ANT and ethnography

September 9, 2016 § Leave a comment

we believe ANT [Actor-Network Theory] is here to stay, and for good reason. Despite some specific limits we describe later, ANT, to invoke Lamont’s (2012) recent assessment of Bourdieu, is “good to think with.” But, as John Law and Vicky Singleton argue in the afterword, it may also provide some valuable ways to act in and on the world. As a set of sensibilities, a disposition, or an attitude—rather than a rigid framework—ANT’s skepticism towards “catch-all” explanatory theories and pre-defined field sites, as well as its attention to the sociologies of non-sociologists and practices of world-making opens up important vistas about the ethical and political nature of research.

our current overlapping research interests in the circulation of expert knowledge and contemporary political projects seem fettered by more conventional sociological and anthropological treatments and the prescriptions they invite: top-down vs. grassroots development; the state vs. civil society; institutional monocropping vs. public deliberation; global neoliberalism vs. local resistance. Unsatisfied by these clunky dichotomies, ANT’s resistance to structural metaphors and inherited divisions (i.e. human versus nonhuman) appeared to us as a way to investigate the messy thickness of social and political life. In the words of Latour (2005b, 137), the ostensible spokesperson and high-priest of the approach, ANT was designed to break with the practice of “taking a free ride through all-terrain entities like Society, Capitalism, Empire, Norms, Individualism, Fields, and so on.” In a characteristically iconoclastic way, ANT writings have sought to replace these “vague all encompassing sociological terms” with descriptions of “more realistic and smaller sets of associations” (Latour 1996b, 2). Captivated but unsure about its political and methodological implications, we proceeded to read, reflect, and engage ANT in our respective projects.

Baiocchi, G., Graizbord, D. & Rodríguez-Muñiz, M. Qual Sociol (2013) 36: 323


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