Recently in Actor-Network theory Category

My dissertation abstract

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Title
Open Access Repositories in the Cultural Configuration of Disciplines
Applying Actor-Network Theory to Knowledge Production by Astronomers and Philosophers of Science

Abstract
This qualitative study provides an understanding of the role of self-archived disciplinary open access repositories in the cultural configuration of scholarly disciplines. It examines the implications of the technological and organizational layers of access tools and open access repositories and researchers' lived experiences and perceptions layer on researchers' localized knowledge production context and the construction of disciplinary knowledge production contexts. The actor-network theory, which posits that technological and social actors reciprocally affect each other, is applied to compare and contrast the information practices of two groups of researchers: the use of arXiv by astronomers, and the use of PhilSci by philosophers of science. Six astronomers and five philosophers of science were identified through purposeful selection. The interviews with the researchers were conducted over a period of five months, ranging in length between 40-75 minutes. Primary documentary evidence, describing open access repositories and access tools, is also used for the analysis. The findings show that the open access repositories, the access tools, and researchers' individual knowledge production contexts are co-constructed as researchers search, discover and access scholarly artifacts. Open access has impacted researchers' knowledge production by realigning the existing processes and by instigating the emergence of new actors and constructs. Four themes emerge as researchers articulate their perceptions about the value and the role of open access: impact on scholarly process, impact on scholarly output, integration with scholarly context, and democratization of the scholarly discourse. Congruent with the domain-analytic approach, two distinct socio-technological models emerge. Astronomers perceive arXiv as important and critical in their scholarly information practices, with a central role in their discipline. However, philosophers of science perceive PhilSci as having a limited value in their scholarly information practices and rather minimal role in their discipline. The properties of disciplinary cultures, such as the mutual dependence between researchers and the task uncertainty in a specific discipline, are implicated in the appropriation of the open access repositories and access tools at individual and disciplinary level. The socio-technological co-constructionist approach emerges as a viable theoretical and methodological framework to explicate complex socio-technological contexts.

In A prologue in form of a dialog between a Student and his (somewhat) Socratic Professor, Latour presents some basic but very important ideas, and clarifies some misconceptions and misunderstanding about what actor-network and/or ANT is and is not, and what and what not it can do for you.

The dialog is philosophical at times, brings forth challenges for all of those who deal with actor-network/ANT in some shape of form. It does not seem that Latour answers the question posited at the beginning about what actor-network can do for you, but it certainly tells you what it cannot and what it is not.

In any case, whether you agree or not with Latour's take on what actor-network/ANT should be and what seems to have become, this reading will certainly clarify and reinforce your way of thinking about this theory and methodology.

presenting at ASIS&T 2004

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Whoever is reading this, just to let you know that I will be presenting at the Annual ASIST&T Conference "ASIST 2004 Annual Meeting; "Managing and Enhancing Information: Cultures and Conflicts" (ASIST AM 04), " in Providence, RI, on November 16th, 2004, at 5:30p-7:00p.

As a part of a panel titled Diffusion of Knowledge in the Field of Digital Library Development: How is the Field Shaped by Visionaries, Engineers, and Pragmatists?, I’ll be “theorizing on the implication of open source software in the development of digital libraries”.

Will you be there?

Panel Abstract:
“Digital library development is a field moving from diversity and experimentation to isomorphism and homogenization. As yet characterized by a high degree of uncertainty and new entrants in the field, who serve as sources of innovation and variation, they are seeking to overcome the liability of newness by imitating established practices. The intention of this panel is to use this general framework, to comment on the channels for diffusion of knowledge, especially technology, in the area of digital library development. It will examine how different communities of practice are involved in shaping the process and networks for diffusion of knowledge within and among these communities, and aspects of digital library development in an emerging area of institutional operation in the existing library institutions and the specialty of digital librarianship. Within a general framework of the sociology of culture, the panelists will focus on the following broader issues including the engagement of scholarly networks and the cultures of computer science and library and information science fields in the development process and innovation in the field; involvement of the marketplace; institutional resistance and change; the emerging standards and standards work; the channels of transmission from theory to application; and, what 'commons' exist for the practitioners and those engaged with the theoretical and technology development field. The panelists will reflect on these processes through an empirical study of the diffusion of knowledge, theorizing on the implication of open source software in the development of digital libraries, and the standardization of institutional processes through the effect of metadata and Open Archive Initiative adoption.

The panel is sponsored by SIG/HFIS and SIG/DL”

mind-mapping tool ... use of ANT apparent

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A brief overview of Mayomi (an Online mind-mapping tool and community) reveals that ANT can be used to analyze and trace the connections between various elements/actors. As it can be observed from the first page, the elements are human and non-human, some task oriented, others action oriented, as well as social and information structures, etc, making it a good fit to be analyzed by the ANT framework, unless they were designed and developed based on the ANT framework and methodology. Hope to write more about this once I use the tool. A similar tool is FreeMind which I just installed.

actor-network theory or ANT ?

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One of the major issues with the actor-network methodology is that there is no ready to used steps/procedures on how to go about operationalizing the various actor-network related concepts. Many of the concepts are dispersed amongst the writings by Latour, Callon, Law, Bijker, Akrich, Hassard, and few other authors. One of the most informative sources is the book "Actor Network Theory and After" by Law & Hassard.

As actor-network theory and methodology got translated into ANT, interestingly enough we see here a theory and methodology a subject of its own theorization through the concept of translation and inscription, many researchers have tried their own particular attempts to operationalization of the concepts relevant for their line of inquiry.

The point I'm trying to make is that we have bits and pieces of attempts to operationalize various actor-network related concepts; however, we lack an overall framework. The answer to why is this is pretty much provided in the above-mentioned book in the chapter "On recalling ANT" (by Latour) stating that actor-network was only meant to be a way of doing ethnomethodology and not a theory (p. 19). So, when people talk of ANT it usually means the theorizing of actor-network in various forms and flavors, while actor-network is more of a way for doing ethnomethodology.

Latour makes the argument that the actual acronym ANT is not simply an acronym. BUT, it is a result of the process of translation by the way which actor-network theory and methodology became ANT (with various flavors). So, the process of translation produced multiple ANT-s, each ANT stressing on different concepts as related to the actor-network methodology/theory.

So, as a result it would seem that ANT has different meanings pertinent to the context and the line of inquiry it is used and applied to. The process of translation is given as the reason.

Latour explains this very clearly in the chapter "On recalling ANT".

Theories informing my research

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Understanding the implicit and explicit theories of a research article most often means carefully reading through the article for the explicit theories stated therein, and also browsing through the bibliography to see who else or what other theories, frameworks and paradigms have informed the current article. This also provides an insight about which implicit theories the author subscribes too.  To understand authors fully in this respect, it would require reading many of their works.

At the beginning of the Ph.D. program I was unaware of my theoretical framework, or better said, I would have been unable to answer such question if I was asked. At that time I would have thought that I didn’t really subscribe to any particular theory, framework or paradigm. One semester after another I struggled to identify my interests. I wanted to place and find myself within a particular school of thought. This was further complicated by the fact that information science as an interdisciplinary field of study is not yet well define by its theory or paradigm as understood in the traditional sense.

However, as I was writing more and more papers for my coursework, I started realizing that my writings usually concentrate around the subject of information artifacts (i.e. information, information structures, and information systems) and their role in the social structures that utilize them. At this point I decided to re-read all of my papers, four semesters worth. To my surprise and delight, I realized that all this time I was not just writing. I was actually trying to explicate and elaborate (with the language available to me at the time) on how various information technologies effect the social structures around them and concurrently are affected by the same. I recognized this theme throughout my papers.

Tenets of Actor Network Theory

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From FNFACTOR NETWORK THEORY  2001-05-07:

"For what it's worth, here is my own brief outline summary of some of the main ideas of ANT:

1. There is an emphasis on networks and links, as opposed to heroic individual "genuises"

2. The nodes in these networks, called actants, include not just humans, but also non-humans, such as physical objects; they all do some kind of work to maintain the integrity of the network.

3. Individual actants, and groups of actants, in general have different value systems, so that translation among these systems is necessary for a network to succeed; this work is done along the links in the network. Socio-technical compromise is the work done to bring the various technical and social nodes into alignment.

4. The structure of a project can only be seen clearly when these translations (and hence the project) have been successful; hence the values, and even the parts and structure, of a failed project are not in general well defined.

5. The human actors in a project are in a sense sociologists, because they must do acts of interpretation, which in effect are theories of the project; this work should be taken very seriously by sociologists, who should not assume that their own views are necessarily superior to those of the actual participants."

I had come across few times before on pieces describing the potential of PowerPoint to dumb-down people's way of thinking. The same is suggested in the following CNN article Does PowerPoint make us stupid?.

That technology affects social structures and other social phenomena (personal and/or at the levels of society) is widely acknowledged, and perhaps is hard to argue otherwise. These effects are not necessarily negative or positive. The effects depend on the context, i.e. the contextual imbedness of the technology within the social structures. (more about social constructionism vs. technological determinism)

Does PowerPoint (as a technology) have the same capability? Surely. However, to what extend is it able to effect individual’s way of thinking as far as presentation of information and facts are concerned? Just because it affects an individual it does not mean it has an affect on all faculties of reasoning and thinking of that individual. It can be argued that it does, however, one needs to be cautious not to jump to quick conclusions without the proper research and deeper understanding of the situation.

Like any other technology, PowerPoint tries to simplify 'things'. In the process of simplification the complexity of the context (including the content and the social structures) is usually 'relaxed' and many details are lost. I would argue that this is rather an unfortunate situation because each simplification chips little by little out of the reality which is not necessarily simple. Thus, as a result many complex phenomena are simplified to a great extent, up to a point where a new phenomenon is 'born' because the simplification really dumbed the complex phenomenon to an unrecognizable one.

Whether the above reasoning is true for PowerPoint's ability to dumb us down is another matter. If it is true, I would suggest that the context is also responsible and not PowerPoint alone. Nevertheless, it is important to understand the scope as to how wide is this even practically possible. Theoretically one can argue that an element in a socio-technological context can have extensive effect in terms of time and space/distance. Practically, it should be analyzed whether the element, PowerPoint in this case, is first and foremost able to effect the individual beyond the presentation mode thinking, or does it also effect individual's other intellectual faculties. (more on Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge)

Maybe it is the immediate relevant context (organization, corporation, society, etc) that has been dumbed-down enough that simple presentation tools like PowerPoint suffice? Or is it PowerPoint? I would think it is both to some extend: complex thoughts, ideas, and solutions are hard to present in their complexity in the expected 30-45 minutes timeframe usually allocated for presentation to managers. That is why we have journal articles and research papers.

socio-technological; actor-network theory, open source

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I just came across some interesting pieces on the social aspects of open source software and actor-network theory as a tool to investigating the socio-technological attributes of information and information structures around us. Felix Stalder presents challenging thoughts in Open Source as a social principle and Theories of Socio-Technologies.

The most relevant aspect of the engineering courses (my background) is the emphasis on the systems mode of thinking which has helped me tremendously in my present course of study here at SCILS, especially in Information Science.

So far, the challenge has been to build a frame of reference or a mindset through which one is able to see the problems related to information science and the resolutions proposed to resolve them. Personally, I believe that the systems way of thinking is a very insightful and powerful tool, especially because helps you study a problem by identifying the boundaries around it, its scope, what happens within the boundaries, and how the issues with the problem at hand interface with the environment (i.e. with outside of the relevantly defined boundary).

Another challenge for me was to adjust to the statistics methods used in social research. Despite the obvious difference between the statistical results of technical systems and those related to the relation between the independent and dependent variables in social phenomena, the statistics background from my engineering courses has helped me in the quest to identifying the conjecture between statistical analysis of engineering data and data gathered from information science experiments. Another benefit of engineering statistical courses is the ability they provide to better understand the fundamental background of the particular statistical tools, in light of the fact that courses that deal with statistics for social research emphasize mostly on usability and applicability of statistics, and do not necessarily stress enough on the actual derivation of the statistical tools and procedures.

The concepts of interconnectivity of various technical elements within the information and communication systems and the multitude of services they carry almost directly relate (albeit at a different level of application) to various practical communication tools and services that affect the social realm. An information and communication system is not a goal in its own; it is produced and used within the social web of interactions composed of human and non-human entities, or networked actors as suggested by the actor-network theory (ANT) and actor-network methodology. Considering that the actor-network theory considers human and non-human entities/elements in its analysis and methodology, it would be interesting to identify and describe a possible link between the variations and changes at the lowest levels of interactions (i.e. technological) and their potential effect on the interaction at the level between a system as a whole and the user(s).

Through these few reflections, I have attempted to link the experience and knowledge I have obtained from my engineering education and systems analyst/eng experience, with the role they have played so far in my PhD. level classes in Information Science. I hope to have more of these sorts of reflections in the future, as they pop-up in my head. :)

quality open source research resources

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Free / Open Source Research Community presents quality open source research resources, and it is one itself as a result of having collected and organized these research articles.

A must read site for those interested in the interplay of open source software as an actor in the complex network of this thing we call society.

A succinct definition of Actor-Network Theory

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The ISCID Encyclopedia of Science and Philosophy provides a very succinct definition of the Actor-Network Theory.

The definition emphasizes on the most important and pertinent aspects of ANT (actor-network theory) as a theory and methodology about how to describe the interplay between various elements (or actors) in networks where human and non-human elements (or nodes, or actors) are present.

In What is Actor-Network Theory: various ANT definitions I've provided few definitions taken from What is Actor-Network Theory?.

Back in July we had an interesting discussion about few ANT related concepts such as nodes, or actors, or networks with Jeremy Hunsinger. It is an interesting discussion that brings forth few different viewpoints and understandings. Other related ideas and thoughts can be found in the Actor-Network theory & methodology category.

It would be interesting to hear if anyone out there is using the actor-network theory and/or methodology in their research. I would be mostly interested about the challenges in such application.

This is a response to Ed's argument (re: Technology addiction makes us unwitting slaves) that: "... it is not the technology that abuses individual rights, but other people. I don't think the solution is more/different technology", as well as some clarification and addition to my original entry that Ed responded.

Let me just say that I do agree with Ed that the use of the word 'addictive' in relation to the use of technology in the original article was a real misuse. I believe they meant to say dependency on technology.

Now back to the argument that "it is not the technology that abuses individual rights". True, indeed. Technology per se by itself does not have the capability to abuse anything. It is the people who use the technology in various ways, and more then often technology is used to reinforce power and social structures.

However, in the process where technology is used to reinforce existing power structures, the technology itself is designed and modified in such a way that more than often the end result ends up being a technology that is restrictive enough by embedding in itself features, capabilities and functionalities that play well in the hands of 'other people', usually the power brokers.

An interesting example is the TV broadcasting technology. The way it has been deployed it allows only those who control it to be able to disseminate information and news. This is a one way communication, i.e. one-to-many. On the other side, the internet (at least the internet as a publishing and communication medium) by design and functionality is not centralized (though some countries are restrictive) and thus allows almost anyone to be able to distribute en mass, i.e. many-to-many communication.

The point I'm trying to make is that technologies have performative capabilities according to the features and functionalities they embody. Some are more restrictive and some more open.

Here is the train of thought:
- We create various technologies
- Those technologies have limitations and restrictions because they are built for specific purpose and under limited resources
- Sometimes a technology is used for other purposes than what was initially intended, intentionally or unintentionally
- Once a technology is used, its limitations and restrictions affect how people that use the technology do their jobs and tasks
- Due to technology's limitations, people change their ways of performing various tasks that require the use of the technology
- Thus we end up modifying the tasks themselves so they can be done with the technology available at hand

Why not modify the technology so it is not limitative and restrictive? Well, the workplace has it troubles, challenges, and timeframes. Sometimes things have to be done in less then perfect environment. In such situations the technology that is available has tremendous power of how the tasks are framed and planned. Interestingly enough, the technology was most probably designed elsewhere, and maybe not exactly for the task it is being used.

the "perfect design" yardstick

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In Perfect design? Beth informs us of a book attempting to explain why there is no perfect design.

I would be interested to see what methodology the author has applied to explain the 'impossibility' of perfect design. Certainly, the actor-network methodology is a very good candidate to explain this, as it provides the necessary framework and theoretical background to explain the interplay between various actors (humans and things) and how they affect each other.

However, a simplistic explanation might be that since there is no yardstick to measure the 'perfect' of something, it is even pointless to assume perfectness. Rather, we are talking of things feasible and practical.

nodes, or actors, or networks

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This is a response to jeremy's comments on actor construction? and a response entry (June 30, 2003) in his blog regarding the relationship of actors and networks as used/presented by the actor-network theory and methodology.

Jeremy: "i replied to this on his blog too, but ultimately my position is to rid oneself of the heirarchy of ontology involved in differentiating actors, and just look at the networks. there really are no actors, because then there is no differences amongst actors, only nodes where networks conjoin.

keeping in mind though that this is just my interpretation of several texts, mainly latour, law, then adding some norbert wiener. most people really want to differentiate between actors, I'm unconvinced that it is as important as kant tells us."

If the nodes are where the networks conjoin, than it might be this that many term an actor. Anyways, what is a network then? The following definition is one of many provided by the American Heritage Dictionary about a network: “An extended group of people with similar interests or concerns who interact and remain in informal contact for mutual assistance or support”. In this definition (and other definitions related to computer systems/networks) two distinct entities are identifiable around the concept of interaction: the channel of communication and the elements that enact these channels.

So, a network by itself is a complex element (or entity) composed of links and the elements that enact these links. Some may call these elements actors, others may call them nodes.

As far as semantics is concerns, we could be talking only of networks (at different levels due to their complexity and their relation to their surroundings) or only of actors (and we will have to differentiate between different actors and their levels). Included in here will be the channels of interactions (or the links) as complex actors or as complex networks.

Nevertheless, it appears that for such mode of explanation a distinction needs to be made between the entities and the process of communication that links those entities.

If nodes are to be taken only as passive entities where the links (or networks) conjoin, without the potentiality to act, it would seems that the nodes are only constructs with acquired properties and attributes resulting from their relative position in the network or networks. This perhaps is so for non-human entities. However, it is more then evident that humans as nodes in a network or networks are not passive even though some of the properties and/or attributes of the human node might be acquired as a result of the position in the relevant network(s). In addition, non-human nodes also contain intrinsic (relatively speaking) properties and attributes that are beyond the constructability of the relative network(s). Through these relative intrinsic properties (acquired from other outside networks) non-human actors (or nodes) are able to affect the ‘constructions’ of network(s).

Related:
defining the ingredients of actor-network and open-content open-communication

actor construction?

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In too many topics, too little time of June 29, 2003, regarding the role of the actor in the actor-network theory and methodology, jeremy writes:

"however, the fixation on the actor is still present. get rid of it, stop thinking about it, think about networks, only networks, and then think about how it constructs the actor, then i think you have a theoretically interesting actor-network theory."

To take the actor-network theory to explain the construction of the actor only would provide a one sided elaboration and perhaps incomplete picture of the relationship between the actors and the network. It is true that a particular network can be treated as an actor (a complex one). However, in the actor-network discourse it is understood that a set of actors interconnected amongst themselves through their links create a network (or a topology). Needless to say, an actor can be part of many networks/topologies at the same time, manifesting itself differently within a particular network.

While networks do have a major role in the process of actor construction, it is also true that actors play a decisive role in the construction of the networks that they are part off, and must be taken into consideration. It is obvious that human actors are not solely constructions by the pertinent networks. Human actors do have intrinsic properties that are not constructible and changeable by the networks/topologies.

This is little bit trickier for non-human actors and it can be claimed that all non-human actors related to information technology (IT) are constructions since they are man made. True, however, we should not forget that information technology actors are mostly used by those who had no say in their construction. Thus, when IT actors are used in networks/topologies other then those that constructed them, they influence and change those networks within which they are imbedded and used.

Even the process of the IT actor construction is not purely one way (i.e. networks construct the actor). In the process of actor construction networks change and are modified along the way (some due to the actors) to finally construct an actor that almost always is different than what was originally though at the beginning of the construction process.

So, yes, actors are constructed, but they also construct the networks. It is an iterative process.

Related:
Defining the ingredients of actor-network and open-content open-communication

“You can’t manage what you don’t know about” (Blair, p. 1027)

“Knowledge management is not an end in itself, it is a means to a further end” (Blair, p. 1028)

One of the most important aspects regarding knowledge management (KM), both as theoretical endeavor and practice, appears to pertain to the question what is it that is being managed. Or, we can better ask ourselves as to what do various authors mean when referring to KM. What’s in the name? In order to differentiate KM from information and data management it needs to be shown that knowledge is different than data and information. Blair’s (2002) explication that knowledge is different than data and information is based on the information theory stratification which puts data as the raw thing, then information which means data arranged in a certain way that presents and brings forth an obvious interpretable meaning, and then knowledge as the next level up, mainly stating that knowledge, exhibited through it characteristics, is different because it resides in peoples minds and it is not tangible (p. 1020). McInerney (2002) also presents the information theory viewpoint of knowledge: “in information theory, knowledge has been distinguished by its place on a hierarchical ladder that locates data on the bottom rung, the next belonging to information, then knowledge, and finally wisdom at the top” (p. 1010). It appears that this kind of placement of knowledge fits better with KM as practice since it distinguishes information-as-thing to be something tangible. If however we look as Brookes’s (1980) elaborations regarding ‘information’, he defines information as a "small bit of knowledge” and “knowledge as a structure of concepts linked by their relationship and information as a small part of such structure” (p. 131). There does not seem to be a necessity to explain why information is different than knowledge, for both Blair and McInerney could have proceeded with their arguments in the articles by showing that knowledge is not a tangible (in physical sense) thing. An argument for the necessity to differentiate knowledge from information in such terms appears to respond to a need to clearly and unambiguously distinguish knowledge management from information and document management (Blair, p. 1019), perhaps more so for KM practitioners.

What is Actor-Network Theory: various ANT definitions

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The possibility of applying the actor-network theory and its methodology to different disciplines and fields of study is evident by the many senses in which it has been used.

The What is Actor-Network Theory? site provides various definitions.

These and many other colors and flavors of ANT represent a very divers scope of its usage and applicability. Here are two definitions that are particularly interesting:

"from Michael Callon
ANT is based on no stable theory of the actor; in other words, it assumes the radical indeterminacy of the actor. For example, neither the actor's size nor its psychological make-up nor the motivations behind its actions are predetermined. In this respect ANT is a break from the more orthodox currents of social science. This hypothesis (which Brown and Lee equate to political ultra-liberalism) has, as we well know, opened the social sciences to non-humans."

"from Bernd Frohmann
ANT's rich methodology embraces scientific realism, social constructivism, and discourse analysis in its central concept of hybrids, or "quasi-objects", that are simultaneously real, social, and discursive. Developed as an analysis of scientific and technological artifacts, ANT's theoretical richness derives from its refusal to reduce explanations to either natural, social, or discursive categories while recognizing the significance of each (see, e.g. Latour 1993, 91). Following the work of Hughes, ANT insists that "the stability and form of artifacts should be seen as a function of the interaction of heterogeneous elements as these are shaped and assimilated into a network" (Law 1990, 113)."

If you visit the site (What is Actor-Network Theory?) you may find other definitions pertinent to your field of study.

Related readings:
Actor-Network Theory

Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge

In attempt to identify what information science ought to do, Brookes recognizes that “documents and knowledge are not identical entities” (p. 127), and differentiates between practical and theoretical information science: “the practical work of library and information scientists can now be said to collect and organize for use the records of World 3. And the theoretical task is to study the interactions between Worlds 2 and 3, to describe them and explain them if they can and so to help in organizing knowledge rather than documents for more effective use” (p. 128-9)

World 1 = the physical world
World 2 = the world of subjective mental states occupied by our thoughts and mental images
World 3 = the world of objective knowledge which is the totality of all human thought embodied in human artifacts, as in documents of course, but also in music, the arts, the technologies

Brookes, B.C. (1980). The foundation of information science. Part I. Philosophical aspects. Journal of Information Science 2, 125-133

why actor-network?
"In Social constructionism vs. technological determinism it has been suggested that the actor-network theory and its methodological framework may provide the language and the mode of explanation to elaborate in a common framework the interplay between human and non-human entities.
Most importantly, the major contribution of the actor-network theory seems to be the fact that it treats the human and non-human elements (or actors as the various element in a given topology are named in the actor-network language) alike as being able to influence each other."

translation
"So, how do the actors in a particular topology influence each other? This is done through their links. The actor-network theory suggests that a process of translation takes place, a process that explains how and why some actors take the attributes and properties of the actors they are connected too. Thus, certain properties of one actor are transferred to other actors through their mutual links. The question arises then as to what/which properties and attributes of an actor can be transferred onto another and initiate a process of translation onto the actor it is connected too? Further, what is the role of the properties and attributes of the links in the process of translation/transfer? Which properties and attributes of the links are important to this process?"

openness
"...the modifiable content depending on the intrinsic and external properties can be described and manifests itself in various degrees of openness. Similarly, the communication links vary in degree of their communicative properties via which the properties and the attributes of the actors are transferred and translated into other actors via inscription."

properties and attributes: links, actors, topologies
"The translation process enables an actor/entity (simple or complex) to inscribe its properties and attributes onto other actors in the pertinent topologies. This suggests that there is a movement of some sort from one actor to another. Certainly, in any given topology not all actors are able to inscribe their properties and attributes equality into other actors. Some properties and attributes are more prevalent in any given topology. What determines the strength of the attributes and the properties?"

Social constructionism vs. technological determinism
"For example, if one is to research the usability of collaboration tools in an organizational settings, the social constructionism for most part takes the view that the information and communication technologies are just tools to be used by the employees to perform their assigned tasks and that these tools do not effect the employees or the relevant social structures. On the other side, technical determinist consider the affect that these tools will have on the employees and the surrounding organizational structures resulting from their use."

The concepts brought forth by the actor-network theory are so pervasive in our daily lifes that we utilize them without acknowledging the aforementioned scholarly freameworks.

For example, we constantly try to convince our friends to come and see a movie with us, or advice them to take a certain class we found beneficial. We do this without draining out brains about each and every detail of why we acted in a particular manner. Perhaps it is this pervasiveness in daily life encounters that when reading and learning about as actor-network such concepts one does not necessarily find ‘new’ things besides the fact that they have enables us to engage in scholarly discourse, presenting and structuring our thoughts, ideas and opinions in ways to make them easily inscribable (both in people's minds and as exosomatic memory artifacts) such that they perform at distance across time and space. In this endeavor we do not stand as isolated individuals, we are also performed upon.

Both the actor-network theory and ANT have acted as inscription and translation tools in the process of writing warious class papers, seemingly to act at distance for some time to come in my scholarly training. These statement regarding inscription and performation are circular in nature (we learn but that learning affects how we learn in the future), perhaps letting us know that we are not isolated; we constantly perform and are performed upon.

The open-source Internet?

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In some of my previous entries I’ve suggested that the actor-network theory and methodology can be used as a mode of explanation in elaborating the interplay between social structures and information (and IT in general). The factor ‘openness’ emerges as the main ingredient in the elaboration when using actor-network theory to explain how actors in a given topology can affect other actors, and also at the same time being affected by them.

The explanatory power of the actor-network methodology relies on the fact that in the same topology both human and non-human actors (elements, structures, processes, etc.) are treated as equally able to affect and influence each other. The affect is carried via the links between the various actors attempting to inscribe their attributes and properties into other actors with congruent properties and attributes (see: Translation).

So, is the Internet open-source?
Or, a more appropriate question would be: is it possible to produce an open communication medium such as the Internet without the open-source software?

Basing this argument on the actor-network theory and methodology and the openness factor, had the software that was used to build the Internet been a closed source software hidden from outside scrutiny, the resulting product, the Internet (whether we see the Internet as a mass medium, a publishing phenomenon, a set of communication tools, etc.) would not have been as open as we see it today. Why?

To use the actor-network language and the openness factor, the closed-source software is almost totally closed in both aspects: its content and its communication. With a closed content (i.e. the code) it is much harder to build compatible and interoperable software tools and much harder to make people use it. Modification to the closed-source software is limited to a very small group of people whose agenda is driven by the bottom line: profit. This suggests that the not so open content and not so open communication about the content is indeed a stagnating force in the exchange of ideas, thoughts and opinions, and innovation in general.

The open content and open communication concepts (with their attributes and properties) are indeed positively responsible for the openness of the Internet. Whether the open-source software is directly responsible for the openness of the Internet, or both the open source software and the Internet openness are both results of the open source philosophy is not very important.

In any case, the open content and open communication concepts have inscribed their properties and attributed onto the openness of the Internet (with varying degrees depending on the various form and flavors the Internet is being used) and also onto the open source software.

The factor 'openness'

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In properties and attributes: links, actors, topologies it has been suggested that the properties and attributes can be intrinsic and external.

The intrinsic properties are those that are inhibited as part of the process of the construction of an actor. For human actors these would be those properties and attributes (physical and mental) that do not change as part of the context and environment, i.e. context independent. The external properties and attributes are those that constantly change due to surrounding and environment, i.e. context dependent. Thus, the intrinsic and the external properties and attributes are not necessarily the same for all humans. However, there could be some that are common depending on the contextual situatedness of the human actor.

For non-human actors, lets take as an example an information system used in a given organizational setting. The information system comes predefined with certain functionality. Some of that functionality (usually referred as the core functionality) is not readily modifiable; it is this functionality that defines the system - its spirit, if changed than the nature of the information system has changed. Then, some other functionalities of the information system are intentionally modifiable to 'fit' the changing needs of the group/department/task that will use this particular information system. The modifications to these functionalities do not change the core nature of the system.

Further, in Translation in actor-network it is stated that "An issue of congruence and correspondence arises from the above discussion, for we can't compare an apple to an orange. In addition, no matter how actors are linked to one another, some actors just don’t get affected by the actors in the corresponding network topologies." So, for a translation to occur, i.e. the properties and attributes of one actor to be transferred and inscribed into another there must be some congruent properties and attributes.

Looking at the intrinsic and the external properties and attributes and their ability to change, content (the "what" is changed) and communication (the "means" by which the change is instigated) emerge as the congruent properties and attributes actors different actors (and definitely between human and non-human) prone to being modified and able to modify other actors through links in a given topology.

From the above it appears that an actor with its links in a relevant topology can perform upon other actors and links and be performed by other actors and links within the relevant and pertinent topology. The external content properties and attributes are those prone to being modified via the link (that in turn could also be performed upon and perform upon others). The basic properties and attributes of the links is their communicative openness: one-way link or two way links.

Also, the modifiable content depending on the intrinsic and external properties can be described and manifests itself in various degrees of openness. Similarly, the communication links vary in degree of their communicative properties via which the properties and the attributes of the actors are transferred and translated into other actors via inscription.

Actor-Network Theory and Managing Knowledge

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Whether one utilizes and appropriates the Actor-Network Theory paradoxically not as a theory but as methodological approach for ethnomethodology, or ANT as an actual theory in the true sense of a parsimonious theory with the classical philosophical understanding and ability to predict (i.e. cause-effect relationship) phenomena around us, two properties are common and fundamentally critical to any color, flavor or form ANT might have emerged and evolved into: inscription and translation, with their ability to act at distance.

The distinction of Actor-Network Theory from ANT is not only semantic in nature since “ANT” is not just an acronym for Actor-Network Theory. Going from Actor-Network Theory into ANT, the concepts, ideas and thoughts of the original inscription of the Actor-Network Theory performed and were perform upon in the web of scholarly discourse, thus translating themselves into self sustainable quasi theories. If actor-network theory was not reduced to ANT, perhaps it would not have been possible to become as pervasive as it has become but not without being translated, transformed and performed. This distinction is evident from Law’s and Latour’s statement in Law and Hassard (1999). In expressing his wishful thinking to recall ANT back to its origins, Latour, one of the original authors that laid down the principles of what has became ANT, states:

The translation process enables an actor/entity (simple or complex) to inscribe its properties and attributes onto other actors in the pertinent topologies. This suggests that there is a movement of some sort from one actor to another. Certainly, in any given topology not all actors are able to inscribe their properties and attributes equality into other actors. Some properties and attributes are more prevalent in any given topology. What determines the strength of the attributes and the properties?

As with all things in our lives, some things are prone to changes more than others. For example, when a new information system is brought into an organization, the appropriation process might modify the information system to a great degree to fit its needs. At other times, the organizational structure or tasks might change as a result of the appropriation of a system that does not allow much modification to its pre-defined functionality.

It appears that properties and attributes of actors can be grouped in at least two groups: 1) intrinsic properties and attributes - those that are not modifiable as a result of links to other actors, 2) external properties - those that have been acquired and appropriated through the modification/translation process and are further modifiable.

Translation in actor-network

why actor-network?

Translation in actor-network

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Actors and their links with which they are connected to each other to construct/produce a topology with a given boundary are the basic building blocks in the actor-network mode of explanation. (re: Why actor-network?)

So, how do the actors in a particular topology influence each other? This is done through their links. The actor-network theory suggests that a process of translation takes place, a process that explains how and why some actors take the attributes and properties of the actors they are connected too. Thus, certain properties of one actor are transferred to other actors through their mutual links. The question arises then as to what/which properties and attributes of an actor can be transferred onto another and initiate a process of translation onto the actor it is connected too? Further, what is the role of the properties and attributes of the links in the process of translation/transfer? Which properties and attributes of the links are important to this process?

An issue of congruence and correspondence arises from the above discussion, for we can't compare an apple to an orange. In addition, no matter how actors are linked to one another, some actors just don’t get affected by the actors in the corresponding network topologies.

why actor-network?

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In Social constructionism vs. technological determinism it has been suggested that the actor-network theory and its methodological framework may provide the language and the mode of explanation to elaborate in a common framework the interplay between human and non-human entities.

Most importantly, the major contribution of the actor-network theory seems to be the fact that it treats the human and non-human elements (or actors as the various element in a given topology are named in the actor-network language) alike as being able to influence each other.

For example, a network topology representing a department in a given organization may consist of various human and non-human actors such as employees, manager(s), inter and intra-departmental structures, communication channels, forms of communication, information and communication systems, meetings, tasks, routines, etc. All of these actors are linked to each other via links (single or multiple).

So, what next? Well, if actors are linked to each other they can potentially influence each other. For example, given the departmental structure, the manager has a direct link/communication with the employees and in many cases affects how the employees do their job. At the same time the employees may affect how the manager does his/her job regarding a particular project. However, the influence that the manager can exert on the employees perhaps is stronger than the influence any particular employee might be able to exert on his/her manager. Here we see an example of the actor 'structure' as a moderating actor in the communication/link between the manager and the employees.

Another example would be the use of a particular information system for performing certain project related tasks. If a particular system is already being used for given tasks, some limiting capabilities of the system when used for a similar task will effect how the task is performed by the employees. When cost becomes an issue (we can't always have the systems changed the way we want), the functionalities of a particular system might even define the departmental structure and the scope of the task. Here we see an example of an information technology actor/artifact having a say on how tasks are performed.

If actors in a given topology can effect each other, what are then the properties and the attributes of the actors and the links then can further help us elaborate and explain the nature of a particular topology?

Social constructionism vs. technological determinism

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The discourse regarding the development and utilization of technology in general and information related technology in particular has for the most part swung between the technological determinism and social constructionism viewpoints.

Each of these viewpoints when taken separately and independently from each other present radical perspective, diminishing the other's theoretical and practical explication from their own. While these two different perspectives have answered many issues (answerable by their perspectives) regarding the development, innovation and use of information related technologies, a great amount of issues have remained unanswered due to the perceived complexity when attempted to be explicated independently either by the technological determinism or the social constructionism viewpoints. Or, when an attempt is made to explain an issue or a research problem either by the technological determinism or by the social constructionism theoretical and methodological frameworks independently, the resulting analysis and conclusions would not be complete. Why so?

For example, if one is to research the usability of collaboration tools in an organizational settings, the social constructionism for most part takes the view that the information and communication technologies are just tools to be used by the employees to perform their assigned tasks and that these tools do not effect the employees or the relevant social structures. On the other side, technical determinist consider the affect that these tools will have on the employees and the surrounding organizational structures resulting from their use.

It is almost obvious that in real life both the social structures affect the development and the design of information technology, and information technology on the other side affect the social structures and how we use them. More then often in our workplace we complain that we can't perform a particular task due to technological constrains emerging from the utilization of the technology we are supposed to use to get our work done. In response, if we can't modify the tools, we modify our processes and task so they are workable within the functionality provided by these tools.

As neither one can provide a complete answer to such issues as the usability and utilization of collaboration tools, a common ground between social constructionism and technological determinism needs to be appropriated.

Perhaps the actor-network theory and its methodological framework provides a plausible alternative?

By Mentor Cana, PhD
more info at LinkedIn
email: mcana {[at]} kmentor {[dot]} com

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