Human Reflexivity in Actor-Network-Theory , Philip Conway

The critics of ANT in particular and network studies generally often miss the mark when it comes to how “subjectivity” is handled theoretically in these fields. Human consciousness is a nodal confluence and mediating chaos-box very much operational and in the mix. So let us keep the baby minus its bathwater.


Human Reflexivity in Actor-Network-Theory , Philip Conway

Perhaps in theory actor-network theory neglects human reflexivity; in practice, however, ANT accounts are full of fully reflexive humans all reflexively reflecting in their own ways. Mol’s The Body Multiple is a paragon of self-awareness and empathy. Latour’s Aramisis replete with engineers agonising over engineering, politicians opportunistically politicking, etc. In Gomart and Hennion’s A Sociology of Attachmenteven drug addicts aren’t reducible to their vice; their vice, instead, provokes instances of subjectivation.

[G&H] reveal a subtle interweaving between being abandoned to an external power and the virtuosity of practices, of manual, and of social skills. The user passes between active and passive. That is, between ‘I am manipulated’ (because I agree to it) and ‘I manipulate’ (an object which is stronger than myself). (p.243)

There are no more ‘network dopes’ than there are ‘cultural’ ones.

And so on and so on.

Nowhere are human…

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5 responses to “Human Reflexivity in Actor-Network-Theory , Philip Conway

  1. yep no problem adding yer favorite mode (say neurophenomenological, enactivist, and or extended-minding) onto the operating platform of ANT.

  2. A theory being criticized for not including a capacity that no one understands. So it goes. This is the abductive force of meaning. No matter how occult, it HAS to be incorporated.

    So the larger question becomes, Does ANT have a theory of meaning? It would be an interesting case, in terms of the kinds of metacognitive assumptions it turns on. Is there a form of enactivism that it regards as canonical?

    • that’s your larger question and I’m interested in what you might make of it but not one that we necessarily have to solve to get some things done.

      • Heuristics do work. So long as work remains to be done, so much the better. The problem lies in knowing where and what kind of work can be done. So Brandom’s problem isn’t that he uses normative concepts, but that he uses normative concepts to solve problems they could never hope to solve. Obviously so.

        Since no one has the foggiest about any of this, these kinds of problems can be found absolutely everywhere in cognitive and social science. Are you suggesting that ANT has managed to avoid them?

      • I’m just saying that if you look at the work of people like Annemarie Mol they are getting things done out and about in the world and some of us have added aspects of psychology to the mix to the occasional bit of progress on daily organizational issues. Yes there is no (and I don’t think there will/can be such) a principled/ruled/grounded/arche-typal approach to sorting out what will and won’t work, or how we will even decide what work is to be done and how we will know if we are getting anywhere constructive, so some of us are working on something more patchwork/proto-typical, more like a collection of case-studies/tools to be bricolaged (if not scrapped) as needed rather than a Theory or a science.

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