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Actor-Network Theory

Geoffrey Bowker

Subject Sociology » Sociological and Social Theory

DOI: 10.1111/b.9781405124331.2007.x


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Actor-network theory originated in the 1980s as a movement within the sociology of science, centered at the Paris School of Mines. Key developers were Bruno Latour ( Latour 1987 ), Michel Callon, Antoine Hennion, and John Law. It was sharply critical of earlier historical and sociological analyses of science, which had drawn a clear divide between the “inside” of a science (to be analyzed in terms of its adherence or not to a unitary scientific method) and its “outside” (the field of its application). Actor-network theorists made three key moves. First, they argued for a semiotic, network reading of scientific practice. Human and non-human actors (actants) were assumed to be subject to the same analytic categories, just as a ring or a prince could hold the same structural position in a fairy tale. They could be enrolled in a network or not, could hold or not hold certain moral positions, and so forth. This profound ontological position has been the least understood but the most generative aspect of the theory. Second, they argued that in producing their theories, scientists weave together human and non-human actors into relatively stable network nodes, or “black boxes.” Thus a given astronomer can tie together her telescope, some distant stars, and a funding agency into an impregnable fortress, and to challenge her results you would need to find your own telescope, stars, and funding ... log in or subscribe to read full text

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