Actor Network Theory and Assemblages

Actor Network theory is a theory that attempts to understand the relationship between semiotic and material components which form networks, otherwise known as assemblages.  The theory’s primary concern is understanding how assemblages form, and either stay together or fall apart.   

From the Wikipedia article, there are a few key points that could be used to illustrate actor-network theory in more understandable terms.  Firstly, actor-network theory assumes that many relations are both material and semiotic.  When examined closely, it is true that we as humans have various relations to the environment which surrounds us, which is made up of largely objects.  Objects have a purpose, and our relationship with them varies depending on the context of a situation, thus potentially transforming their symbolic meaning.

The application of actor-network theory when examining situations attempts to consider all elements equally.  This is based on the idea of a flat ontology, where all elements of the network contribute equally to what is termed an assemblage.

To think about assemblages in relation to publishing more specifically, their relevance becomes apparent.  To make something public is dependent on both human and non-human components within a network.  The technologies which make communications possible are integral to the network in which they exist.  Whilst humans are vital for the creation of content in the first place, actor-network theory would imply that all elements are equally important within the network. 

Under the presumptions of actor-network theory, the simple task of drawing a picture for example would consider equally important the individual or artist, the pencil, paper, table, chair, lighting etc… 

An important point of actor network theory is that it considers all assemblages as being transient.   This means that if just one of these equally important actants was to be eliminated from the assemblage, it would begin to dissolve, thus explaining the transient nature of assemblages.  In the example of a drawing, if the table actant was removed, the quality of the drawing would likely be diminished.

References:

‘Actor Network Theory’, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor-network_theory

‘A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity’, Wikipedia.

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