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date: 20 September 2019

Summary and Keywords

Actor–network theory (ANT) is an approach to research that sits with a broader body of new materialism; a body of work that displaces humanism to consider dynamic assemblages of humans and nonhumans. Originally developed in the social studies of science and technology undertaken in the second half of the 20th century, ANT has increasingly been taken up in other arenas of social inquiry. Researchers working with ANT do not accept the unquestioned use of “social” explanations for educational phenomena. Rather, the social, like all other effects, is taken to be an enactment of heterogenous assemblages of human and nonhuman entities. The role of the educational researcher is to trace these processes of assemblage and reassemblage, foregrounding the ways in which certain entities establish sufficient allies to assume some degree of “realness” in the world.

Aligning most closely with ethnographic orientations, ANT does not outline a method. However, it could be argued that a number of propositions are shared in ANT-inspired approaches: first, that the world is made up of actors/actants, all of which are ontologically symmetrical. Humans are not privileged in ANT. Second, the principle of irreduction—there is no essence within or beyond any process of assemblage. Actors are concrete; there is no “potential” other than their actions in the moment. Entities are nothing more than an effect of assemblage. Third, the concept of translation and its processes of mediation that transform objects when they encounter one another. Finally, the principle of alliance. Actants gain strength only through their alliances. These propositions have specific implications for data generation, analysis, and reporting.

Keywords: actor–network theory, ANT, materialism, mediation, actant, symmetry, irreduction, translation, alliance

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