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Actor-network Theory

March 27, 2012

Actor-network theory, developed by Bruno Latour and Michael Callon, proposes that a combination of material (physical) actors and semiotic (intangible) actors form the basis of a social network. Actor-network theory is different to other network theories in that it doesn’t just account for humans rather it considers the importance of many non human actors. With this being the case, it is considered quite a general theory and allows for such broad usage. For example, the theory may be used to explain a school system or even as large as explaining a nation’s media network (the video below is quite useful).


Actor-network theory also states that all actors are equal and share the same importance towards the network. As the theory relies upon the collaborative efforts of all actors; disorder within network can occur if actors or even if just one actor is removed. Thus a criticism arises, in that if one actor’s removal is affecting the whole network, does it not suggest that certain actors are more important than others.

By breaking down the actor-network theory, we are able to see all the collective parts/actors and can categorise them into their corresponding roles. This is referred to as the assemblage. The concept of assemblage was presented by Manuel de Landa in his text ‘A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity’. As with the criticism of actor-network theory; de Landa’s assemblage theory proposes that some actors of a network will have a greater importance and attention than others. Assemblage theory also suggests that a component may be unplugged from one assemblage and plugged into another without losing its original identity. Using de Landa’s assemblage theory in regards to publishing; it shows how a collection of a network’s components such as the paper, the pens or ink, the fonts, the colours, the authors, etc result in the formation of a publication.


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