480.
Walsham, G. and Sahay, S. 1999. GIS for district-level administration in India: problems and opportunities. MIS Quarterly. 23, 1 (Mar. 1999), 39-65.
Links from this theory to other theories
http://www.learning-theories.com/actor-network-theory-ant.html, Summary of ANT by Learning-theories.com.
http://www.idi.ntnu.no/~ericm/ant.FINAL.htm, Eric Monteiro's summary of ANT and information infrastructure.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/actor-network-theory/, ANT theory group discussion site on Yahoo.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor_network_theory, Wikipedia entry on ANT.
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