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Searching for realism, structure and agency in Actor Network Theory

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journal contribution
posted on 04.10.2013, 12:42 by Dave Elder-Vass
Superficially, Actor Network Theory (ANT) and critical realism (CR) are radically opposed research traditions. Written from a realist perspective, this paper asks whether there might be a basis for finding common ground between these two traditions. It looks in turn at the questions of realism, structure, and agency, analysing the differences between the two perspectives and seeking to identify what each might learn from the other. Overall, the paper argues that there is a great deal that realists can learn from actor network theory; yet ANT remains stunted by its lack of a depth ontology. It fails to recognize the significance of mechanisms, and of their dependence on emergence, and thus lacks both dimensions of the depth that is characteristic of critical realism's ontology. This prevents ANT from recognizing the role and powers of social structure; but on the other hand, realists would do well to heed ANT's call for us to trace the connections through which structures are constantly made and remade. A lack of ontological depth also underpins ANT's practice of treating human and non-human actors symmetrically, yet this remains a valuable provocation to sociologists who neglect non-human entities entirely. © London School of Economics and Political Science 2008.

History

School

  • Social Sciences

Department

  • Communication, Media, Social and Policy Studies

Citation

ELDER-VASS, D., 2008. Searching for realism, structure and agency in Actor Network Theory. British Journal of Sociology, 59 (3), pp.455-473.

Publisher

Blackwell Publishing Ltd © London School of Economics and Political Science

Version

AM (Accepted Manuscript)

Publication date

2008

Notes

This article was published in the British Journal of Sociology [Blackwell Publishing Ltd © London School of Economics and Political Science] and the definitive version is available at: http://dx.doi.org/10.1111/j.1468-4446.2008.00203.x

ISSN

0007-1315

eISSN

1468-4446

Language

en