Blog Post 3: Actor-Network Theory

I can safely say that I was thoroughly confused by this week’s readings, but (hopefully) now understand actor-network theory and its relationship to the history of publics and publishing.

Actor-network theory centres largely around the idea that networks (made up of a series of actors) have the potential to form a single entity and become an actor themselves (these networks made up of actors can be called assemblages). This involves the idea that both animate and inanimate objects which form networks have ‘agency’ or the capacity to act independently and make free choices. Equally, actor-network theory opposes the traditional theories (technological and social determinism) that state that technology is developed entirely separately to social circumstances (and vice versa for social determinism). Although this may sound confusing, it simply means that social network theory proposes that technological developments are highly influenced by the creator’s social circumstance (upbringing, nationality, background etc) and social developments are strongly influenced by technological developments. As this useful and convenient Youtube video explains: “the main point of the theory is that it explores the way networks of relations are composed; how they emerge and come into being; how they are constructed and maintained; how they compete with other networks and how they are made more durable over time”.

This is clearly an applicable theory when it comes to a discussion of the history of publics and publishing as the interaction of various networks has lead to a significant change in the way publishing functions.
Technologies such as the e-reader and online newspapers have been developed with increased social demand for more economical forms of publishing. The social demand to prevent global warming has influence the development of technologies to become more environmentally friendly. Furthermore, a society in which material goods are overflowing is in need of compressing things which can be compressed (such as books and papers).

Equally, the mobility of technology has also been influenced by increased busyness in everyday life and by the same token technology’s mobility has forced life to become increasingly busy. Thus, it is clear that technology has influence on social life and vice versa.

Hence, it is clear that various actors such as developers/the public/social demands have the ability to form an assemblage of aspects of social life which in turn has a significant affect on technological developments. Equally, actors such as iPads/iPhones/laptops all have their own ‘agency’ and the capacity to make choices (which I find to be mind boggling!) in order to form a network and have influence on various aspects of social life. Furthermore, these objects all have individual components which cause them to become what they are and form networks themselves.

A similar model that deals with assemblages is the ANPS theory. This largely deals with the way in which things are produced and breaks the abstract ideas of an object down into material; expressive qualities; territorializing role; deterritorializing role and the object’s linguistic coding.
The material role of an object discusses exactly what it’s made of. In terms of a magazine the material used is paper, ink, staples etc.
The expressive role of an object is largely a discussion of its aesthetic properties. These aesthetic properties in things like magazines include font, images, colour etc.
The territorialising role of an object talks about where the object goes and how it gets there. Things that allow magazines to ‘territorialise’ include printers; freight trucks; wholesalers; newsagents; consumers; recycling bins (once thrown out) and rubbish trucks.

The deterritorialising role of an object talks about what stops an object from getting places. For magazines this includes affordability; irrelevance (eg. if a magazine is designed for a specific country) etc.

The linguistic/coding role is one’s initial thought when discussing an object.


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