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SOC3061 - Lecture08. Actor-Network Theory. Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law. A critique of previous sociological approaches inspired to SSK. Artefacts to do reflect society, they transcribe and displace the contradictory interests of people and things.

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Soc3061 lecture08

SOC3061 - Lecture08

Actor-Network Theory


Bruno latour michel callon john law
Bruno Latour, Michel Callon, John Law

A critique of previous sociological approaches inspired to SSK.

Artefacts to do reflect society, they transcribe and displace the contradictory interests of people and things.

All we can do is to follow the translations of human and non-human competences, instead of referring to “human agency.”



1 latour on the missing masses
1. Latour on the “missing masses” position

From: Bijker-Law, Shaping technology/building society

The sociology of a door hinge.

Delegation to non-humans: prescriptive role of the mechanism. We delegate force, but also values, duties, ethics.

We others see human relations (society)+non human relations (technology), Latour sees only actors exchanging their properties.


The case of the “Berlin key” position

Inscribing a programme of action into the the shape of the key. The lock proscribes certain moves.

Artefacts are part of programmes of action (which include people+artefacts).

Therefore we should rethink society completely:

Society= a collective of humans and non-humans.


2 latour on machines
2. Latour on machines position

Latour, Science in action, chapter 3

The invention of Diesel’s engine: no stages, no trajectories (unlike T. Hughes)

The engine itself is part of an idea of society.

Diesel needs:

- To enroll others

  • To control their behaviour

    Possible strategies to achieve these results.


1. positionTranslation of interests

Offering new interpretations to recruit allies.

2. Keeping the interested groups in line.

Enroll + control others by making their behaviour predictable.

e.g. building a machine (different from a tool)

The windmill=negotiations to interested the wind in the fabrication of bread (channeling its action).

All elements have to be made interested in the work of each other. Hence the increasing complexity of machines.


Translation versus diffusion position

Diffusion derives from technological determinism: facts / artefacts exist and move around by themselves. Ideas and machines are diffused within “society” (a fictitious creation).

See sociogram-technogram

The case of the Post-it

Closure of technological controversies: the settlement stabilise society (not the other way around).


3 michel callon society in the making
3. Michel Callon, “Society in the making…” position

From: Bijker, Hughes, Pinch, The social construction of technological systems

Study of technology=tool of social analysis

Heterogeneous technoscience (no distinct phases in the process of innovation: technical economic, marketing, etc.)

Failure of the electric car in France.

New machine=new society

Renault engineers needed to rebuild French society as well.

Actor-networks = heterogeneous associations of unstable elements, which influence and re-define each other continuously.

ANT=new description of the dynamics of society.


Notice some differences from Hughes’ notion of “technological system”:

1. No stages

2. No distinction between the system/ its environment

3. Question of agency (human, non-human)


Some of the criticisms raised against ant
Some of the criticisms raised against ANT “technological system”:

1. No “explanation” is provided

2. Potentially conservative implications of the neutral, descriptive attitude of the sociologist.

3. Back to the narrative of technological determinism? I. e. things described as they appear to technologists/scientists and users. (The key move of SSK was precisely the deconstruction of technoscience in social terms).