The use and Usefulness of Actor‐Network Theory as a Basis for Social Research: A Consideration of Some Recent Publications

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Conference Proceeding
ECRM 2014 -, 2014, pp. 357 - 364 (8)
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Abstract: The use of actor‐network theory (ANT) in social research has grown significantly in recent years. The ANT approach has been applied in fields as diverse as information systems development, media studies, accounting, education, geography, and development studies. With any new research approach that is 'trending', it is reasonable to ask how devoted the new followers are to the spirit and letter of the new theory, but in this case the nature of ANT makes the question particularly difficult. The founders and early proponents seem to agree that ANT is not really a theory; perhaps it is a method for studying historical phenomena or socio‐technical systems; perhaps it is a new style of practice‐based theorising; perhaps it is a loose collection of approaches based on a particular philosophical position concerning ontology and epistemology. This looseness of definition, while not surprising for a recent movement, makes it difficult to judge whether and when ANT is being used 'properly'. In this paper I attempt to clarify this question by examining a selection of recent publications that claim to have used ANT in their research. Most of these publications are based on case studies, although pedagogical and theoretical articles are also considered. I briefly mention some key aspects of ANT, then take a considerable sample of articles made available over the last three years and consider how many aspects of ANT they have used as the basis of their research and, in some cases how the authors have attempted to modify or extend ANT, or to combine it with other theories. I conclude by speculating on why some authors might be attracted to ANT even though they do not 'really' believe in it and why this is not necessarily a bad thing. I also suggest possible signs of 'good' ANT research. This paper is intended for those who have already developed some intention to use ANT in their research, but would like to see further examples of how this can be done. Further examples and explanation can be found in Underwood (2008) and Latour (1996).
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