President Obama, the war in Afghanistan and the Actor Network Theory

Kassie Barroquillo

In Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-Network Theorist. Bruno Latour says, “Anytime a network is deployed, a substance is transformed from an object into a thing – from a matter of fact to a matter of concern. As one considers the war in Afghanistan and the connection between it and President Barack Obama, one can see how this network may turn from a matter of fact to a matter of concern.


For a more full understanding, one must consider the war in Afghanistan did not start under the watch of President Obama. What factors of this network must we consider? First, it is a common understanding the war started because of the 9/11 attacks. The first strike on Afghanistan came in October of 2001 (Afghanistan Profile). This is the first connection one may make between the war in Afghanistan and anything else. President Obama was merely a state senator at this time, not even a US senator, so there is no direct pathway between the decision to go to war in Afghanistan and President Obama (Black Americans in Congress). President George W. Bush was the Commander-in-Chief when this decision was made. The first shared link I find is the shared role President Obama and President Bush shared as Commander-in-Chief.


In Latour’s On Actor Network Theory: A few clarifications plus more than a few complications, he says, “The whole metaphor of scales going from the individual, to the nation state, through family, extended kin, groups, institutions, etc. is replaced by a metaphor of connections. A network is never bigger than another one, it is simply longer or more intensely connected.” In Networks, Societies, Spheres…, Latour also mentions, “Instead of the individual versus society problem, we are now faced with the multiple and fully reversible configurations of highly complex individual constituents and multiple and fully reversible aggregates.” Further clarifying, it would be misleading to believe the initial connection between President Obama and the war in Afghanistan is the shared role he and President Bush filled. It is merely one among many connections which form the network between President Obama and the war. I will approach this wiki using time as a reference, only to remain organized, but in actuality, in accordance to the Actor Network Theory, it does not play the role typically attributed to it.


So, what are other connections we must consider? As a senator, President Obama was on the Foreign Relations committee, Veterans’ Affairs committee and Homeland Security committee. One may consider the relation between the war in Afghanistan direct between the Homeland Security Committee and the Foreign Relations committee and once you consider soldiers are required for war; one can also draw a relation between the Veterans’ Affairs committee and the war. As a senator, President Obama also voted in favor of Bill H R 1591, which would have provided “$124.2 billion primarily for the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan.” This was also a bill which would have provided a timetable for withdrawing troops from Iraq, to concentrate more on fighting al-Qaeda and Osama bin Laden, specifically “to destroy his base in Afghanistan.” This bill also would have prevented the US from using funds to exercise power over oil fields in Iraq. President Bush vetoed this bill (Key Votes).


As president, President Obama has also made key contributions to this relationship. He pushed for the withdraw of troops from Iraq, so the war in Afghanistan could be fought with more resources. He also made the executive orders which resulted in the death of Osama bin Laden, which, according to President Bush, was why we were in Afghanistan in in the first place. President Obama is now pushing for the withdraw of troops in Afghanistan, along a timeline of sorts.


In Theory of the Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity, John Law states, “If human beings form a social network it is not because they interact with other human beings. It is because they interact with human beings and endless other materials too.” So, to this extent, one must also take into consideration what else was necessary for this network around President Obama to form. What was the network which ties to 9/11 – planes, airport security, cell phones, television, buildings etc. In war, what else is connected – guns, IED’s, software for planes, trucks, boats, etc. Even when working as a senator or president, what is necessary – internet connection, phones, cars, helicopters, desks, computers, etc. These cannot be underrated.


The entirety of the network which surrounds this issue is massive and I have just only scraped the surface of possibilities. What else can be included in this network?



References

"Afghanistan Profile." BBC News. BBC, 30 Sept. 2012. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/world-south-asia-12024253>.

"Key Votes by Barack Obama - U.S. Congress Votes Database - The Washington Post."Key Votes by Barack Obama - U.S. Congress Votes Database - The Washington Post. N.p., n.d. Web. 24 Oct. 2012. <http://projects.washingtonpost.com/congress/members/O000167/key-votes/>.

Latour, B. 2011 Apr 8. Network Theory| Networks, Societies, Spheres: Reflections of an Actor-network Theorist. International Journal of Communication [Online] 5:0. Available: http://ijoc.org/ojs/index.php/ijoc/article/view/1094/558

Latour, B. On Actor Network Theory: A Few More Clarifications Plus More Than a Few Complications. N.p. 24 Oct. 2012. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Latour-clarifications.pdf>

Law, John. "Notes on the Theory of Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity."Centre for Studies Lancaster University. N.p., 1992. Web. 16 Oct. 2012. <http://www9.georgetown.edu/faculty/irvinem/theory/Law-Notes-on-ANT.pdf>.

Office of History and Preservation, Office of the Clerk, Black Americans in Congress, 1870–2007. Washington, D.C.: U.S. Government Printing Office, 2008.http://baic.house.gov/member-profiles/profile.html?intID=108 (October 24, 2012).



After reading Materials for an Exploratory Theory of the Network Society by Manuel Castells I couldn’t help but be reminded of Benjamin Walter’s writing The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Reproducibility. Walter focused on how photography and film are reproduced through innovative technologies which correlates with Castells’s views on how different meanings can be reproduced. Castells wrote, “Meaning is constantly produced and reproduced through symbolic interaction between actors framed by this social structure, and, at the same time, acting to change it or to reproduce it” (Castells 7). Castells continues to explain that shared meanings continue to be produced and reproduced within our cultures and these shared meanings are essential in building and maintaining cultures. Even though Walter focuses on how art is transformed throughout generations, both authors share the concept that cultures may transform objects but the overall original meanings of the objects live on throughout the generations.

Castells goes further into this topic by including the significance of symbolic communication. Castells wrote, “Symbolic communication between humans, and the relationship between humans and nature through production/consumption, experience and power, crystallize over history in specific territories, thus generating cultures which go on to live a life on their own” (Castells 8). Production, consumption, experience and power served as major themes throughout Castell’s work which he used to build upon different social structures. When considering social structures and Castells’s views on how individuals build their identities, I feel it is important to bring up the Symbolic Interaction Theory.
This theory focuses on how individuals interact and the significance of the different meanings individual’s assign to people, things and events. There are three essential assumptions within this theory:

1. Humans act toward others on the basis of the meaning those others have for them
2. Meaning is created in interaction between people
3. Meaning is modified through an interpretive process (West, Turner 81)

Different social structures are formed by individual’s assigning meaning to them. Without shared meanings, members of a society would struggle to interact with one another. Castells continues to support this idea when he wrote “Individuals may adopt/adapt to cultures, so building their identities. Or else, they may construct their own, individual identities through the interaction between available cultures and their own symbolic recombinant capacity, influenced by their specific experience”(Castell 8). By learning about other cultures and how they conduct their daily lives, we form ideas on how to interact with different cultures. Typically before students study abroad they will research the country they will be spending time in; thus gaining a feel of what will be expected of them during common interactions. Although Castells only discusses the idea of social structures and cultures in the beginning of his essay, I am always the most intrigued when we read about the different ideas theorists have on communication within cultures and how we sustain values, traditions and rituals within cultures.


Actor Network Theory was another popular topic within this week’s reading. John Law explains that the comprehension of the mechanics of power and the heterogeneous network are key concepts within this theory. Instead of focusing on the content within a given network it is more important to understand how the network has transformed and the different agents involved. This theory can aid individuals in understanding how different power structures are formed and work on a day to day basis. For example the upcoming election is interesting to look at through this theory. First you could look at the different actors involved within the election; you have the two presidential candidates who are competing along with an array of actors who are supporting each candidate. Law explains, “…these networks are composed not only of people, but also of machines, animals, texts, money, architectures…”(Law 2). In this sense you would also examine media coverage’s role within the election, including televisions, magazines, newspapers, blog posts and social networks. By examining each of these different forms of media, you could discover the amount of power each delivers in regards to the election. Currently many believe that social networks such as Facebook and Twitter are exhibiting a great deal of political participation. People are expressing their opinions and engaging in discussion through these devices. Some believe that Obama’s use of social media in the 2008 election contributed to his success. By avidly using social media throughout this campaign, he demonstrated how powerful social media has become within our society. Within the actor-network theory, you could examine how one form of media demonstrates more power over others.

John Law, ‘Notes on the Theory of the Actor Network: Ordering, Strategy and Heterogeneity‘,
published by the Centre for Science Studies, Lancaster University, Lancaster LA1 4YN, at
http://www.comp.lancs.ac.uk/sociology/papers/Law-Notes-on-ANT.pdf

Manuel Castells, "Materials for an exploratory theory of the network society," British Journal of Sociology, 51/1 (January/March 2000), 5–24.


West, Richard, and Lynn H. Turner. Introduction Communication Theory. New York: McGraw Hill, 2010. Print.

Emily Fuerst
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Immutable Mobiles

by Eric Cruet

There is a growing body of evidence that indicates natural language is far more structured than most previously thought and discourse structure carries much more important information about what is being described. For example, work by Abbott (2007) and by Enomoto, Horai (1987) and others shows that the nouns and verbs used in stating IT system requirements can provide important clues to an object oriented design for the system. For example, in OOAD (Object-Oriented Analysis and Design) some nouns give clues about classes and their attributes and verbs, in turn, give clues about methods. Syntactic structure can also indicate relationships of inheritance and clustering. However, finding a mechanical algorithms that will always do such analyses reliably because of the role of context is very difficult to find.

Bruno Latour coined the phrase “immutable mobile” in reference to a representation that can be interpreted in the same way for a variety of different contexts. These structures are what he terms “re-representations”: representations that have undergone a form of concentration, for example, cartographic maps, and in a single formula for: the dynamics of motion (mechanics), Einstein’s mass-energy equivalence, and most chemical reactions. It is Mr. Latour’s contention that immutability, mobility and concentration are qualities found in information that are particular to scientific discourse.

Furthermore, information can be identified by degrees of granularity, from a socially situated contextual perspective. Looking at a continuum, information can be granularly coarse or dry, close to “contextually independent”; to very fine or wet, which would make it very difficult to be understood without proper situational context, with varying degrees of “dampness” in between. Dry information would be analogous to what is contained in physical maps. A good example of wet information is programmer commented code on a computer program, or comments posted in response to a post in your FB (Facebook) page. An instance of damp information would be instructions to build an Ikea desk or a DIY (Do-it-yourself) auto repair manual.

Latour indicates that constructing immutable mobiles obtain abstraction by the compression of information, which is then “re-represented” into new signs (semiotics) that have better accessibility. Power delegation occurs since anyone who wishes to disagree must mobilize the resources to represent and compress similar amounts of information with equal or better levels of effort. This model is (loosely) known as formalization. It is the process by which information is made dry, that is, freed from context, abstracted, prepared for compression, made ready for science, disembodied, but situated and given agency by the creator. owner, or user.

In closing, patterning systems applying ANT (actor-network theory) in modelling formalization to create immutable mobiles is significant. Additionally, IT (Information Technology) systems seem to be fertile ground for advancing this type of research. These systems are repositories for immutable mobiles (databases) and provide the means for producing more, for translating content, transporting into new context, and for further concentrating and summarizing information, while enabling sources of power in the process.





Russ Abbott: Abstraction, Emergence, and Thought. SARA 2007: 391-392


John Gougen: //Social Issues in Requirements Engineering//. Edited by Stephen Fickas and Anthony Finkelstein, pages 194-195, 1993. IEEE Computer Society.

John Gougen: The dry and the wet. In Eckhard Falkenberg, Colette Rolland, and El-Sayed-Nasr-El-Dein El-Sayed, editors. Information Systems Concepts, pages 1-7 Elsevier North-Holland. March 1992, Oxford.

Latour, Bruno. 1987. Science in Action. How to follow Scientists and Engineers through Society. Milton Keynes: Open University Press.

Naoya Uematsu, and Hajime Enomoto. Specification framework based on natural language (1987)