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SOZILE WELT Jagag 47, 196, He 4
Zeitschrif sozialwissenschafliche Forschung und Pris
_Summarie . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 367
On actr-network theory.
A hclarifctions.
V Brn Lar . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 369
Sruktye, Rational Choice Theorie und die Rolle der Zeit.
Ei Veruch zur dynamischen Integrtion zwier Theoriepepekiven
V!mJBlsfl un Rol Hd. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 382
Nationale Innovationsystme, soziale Kapital und
Innovationsstrtgen von Untrehmen
Von Dorte Janse . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 411
Hochquaifiziere Angestellte und betrieblche Umstrukturierung.
Ersion von Sozialintegrtion und Lyalitat ir GrBbetreb
W Heann Kotthoj . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 435
Industriele Beziehungen in der Bauwirscha und im Gatgerbe
Deutschlands und Frreichs
W Stehan Vswinke un Stefan Lucking . . . . . .. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 450
Signaturn der Wissensgesellschaftn -ein Konferenzbericht
Vn Gal Wge . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 480
Difrenzierng und Identitat.
Betrchtungen zum 28. KongreB der Deutschen Gesellschaft fr
Soziologie i Drsden
Von Ki-Uwe Helmann . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 485
Autrinnen und Autoren. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . 493
Rgl m die Muskiptgetatung .. . . . . . . . . .. . . . . . .. . .. .. .. . . . .. .. .. . 494
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Brno Ltour: On actor-network theor. A hwcartOm.
Three rsource have been developed over the ages to deal with agency. The first one
is to attribute to them naturity, ad to mthem with natur. The second one is to
grnt them sociality, ad to tie them to the social fabric. The third one is to consider
them as a semiotic constrction, and to rlate agncy with buiding of meaning. The
orignality of science studies comes frm the imposibility of clearly differentiating
between thee thme reoure. Microbes, neutrinos of DNA a at the same time
naturl, social and discoure. They a real, buman and semiotic entities in the same
breath. The article eplore the consequences of this peculiar situation which mnot
been underlined befre science studies fred us to retie the links between these three
rsources. The actor-nHork theor a deeloped by Caon and his colleagues is an at
tmpt t invent a vOulMt d with mne situaton. The article nwthose dif
ficulties and trie to oercome them by showing how they may be used to account for
the construction of entitie, that is fr the attribution of nature, society and meaning.
Hans-Pte Blossld Rq Mulle: The Aysis of Social Strctur, Rtional Choic
Theor and the Importanc of Temporlity. AEssay on the Dyuamic Iut0@ton
of two Theoretical Perpectiv.
During the last tw decdes there ha been a eplosion of rtional choice scholar
ship in the social sciences. The purpose of the fr part of this paper is t discus some
of the rasons why this deelopment ha had surprisingly little inuence on la e
data aalysis. In the second part, the paper shows that any theorticlly powerl
sociologcal aalysis of a macrosociological Qnblem must py attention to both
mm- and microlevel isues. However, not in the usual statc Wy Any macr
micro fmeork must recogniz that time matter in this rlatonship. It must iden
tif the paricula historicl mOwad pD which dominate the chang o
curring in a gven population, ad it ha t speif the cusl mehaisms that O
us t trce the encount of intntionally acting individuals with the mof history
as a serie of choice pme.
Drt Jan: National Systms of Innovtion, >LgdSttie of
Innovation of Firs
Institutional conditions of action and the embeddednes of fms int solled na
tional systms of innovtion tay gaining attntion in the economic and
soiologicl analysis of the innovtion prs. This pape develops an intgrtve ap
prach using concepts frm economics, science and tchnology studie and or
tional rearh. The aim s to elain national difrnce in innoation strtege. The
apprah is muusing data on twchemic frms in dmnational conr
one frm Germay ad one fom the Unt Kingdom. Both embarked on mh in
to the nely disoerd Hig.empertu-Supernductr (). The wre stdied
within the fe of a lar rh prje on the ron of natonal r syms
to M.Te elanative approch combine both variables concerning the national in
stitutional O at the marlevel and variable concering the institutional
setup of sector and tchnologe a the melevel, using the concpt of gmance.
Ecnomicl ad sciologcl notions of gverce dcThe cen-
368 8amms
mtheis of the paper is that macrad mestruc of goverace covy with
social cpital of the frms which in turn hdps or hinders them t lern and innovt.
HeaKtf Hy Qe Employad Inter Compan Rrani
zons. Te Erion of >Integton ad Lt in L u
U German the rlation of prfesional employes t their frm trditionaly
chr b a privilegd status, emploment securit trst ad loyalt Yet the
Whow tp managments crry outrortions under the sig of lea manag
ment ad decetation prvoke uncerainty ad irritation among the prf.
sionals. The hitheno dense socal integtion int the cmpanie beome criticl. St
ting fm the prfes ionals' ide of wrk ad compny, this pper sho ther rons
t rrtion.
:Maet of Normalc. Indus Rtons
in the G und N0bConstcon and Hotl ad Ca Induste
Compar with the frmerly hegmonial Fris pattr of rulaion ad the "nor
mal" emploment rlationship, apicl frms of rguion u to be r a
deficiet. This such a apicl non-frist industrie the constction and .
the hotl and ctering indusrie. Her a df t, the "m-riented" pattr of
rgulation frmaive. anicle sketche dfet modes of"normalistion'' i.e.
the wy in which the atypic sr n to "normal rtion". Curntly the
rgulation of emploment rlations uincgy being shaped by t ne patrs
of regulation: the pat of neoliberl or cord feibilit This also. chag the
management of normalc The scenery of rgulation ubcoming lesunirm, ad the
constellation of "normal" relations ad tho in "atypic" industrie chang. The
aricle show this fr the eample of thre sbjec of rgulation: the sericmmis
ion in the Frnch hotel ad ctering industr, the mwthe allownce in the Ger
m consction indu ad the rgulation of working time in the German hotel
ad ct industr. Picularly, the rle of cllective actr and of the "fction of
normalcy'' of crain frms of rtion fr "atypicl" industie a dw.
Lu a0totu0tWorktb0oQ
A clicaon
NmBrno Latour
Eploring the properties of ar-neworks is the task that the Paris goup of science
and tchnology studie ha set itself to tackle since the begnning of the 1980 (Callonf
Law/Rip 1986). Howeer, this theory has ofen been misunderstood and hence much
abused. Uthis pper I would like to list sme of the intereting propertie of networks
and eplain some of the misunderstading that have arsen. I wll not concern m
here with the quatitative studies, espl y the sole "co-word analyss'; snce
the themselve misundd becse of the dificulty of eacly gsping the
social theor and quaint ontlogy entailed by acr-network (but see Callon/Cur
tial/Laverne 1989a; b).
Thre misundertandings due to common usage of the word neork itslf and
the connotations they imply.
The first mistak would be to give it a common tnial meing in the sense of a
sewge, or trin, or subway, or telephone "network". Recent technologie ofen have
the charcter of a network, that is, of eclusively rlated yet very distant elements with
the circulation between nodes being made compulory throug a of rigrus pths
giving to a fw node a strtegc charcter. Nothing is more intensely conneted, mor
distant, more compulsory, ad more strtegicly or than a computer network.
Such is not hoeer the basic metaphor of an actor-neork. A tchnicl netwrk in
the engneer's sense is only one of the posible fnl and sbizd stats of an actor
netwrk. Jar-network may lack the c isic of a tehnicl netrk - it
may be local, it may have no compulsry paths, no strtegclly positione nodes. Tom
Hughe's "networks of pe" (1983), t gve a historicl eample, are actr-networks
at the begnning of the str and only sme of their stabilized elements end up being
netorks in the engneer's sens, that is the electricl gid. Even at this late the
engneering defnition of networks is still a partial prjection of an actr-network.
The second misunderstanding is easy t lif: te actr-network thery (hence AT)
mver little to do wit te study of scial networs. These studies, no mattr how
interting, concen themselve with the soc relations of indiviul hmn actrs -
their fequency, distibution, homogeneity, proimity. It W deised as a raction t
the ofen too global concepts like those of institutions, oranizations, state and na
tions, adding to them a mor rc and smaller set of assocations. Althoug f
shars this distrust fr such vague all-encompsg sociologicl trms, it at
decribing the very natur of scietie. But t do so it dos not limit itslf t human
indivdual actrs, but eends the word actr - or actant - t non-hmn, non
indiviul entitie. Wheras social network information on the rlatons of
humans in a social and naturl wrld which is lef untouched by the analysis, f
aims at accounting fr the very es ence of scietie and nature. It does not wish to
scial netwrks t soial thery, but t rebuild scal theory out of networks. It is as
much an ontology or a metaphysic as a scology (Mol/Law 1994). Social networks
Sozale Welt 4/(196), S. 369-381
Bruno Ltour
will of coure be included in the decription, but they wil have no privilege nor pr
minence (and very few of their quantitative tools have been deemed reusable).
Why then use the wrd network, since it is open t such misunderstandings? The use
of the word come frm Didert. The wrd "reseau" w used from the beginning by
Diderot to decribe matter and bodies in order to avoid the Cartesian divide between
matter and spirit. Thus, the word ha had a srong ontological component from the
beginning (Anderon 1990). Put too simply, Ais a change of metaphors to describe
esence: instead of surface one gets filaments (or rhyzmes in Deleuze's parlance
Deleuz/Guattari 1980)). More precisely it is a change of topology. Instead of thinking
in terms of surfaces -t dimensions -or spheres -three dimensions -one uasked
to think mterms of nodes that have a manydimtianta they have connections. As
a first approximation, ANT claims that modern societies cannot be described without
recogizing them as having a fbrus, thread-like, wiry, stringy, ropy, capillary
character that is never captured by the notions of levels, layrs, territories, spheres,
categories, structures, systems. It aims at eplainng the egxuaccounted fr by those
trditional wr without having t buy the ontlogy, tpolgy and politics that go
with them. ANT has been developed by sudents of science ad technology, and its
claim is that it is utterly impossible to understand what holds society together without
reinjecting in its fabric the facts manufactured by natural ad socia sciences and the
artefacts designed by engineers. P a second approximation, ANT is thus the claim
that the only way to achieve this reinjection of things into our understanding of social
fabrics is through a network-like ontology and social theory.
To remain at this very intuitive level, ANT is a simple material resistance argument.
Strngth does not come from concentration, purity and unity, but fom dissemination,
heterogeneity and the carefl plaiting of w ties. This feling that ristance, ob
durcy and sturines are more eily achieved thrug netting, lacing, weaving,
twisting of ties that are weak by themselve, and that ech tie, no mattr how strng,
is hwven out of still weker thrds, peme fr insance Fucult's aaysis of
mic-powrs a wl a rcent soiolog of tehnolog. But the les intuitive
philosophicl bsis fr accepting ANT is a bckgrund/frgrund rverl: insted of
starting from universal laws -social or naturl -and taking lol contingencie a so
man queer particularitie that should b either eliminated or proteted, it sta frm
irreducble, incommenble, unconnecte locitie whic then, at a get price,
sometime end int prvisionally commensurble connections. Throug this
frgund und rveral Ahas some afmty with the order out of disorer
or Ophilooph (Serres 1983; Prigogine/Stengr 1979) many prcticl mk
with ethnomethodolog (Garfinkel ad Lynch's principle in Lynch 1985). Unverli
ty or orer a not the rule but the eceptions that have t b accountd fr. Lci, con
tingencie or cluster a more like archipelago on a s than like lake dotting a solid
land. Lmetaphorically, wher univeralists have to fl in the whole surace either
with order or with contingencie, Adoes not attempt to fill in what is inbme
local pokets of orders or in bte the flaments relating these contingencie.
This is the most counter-intuitive apec of ANT. Literly there is nothing but net
works, ther is nothing in between them, or, to use a metaphor fom the histcry of
physic, there is no aether in which networks should be immersed. In this sense ANT
is a rductionist ad relativist theor, but, a I shall demonstrte, this is the ft
necesary step tows an irrductionist ad rlationist ontology.

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370 Brno Ltour
will of coure be included in the deription, but the will have no privilege nor pr
minence (and very fw of their quantitative tols have been deemed rle).
W ten mte wor netrk, since tis open to such misunderstading? The use
of the wr comes frm Didert. The wor "reseau" wused frm the begnning by
Didert t desribe mattr and bodie in orer to avoid the Caan divide between
matter and spirit. Thus, the word has had a strng ontologicl component frm the
beginning (Anderon 199). Put to simply, ANT is a change of metaphor t decribe
eence: in of suace one @filaments (or rhyzomes in Deleuzes parlance
DeleuzeGuattari 1980)). More precisely it is a chage of tpology. Instad of thinking
in trms of surfces -two dimensions -or spher -three dimensions -one is asked
to think in trms of node that have mmmmma they have connections. As
a mapproximation, Aclaims that modem societie cnnot be decribed without
recogg them as having a fbrous, thrad-like, wiry, stringy, rpy cpillary
chactr that is neer cptured by the notions of leels, layers, trritries, sheres,
catgorie, mmsystems. It aims at elaining the efct accounted fr by those
titional words without having t buy the ontlogy, tpology and politic that @
with them. Ahas ben deloped by students of science and tchnology, and it
claim is that it is uterly impssible t undestand what holds society tgether wiihout
reinjecting in its fabric the facts manufacturd by naturl and social science and the
artefacts designed by enginers. P a seond apprximation, ANT is thus the claim
that the only way t achiee this reinjecion of thing int our understanding of social
fabric is through a network-like ontlogy and social theory.
To remain at this very intuitie level, Ais a simple matrial reistance arment.
Strngth does not come fom concentrtion, purity and unity, but from dissemination,
heterogeneity and the carefl plaiting of wek tie. This feeling that ristance, ob
durcy and sturdiness u more easily achieed through nettng, lacing, wving,
twisting of ties that are wa by themselve, and that ech tie, no mattr how strng,
is itself woven out of stil waker dprmets fr instance Fucult's analysis of
micro-powers a wel a reent soiology of tchology. But m le intuitive
philosophical bais fr accepting Ais a backgound/freground reverl: instead of
starting from univeral laws -soial or naturl -and taking locl contingencie as so
many quee paticlarities tat should be either eliminatd or protctd, it star frm
irreucible, incommensurble, unconnectd loclitie which then, at a gt price,
sometime end int prvisionaly commensble connections. Thrug this
frund/backgund rrl Ahas some afnity with the orer out of disorer
or chaos philoophy (Serr 1983; Prgogine/Stenger 1979) ad many prctical links
with etnomethodology (Garfnkel and Lynch's principle in Lynch 1985). Univerali
ty or orer mnot the rle but the eeptions that have t be accounted, con
tingnce or clustrs a mor like ahipelago on a se than like lake dotting a solid
land. L metaphoriclly, whers universliss have t flin the whole surace either
with orer or with contngnces, Ado not attmpt t fill in what uin bw
local pockets of orde or in bthe flaments rlating thee contingencie.
This is the mot countr-intuitive apect of A. Litrl y ther is nothing but net
works, ther is nothing in betwen them, or, t use a metaphor fom the histry of
physics, ther is no aether in which netwrks should be immersd. In this sense ANT
is a reductionist ad rlaivist theory, but, I shall demonsrt, this is the frst
neceary stp tws an irrductionist and relationist ontology.
O acor-eor m
A make u of some of the simplest prpertie of net and then adds t it an acor
that does some wor; the addtion of such an ontlogicl ingdient deeply moife it.
I = start out with the-simplet prperies common t networks.
Fa/cloe: the m advnta of thinking in terms of netwrks uthat =@rid of
"the tn y of dce" or prxmity. Elements which are dose when disconnece
may be infntely rmot when their connections are analyzed; conversely, element
which would appar a itly distant may be cloe when their connections a
brught back int the pictur. I c be one metr awy fom someone in the net
telephone booth and neerthele be more closely connected t my mother 60mile
away; an Alaskan reindeer might be tn metr awy frm another one and the migt
neverthelebe cut of by a pipeline of 80 miles that makes thei maing fr eer im
possible; my son may sit at school with a young arb of mage, but in spit of Udos
proximity in mgde the might dmapart in worlds tha will become incommen
surble later; a @pipe may lie in the gound close t a cble telesion glas fber and
nearby a s pipe, and ech of them will neerthele continuously igor the
pl el wrlds lying aund them. The dficlty we have in defning asociations
in trms of netwrks udue t the prvalence of geogrphy. It seems obvious that we
c oppose prximity and connections. Howeer, geogphicl prxmity uthe reult
of a science -gh-, of a profeion -geogpher-, of a prctice -mapping
sym, me,triagulating. Their defmition of prximity and dstance uusele
fr A -or it should be included a one type of conections, one type of netorks,
a =will see below Al denitions in trms of surace and territries come frm our
rading of maps drwn and fl ed in by geogrpher. Out of gogpher and gogrphy,
"in betwen" their own networks, ther is no such thing a a proximity or a dce
which wuld not be defned by connectibility. The geogphicl notion is simply
another connection to a grid defning a metrics and a scale Qacob 19). The notion
of netwrk helps us to m the tn y of geographers in defining space and ofs us
a notion which uneither social nor "real" space, but associations.
Small sce/lae scae: the notion of network allows us to disolve the micro-macro
distinction that has plagued social theory fom its inception. The whole metaphor of
scales going fom the individual to the nation state, thrugh family, etended kin,
goups, institutions etc. is replaced by a metaphor of connections. A network is never
e than another one, it is simply longe or more intel
connected. The small
scale/large sce model has thre fatures which have proven devstating fr social
theory: it is tied to an orer relation that goes fom top to bottom or from bottom to
top -as if soiety really had a top and a bottom; it implies that an element "b" being
macro-scale is of a difrent nature and should thus be studied difrntly fm a ele
ment "a" which is micro-scae; it is utterly unable to fllow how an element goe frm
being individual -a -to collective -b - and back.
The network notion implies a deeply diferent social theory: it ha no a priori order
relation; it is not tied t the aiological myth of a top and a bottom of society; it maes
absolutely no asumption whether a specifc locus u macro- or micro- and doe not
modif the tools t study element "a" or element "b"; thus, it has no difculty in
fllowing the trnsfrmation of a poorly connectd element into a highly conected
one an b.The net work notion is ideally suited to fllow the change of scale, since
it does not require the analyst to partition her world with any a priori scale. The scale,
that is, the type, number and topogphy of connections, is left to the actor
37 Br Lur
The noton of netwrk allows us to mthe tynny of sal theorists, to t@some
marn of manoeuv betwen the ingreients of soiety-its vertical space its hierr
chy its layering, its mscle its wholene, its overhing charcter - ad to see
how thee m achieed and what wthe made of. Istea of having t
choose between the lol and the gobl view, the notion of netwrk allos us to U
of a global entity -a highly connected one -which nevethelermains continuous
ly local ... Insted of opposing the individual leel to the mas, or agncy to O
we simply fllow ho a given element become strtgic thrugh the number of con
nections it commands, and how it lose its imporance when losing it connections.
Insideoutside: the notion of network alos us to get rid of a third spatia dimension
aftr those of fose and big/small. A surfce ha an inside and an outside sted
by a boundary. A network is al boundar without inside and outside. The only que
tion one may ask is whether or not a connecion ueablished between two elements.
The surfce "in between" netwrks is either conected -but then the network is e
panding -or non-ting. Literly, a netwrk ha no outside. It is not a fregrund
over a background, nor a crack onto a solid soil, it is like Deleuze's lightning rod that
create by te se strok the background ad the foregoud (Dele 1968). The
gat economy of thinking allowd by the notion of netwrk is that w Mno longr
obliged to fill mthe space mbetwen the conecions -to use a computer meaphor,
w do not need the little paint box famar to MacPaint user t "fll in" the interpace.
A network is a positive notion which doe not need negativity to be understoo. It ha
no shadow.
The notion of network, in its barest topologicl outline, alrdy allows us t rhufe
spatial metaphor that have rndered the study of society-natur so difcult: cand
far, up and don, locl ad gobal, inside ad outside. They rplaced b as iations
and connetions (which A doe not have to qual a being either social or natul
or thnicl a I will sho below). This is not to say that ther is nothing like "mac"
sciety or "outide" nat a ANT is ofn accused of, but that in order t obtain the
efof dce prt hierhie, conectedne , outsiderne and wa
enormous suptr work has to be done (Latur 1996a}. This wrk, hower, is
not cpturd by the tpologcl notion of netwrk, no mattr how sophistic we
wish to make it. is why ANT adds to the mathematicl notion of nerk a com
pleely frig notion, that of acr. The new hybrid "actr-network" leds us away
fom mathmatica prperie into a world which mnot been so nety chartd.
To seth thee propertie w should now move on from static and topologicl prper
tie t dyic and ontologcl one.
A netwrk in mathematic or in engineering is something that is trced or inscribed
b some other entity -the mathematician, the engneer. An actr-network is a enti
ty that dthe trcing and the inscribing. It is a ontologcl defnition and not a piece
of inet matter i the hands of other, epecially of huma planers or deiger. It W
in orer t pint out this eential feture that the wor "actr" W added to it.
Now, the wor actr has been open to the sme misundertanding a the wor net
work. "Acr" in the Ang<Son tradition is aws a human intentional individual
actor ad is most ofen contd with mere "behaviour". Uone adds this defnition
of a actor to the social definition of a netwr, then the bottom of misunderstandng
is reached: a individual huma -usually male -who wishe to grb powr makes a
Cacor-netork teor
network of allie and etends mpower - doing some "networking" or "liaising" as
the Americns say ... Ala, this is the way ANT is most often rpresented, which is
about as accurte a sayng that the night sky is black because the astrophysicists have
shown there is a big black hole in it. J"actor" in A is a semiotic definition - an
actant -, that is something that acts or to which activity is grnted by others. It implie
no special motivtion of humn indiviual actors, nor of humans in generl. Jactant
c literally be anyhng provided it is granted to be the soure of an action. Although
this point ha been made over and over again, anthropocentrism and sociocentrism are
so strng in social science (a wll as in the critiques of social eplanations} that each
use of ANT ha been constred a dit talked of a fw superhumans longing fr powr
and stopping at nothng to achieve their ruthless goals ... Even my own network
study of Pasteur (Latour 1988 a)-in spite of the lengthy ontologic second part - has
often been undertood a a Madson Avenue version of science - which is unfair not
only to my account but also to Madison Avenue ... Ha criticism c be levelled at
ANT it is, on the contr, its complete indiffernce fr prviding a model of human
competence. Ther is no model of (human} actor in ANT nor any basic list of cor
petences that have to be set at the beginning, becuse the human, the self and the social
actor of traditional social theory is not on its agenda.
So wha is on its agenda? The attribution of human, unhuman, nonhuman, mw
charcteristics; the distribution of properties among these entities; the cnnetions
etablished between them; the circulation entailed by these attributions, distributions
and connections; the trnsfrmation of those attributions, distributions and connec
tions of the many element that circulate, and of the fw ways through which the ar
The dificulty of grasping A is that it has been made by the fusion of thee hther
to unrelated strnds of preoccupations:
- a semiotic definition of entity building;
- a methodologicl frmework to rcor the heterogeneity of such a building;
- an ontological claim on the "networky" char of actats themselves.
ANT asers that the limits of these thre unrelated interests a solved when, and on
ly when, they a fused into an integrated prctice of study.
Semiotic is a nece ary ste mthis venture, since when yu brcket out the question
of refrence ad that of the social conditions of productions - that is nature "out
ther" and society "up there" - what rmains u, in a m approximation, meaning
production, or dscourse, or t. This is the major achieement of the sixties and of
their "linguistic turn" or "semiotic turn" . Insead of being meas of communications
between human actors nature, meaning prductions became the only important
thing to study. Instead of being unproblematic, they beame opaque. The task w no
longer to make them more trnsparent, but to recognize and relish their thick, rich,
layered and comple matter. Instead of being mere intediries they had become
meditors. From a means, meanng has been made an end in itself. For twenty years the
best minds have been busy eploring all the consequence of this major turn away from
the nave model of communiction. Their often strcurlist interpretations have been
dismantled, but what remains is a toolbox to study meaing prductions. ANT sorts
out from this toolbox what is useful to understand the constrction of entities. The
key point is that every entity, including the self, society, nature, eery rlation, every
action, c be understood a a "choice" or a "selection" of finer and finer embrnch
ments going from abstrct strcure - actants - to concrete ones - actor. The
gnertive path that is thus retrced gives an eornary liberty of analysis compared
Bruno Ltour
to the empover shed "social vocabulary" that wused ealier -and is now in fashion
again. Of course the structural render ig of these choices diference - and
embrnchments - dichotomie not kept by AT, but esential trits of
semiotic are kept. Fi, the granting of humaity to a individual actr, or the gn
ting of collectivity, or the ganting of aonymity, of a zoomorphic appearnce, of
amorphousnes, of materialit y, rquires paying the sme siot pce. The effects
be d rrnt, the genrs will be diferent, but not the work of attributing, imputing,
distributi ng action, competence, petlormance ad rlations. Secondly, actors not
conceived as fixed entitie but as fows, a cating objects undergoing trials, and
their stabilit continuity, isotopy has to be obtained by other actions and other trials.
Finally, what is kept frm semiotics is the crcial pctice to grant texts and discoure
the ability t defne also their conte, ther author -in the v,their readers -
in fbula-and even their own demarcation ad metalanguage. ?the problems of the
analyst q shifed to the "t itself" without eer being allowed to escape int the con
w(Greimas 1976). Down with interpretation! Down with the contet! The slogan
of the the 60s and 70s "every thing is a t", "there is only discourse", "narrative eist
by themselvs", " we have no access to any thing but accounts" are kept in AT but sav
ed from t herontological consequence. This salvation, however, doe not come by fall.
ig back on the pre-deconstruction common sense -"after all, ther is a social contt
up there ad a nature out there" -but by etending the semiotic turn to mfamou
nature ad this famous contet it has bracketed out in the first plae.
A major trnsfrmation of these slogans oo d when smiotc ws ted to
scientific and technical discour by A-ad epel y to scentifc us. As long
a one stdied fctions, mths, popula cult fashions, rons, politic discourse,
one could hold t the "semiotic tum" ad take them a so many "t". Scholars did
not seriously believe i them anay, ad thus the intllectual distance ad scepticsm
wst ahiee while the double trasury of "scientism" and "socialism" wkept
intact in their hert. But what about scentifc truth ad mate!ial efciency? What
about the rnce "out ther" i har scientifc tts? Tis ws the r m fr
semiotic, and athough it passd the trial a price had t be payed. U the prctic of
A semiotc ws eended t define a completely empty fme that enable t
fllow ay asemblag of hetergneus entitie - including now the mm en
tities of science the "ma" entitie of tehnology. Th is the second strnd of
A:it is a mt decribe the deployment of a ociaions le semiotc; it ua
method t dbe the genertive path of ay nartion. It doe not sy anything about
the shap of entite and actions, but only what the recorng device should be that
wuld allo entitie t b described in all their details. A place the buren of
theory on the mming,not on the specifc shape that urecorded. When it sys that
actors may be hmor unhuman, tat the itely pliable, hetgeneus, that
they fe as tionists, know no difernces of that the uno inertia, no
oroer, that they build their ow tmprlity, this doe not qual ay rl ob ac
tor, but uthe nescondition fr the obtion the roring of aors t b
posible. Istead of constantly predicting ho a acto! should behave rud which
aociations allowed a prori, A make no aumption at ,and in oroer Vn
main uncommitted it needs to set its inent by insisting on infnit pliability and
absolute freedom. In itself A is not a theory of acion, no mor than cgrphy
is a theory on the shape of coast lines and deep ridge; it just ques what the
obserer should suppose in order fr the coat' line to be recorJed mtheir fe frtal
patterns. Any shape is possible provided it is obsesively coded a longtude ad
Cactor-network theor
latitude. Similarly, any a ociation is posible prvided it is obsessively coded as a
hetergeneous asociation through trnslations. It is more an infrlanguage than a
metalanguage. It is evn less than a decriptive vocabulary; it simply opens, a
ainst all
a priori reductions, the possibility of describing irreductions (Latour 1988 a, part .
ANT is not merely empiricist though, since in order to defne such an irreducible
space in which to deploy entitie sturdy theortical commitments have to be made and
a srong polemical stance has to be taken, so a to frbid the analyst to dictate actors
what they should do. Such a distribution of a strong theory fr the recording frme and
no middle range theory fr the the decription is another source of. many
misunderstandings, since ANT is accused of either being dogmatic or of proiding
mere descriptions. For the same reason it is also accused of claiming that actors a
"rely" ifinitely pliable and free or, inversely, of not telling what a human actor real
ly is after (Lee/Brown 1994).
The first to strnds - the semiotic and the methodological one -by themselve
will be open to criticism. The first because there is no wy to consider that brcketing
out social contet and refrence solve the problem of meaning -i spite of the now
dated claims of the swinging seventies -, and the second becuse merely deploying
shape of as ociations might be a worthwhile descriptive tak but dos not ofr any e
planation. It is only when a third strnd is added to thoe two and ontlogicl claims
on netwrks a made that ANT escape criticism. }move, however, is so deious
that it ha ecaped the attention of many user of A.Which is a pity since once it
is made, Aloses its rdical cha and soon appear commensensicl enough.
The weaknes of semiotics has alwys been to consider meaning production away
from what the nature of entities rally is; when semiotic is turned to natur howeer
and unhuman entities ae allowed to enter into the pic it soon appe that the
wrds "discoure" or" meaning" may be drpped altogether without any dangr of @
ing back to nave ralism or nave nat. It is only because semioticians stdied
tets - and literary one at that - instd of thing that the flt obliged to limit
themselve to "meaning". m efect they scientisticly believed in the eistence of
things in addition to meing (not mentioning their belief in the eistence of a good
old social contet wheneer it suited them). But a semiotic of thing is , one simp
ly ha to drp the meaning bit from semiotics ...
one now trnslates semiotics by path-building or order-making or cretion of direc
tions, one doe not hav to specify if it is language or objects one is analyzing. Such a
move giv a new continuity t prctice that wre deemed diferent when one dealt
with language and "symbols", or with skills, work and matter. This mov can be said
either to elevate things to the dignity of tt or to elevte tets to the ontological status
of things. What really matters is that it is an elevation and not a reduction, and that the
new hybrid sats give to all etities both the action, vriety and circulating eistence
recognizd m the stdy of tetual charcters and the rality, solidity, eternality that
w recognizd in things "out of" our representations. What is lost is the absolute
distinction between repreentation and things -but this is eactly what ANT wishes
to rdisribute through what I have called a counter-copernicn revolution.
Once setled this first solution - etending semiotic to things instead of limiting it
to meaning- the second dificulty fals with it - building an empty methodological
frme to register decription. Actor-networks do connect, and by connecting with one
another provide an eplanation of themselv, the only one there is fr ANT. What is
an eplanation? The attachment of a set of prctice that control or interfere in one
another. No eplanation is stronger or mor porful than providing connections
among unrelated elements or showing how one element holds many others. This is not

J7b Bno Ltur
a prperty ta is dit fm netwrks but one of their eetial prpertie (Latur
1988b). The beome mor or leseplanable as they @and depeding on what they
do t one another. Actor a cleaning up thei own mes, s t sek. Once you gnt
them eeng, they gv you bac the elanatory powrs you ane. The
very divide between deripton ad elanaton, hows and wh, blind empiricism
ad high theorizing is a meninglesfr A a the difrnce btwen gvitaion
and sace in relativity theory. Each network, by gowing, "binds" the elanatry
reur aund it, and ther is no w the c be detache fom it g. One
d not jump outside a network t add an eplanation -a cuse, a factor, a se of fac
tor, a series of coc ence; one siniply mmthe network fher. Every network
surround itslf with its own fe of rfrnce, it own definition of grwth, of rr
ing, of framing, of epla. In this prcethe frme of rfrnce of te analyst doe
not disappea mor than the phsicist's in Ein's world; on the cont at last it
is able t end itself, but at a price: the fme bcome, a it d in Generl Relativi
t "a molusc of refrence" id of a detache Galilen fre, and ech account has
to be rcalclatd by the A eivalent of a Lrntz trsfrmaton (Latur 1988c).
Ther is no wy t prvide an elanaton if the network ds not end itself. Th
is not in contrdiction with the scientifc t of providing elanation and cuslit
since we lened fom the very sudie of har science that no eplanation of any scien
tific phenomenon and no causality could be prided without ending the network
itself. By tying the eplaation to the network itself AT do not abndon the goat,
of science, since it shows that this goal has never been achieved, at let not thrug the
epistemologcal myth of eplanation. A cn't deprive itsef of a roure it shows
no one ha ever had in the frst place. Explanaton is e-pliced, that is unlde, like
gravity in Einstein's cued space, it is m ther as an efct, but it is now
indistinguishable from the decription, the deployment of the net.
This relativistic position -but one should prfr the lesloade trm of rlationist
- solves two other problems: that of histricity and that of reflexivit
The pre-relativist debate betwen providing an eplanation and "simply" docmen
ting the historical circumstances falls apar: ther is no diference betwen eplaining
and telling how a network surrunds itself with new rource; if it 'p socio
historicl contingencies", as critics ofen a then U simply mens that other,
longr lasting roures have ben gerd to stay arund - the etmology of cr
cmstance. Hughes's netwrks of power g (ughe 1983), and by their very
grwh the become mor and mor of an elanation of themselve; you do not need
an explanation foating over them in aiton to their historical growh; Brudel's ne
works and world economics g,and the a what the "big cuse" are made of. You
do not ned t add t them Caitalism or Zitgeit eept as aother summar, another
punctualistion of the networks themselve. Either the cus deigate a body of prac
tice which is tied t the nework under dcription -and this is what growth of net
work mens -, or it is not rlated, and then it is just a wrd added to the description,
litl y it is the word "cuse". Utis sense A gv histry its legitimate place -
which is not the place prudent histrians like to sit on, as sly away as possible fom
ontological quetions. Ther is nothing betr, ser than a circumstancial descrip
tion of netorks. "It just happens t be this wy".
But such a summary wuld be cons as histricism if it wer not undeod as
a defnition of the thing themseve. The debat btwen historicism and explanation
or theory w not solvable as long as there W,on the one hand, a history of people,
of contingncies, of what is "in time" and, on the other hand, a theory or a science of
O aotrk tery
what is timele, eteral, neceary. For A there is science only of the contingent,
a of nece ity it is locly achieed only through the growth of a netrk. Uther is
also a histry of things, then the debat betwen description ad eplaation, or
historicity and theory, is entirely disolved. Fr A this is not the proof of the
weof its eplanatory power, since decribing or accouting fr a netork is
what a eplanation or an eplication is and what has alwys been the c in the so
cled ha sciences - or more exactly "prgsively harened science" (Latour
Although not the main goal of ANT, refeivity is added as a bonus once the frme
of rfernce a grted back to the actor - and once the actor a gnted back the
posibility of crsing the scred dividing line betwen things ad rprentations
(Ashmor 1989). Refeivity is seen as a prblem in relativist theor becuse it appears
that either the observer rquets a status it denie to other, or it is a silent as al the
other to which any privileged status is denied. This "problem" falls, hower, when
the epistemological myth of an outside observer providing a elaation in additon
to "mer description" disppes. There is no longer ay privileg -but ther m
neer been any need fr it either. The observer -whater it is -md itse on a g
with al the other fme of rfrnce. It is not lef t depai or navel-g since the
absence of privileged status has never limitd the epasion and intllignce of ay a
tor. World builder among world builder, it doe not see a drmatic limit on knowledg
in its abandonment of Galilen frme, but only reoure. To end frm one fme
of refrence to the ne it mto work ad gythe price like ay other acr. Uorer
to eplain, to account, t observe, t prve, t are, t dominat and t see it ha to
move aund and work { should sy it ha t "network" ). No privilege also mens
no a priori limits on knowledg. Uacr a able t account fr others, so c it. Uac
tors cn't, it might mt Hry, risks and ventu are in the obserer' own
network building. Such is ANT's solution t reivity (Stng 1993).
Refleivity is not a "prblem", a stumbling blok along the pth to knowledge, the
prison in which a enterprises wuld be loked, it uthe land of opprtunity at D
opened to actors which a primus intr p,or strive fr parity or primacy like
other. Of coure rusble metalangage is abandoned, but Uis not gving up muc,
since observer who displayed their rich metalanguage w ulsmall points limitd
to very specific loci - campuse, studios, corporte roms. The price A gy to
moe frm one locus to the net is that there a as many metalanguages as ther
fe of rfrnce -the only metalanguage requird (see above stnd 2) being mor
adequatly called an infangg which has to be poor, limited, shor and simple -
the equivlent of a Lrntz trnsfrmation bing clled "trnslation" in A (Latour
1988c). This inlanguage is enough to move frm one net to the other, and the
specifc eplication will always be a one-hot account eclusively tailored t the pr
blem at had (Lynch's principle, Callon's "disposable eplanations", Serres's "cros
over betwen eplanandum and eplanans" (Serr 1995)). Uit is more generly ap
plcble, it means that it is riding over a network that epands itself.
This solution becomes commonsense once it is acceptd that an account or an e
plication or a prof is alwys added to the world; that it does not subtrct anything
fom the wrld. Refleivists as well as their pre-relativist enemies dream of subtrcting
knowledge from the things in themselves. A keeps adding things to the world, and
its selecion principle is no longer whether or not ther is a ft between account and
rality -this dual illusion has been disolved awy -, but whether or not one trvels
fom a net t another. No metalanguage a myou to do this trvel. By abandoning
the dams of epistmology ANT is not reduced to morl relativism, but gets back a
Bruno ltour
strnger deontological commitment: either an account leads you to all the other ac
counts -and it is good -, or it constantly interrpts the movement, letting frmes of
refnce distant and frign -ad it ubad. Either it multiplie the mediating points
btween any two elements -and it ugod -, or it delete and confla mediators -
and it is b
d. Either it ureductionist -and that's bad news -, or ireductionist -and
that's the highet ethical standard fr A. We Wsee that this touchstne umuch
more disrminating tha mquet fr epistemologcl purity, or fr fundatons, or
for mor norms. Demarcation is in f
ct an enemy of diferntiation.
Building on the semiotic turn, ANT frst brckets out society and natur to consider
only mening-productions; then, breaking with the limits of semiotic without losing
its toolbox, it grts activity to the semiotic actors turning them into ne ontologcal
hybrids, world makng entities; by doing such a counter-opernican revolution it
builds a completely empty frme for descrbing how ay entity builds its world; fnal
ly it rs from the descriptive project only ver fe terms -its ianguage -
which a just enough to in between fmes of reference and grnts bto the ac
tor themselves the ability to build precise accounts of one aother by the very wy
the behave; the goal of building an overhing eplanation - that u, fr AT, a
centr of clculaion that wuld hold or rplace or punctuate all the other -udisplac
ed by the searh fr e-plictions, that ufr the deployment of a many elements a
possible accounted fr through a many metalanguages a posible.

Now that the baic topological propertie of netork hae been sketched - se
cnd section -ad that the basic ontologicl fatures of acrs have been outlined
-section above -, ther is no dmIqmseeing that unot about taced net
wrks, but about a network-tang activity. AI said above, there is not a net and an
actr laing down the net, but there uan actor whose defnition of the world outlines,
trace, delineate, decibes, fle, lists, reords, marks or Qa trjectry that uclled
a network. No net mindependently of the very act of tg it, and no trcing u
done by an actor eor to the net. A netwrk unot a thing, but the recorded move
ment of a thing. The quetions A addr e now have changed. It u no longer
whether a net ua reprentation or a thing, a pof society or a par of discourse or
a par of nature but what move and how Umovement urecorded.
Wecnnot say that what move in networks are pieces of information, genes, cs,
bytes, salutations, words, frces, opinions, claims, bodies, energy etc., since ANT also
wants to rconstruct nets befre ther is any distinction between what circulates inside
and what keeps them on trck, so to speak, fom the outside. Again, a I said at the
begining, the technical metaphor of networks is a latecomer fr ANT and does not
capture the trcing activity. No, what circulates has to be defined like the circulating
object in the semiotic of texts -especially scientific tets (Bastide 1990). It is defined
by the competence it is endowed with, the trials it undergoes, the performances it is
allowed to display, the asociations it is made to bear upon, the sanctions it rceive, the
background in which it is circulating etc. Its isotopy-that is its persistence in time and
space -is not a property of its essence, but the result of the decisions taken through
the narrtiv progrmmes and the ,arrtive paths.
Hower, such a clasic definition would limit A t the world of tt and
discourse. What happens when a circulating_ object leves the boundar of a text? The
traditional answer is that ther ua ywning gap in between the tt and the context.
At the interface a drmatic trial is supposed t abruptly intrvene through which the
O actor-network the o
circulating object is asessed either by checking its refrential fit or its social interest.
Not so fr ANT, which does not believe in this distinction, since it has extended mean
ing prductions to all productions. For ANT the gap is no more than a slight bump
along the net; the ywn is an artefact caused by a previous divide between nature, socie
ty and discourse. Fr ANT on the contrry, there u a continuity, a multiplicity of
plugs betwen the circulating objects in the tet, the claims outside the tet in the
"social", and what the actants themselves rally do in "nature". The circulating object
goes on circulating and goes on getting its isotopy from what other actors do to it.
"Soi iety" ha the same net-like properties as have tets, and so has "nature". But it
wuld be more accurte fr ANT to say that t)lese three categories are arbitrry cutting
points on a continuous trcing of action, and still more accurte t show how these
categorie themselves are part of the many trials and events and resources that are used
along the paths to attribute "tetuality" or "sociality" or "naturity" t this or that
actor. They are part of what is distributed -not part of what make the distribution.
There is no of-the-shelf wrd to decribe this common movement. To say that it is
a generlizd narrtive path wuld immediately mean that tets are etended t
everything; t say that it is a frce or an enery or a gene or a culture-gene would mean
that everything would be natud, including society and discourse; to say that it is
a social interest, a social action or labour wuld etend society to nature and t tets.
It was t get out of this essential dificulty that ANT played with a generalized sym
metry (Callon 1986) and made a principle of using whicheer wrds are connoted in
one of the frmer realms to describe the others, thus shoing the continuity of net
works and the complete disregard fr the artefactual gaps introduced by pre-relativist
arguments. Hoever, this solution is rther tricky, since it may combine all the
misunderstandings -and this is indeed what happened to ANT, readers and users alike
saying at on that it is a social constrctivist argument, the return of natursm, or a
typically French belief in the overll eension of t Which of coure it is in a
sense, but only insofar a A is the simultaneous rjection of naturlition, socalis
nmand taition. A claims that the "(x)isations" have t_be disolved at
once and tha the job unot done better done of them gains heemony or dthe thre
a cflly cumscribed. All (x)istions are the flling in of what u "in beteen"
the networks; and which one uchosen or rejectd m no prcl difrence, since
nets have no "in between" to be filled in.
Uchooing wors fr the network-trcing activity mto be done, qusi-obect (Serre
1987) or toke ns might be the bet cndidate so far. It is crucial fr the defnition of the
tm that what circulats and what makes the circulation be both co-detrmine and
trnsfrmed. A bgoing fom hand t hand is a poor eample of a quasi-objec, since,
althoug it doe trace the collective and althoug the playing team wuld not es
wthout the moving tken, the latte unot modifed by the passing. Converely what
I clled the ft principle of science studies (Latour 1987) -that a claim uin the hands
of others -is equally an apprximaton, since it entails huma locutr edowed wth
hands and mouths who pass a claim without themselve undering drmatic change.
As a rule, a quasi-object should be thought of a a moving actant that transfrms those
who do the moving, becuse the transfrm the moving objec. When the tken r
mains stable or when the movers a kept intact, these a eetonl circumstance
which have t be accounted fr. This definition of what is the rule and what a the
eceptions wuld be enough t tell ANT fom models of communications that, on
the contr, begin with well defined movers and moving objects and view obstacle to
echanges a so many eceptions to be eplained. But another fature frbids any con
fusion of ANT with human-centered, or language-centered, or prxis-centered models.
380 Brno Ltour
As a rule, what is doing the moving and what is moved hav no specific homogeneous
moqhum. They c be anthropomorphc, but also zomorphc, physi-morphic,
logomorphic, technomorphic, ideo-morphc, that u"(x)morphc". It mght happen
that a genertive pth ha mvactants to a homogeneous rperire ohumas or of
mechanism or of sigs or of idea or of colectiv social entitie, but thee a ecep
tions which should be accounted fr (Latour 1996c).
A is a powrful tool to detry spher ad domains, to rgain the sense of
heterogeneity, and to bring interobjectivity back into the centr of attention (Latur
1994). Yet it is an etremely bad tool fr difrntiating a ociations. It give a black and
white picture, not a colourd and contrd one. Thus it is neces ar aer having
trced the actor-networks, to specif the type of trjectorie that a obtained by
highly difrent mediations. This is a difrnt tak, and the one that wil make A
scholars busy fr a number of years to come.
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