Charmaine A. Nelson

Charmaine A. Nelson’s research and teaching interests include postcolonial and black feminist scholarship, Transatlan­tic Slavery Studies, and Black Diaspora Studies. She has made ground­breaking contributions to the fields of the Visual Culture of Slavery, Race and Representation, and Black Canadian Studies. Nelson has authored six books, including the edited book Ebony Roots, Northern Soil: Perspectives on Blackness in Canada (Newcastle upon Tyne, UK: Cambridge Scholars Press, 2010), and the single-authored books The Color of Stone: Sculpting the Black Female Subject in Nineteenth-Century America (Minneapo­lis: University of Minnesota Press, 2007) and Slavery, Geography, and Empire in Nineteenth-Century Marine Landscapes of Montreal and Jamaica (London: Routledge/Taylor Francis, 2016). Nelson’s passion for connect­ing with the lay public is demonstrated in her active media presence which includes work with The Montreal Gazette, The Toronto Star, CTV News, the BBC, and CBC Radio. She has also written for The Walrus and blogs for Huffington Post Canada. Nelson has held several prestigious fel­lowships and appointments, including a Caird Senior Research Fellow­ship, National Maritime Museum, UK (2007), a Fulbright Visiting Research Chair (2010), University of California-Santa Barbara, and a Visiting Professorship in the Department of Africology at the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee (2011). In 2016, she was named as a Fellow – :he Royal Society of Canada, College of New Scholars, Artists, and scientists and in 2017-18 she was the William Lyon Mackenzie King Visiting Professor of Canadian Studies at Harvard University.


A talk by the scholar Charmaine A. Nelson planted the seed for my interest in creating this glossary.


Bruno Latour

Bruno Latour has many faces. He is known to many as an ethnographer of the world of everyday technology who in meticulous studies has shown how seemingly trivial things, like a key or a safety belt, actively intervene in our behavior. Others know Latour as an essayist very well versed in theory who charged the philosophers of postmodernity—principally Lyotard and Baudrillard but also Barthes, Lacan, and Derrida—that their thinking merely revolves around artificial sign-worlds and who confronted them with the provocative assertion that “we have never been modern.”1

Bruno Latour, Michel Callon and John Law are attributed to the development of Actant-Network Theory


Bruno Latour in Pieces: An Intellectual Biography
Henning Schmidgen
Translated by Gloria Custance
Series: Forms of Living
Published by: Fordham University Press

Actor Network Theory (ANT)

Actor-network theory (ANT) is a sociological theory developed by Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law and others.

Actor Network Theory can more technically be described as a “material semiotic” method. This means that it maps relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and “semiotic” (between concepts). It assumes that many relations are both material and “semiotic” (e.g. the interactoin ina bank involve both people and their ideas, and technologies. Together these form a single network.)

In Defense of Sociology: Aesthetics in the Age of Uncertainty, Janet Wolff
Actor Network Theory, unpaginated
Actor Network Theory and Anthropology after Science, Technology, and Society, Robert Oppenheim

Actor Network Theory is an approach to research that sits with a broader body of new materialism; a body of work that displaces humanism to consider dynamic assemblages of humans and nonhumans. Originally developed in the social studies of science and technology undertaken in the second half of the 20th century, Actor Network Theory has increasingly been taken up in other arenas of social inquiry. Researchers working with Actor Network Theory do not accept the unquestioned use of “social” explanations for educational phenomena. Rather, the social, like all other effects, is taken to be an enactment of heterogenous assemblages of human and nonhuman entities. The role of the educational researcher is to trace these processes of assemblage and reassemblage, foregrounding the ways in which certain entities establish sufficient allies to assume some degree of “realness” in the world.

Aligning most closely with ethnographic orientations, Actor Network Theory does not outline a method. However, it could be argued that a number of propositions are shared in Actor-Network-Theory-inspired approaches:

1. The world is made up of actors (or actants), all of which are ontologically symmetrical. Humans are not privileged in Actor-network theory.

2. The principle of irreduction—there is no essence within or beyond any process of assemblage. Actors are concrete; there is no “potential” other than their actions in the moment. Entities are nothing more than an effect of assemblage.

3. The concept of translation and its processes of mediation that transform objects when they encounter one another.

4. The principle of alliance. Actants gain strength only through their alliances. These propositions have specific implications for data generation, analysis, and reporting.

Source: Oxford University Press

Further Reading:
On actor-network theory. A few clarifications plus more than a few complications (Bruno Latour)