We Have Never Been Actor Network Theorists

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 SocialI will be quoting gratuitously from both.

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The Beast of Kandahar

Iran claims to have captured one of the CIA’s stealth drones which, they say, intruded on their airspace. Usually, I would talk about nations’ continuing development of their capacity for “augmented warfare” and maybe throw in some commentary on how this relates to theories on surveillance and the state. But, to be totally honest, I am incapable of doing that right now. Not because I have deadlines for papers coming up, or because I actually promised that my next post was going to be about Actor Network Theory. Its because… Well…

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A Brief Summary of Actor Network Theory

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

 

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Who does Mike Judge, David Byrne, and Kevin Kelly Agree with- Latour or Winner

Image c/o 20th Century Fox™It is an unfortunate reality of teaching that students, who act out and behave inappropriately, get the most attention from the instructor. Their rambunctiousness puts all eyes on them (and this is usually the student’s aim) thereby winning the zero-sum game of gaining recognition from the powers of legitimation and authority.  Just as the teacher must stop the class in order to cease the distractions provided by a rowdy student, the reader of any edited volume on technology and society is forced to respond to Bruno Latour’ s claims. Specifically, in Bijker & Law’s Shaping Technology/Building Society (1994), one is forced to spend less time considering the historically nuanced analyses made by the Social Construction of technology (SCOT) theorists, so as to devote enough time to figure out what, exactly, Latour means when he says, “In spite of the constant weeping moralists, no human is as relentlessly moral as a machine, especially if it is (she is, he is, they are) as ‘user friendly’ as my Macintosh Computer (P. 232).”