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Alexander Kesselring - Challenge Social Innovation

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Do non-humans make a
difference?
Potentials and problems in applying
Bruno Latour�s Actor-Network-Theory
to the study of (social) innovation
Alexander Degelsegger
Alexander Kesselring
Assumptions and Intentions
• All innovations are „social processes“
• One general innovation theory comprising
„technical“ as well as „social“ innovation
• An innovation theory and research methodology
allowing to understand the relation between
innovation processes and social change
2
The basic assumptions of
Actor-Network-Theory (ANT)
Assumption 1:
“Any thing that does modify a state of affairs by making a difference is
an actor” (Latour 2007: 71).
Assumption 2:
It is necessary to include non-human actors in sociological
explanations of action and structure
Assumption 3:
The “social” is not an entity, but a relation between actors that forms a
network
Assumption 4:
In performing this relationship, actors are transformed as is the
meaning or force that is transported
3
Innovation as an arrangement between
human and non-human actors
• “The social �material’ and the technical �material’
are both relatively malleable and the successful
innovation is the one which stabilises an
acceptable arrangement between human
actors (users, negotiators, repairers) and the
non-human actors (electrones, tubes,
batteries) at the same time. The particular
strength to the innovator is to permanently play
with both registers, to treat nature and society
symmetrically” (Akrich/Callon/Latour 2002,
210)
4
“Action is overtaken”
Actions are...
• Distributed among actors: different entities
(human, non-human)
• Distributed across space: what is acting at the
same moment in any place is coming from many
other places, many distant materials, and many
faraway actors
• Distributed over time: elements have been
produced at different times
5
A network is...
• a point-to-point connection which is
physically traceable and thus can be
recorded empirically
• a connection that is not made for free, it
requires effort (“transaction costs”)
• a connection where any “meaning” or
“force” that is transported is also
“translated”
• mediators vs intermediaries
6
The Micro – Meso – Macro
differentiation is...
• no well ordered zoom
• produced by actors (“globalisers” and
“localisers”)
Latour’s answer:
• flat social world
• no society/context – content distinction in
description/explanation
7
Structure as action?
• Understanding „constraint“ as actor-network
• To be „under constraint“ means to be part of an
actor-network
• Actor-networks can be more or less stabilised
and stabilisation relies on different actors and
different relations between actors
• Processes of stabilisation and de-stabilisation
can be identified
8
Empirical approach
• map out controversies
over agency
• Identify actors
• defining trajectories
by actants’
association and
substitution
[…] (9) roll film instead of plate
film/ camera using the films //
nothing other than heavy
cameras using plate films
exists on the market […]
(11) Eastman/Walker/high status
company/commercial network
[…]
(14) paper/gelatin -//- fragile […]
(18) early 1884 continuous paper
machine for serial printing […]
(26) film not good for
professionals, good for
amateurs
(31) triumphant reception -//- film
still fragile
9
Potentials...
• All innovations are studied with the same
sociological language
• The inclusion of non-human actors in
sociological analysis, in particular the analysis of
„social innovations“
• A stronger focus on relations and the process of
translation
• A possible way to resolve the micro-meso-macro
differentiation
• A possible way to resolve the agency – structure
polarisation
• A focus on transformation, innovation and
political action
10
...and Problems
• Does ANT provide a theoretical and methodological
concept for interpreting human accounts?
• Does ANT explain the attribution of agency? Is agency
constituted by attribution?
• Most non-human actors are made by humans - Does
ANT provide a theoretical and methodological concept
for interpreting human objectivations?
• Is ANT providing empirical tools that are appropriate for
studying human and non-human actors with a „higher
resolution“?
11
Implications for innovation theory
• Innovation introduces new actors and/or changes the
relation between actors and the actors themselves
• Actor-networks as process medium, constraint, target
and outcome of innovation
• Intentions and meanings are always “translated” and are
likely to change during the innovation process
• A sociology of innovation that describes relations,
processes and actors in a balanced way.
• An innovation theory that understands resistence to
change as well as change
• Innovation theory and social theory become more
interdisciplinary.
12
Assumptions and Intentions
• All innovations are „social processes“
• One general innovation theory comprising
„technical“ as well as „social“ innovation
• An innovation theory and research methodology
allowing to understand the relation between
innovation processes and social change
13
Thank you for your attention!
Contact:
Alexander Degelsegger
degelsegger@zsi.at
Alexander Kesselring
kesselring@zsi.at
Centre for Social Innovation
Linke Wienzeile 246, A-1150 Vienna. Austria.
www.zsi.at
14
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