How to Use ANT in Inventive Ways so that its Critique Will not Run out of Steam?

Guggenheim, Michael. 2020. How to Use ANT in Inventive Ways so that its Critique Will not Run out of Steam? In: Anders Blok; Ignacio Farías and Celia Roberts, eds. The Routledge Companion to Actor-Network Theory. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 64-72. ISBN 9781138084728 [Book Section]

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Abstract or Description

‘Critique behaves like blasé tourists who would like to reach the most virgin territories with- out difficulty, but only if they don’t come across any other tourists’ (Latour 2013, 85).

It is one of the recurring tropes of ANT to portray itself as nothing but an empiricist endeavour to understand the socio-material word, abstaining from the blasé practices of critique. When I was drawn to ANT as a student in the 1990s, I became quickly puzzled by the strong claims that ANT cannot be delineated, that it is supposed to be a method, or a ‘sensibility’ but not a theory, while at the same time the proponents of ANT voiced very strong critiques of other approaches (see e.g. Law 2008). Reading ANT texts, it is hard not to conclude that ANT itself is a critical theory of sorts, full of critical judgements about the world. In short, very often, ANT is like a blasé tourist itself.

In this chapter, I take up to question of ANT’s relationship to critique, not in order to point the finger at ANT, but to explore what ANT as a critical theory can accomplish. I ask with regard to which element of the world ANT is (not) critical, how and why it is so, and what the effects of this selective criticality are.

I will first explain what I mean by critique. Then, I will detail why ANT has such a dim view of critique and finally I will introduce four different kinds of critique within ANT. ANT as a critique of natural science, ANT as a non-critique of design, ANT as a critique of theories of society and finally ANT as a speculative critique of social practices.

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Sociology > Centre for the Study of Invention and Social Process (CSISP)


17 June 2019Published Online

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20 Jan 2020 12:32

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17 Dec 2020 02:26


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