If language is lost, is the culture that it operates in lost as well?

I had a conversation with a friend over this question, in particular reference to a debate she had with a woman from Cameroon. My friend suggested to her that because she does not speak a local dialect but French, that she has not maintained her culture. Yet the Cameroonian woman explained that for natives to learn the indigenous language is useless because a) the national languages are English and French and b) most living in the major cities/ centers of power/economics do not speak the local languages.

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Fig 3: Process of linguistic identity breakdown from "Anglophonism and Francophonism : The Stakes of (Official) Language Identity in Cameroon"

John Law asks the question “Is an agent an agent primarily because he or she inhabits a body that carries knowledges, skills, values, and all the rest? Or is an agent an agent because he or she inhabits a set of elements (including, of course, a body) that stretches out into the network of materials, somatic and otherwise, that surrounds each body?”

The problem with the first question is the ethical/moral implication associated with a dying language. The whole debate is imbued with really asking, “who are you if you do not encompass what society dictates to be of that ethnicity/nationality?” Or in other words, if you don’t know you’re language you do not belong to that society and have essentially defected. Network theory does not care about this and these concerns do not even exist within the network of language in Cameroon. Simply put the difference between a Cameroonian who speaks Pidgin English versus one who speaks French versus one who speaks a native language is not that one is more “Cameroonian”, as in authenticity, than another but that each person operates within a framework that colonialism put in place decades ago. That is it.

“A network is not a thing but the recorded movement of a thing. The questions AT addresses have now changed. It is not longer whether a net is representation or a thing, a part of society or a part of discourse or a part of nature, but what moves and how this movement is recorded.” (Latour) The study then of colonial languages within AT explore the different people not as unique individuals of various ethnic groups, cultural histories, narratives, etc but as vehicles of information from England and France. Without the machinations of boats, artillery, books, natural resources, etc the network of French and English languages would not exist in Cameroon.

This woman speaks of her pride in her Cameroonian heritage and expresses it through singing the national anthem in both French and English.

Kallie Ejigu

You Down With OPP?

Actor-network theory (ANT) from what I understand is a distinct approach to understanding the life of a network from formation to end by observing human and non-human materials or factors of influence. This outlook seems natural, when an autobiography is written, authors do not describe why a person was created, why the parents wanted a baby per say, but explains the parents background, the experiences the person had as a child to influence their life and describes the factors that lead to their death. Enter Steve Jobs, the late OPP.

Walter Isaacson has recently released Steve Jobs – The Exclusive Biography, an biography of the CEO and co-founder of Apple, Inc. Steve Jobs who recently lost his battle against pancreatic cancer. I feel that Jobs’ life and the story of his success with Apple, and the network he created, can be described with ANT. Steve Jobs was an actor in Apple’s network, an indispensable actor in the network, however there were many factors that attributed to the current success Apple holds.

I would like to focus exclusively on Steve Jobs and explore his strengths as an actor in the system. Steve Jobs is the obligatory passage point (OPP) providing an indispensible role in the Apple network. The key to Steve Jobs’ success was in his character and his qualities combined, just as Machiavelli described Hannibal’s qualities that his unified army of nations. Steve Jobs ability to marriage creativity and science was the key ingredient from separating himself from those such as Bill Gates and Microsoft, or Google where both companies have championed science, yet lacked in the incorporation of liberal arts.

In the late 1970s early 1980s, California was experiencing hippie movements, free speech movements, self-awareness spirituality and Zen Buddhist, as well as the rise of the computer culture. Steve Jobs was a product of both, that brought these counter-cultures together with technology at Apple. Apple’s Think Different ads featured influential people that were hand picked by Steve Jobs, these people were Pablo Picasso, Albert Einstein, John Lennon, Jim Henson, Thomas Edison, Ghandi, etc. a mix between technology and culture and represented those who influenced him. Combined with Job’s loveable salesman charm, these are the qualities that historians admire. Isaacson describes the Jobs-inspired products are bold and simple, in essence “poetry connected to engineering, arts and creativity intersecting with technology.” Apple ran an ad that said, “Simple is the ultimate sophistication,” This type of zen-like simplicity is part of the gene code in the DNA of that Apple responsible for it’s success.

The comparison to Hannibal was no coincidence. Hannibal was respected for his cruelty, which historians did not admire, yet his cruelty was the key to gaining the respect of his soldiers, which in turn led to why he was admired. Steve Jobs was brutal to the people he worked with, there are countless stories of this. These stories date back to the early 80s where employees created an award for the employee that best stood up to Steve Jobs, Jobs in fact enjoyed it when his employees stood up to him. Jobs was ruthless in business, Isaacson makes inferences to his abandonment by his biological parents as a motivator for his ruthless tendencies. Jobs often exhibited a vicious and unnecessary lack of empathy for those around him. Steve was known for belittling people and their ideas, then later parroting their ideas as if they were his own.

Steve Jobs was also known as a control freak. This in turn became apparent in the network he created; his vision was extraordinary in that he created a walled garden; Apple controlled everything from the hardware, the operating software, the interface and the software of their products. This is all apparent through Apples products: the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad were all born and thrived partially because Jobs refused to cede control over them. However this closed system, in turn allows a seamless integration between products. Steve Jobs believed everything should be connected and integrated tightly.

Sony should have been the creator of the iPod. Sony had the music division, they had the hardware division, and they had personal devices. However they were separated divisions and they frequently had differences and battled between each other. Steve Jobs centralizing Apple so they all worked together. Jobs were insistent that Apple created these products together, with no divisions, in order to avoid issues such as the iPad cutting into the sales of the desktop market.

Steve Jobs is credited by the media to have “invented” the Mac, iPod, iPhone, and iPad, which is a skewed statement, there were many engineers and designers involved in the creation of these products; however Steve Jobs was at the center o behind these products. Without actors like Steve Wozniak, co founder and brains behind Apple’s early products Apple would have ceased to exist, or the partnership of Jonathan Ive, Apple’s lead designer and man responsible behind the sleek, simple, elegance behind Apple product’s design. Tony Fadell, was the man who designed the iPod plays a significant role as well, helping create such a influential artifact, in fact he's in the process of creating another revolutionary product by innovating thermostats, one can argue he is creating his own network. Interestingly enough Bill Gates was an actor that helped create the BIOS of the Macintosh II, and then served as a competitor in years to come as Apple battled against the PC dominated market.

Mobilization of allies
The products themselves became actors in the network, the iPod created a halo affect, a getaway drug into the walled garden of Apple; enticing users to move higher up the Apple product chain. These products themselves become material-semiotic actors themselves. The developers who create apps for the app store, the musicians who sell their albums through iTunes, the telecom companies, AT&T, Verizon and Sprint which support the data networks, the factories in China that create the products. Furthermore, the blogs and tech writers that create the hype between each new Apple product play actors in promoting excitement for Apple's products. The engineers, the designers, the artist, the technologists, the employees at the Apple retail stores, they all lie as actors within the network. This network was formed by Steve Jobs, yet what holds it together is the business model of seamless integration that promotes simplicity and elegance within a tightly controlled and close system.

I am understanding networks as kingdoms, organizations, teams, groups, and more specifically the importance and power held by the OPP. Machiavelli simply was creating a guide to become an OPP of a royal network. Similarly to Robert Greene's, 48 Laws of Power, which guide individuals to rise within their networks with Machiavellian tactics. While these tactics are often described as cut throat, cruel, and lack empathy, it describes exactly what must be done, in order to succeed. This success is contingent in that the human actors, act as if machines, calculating strategy and not emotion; yet using their human personality in order to achieve their status of power. While Steve Jobs is acclaimed due to his contributions in technology, these contributions were not direct results of his actions, they were indirected attributed by his ability to mechanically behavior in the manner required to rise to position of authority in a network of designers, engineers, technologist and artists, like pawns on a chess board. The OPP is the chess player, the one that moves the pieces, the actors within their network, or chess board. Checkmate, Steve Jobs won.


In my last two entries I made reference to the phenomenon of delayed human acceptance and integration of technological innovations. There is a period of early adoption prior to widespread employment of each new technological item. Sibling to this concept is the idea that technological corporations such as Apple or Google are substantially further along in their technological inventions than the market for public distribution will allow, and thus have to slowly release their products at the precise rate at which "mere consumers" will be accepting of their creative and technologically advanced elements without being overwhelmed by the newness or complexity of said elements. The dynamic relationship of innovation/production is obviously influenced by many other factors; as Latour puts it in "How to Write The Prince for Machines", "The feasibility, credibility, absurdity of a project entirely depends on the stitching and knotting made by the strategist. Neither reality nor time (or the state of the art) explain the evolution of a project." Nonetheless, this concept appears to be at worst a simplification of the corporate and industrial mechanics which dictate the creation and public dissemination of new technologies.

Companies like Apple and Google, though, are in the business of progress. Despite similarities in economic goals, it is notable how this corporation/audience dialect reverses in industries that are not strictly technological or scientific in nature. Take for example the music industry. It has spent roughly the past decade floundering in a new technological environment which its consumers embraced and continue to embrace wholeheartedly. The catastrophic decline in record sales and overall profitability of the music industry is a failure of the industry, rather than the art form and its commercial possibilities. Unlike the gradual public reveal of new products which characterizes the technological world (including the technological aspects of the music world), the cultural evolution of music has been driven by the mobilization of its artists and audiences.

An excellent case study for this reversal of roles is social networking site and former online music hub Myspace. For a period of roughly four years from 2005 to 2008 Myspace was the go-to website for both mainstream and independent music streaming, news, and social interaction between artists, agents, promoters, fans, and labels. Much has been written about the usurper Facebook stealing its crown via a more elite and specialized structure (which has now been diluted and is remarkably similar in format to Myspace, albeit with significantly improved internal operating and external aesthetic elements), as Myspace plummeted from 1st in unique worldwide visitors in April 2008 to 116th as of the writing of this entry (Alexa). Can the decline be purely attributed to the rise in Facebook's popularity and ineffective structural design?

I would argue no, as Myspace had the potential to maintain its status as the central music hub of the Web (a role which has yet to be filled, and may never be filled by any one site again) had it been implemented properly by record labels and artists. The user base for Myspace grew to astonishing levels, creating a dynamic and involved community which was open and receptive to the new possibilities for music production and commodification via technological tools. The record industry resisted those same changes, stubbornly defending the domain of the compact disc and combatting the explosion of illegal downloading online, and by the time many companies realized their mistake and began adapting to the new technological environment, Myspace was on its way down and the opportunity for the establishment of a digital music community more prominent and effective than any other that has existed for any art form thus far was gone.

Law remarks that "Thoughts are cheap but they don't last long, and speech lasts very little longer...Thus a good ordering strategy is to embody a set of relations in durable materials" ("Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network", 6). While this may hold true for certain cultural aspects, I believe it is important to acknowledge that those "durable materials" (Myspace retains its fully functional online presence) are equally reliant on the "cheap thoughts" that motivate and inform their use. The tools were in place for an extraordinary definitive online music environment, but a lack of foresight and inability to seize upon their affordances led to the segmented digital music community that exists now.

John Boles

In his article, “Networks, Societies, and Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist,” Bruno Latour writes, “to be self-contained – that is, to be an actor – and to be thoroughly dependent – that is, to be a network – is to say twice the same thing” (Latour, 801). Latour goes on to say that individuals have a necessarily networked composition: our interactions with others in a network wholly make up our identity (801-802). To a certain extent, this sounds reminiscent of Erving Goffman’s concept of the performativity of identity and how our core composition is not some internal static entity but rather formed through our daily interactions – our performance of ourselves to others around us (Goffman, Presentation of Self in Everyday Life). But in relation to Latour, Goffman still places enough autonomy in the lap of the individual.

On the other hand, Latour’s networked individual is a far cry from Enlightenment ideals from the 18th century. One of the Enlightenment’s core ideals was that human reason was the ultimate law and goal; this concept of reason was tightly bound to the individual’s responsibility to pursue rational modes of thinking. Among others, German philosopher Immanuel Kant heavily emphasized the necessity of rational thinking, and how it was something that the individual human being had to utilize to be morally valuable. Throughout Kant’s and other Enlightenment thinkers’ discourses was the thread of individual autonomy and its dependence on rational thinking. Autonomy meant using reason, and reason was the only way to achieve true autonomy. Actor-network theory seems to shatter this essentialized concept of the individual much more than any other ideological and/or methodological approach I have come across. What would Kant – or any of the Enlightenment thinkers for that matter - say in response to Latour’s individual who can be seen only as a network embedded in a larger network? It is not that Latour is claiming the ANT-individual doesn’t use any reason; rather, the reason manifests as nodes and connections to those nodes. “Autonomy” in the Enlightenment sense is all but gone. At least Yochai Benkler acknowledges freedom and autonomy at the individual level: “We can describe freedom in a network as the extent to which individuals or other entities in a given network can influence their own behaviors, configurations, or outcomes” (726). But even Benkler places the individual’s level of autonomy in the context of the ubiquitous network(s). The Enlightenment thinkers would have a difficult enough time grasping the interconnected context of today (which has allowed the scenario of ANT to become presentable & relevant), but even if they were to accept it, I doubt they would be able to let go of “the rational-autonomous individual” that was the backbone of their entire philosophical view.

So what is it about today’s context that allows for this dramatic (albeit occurring over hundreds of years) change from the days of the Enlightenment with regards to perspectives of human individual identity? There are many possible answers to that question, but I want to focus on the shift in understanding what entities can have “activity.” I use “activity” rather than “agency” because I don’t want to stray down the path of technological determinism and say that technological elements possess a causal function. Rather, I want to draw attention to Latour’s ideas in “How to Write The Prince for Machines,” where he describes the recent shift in social relations, leading to “a complete and continuous redistribution of roles and functions, some of them being held in place by human, other by non-human ties.” Today’s level of interconnectedness – reiterating the presence of non-humans as well as human in this web – hinges on the role that technological actants play. This “electronic hypertext” that has emerged has forced a reappraisal of the concept of autonomy and its impact in forming individual identity (Castells, “Materials,” 12).

What are some examples of how technological actants have influenced the networks of our identities? In some cases, these non-human entities are designed in such a way to make their interactional functions more approachable – actively working to make the experience of the “electronic hypertext” fun, even. The new iPhone 4S includes the feature of Siri, a voice-activated built-in that does everything from giving you reminders to amicably suggesting good nearby restaurants. The Apple homepage for Siri has the following at the beginning of its explanation of Siri: “Ask Siri to do things just by talking the way you talk. Siri understands what you say, knows what you mean, and even talks back. Siri is so easy to use and does so much, you’ll keep finding more and more ways to use it.” Siri perfectly illustrates John Law’s claim of how the increasing connections between human and non-human actants has broken down the line that used to fastidiously separate the two. Law explains that this “dividing line between people and machines (and for that matter animals) is subject to negotiation and changes. Thus it is easily shown that machines (and animals) gain and lose attributes such as independence, intelligence and personal responsibility” (4). Even in the language on Apple’s website, it is clear that Siri has been situated in a larger network of user-friendly human-like technological actants.

In other cases, it is more in the process of navigating through the networks mediated by technological elements that our identities are shaped. When we search using Google, again we as human actants are interacting with non-human (technological) actants: the keyboard, the database itself, the search results, SEO influences, etc. Unlike with the example of Siri, this time there isn’t a leaning of the technology towards more human-like characteristics. Rather, the interesting point lies in the way that individuals have internalized the codes put forth by the search engine actant, and how that “protocol” translates into semiotic and heuristic decisions in what we type into the search bar. The codes informed by the nodes that make up the Google network have been absorbed into both our collective awareness of the search engine’s role and our individual (more practical) understanding of how a search engine works. Castells might explain this by saying that “the consolidation of shared meaning through crystallization of [Google search] practices in spatio-temporal configurations creates…systems of values and beliefs informing codes of behavior” (“Materials for an Exploratory Theory of the Network Society,” 7). Google provides a good example for the occasional “punctualization” that we may commit by mistake, taking the extremely complex network of Google “from a heterogeneous set of [economic, political, technological, and social] bits and pieces each with [their] own inclinations into something that passes as a punctualized actor” (Law, 6).

A pleasant monotone voice that provides information based on your conversation cues, a behemoth of a black box that apparently has all the answers, as long as you know what to enter as the search terms – poor Kant wouldn’t even know where to begin.

Mallika Padmanabhan

While mediology fleshes out the factors that enable institutions as discursive events unfold, Actor-Network Theory (ANT) reveals the connections between social actors, human and nonhuman, that propel institutions forward when an event occurs through the reverberation of action through each node. If I may pose an artistic metaphor, if mediology is the foreground, then ANT is the sense of movement that the artwork conveys.

ANT frames power relations in a significantly less lofty way than other bodies of work that fall to the umbrella term of “ideology” to do so. That’s certainly not to say there isn’t a place for ideologies in ANT; however, its focus on the material means that distribute or deny power grounds its use of the term in a way that to me makes the use of the term less dangerous. This ability is precisely what John Law refers to as “relational materialism,” the strength of the actor-network approach (Law, “Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network,” 7).

To backtrack for a moment – much of what this week’s readings make of ANT is seen in Obama’s 2011 State of the Union address. In his speech, Obama stressed the need for innovation, a word he used nine times, to the point that it seemed he was envisioning it as the panacea to our economic problems. Latour himself points out that this can be a tricky concept in that in their very nature, innovations extend current ideas and practices, making them impossible to assess in real time (Latour, “How to Write The Prince for Machines”). A particular part of the speech where Obama notoriously refers to the American economic dilemma as a Sputnik moment can be found here.

So there’s the clear ideology of American exceptionalism underlying the way Obama talks about innovation. The risk in that, of course, is one of simplification; though he details some of the mediological relations behind the changes he talks about, it’s still very much so at face value. To sum, explaining social relations using ideologies can be insufficient at times because doing so doesn’t give the complexity of said relations credit.

With ANT, though, similar issues can be analyzed with a more concrete vocabulary. John Law describes ANT as the “sociology of translation” that is “concerned with the mechanics of power” (Law, “Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network, 1). Translation, of course, is a process of movement itself, of transferring meaning. Without accounting for movement by explaining how different innovations and events rearrange relations between people, institutions, and the materials that govern their interactions, one runs the risk of settling for easier explanations – for instance, essentially saying that innovation happens because that’s what America’s all about. That’s much simpler than talking in depth about political, economic, and legal changes that makes innovation seem so natural, even predictable, in the first place.

In writing about the recent assassination of Muammar Gadaffi for The Washington Post, Phillip Kennicot hits on how people, technology, and news media operate on the same plane and its significance. In regards to the quick surfacing of videos and photos of a dead Gaddafi, Kennicot explains that “[m]ore is more, and speed matters in the authenticity game of digital imagery. The self-reinforcing surge of Gaddafi images and video erased doubts” that the videos were part of a hoax. Once that was recognized, of course, “the headlines went big” (Kennicot, “Images of Gaddafi’s death highlight visual distrust in the digital age”).

What’s more intriguing in light of ANT is a metaphor he provides to explain the effect of citizen journalism on the story and people’s perceptions of it – “An image of a corpse is a data point. An image of a living man juxtaposed with an image of his corpse is a drama. Everything in between is left to the imagination.” This renders the media event as a good example of networked power, and shows how Castells’ notion of switching can force action; as more and more visual evidence accumulated, outlets and audiences had to take the story seriously in spite of a lack of verification.

I believe the rise of networked power in instances like this should make us question how we consume newsworthy events. To return to the current economic debacle, “The Stream,” an Al Jazeera English news show, illustrates just how embedded we are in networks for information. As the clip below shows, the format of the show is very social media heavy, and that led the show to be one of the first news programs to follow Occupy Wall Street.

Just as people are questioning how to maneuver through Castell’s networked economy, so too are we still exploring the role of the consumer in the production of news media as a result of social networking. ANT’s framework provides a better articulation of what this shift looks like, why it’s happening, and what shape it might take moving forward than other theories we’ve covered thus far, making it a practical implement for one’s theoretical toolkit.

Ned Prutzer

Actor-network theory, like mediology, focuses on the movement of heterogeneous objects like institutions, ideas, and forms of technology across time and space. For both theories it is about the journey of these objects, not their content. ANT is a valuable method in addition to mediology because it allows you to take a variety of different objects and investigate how they interact and influence each other to form a network that has some power within our culture. The tools that ANT gives us are crucial in helping to understand the development of power structures because they are not always so visible. John Law draws to our attention the fact that “if a network acts as a single block, then it disappears, to be replaced by the action itself and the seemingly simple author of that action…So it is that something much simpler -- a working television, a well-managed bank or a healthy body -- comes, for a time, to mask the networks that produce it” (Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity, 5). With that, what are some problematic issues or institutions whose networks need revealing? And how can a better understanding of the networks involved help us to change the direction and quality of action occurring within them?

One such network that has seen an increasing number of actors in recent years is that of humanitarian aid. The chain of actors from our viewpoint seems clear enough: people donate to charities and aid organizations, the aid organizations give the money to people in disaster-ridden areas, and the lives of those people are improved. The chain of events is rarely this cut-and-dry, and there are many more actors involved. Media coverage has a huge influence on the shape and level of humanitarian aid effort, and the new forms of media granted by the Internet and global telecommunications now alert us to natural disasters within seconds. An important question to ask, though, is whether these new actors at play benefit people from disaster areas even though they have the ability to inform more people, faster.

Glenda Cooper from the Neiman Journalism Lab at Harvard offers us an example to help answer this question. The 2004 tsunami in Thailand, Sri Lanka, and Indonesia saw casualties of more than 210,000 people. About 80% of those deaths occurred in Indonesia and yet they received roughly half of the media coverage that Thailand did (with only a little over 8,000 deaths). This can be attributed to the fact that there were many more tourists in Thailand blogging and sending “user generated content” (UGC) to international media outlets than there were in Indonesia or Sri Lanka. It was also much easier for reporters to get to Thailand than it was to get to Indonesia. As a result, Indonesia received much less aid than was needed and Thailand received much more aid than was needed, some of which was then misspent (When Lines Between NGOs and News Organizations Blur).

Another problem Cooper points out is that citizen journalists “may also unwittingly skew the definition of what is important towards the unexpected or the spectacular and the dramatic, focusing, for example, on a natural catastrophe such as an earthquake rather the long-term famine” (When Lines Between NGOs and News Organizations Blur). This type of effect occurred in Haiti where there was so much attention focused on the earthquake that nobody recognized the fact that many of the problems already existed due to pre-existing poverty and poor infrastructure (Livingston, 5 Social Media Lessons From the Haiti Earthquake Relief Effort).

The addition of citizen journalism as an actor in the humanitarian aid network has had a major impact on the relationship between the two original actors: journalists and aid organizations. They used to have a symbiotic relationship where aid agencies would help journalists gain access to disasters areas and media materials and would received recognition in return (When Lines Between NGOs and News Organizations Blur). But now that relationship has been disrupted because more and more people have access to information, videos, and images of newsworthy events. Aid agencies have tried to engage in acts of what Castells would call “gatekeeping” by trying to blog alongside citizen journalists and act as news sources themselves (When Lines Between NGOs and News Organizations Blur). Here aid agencies are trying to exhibit their networking power by trying to exclude certain actors from influencing a network. Castells writes that the additional process of gatekeeping “bar[s] access to those who do not add value to the network or who jeopardize the interests that are dominant in the network’s programs” (A Network Theory of Power 774).

From the vantage point of ANT, it matters little what this network will look like in the future and whether journalists will be able to create changes in the network to shift power away from citizen journalists. However, it does matter how the power exerted from this network affects the lives and well being of people around the world. There are instances in which increased citizen Internet access has given certain events more global attention than they otherwise would have had, but does this attention necessarily benefit the stakeholders involved? We can hold benefit concerts, raise money on Twitter, and hear first-hand accounts from celebrities who were loosely involved in various disasters, but it might be more beneficial to take apart the humanitarian aid network piece-by-piece to examine where the flaws are and how the power structure could be better balanced.

Emily Brock

The space in which Actor-Network theory thrives is one that is absolutely crucial for our increasingly technologically globalized world to understand, this is a three pronged completely unrelated model that when fused together aptly define Actor-Network Theory, “a semiotic definition of entity building.; A methodological framework to record the hereogeneity of such a building; an ontological claim of the “networky” character of actants themselves” (Latour 6). The reason it is necessary to not just utilize one mode of study, is that the Actor Network theory seeks to give meaning to an extremely complex and intricate network, one which helps define a plethora of current phenomena in our life. To put it in Latour’s terms “it is utterly impossible to understand what holds the society together without reinjecting in its fabric the facts manufactured by natural and social sciences and the artefacts designed by engineers” (Latuor 2).
Arguably the internet is what holds modern society together, but when one truly sits down and starts to think of questions like, “what is the internet?” a multitude of answers will emerge, each framed and understood within particular fields. For instance considering something like “access” in terms of the internet, someone from a sociological background might look at it and say, the breakdown of access to internet technologies lies in the racialized distribution of wealth in this country. While someone who comes from a more economic point of view would see a variance in access but not necessarily blame it on social inequalities. In fact this person would probably assume that a company like AT&T doesn’t yet have the reach to cover the countryside with WI-Fi broadband
While Actor-Network Theory probably would fit well within the confines of actual companies that rely on a mix of sociality and technology to facilitate their networks, I would like to consider ideas of exclusion. Although it seems as though Latour was arguing against the actual ability for exclusion to be a reality in Actor-Network Theory, this was evident to me when he said, “a network is all boundary no inside or outside”, or even more descriptively, “The great economy of thinking allowed by the notion of network is that we are no longer obliged to fill in the space in between the connections -to use a computer metaphor we do not need the little paint box familiar to MacPaint users to “fill in” the interspace. A network is a positive notion which does not need negativity to be understood. It has no shadow.” (Latour 5). From this I would like to take into account Tangia and Wilson’s study of Exclusion as a mathematical and social reality, especially in terms to access. What this theory suggests is that although networks are growing, and people that exist within particular networks are fully included on the macro or micro level, people not included in these networks are essentially excluded, barring the fact they belong to other networks. For the only one network that truly exists in every singular person’s life is the human body, and even that becomes multi nodal when considering differences in height, weight, gender, race, and physical disability. Not everyone is guaranteed access to social networks, for instance because there are other factors at work that complicate the overarching involvement in networks. Some of these factors are socio-economic spatiality, and governmental isolation and in turn censorship, each of which actively work in their own boundaries to exclude people from taking part in these powerful actor-networks.
Considering first socio-economic spatiality, within even the United States you can look at the trend of apple technologies, such as the iphone and ipad and consider the access everyone has to these networked technologies in this country, and you will see that it is not a reality for many people. This is for a variety of reasons, two are the availability of broadband networks in particular regions (which is laced with social and economic factors barring companies from utilizing resources to bring advanced 4G like technologies into a specific area), and the other is the actual monetary holdings that make gaining access to these technologies an impossibility. This leads me to question if you don’t have access to technologies that give you an invitation into these grandiose networks of information and social interaction, how are you able to be involved in the rapidly technologizing world? How do you fix these problems of technological exclusion, when people in the outer bounds of society don’t even have access to proper education and resources?
Next, looking at government’s role in barring people from networks the obvious case to use is China. Yes, China is an increasingly advanced society with a plethora of technologies provided, and even though they have the same problems as were explored before in regard to access, they have another layer on top of that which bars them from having access to any macro scale network (this is not including people who utilize VPNs to gain access to universal macro-scale networks). This fact in itself seems to work against this model of heterogeneous actor induced networks that give beauty to the work of such corporations like google, a perfect example since we know that they recently pulled their technologies out of China. A common argument is, “so what google pulled out, China still has Baidu!” It is a proven fact that Baidu blocks information in the interest of the Chinese government. For instance, when searching on Google for “Tiananmen square massacre” you will receive a plethora of sources discussing the government’s assault of demonstrators with graphic and revealing photographs about the event, but when you search the same thing on Baidu “you mainly get results about security arrangements for the 2008 Olympics, and last year’s celebrations for the 60th anniversary of the founding of the People’s republic” (Time).
external image tiananmensearchcompare.png?w=600&h=196

This picture which gives an example of searching for "Tianananmen Square tanks":
external image tiananmentankcompare.png?w=600&h=196
What this network provides is misinformation, censored facts and realities by the government in order to control ideology within their nation. This micro level network that has all the same features as google is heavily regulated and as is obvious from above, censored, so how does this example complicate the actor-network model? If there is constant tampering within a network in attempts to regulate it, how much agency truly exists?

Source: http://www.time.com/time/magazine/article/0,9171,1957417,00.html
Photo Source:

Kalyah Alaina Ford

I feel that the network theory is so anchored is our modern world that we, or at least I, have trouble imagining how else we could explain how the world is organized.
With the power of the masses through internet and information technologies, it seems obvious that the traditional entities of power have moved away from states to people (and sometimes institutions). With the time and space changes caused by communication technologies, professional habits and relations have moved toward globalization and openness.

The social network went from a theoretical idea to a real fact, defining social relations through the network they provide.
Castells says that “the relevance and relative weight of nodes does not come from their specific features, but from their ability to be trusted by the network with an extra-share of information”. So, the power of someone in a network is not its skills, but its trustworthiness. I would even go further in saying that someone’s power in a network is actually its network. The bigger someone’s’ network is, the more all networks will give power to that someone.

The notion I would like to challenge here is equality. We often talk about the network system as abolishing hierarchy. Indeed, traditional power are challenged and every single person as the ability to change things. Women have been empowered in western society, religious and/or sexual minorities have also gained power. Thus, what have been before apparent discriminated minorities, are now equal towards the ability to have or enter networks.

But as networks induce the fragmentation of culture and individualization of labour, new inequality are created. Taking the individualization of labour, before the network society, an individual artisan would have had work and be popular according to its skills. He could have had learned those skills at school or by himself, or through his family, it did not mattered. Now that power is not in skills but in network and trustworthiness, an individual artisan, to be successful would need or 1) to go to school/ university, not to learn his future job, but to enter a network or 2) to come from a trustworthy family that already has a strong network. To caricature this, we could say that someone can be dumb and still have a powerful and wanted job, because his dad has the network.

So network society could be re-named Partying-skills society, because if someone knows how to party, he gets to knows rich/ influent people and thus enters a powerful network without skilled merit. To defend my own counter-argument, I must admit that anyway, nowadays most required professional skills are far more relational and less technical than before. In that sense, network-selection is one valuable among others.

Nevertheless, I feel that the question of equality on the actor-network theory should be more challenged. Wether on the globalization idea: north/south equality or on technical/social skills as above or certainly other scales. My purpose here is not to say the former social system was better, but to try to be critical in order to improve our actual system to an as best as possible one.

Mahaut de Talhouët

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I'm pleased read about network theory this week since I am taking a course on networks. Unlike the readings and discussions in my network theory class, these readings, or rather, theorists, grant technology the same nodal status as humans. This one detail changes the conversation significantly. I admit, to my mind, until these readings, I have been apt to think about technology in the capacity of links/edges (the connecting agents "in between") rather than nodes (end points). If not technology mediating between nodes then what? Even semiotic systems are communicated in a shared, normative capacity through technologies. Perhaps Edward Scissorhands provides an exaggerated glance at how technology can be used in a capacity of relative power, rather than a communicative, connective capacity.

Regarding power, I agree that power is not inherently part of any human, but rather part of the larger network to which they belong. What connections does a person/actor have? What organizational qualities of a network yield advantages/disadvantages in any given cluster within a network? The connection to human and non-human actors becomes clear in the colloquialism "Guns don't kill people, people kill people". To this end, one can hardly deny that a violent human's (node 1) proximity to a gun (node 2) isn't a recipe for killing.

I struggle to understand, however, why proximal distance would matter at all if there is no connection. Connections -- weak, strong and anywhere in between -- seem like they should be the primary factor in examining the qualities of a network. When Latour discusses proximal distance, does he literally mean physical distance? Does he literally mean a violent actor has a gun 3 feet away? Unless said actor knows that there is a killing machine three feet away that would do the job, proximal distance doesn't matter at all. What is the connecting agent between the gun and the actor?

Another example of human and non-human network actors (and the power created by their combinations) can be seen in the classic line, "the pen is mightier than the sword". The pen, when coupled with a great mind, has undoubtably lent itself to more organizational feats than the sword, a mere killing tool. After all, organization of network is what translates into power or weakness.

Here is one final example of human and non-human actors and the power they wield over one another. This example touches on the idea of power in politics, corporations and humanity.

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Stephanie Stroud

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Thinking about a theory with such broad applications (everything is a network!), I'm struggling to narrow down from the theory to an application, but here goes! Using Georgetown University itself as an example: Georgetown is an actant within the greater world of higher education, private universities, the DC area, world politics, etc. To other actors/actants in that wide context, thinking maybe from the perspective of a prospective student exploring possible universities to attend, Georgetown seems like a black box.

But once that student is accepted and attends Georgetown as an undergrad/grad student, maybe both, and perhaps also ends up working for the university as a student and as a graduate (this story is sounding eerily familiar...), they can de-blackbox certain aspects of the university: the particular school they attend, their major/departments they are involved with, clubs, certain offices, etc. Each of those aspects is also an actant itself, and each student/employee with those units is also an actor.

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Actors aren't all that make up "Georgetown": broader external forces like neighborhood pressures from the ANC, competition with other universities, alumni groups, etc. are actants that make the network of Georgetown what it is. So internal actants within "Georgetown University" interact with external actants (should I be putting quotations around "internal" and "external") as well as other internal ones.

Attempt to build a diagram in a text editor that would make much more sense drawn on paper:

alumni, prospective students, past parents, current parents, friends of the university, staff, faculty

other med schools, other law schools, other public policy schools, other undergrad schools

[ Georgetown: SFS, MSB, COL, NHS, CCT, GPPI, LAW, MED, etc. ]

neighborhood forces within Georgetown, DC city actants, transportation networks, mid-Atlantic environment, America, the world

current time, past history, plans for future growth

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Kelsey Ryan

Actor network theory seems like methodology at some level, both providing us a kind of complex way to view the world, to solve the problem. ANT makes the difference between sociology of the social and sociology of associations. This theory disagrees to treat society as a simple binary entity. On the contrary, it treats society as heterogeneous network, composed not only of people, but also of machines, animals, texts, money, architecture---any material that you care to mention, and it explores how their heterogeneity come to be patterned to generate effects like organization, inequality and power. (Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network, by John Law) People in this network not only interact with other human beings, but also with other materials too. Meanwhile, objects function as participants or actors in creating, sustaining, and extending social tires. Thus, on an analytical stance, in network there is no fundamental difference between people and objects. ANT pointed out an interesting topic about the relationship between human and material, especially when we treat robots as a kind of material in this network.

People, an actor in network, is also a patterned network of heterogeneous relations, or an effect produced by such a network (Law). Similarly, robot, itself is a network. To be specific, robot I mentioned here refers as a kind of friendly machines, socially intelligent robot. The social robots are technologies designed to engage with humans on an emotional level through play, sometimes therapeutic play, and perhaps even companionship. Paro, a kind of social robot, created by Japan, serves as companions for Japan’s growing senior citizen populations and as therapeutic playmates for children with autism. It looks like a cute animal, but it is actually a $6,000 medical device. This social robot has five kinds of sensors, with which it can perceive people and its environment. By interaction with people, Paro responds as if it is alive, moving its head and legs, making sounds, and showing your preferred behavior. It can recognize the direction of voice and also can learn to behave in a way that the user prefers. If you hit it, Paro remembers its previous action and tries not to do that action.

Viewing the relationship between people and social robots, we may find the complexity of the human-robot relationship. On the micro-level, scientists, engineers, and computer scientists act in the own network of social robot. But also on the macro-level, other members of the heterogeneous network that make up the social robotics field: robots, human interactants, ideological assumptions, emerging robot ethics, codes of conduct, corporate entrepreneurs, state policy, scientific publications, and more.