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)