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Actor-Network VS Network Analysis VS Digital Networks: Are We Talking About the Same Networks?

Tommaso Venturini 1, 2, 3 Anders Munk 4 Mathieu Jacomy 3
1 DANTE - Dynamic Networks : Temporal and Structural Capture Approach
Inria Grenoble - Rhône-Alpes, LIP - Laboratoire de l'Informatique du Parallélisme, IXXI - Institut Rhône-Alpin des systèmes complexes
Abstract : To appear as a chapter of the Digital STS Handbook ( This paper discusses the differences and affinities among three types of networks (namely Actor-Networks, Social Networks and Digital Networks) that are playing an increasingly important role in digital STS. In the last few decades, the notion of networks has slowly but steadily struck root across broad strands of STS research. It started with the advent of actor-network theory, which provided a convenient instrument to describe the construction work of socio-technical phenomena. Then came network analysis, and scholars who imported into STS the techniques of investigation and visualization developed in the tradition of social network analysis and scientometrics. Finally, with the increasing 'computerization' of STS, scholars turned their attention to digital networks as a way of tracing collective life. Many researchers have more or less explicitly tried to link these three movements in one coherent set of digital methods, betting on the idea that actor-network theory can be operationalized through network analysis thanks to the data provided by digital networks. Yet, to be honest, the affinity between these three objects is sketchy at best. Besides the homonym 'network', there is little to is little to show for it. Are we sure that we are talking about the same thing? "Odi et amo. quare id faciam, fortasse requiris? nescio, sed fieri sentio et excrucior." Catullus 85 or Carmina LXXXV Professor — you should not confuse the network that is drawn by the description and the network that is used to make the description. Student — …? Professor — But yes! Surely you'd agree that drawing with a pencil is not the same thing as drawing the shape of a pencil. It's the same with this ambiguous word, network. With Actor-Network you may describe something that doesn't at all look like a network — an individual state of mind, a piece of machinery, a fictional character; conversely, you may describe a network — subways, sewages, telephones — which is not all drawn in an 'Actor-Networky' way. You are simply confusing the object with the method. ANT is a method, and mostly a negative one at that; it says nothing about the shape of what is being described with it. Student — This is confusing! But my company executives, are they not forming a nice, revealing, significant network? Professor — Maybe yes, I mean, surely, yes— but so what? Student — Then, I can study them with Actor-Network-Theory!
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Submitted on : Saturday, December 23, 2017 - 10:25:04 PM
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Venturini, Munk, Jacomy - 2016...
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Tommaso Venturini, Anders Munk, Mathieu Jacomy. Actor-Network VS Network Analysis VS Digital Networks: Are We Talking About the Same Networks?. Janet Vertesi; David Ribes. DigitalSTS: A Handbook and Fieldguide, Princeton university press, pp.510-523, 2019, 978-0-691-18707-5. ⟨hal-01672289⟩



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