From the past few weeks I think if there is one takeaway point that everyone should know, it’s that the world of publishing is one that is constantly evolving and changing. This is perhaps best attributed to the rapid developments of digital technology and they way that the public adopt such technological tools and techniques in the publishing world.
This takeaway point seems simple, easy to rationalise and thus publishing seems like an uncomplicated concept, dare I say, basic almost. However, assemblage, a term coined by Deleuzem Guatarri and DeLanda has made me utterly confused. Neverthless, what I have gathered is that “assemblages” are the connections between elements and relations to create something new. This concept seems deceivingly easy, but that is something which it is not, thus the Actor-Network Theory, introduced by Latour, is a method which could be used to think about assemblages. This week’s blog will pay particular attention to ANT as a concept.
Despite my confusion, what I have gathered form, particularly the Wikipedia and reading by Banks is that the ANT is, to put it in simple terms, a network that consists of human and non-human actants and relations, all of which is “granted with equal agency within the webs” (Wikipedia, n.d; Banks, 2011). Basically, ANT is about about equal levelling of the network and everything involved. The best way to conceive the concept, I beleive, is through the analogy posited by Hanseth who likens the human and non-human actors to a car, all of which functions to function the car (Hanseth in Martin, n.d.). As the video from this week’s reading suggests, ANT sees everything not as technologically determined nor socially determined, but instead a socio-technologically determined.
An example of an assemblage in today’s world of publishing is Instagram. With the advent of digital networks, while the nature of the non-human actants may have changed, assemblages, under ANT, still persists to be equal. The components that make up our ability to post a photo on Instagram, such as the phone, the filters used, the person who designed the app, users of the app and viewers of the photo uploaded onto the app all makes up the complicated web of relations and elements which is needed to create the photo as we see it. This gets every more unwieldily when one considers that through Instagram, this photo can also be shared on Facebook and thus, one has to consider all of that platform’s assemblages.
Of course the ANT is not without criticism. In fact as the Wikipedia readings highlight, it is largely controversial. For example, Langdon posits that “properties such as intentionality fundamentally distinguish humans from animals or from “things”” thus, non-human actants cannot be deemed as having agency (Wikipedia, n.d.). Others argue that it is does not consider power structures or that it does not consider race, class, gender (Bloor and Restivo 2010; Banks 2011). I would perhaps align myself with the critics with some reservation.
When talking about the human and non-human actants, I don’t necessarily see both as equal, I would consider the human actants as holding more power, but I wouldn’t go as far as saying that assemblages are entirely socially-determinist. Nevertheless, I praise the ANT as it makes us consider any form of publishing in a more complex and analytic manner as opposed to seeing it as something simplistic but it does pose a challenge of where can one stop to consider something or someone as an actant or at least, as an element? I believe that with the ANT, the old challenge that was once present in Tort Law emerges – that is, where does the principle of the ‘but for’ test draws the line – you can easily say, ‘but for’ Adam and Eve, Instagram would not happen!
*The following videos helped me to understand the concept:
‘Actor Network Theory’, Wikipedia, <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Actor-network_theory> (very short, very useful but more complex summary of Latour)
Banks, D (2011) ‘A Brief Summary of Actor-Network Theory’, Cyborgology, November 2, <http://thesocietypages.org/cyborgology/2011/12/02/a-brief-summary-of-actor-network-theory/>
Delukie (2009) ’Actor-Network Theory in Plain English’, Youtube.com,
Ryder, M(n.d.) ’What is Actor-Network Theory?’, <http://carbon.ucdenver.edu/~mryder/itc/ant_dff.html>