Actor Network Theory

This is the story of a story in the making; the story of how Actor Network Theory (A.N.T.) might change Rhetoric.

My History with A.N.T.: I found the A.N.T. light via Dr. Carl Herndl's Spring 2012 seminar course on the works of Bruno Latour. Actor Network Theory confused, thrilled, and inspired me: it suggested amazing new ways that Rhetoric could be used in the world to Do. (Or, really, how Rhetoric could be revealed as a doing.)

A.N.T. History: Actor Network Theory, as child of Bruno Latour, as well as Michel Callon and John Law, has its fullest explication in Latour's Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor Network Theory. Bruno's inexorable connection to Science Technological Studies (STS) gives A.N.T. a long indebted history that traces back through to the origins of the Sociology of Science and, ultimately, to Ludwick Fleck. In other words, A.N.T. falls in with a long lineage of the attempt to investigate and discover the fundamental workings of the "hard" sciences from the perspective of the social sciences. Yet A.N.T represents a departure from traditional STS paradigms in that it, in a classical Latour move, denies the usually inherent assumptions of both relativism (social sciences) and objectivism ("hard" science).

What in the world is A.N.T.: For a complete explication of what in the wild wild web Actor Network Theory is, please refer to the Actor Network Resource, maintained by John Law. If you're not in the mood to figure it out for yourself, then I'm still happy to help. My understanding of A.N.T. rests funamentally on the ground that it, regardless of the presence of Theory in its acronym, is not a theory but rather a method which demands that, in order to unpack the network of associations that make up the World so that their Real/ity/ness may be better known (We Have Never Been Modern), one must "follow the actors themselves" ( Reassembling the Social). Now, here is a critical point: for Latour, "actors" does not simply refer to your everyday post-enlightenment autonomous individual human but instead to all possible actants both human and non-human; anything that "does some work". You are an actor, but then again, so is your computer, your house, the sun, even the invisible bacteria that makes your throat itch. The concept of non-human agency may be the most difficult aspect of A.N.T. and I would refer you to Latour's Pandora's Hope.

If you have more time (like a lot more) than you thought, you should hear it straight from Latour's mouth.

So in review: A.N.T is a method wrapped in a theory's clothing. Moral of the method: follow the actors, follow the actors, follow the actors.

A.N.T. and Rhetoric: So why follow humans and nonhumans around with such fervor, where is the fun, and what is the point? The truth is, we're (I'm) still feeling that one out. What I've come up with so far:

1.) If we embrace Latour's conceptualization of the "Modern Constitution" (diagram seen below) which depends on the work of purification between Nature and Society which denies the true hybrid nature of both (one and the same) (We Have Never Been Modern) then we should take it as our imperative to fight the fictions-that-be.

Latour diagram

2.) Once we reject the Modernist stance in favor of a Nonmodern then we can begin to embrace the imbroglio monsters that make up our shared Real/ity; which in turn allows us, through Actor Network Theory, to trace how exactly these enourmously complex actors, situations, problems, got to be so complex in the first place: allows us to begin to understand how we tie our the Gordian Knots of our lives.

Some more...) Finally, if we can trace out how Reality gets wound up the way that it does perhaps, just perhaps, we can learn to intervine. Latour calls this the work of a Compositionalist. I call this the work of Rhetorics. It is my belief that Latour's instance on the act of tracing, of revealing, of making flesh the intricate web of relations and negotiatiations between actors that make them Real posits Rhetoric—albeit a new and perhaps un-articulated version of Rhetoric, distinct from it's Platonically damned history—as the most suited vehicle for exploring and developing those connections. Rhetoric, for me, represents the core of all actor relations while A.N.T. represents the methodology for explicating those relations.

A N T poster