What’s the appeal of Actor Network Theory: first annotated draft

After Reading  Mulcahy, D. (2010), ‘Affective encounters: The critical contribution of embodiment and emotion to ‘accomplished’ teacher subjectivities and professional teaching standards’, Educational Philosophy and Theory.

Actor Network Theorists (ANT) seem to betray a coquettish pride when asked to define and defend their stance, arguing that such conversations may lead to destruction or domestication. (Fenwick and Edwards 2010)

Fenwick and Edwards (2010)  lead the initiate towards ANT as a constellation of ideas, seeking to maintain fidelity to mess, disorder and ambivalence of phenomenon. There is no single, stable or identifiable ANT framework. It is instead a hybrid, a diaspora.

None-the-less a key assumption associated with ANT that humans are not treated differently from non-humans – that there is a mutual cyborgian dependency between object and subject. Humans are denied a privileged, a priori status in the world. The position, referred to as symmetry: is not only counter intuitive; it is disturbing.  The flat-ontology associated with ANT would seem to strip humanness: meaning making and subjectivity from communities who assert this recognition as a right rather than a privilege. However, the ANT constellation maintains it appeal by virtue of its refusal of closure. This is a doctrine that has sacred and defining features while maintaining porous boundaries. 

The appeal of ANT is its interest in the mechanics of the social. Its insistence is that while orders appear obdurate, fixed and natural – they are an accomplishment. The objective of ANT is to understand how things are held together: ideas, identities, rules, routines, policies and instruments.  This allows a forensic exploration of categories and distinctions central to education – teaching, learning and pedagogy; literacy, literacies and functional. ANT places humans as part of the world made up of things and parts of things: animals, intentions and technologies.

With ANT everything in the social and natural world is a continuously generated effect of the webs of relationship within which they are located (Law 2007)
Fenwick, T. and Edwards, R. (2010), Actor-network theory in education(Taylor & Francis).

Law, J. (2007), ‘Making a mess with method’, in William Outhwaite and Stephen P Turner (eds.), The Sage Handbook of Social Science Methodology, London Sage 595 – 606


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