Actor-Network Theory

Andreas Birkbak

Publikation: Bidrag til bog/antologi/rapport/konference proceedingEncyclopædiartikelForskningpeer review


Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is an approach developed in the field of science and technology studies (STS) to avoid purely social and purely technical explanations for scientific and technological developments. ANT offers the departure point of symmetrical constructivism, where there are no primordially social or technical domains, only socio-technical hybrids. As such, ANT is a crucial instigator of a wider turn away from human-centric perspectives in social research. ANT decenters humans by offering an ontological outlook where all actors, humans included, are constituted through their heterogeneous relations with other entities. According to ANT, agency is not a human privilege, but something that emerges in networks of relations between humans and nonhuman alike, thus the name actor-network theory. ANT emerged in France and the United Kingdom in the early 1980s and its influence on STS in the following decades is hard to overestimate. Early ANT brought forward relational, processual, and constructivist studies of scientific practices and technological development. Since around 1990, ANT has been taken up in a wide range of contexts, as the thematic sections below illustrate. This broadening is sometimes associated with the label post-ANT, which signifies a more explicit engagement with the entanglements of multiple practical ontologies, and ethical and political concerns in ANT research, often in conversation with feminist STS and other post-structuralist approaches in the humanities and social sciences. Today, ANT approaches are at work across many scholarly disciplines and fields, where ANT tends to play the role of a heterodox and sometimes even implicit background rather than an explicit theoretical or methodological school. In response to this, the present annotated bibliography seeks to strike a balance between guiding the reader toward classic ANT texts and including some of the trajectories of research that have followed on from ANT in more or less manifest ways. It is not uncommon to omit the label of ANT even in key ANT texts. For example, a central contributor such as Michel Callon refers to the “sociology of translation” instead of ANT. As this lack of fixed vocabulary illustrates, defining the boundaries of the ANT literature is a never-ending task that only has temporary, partial solutions. The aim of this bibliography is not to claim exhaustiveness, but to provide a solid guide for students and researchers who need starting points, either for engaging with ANT in general, or for encountering work within their specific fields of study that have engaged with ANT.

TitelOxford Bibliographies in Sociology
ForlagOxford University Press
StatusUdgivet - 2023


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