Welcome to the "What have the ANTs ever done for us? Packing your cases to follow the actors..." discussion!


Really I’d like to introduce this collectively as

We are the Facebook actor-network theory group, we hang out at https://www.facebook.com/groups/220398254694166/ and chat about all thinks related to the loose assemblage of ideas and methods that get grouped under the term “actor-network theory”.

I like that – it includes groups, ideas and technologies together and suggests something dynamic and changing, heterogeneous and non-individual However, if instead the introduction was written in more conventional terms what would happen? I’ll try:

Hello, I’m Steve Wright. I work as a Learning Technologist and Qualitative Data Analysis Software teacher and consultant at Lancaster University. I completed my PhD in E-Research and Technology Enhanced Learning in 2014 in which I drew extensively on ideas from actor-network theory and some of it’s intellectual roots and methods from ethnomethodology – to explore how sensory assessment (specifically beer judging) is learned and assessed and certified. I’m interested in methods and the relationships they have to theory, the place of technology (and how technology is understood or considered) in that counts as “technology” and how those relationships are and can be translated into actual practices of researching, teaching and learning.

That statement marks me out as a bounded, defined individual who has achieved certain qualifications, rather than a shifting network of more-or-less ephemeral traces and representations. It writes out all the technologies and tools that enable that statement to appear on your screen and grants me sole authorship of the statement rather than the spell-checker that sorted out my hasty typing among the numerous other tools and technologies, standards and systems which got it to your screen. In doing so it helps enshrine an individualist view that there is a definable “I” who has interests that are somewhere in me (presumably my head?), rather than being distributed and enmeshed in other locations, tools and systems. Or maybe it’s the ideas that are the agents and I am just a host?

So: if you reply and introduce your "self” - and please do - what would you be writing out? What are all the links in the chains that connect you to the message above in order to reply? What are those links dependent on and enmeshed in? And what agency do they have in shaping how you respond? Are those connections engaged with, acknowledged or incorporated into your research, work or practice? How?

I suggest that exploring and considering those questions are at least some of the contributions Actor-Network Theory has made, and can make, to the field of Networked Learning research and practice – which we’ll be exploring a little in this hot seat. Hopefully that collective exploration will open up some ideas and assumptions that aren’t always considered, and through doing so hopefully we’ll all learn a little more about what ANT ‘does’ – which seems a better question than what ANT ‘is’. Of course if you’ve never encountered ANT before and are still wondering what insects have to do with networked learning and can spare 3 minutes then this is a useful intro: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=X2YYxS6D-mI

Steve (and the FB ANT group)

PS. If you have a little more than 3 minutes, then these 17, surprisingly readable pages by John Law do a far better job of introduction than my ramblings thus far http://www.heterogeneities.net/publications/Law2007ANTandMaterialSemiotics.pdf


I started looking at management learning as a quality manager. Tech has come along meanwhile.
More later, I was not expecting so much content till a couple of days time so have done a quick http://learn9log.blogspot.com/2015/12/actor-network-theory-networked-learning.html post and tweet

I am away from base using a Chromebook. Usually I stay close to my desktop in an attic. Can read a phone screen just about but need a keyboard.


my name is ailsa, i too hang out with a collection of odds and sods (human and otherwise) that associate together on an ant fb page, as well as elsewhere #actor-network theory for example.
My interest is in change particularly with emergent technologies; how things coming together to make things happen in particular ways. But such things as happen are as much what happens to the people as much as the technologies as much as any innovation…
My bodily self is located in New Zealand.
Workwise I am Head of a School of Interprofessional health studies where i spend a lot of my time trying to align “actors” resulting in effective and enjoyable learning experiences for those entering into their chosen health professions.


My name is Mikala, though this says little about the ontologically multiple chains of associations that partially hang together with my many shifting appearances and MEs. I am complexity! I am professionally associated with a university college, professional education and learning, research, development, innovation, ICT… I get inspiration from (among other) STS books and other inscription devices put in formation by people like Latour, Strathern, Mol, Bruun Jensen, Veran, Fenwick, Orlikowski (to mention but a few). I am also engaged in and have been engaged by projects involving sociomaterial approaches to understanding technological literacy and questions like: how do new professional technologies (e.g. telehealth) influence professional learning and professional education? I too have enrolled myself and became enrolled by Latour’s scientific humanities MOOC. There is so much more… cutting the network of associations here :wink:


ANT is new to me. I just read the John Law paper and watched a short YouTube video summing up the “essence”. In this brief introduction, some connections to my work and my life resonate with me (stories, human as well as object players, links to social and professional capital) but I will need more time and conversation to mull it over. I am M.C. (Mary Catherine) Moran and I am the Program Manager for Professional Learning at the Agency of Education in Vermont (USA). In my work I support teacher/principal’s professional learning through differentiated pathways, including inquiry networks, instructional coaching, Lesson Study, Instructional Rounds, as well as more traditional forms (self-paced, online courses, expert presenter sessions, etc…) I look forward to this forum.


Hi Steve,

Many thanks for sitting in the hot seat this week and to me it feels you already have put ‘your’ stamp on it. I say yours, but I mean of course your ‘networked’ self. I like the questions you bring to our forum and the language that comes with it.
I hope that this week we all will be able to take an ANT perspective to sharpen our understanding of networks, networking, relatedness in the context of networked learning.
Thanks for bringing your friends and open-up the hot seat even further…. I look forward to a wonderful week!


Thanks for the thoughtful introductory “welcome” message, @stevewright. I think you are spot on reminding us about an actor-network approach is beyond just the “who are you?” and “what do you do?”

Indeed, in your words:

So: if you reply and introduce your "self” - and please do - what would you be writing out? What are all the links in the chains that connect you to the message above in order to reply? What are those links dependent on and enmeshed in? And what agency do they have in shaping how you respond? Are those connections engaged with, acknowledged or incorporated into your research, work or practice? How?

I ordinarily say something about my work (I am the Director of Education and Knowledge Management at a national nonprofit organization in the US while I also teach at New York University / Pace University / UMASS Boston) and my interests (I like to read, spend time wandering through labyrinths, and play with my pugs Winston and Banks), though to do only that somehow freezes them and limits me (and them), while also not acknowledging what other connections are also in process.

Thinking about the words of Law in that article you linked us to, where he says that actor-network theory describes:

the enactment of . . . relations that produce and reshuffle all kinds of actors including objects, subjects, human beings, machines, animals, ‘nature’, ideas, organisations, inequalities, scale and sizes, and geographical arrangements.

to which we may also want to include biases, beliefs, and emotions, amongst other potential actants. Good to know we are more than only our descriptions of ourselves, much richer than our limited perceptions . . .



In the metallography labs where I began my undergraduate studies, it took a while to assemble the knowledge, understanding and practical dexterity to make the most of the microscopes at my disposal. Thirty-eight years later, as I begin my doctoral research, I am faced with another set of lenses. I select from the box the ANT lens … but is it the objective or the eyepiece? How will it work with the other mirrors and prisms which reflect and refract the light (information) issuing from my object of study? Will the magnification be adequate, does it provide sufficient depth of field and will I be able to adjust the focus?

On the stage of my new microscope is ‘teacher professional learning through social media.’ Beside me sits the black box unconsciously crafted during the intervening years. Do I lift the lid? What lies within?

  • The time spent teaching?
  • Physics?
  • The arrival of digital technologies and communications?
  • My changes in attitudes?
  • A new career in teacher support?
  • Studying on a Masters programme?
  • Social media?

What else?

It’s messy. Complex. Too late to close the lid … but there’s still hope.


In my naivety, I would never have thought of ‘biases, beliefs and emotions’ as actants Jeffrey. Until your post, I would have viewed them as internal to an individual and whilst capable of acting on that person, not having a wider influence. But obviously they do. The bias a teacher has for a particular pedagogical approach serves as an actant in the learning of all the students with whom s/he works. And yet I can see there’s much more to pick apart in the example I quickly chose.


In case you have not joined the Facebook group or don’t look very often I am repeating news that there is limited electricity in Lancaster at the moment because of flooding. So Steve Wright has got no web access. ( also some other issues presumably) So this explains lack of replies so far.

(Forecast more rain followed by cold, electricity returns maybe sometime this week)


@IaninSheffield, great intro to your black box(es). How did they get so fixed in place, and why would you ever want to messy them up again if they are all in order?



Thanks for the update, @will789gb. I have heard only bits and pieces of this, though thought that perhaps @stevewright was affected with the weather.

Does anybody have a useful wather channel for those of us at a distance to be able to follow to check in on the status?



Here’s a good start Jeffrey - http://www.bbc.co.uk/weather/2644972 and be thankful you are at a distance!


I read it. I liked it. Didn’t understand it all - obviously. But wanna learn more about scallops!
Helen :))

Oh, no idea where to begin with figuring or explaining the assemblage of actors that conspired to land me here. I’m working on it.


@IaninSheffield As some here in our discussion may know, we are still in the early stages of the 2016 Presidential election process, but even I humbly submit http://www.cnn.com/2015/12/07/politics/donald-trump-muslim-ban-immigration/, and how even uttering them makes them somehow more real (or at least changes the networks involving them).


My (possible) misconceptions are tested by your very first question Jeffrey. I had (falsely?) assumed my history was black boxed and the actants within can no longer be challenged? After all they’re in the past and no longer accessible. Irreversible?

Perhaps it’s an attempt to acknowledge my positionality as a researcher? With this background in the physical sciences and from such a realist ontology, how come I rarely adopt a positivist approach… or even post-positivist for that matter? Where did the switch flip and what caused it? Or perhaps it hasn’t?


If ever a topic was ripe for an ANT study …


Briefly online at the Uni now power is restored here. Material circumstances have rather forcibly removed me from any participation.

Some of the things that have been going on:

So that was heat, light, mobile networks all out. Thankfully we have a log burner and a gas range as well as a camping stove, gas lantern and lots of candles so were warm, had light and able to cook :smile:

Still no broadband - fibre down for “a while” yet… But there’s power and network back up toay at the Uni so I can briefly connect.

And to cap it all, now networks are back up, my mobile phone died (HTC One M8 “no sim” error) so no mobile internet either!

So I’m briefly online today, will be online tomorrow and hopefully some of Friday and will then attempt to respond and engage here if I can. Thanks for those who have posted - reading now!



Hey Steve and fellow hot ANTs in seaters,

I can confess to being an intermittent player on the FB ANT site and a loose [association] (http://nymag.com/scienceofus/2015/10/adventures-in-the-science-of-the-superorganism.html) of internal and external irregularities. I think John Law would say noncoherent.

I’m interested in hunting for secrets as Peter Thiel calls them and identifying the odd unicorn along the way. I use the term L-word to gesture to this thing that is called learning. Unicorn-infested territory that and adding adjectives does not help a lot. I include the adjective networked :). There is one adjective that I reckon is important though, machine. How to think about the algorithms that have been glibly called learning machines is, to me, a good secret to chew on with a little help from our six-legged black friends.

So this is more in the way of what I hope ANT might do in digging around this wee secret. I find I get more from knowing what folk are currently working on or worrying about than a recitation of what has been done. I’m sure there will be plenty of trails left by our six-legged friends that can be traced and which will help you assemble your ANT farm.


Hi Ianin,

This is a rough reply to your initial and subsequent posts.

Re mess, if you have not read John Law’s Making a Mess with Method and the paper on [syncretism] (https://www.sv.uio.no/tik/personer/vit/kasdal/15_ck201_modes_of_syncreticism-libre.pdf) which I mentioned (sorry the link was to abstract, this link is to the pdf) in my hello post, then it might help reposition some of your thinking.

I think the key notion, particularly in what many folk call the after-ANT lit is attention to practices. Very, very crudely, practices do/enact realities (plural). Mol’s book (Mol, A. (2002). The Body Multiple: Artherosclerosis in Practice. Durham, N.Ca. and London: Duke University Press.) is the common touchstone for this notion but you can find it in most of the recent ANT-informed scribbling. This is tricky to get one’s head around given the dominance of Western common sense thinking is based on a single reality “out there” (and it’s job, as a researcher, to represent it!). So, literally, everything is thought about in terms of its [i]doing[/] or performance, even the L-word :).

I have probably opened too many cans of worms here but I think it is useful to have a peek behind the curtain. This also gestures to what is now a largish literature both in education and in lots of other fields. ANT went from enfant terrible to fad fairly quickly.

I hope some of this is helpful and I have not mucked up Steve’s cunning plan for this warm seat.