Tuesday, September 29, 2009

Roskilde day II - Ursula Plesner

"Actor Network Theory: An inroad to the study of 'the virtual building'" is the title of Ursula Plesner's talk. She discusses the implications of ANT as a method for doing research in online worlds. Levels from the core to the outer limit: Action/interaction - A particular site or social sphere - the virtual/immaterial - the real/material. How do we hold on to the insight that there is a constant give and take between all these levels? Analyze relations between different components such as architectural training, techical infomration, designer, navigation tools, avatar, hardware, aesthetics, perceived users, building etc.

Three principles of the sociology of associations:
1. A sociology sceptical of 'the social' - There is no society, no social dynamics, no social spheres, only associations made up by concrete, specific ties that can result in "stories"
2. An empiricist orientation - refusal of abstract theory and the imposition of categories and explanation on the empirical material. Not impose order but follow the actors.
3. A symmetrical approach - Impartiality between actors: no à priori privileging of either humans or non-humans. We ought to weave together the two resources, context and content, into an integrated whole. (Latour)

Methodological implications:
1. Slowciology - carefully following and documenting a group and its progress, its making and/or unmaking. The social appears again, but as a result of our research, we are not taking it for granted or jumping to conclusion.
2. Lack of generalizability - We learn from the accumulation of exemplars, the rich descriptions. The value of the study comes from its truthfulness, not from its generalizability.
3. Mobile ethnography - the principle of "following the actors". From multi-sited to mobile, looking at connections rather than locations and boundaries

ANT can be seen as a means to brainstorm and highlight the changes, processes and links between various actors or elements and how they transform the larger network. What actors influence other actors and in what way? Do they stabilize or destabilize them?

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