Actor-Network Theory: assemblage and archiving

Publishing’s relation to broader society can be characterised as a series of “assemblages” (Deleuze, Guattari and DeLanda) – essentially conjoining elements or relations to create something new. One way to think about this is through Latour’s Actor-Network Theory (or ANT). Today’s blog is a little different to previous ramblings; there will be a particular focus on ANT, and a sort of random jotting of others’ (and my own) ideas about it.

The ANT theory can be described as a “material-semiotic” method; meaning that it “maps relations that are simultaneously material (between things) and semiotic (between concepts) (Wikipedia). It assigns equal positions to social and technological elements, treating human and non-human “actants” as having the same amount of agency within webs/actor networks (Banks 2011).

As this video discusses, ANT is based on 3 principles:

  • agnoticism
  • generalised symmetry
  • free association

i.e. social = natural = technological: “it explores ways in which network relations are composed and how they emerge and come into being, are constructed, maintained, compete with other networks, and are made more durable over time.”

One contemporary example of assemblages can be seen through Facebook. Treating human and non-human actants equally, the components that make up Facebook can be seen as a complex and changing relationship between actants such as Facebook headquarters, the web, the internet provider, electricity, the computer, tech support, advertisers and sponsors, users, and data. All of these components are necessary in providing us with the Facebook we see as one single object. This is a much more analytical way than thinking of Facebook as just a social networking device created by Zuckerburg!

However, ANT has received a fair amount of criticism. As Banks notes, there has been criticism for dismissing basic social factors e.g. race, class, and gender. Further, many critics note that there is a difference between human and non-human agents in terms of intentionality, others have said that research based on ANT perspectives remains “entirely descriptive and fails to provide explanations for social processes” (Wikipedia) and does not challenge power structures (Bloor and Restivo 2010).

Personally, although there are a number of flaws in the theory, I think it is generally a good way to analyse and describe the elements that are present in the assemblages of publishing. It forces us to think more specifically as to what really makes up a particular object of publishing that we might’ve previously thought of as a single entity. This means that elements (or actants) can be pinpointed when needed (for example, if Facebook has crashed it could be because of your internet connection or a because of the site itself). EDIT: or does that give rise to the problem of endless and infinite possibilities (sort of like asking what is the smallest number above zero?)


‘Actor Network Theory’, Wikipedia, <>

Banks, David (2011) ‘A Brief Summary of Actor-Network Theory’, Cyborgology, November 2, <>

delukie (2009) ’Actor-Network Theory in Plain English’,


Print vs. online publishing – is the shift a positive one?

Obviously with developments in technology and most importantly the advent of the internet, there are revolutionary new ways that content can be ejected into the public domain. But is this a good thing? In many ways, yes of course it is – it means greater accessibility, collaborative content production, direct and instantaneous distribution to the public – but if it’s so positive why are so many literates worried?

As well as the different forms of publishing, the different steps that each form encompasses are obviously very different (you get the point, a whole lotta difference). Take for example, the steps that need to be taken to get a book published (E-book, hardcover, paperback). The MIT Press (primarily a publisher of science and technology) explain all issues and guidelines that need to be considered before getting it out there. Pan Macmillan have a similar page, even specifically listing the categories of books they publish in the general market (e.g. thriller, crime). Then there’s getting a tweet, or a Facebook post, published. The differences between the two are insanely obvious, but are they not essentially performing the same function in the end? Yet I could open a new tab right now, open Twitter, and post 140 characters worth of anything I possibly want to (let’s forget about technical restrictions here). I, on the other hand, could not open a new tab, open HarperCollins, and write a book.

At least that was the traditional sort of way of thinking about it. But this week’s course material has forced me to try and think about things a little more contemporarily. The best example of this in my opinion is fan fiction. “Authors” literally write their own content – fantasy, erotica, thriller – and publish it directly to websites such as and Wattpad. Other (somewhat more restrictive) examples are websites such as Wikipedia and; as well as me sitting here writing this blog post. As mentioned, there are many positives to this – but what about the authors that spend time, effort, and a whole lotta $$$ on getting their stuff seriously (for lack of a better word) out there? And what about issues of authorship, plagiarism and authenticity? Is this undermining their efforts? I would say in many ways, definitely. However, when Andrew also instructed us to consider the various genres, processes, tools and techniques of publishing, it’s also important to note that the authors that get their work professionally published are the ones we usually rely on most for factual, scientifically-based, informational content. I would not write an essay in consumer law with reference to what a blogger posted about buying something that looked different online.

There are so many benefits to how the processes of publishing are continually evolving, but many dangers present themselves as well. For me I think it ultimately lies on individual experience.

P.S. This has nothing to do with my post but this video is bloody hilarious.

PSS another good article:


Getting familiar with the term “Publishing”

It’s a common word, used in a variety of contexts and with different intended meanings. However there hasn’t been a time, until now, where I have had the reason (or thought) to really grasp what publishing actually means.

The two mind maps below reflect my ideas (and generalised misconceptions) about publishing before and after reading the coursework for this week:

One of the most interesting reads of the week was an article by Will Self, in which he comments on how digital media is leading to “fewer paper books being sold, newspapers folding, and bookshops and libraries continuing to close”; going on to state that “the advent of digital media is not simply destructive of the codex, but of the Gutenberg mind itself”. Although I do agree with most of his ideas – ‘difficult reading’ is in decline, producer-consumer relationships are rapidly changing and it is close to impossible to generate ‘original’ content – the shift of focus to digital media is not necessarily a negative one. With barriers being broken down in terms of accessibility, immediacy and resources, more people are able to publish material than ever before. Not only this, but online media sets the stage for a (or many) digital community(ties) of users who can connect and share data, reforming the top-down approach of communication that traditional forms of publishing had encompassed. This is reflected in the emergence of new projects that aim to keep up with these advancements in technology, such as the ‘creation’ of the multigraph and Future of the Book – creating books that “is not bound by time or space” and “is always a work in progress”.

However, Self raises a number of issues that are also echoed in other writers and statistics; many of which I agree with. For example, Tony Haile notes “we confuse what people have clicked on for what they’ve read. Where TV asked for your undivided attention, the web didn’t care as long as you went click, click, click.” Kendell further comments: “Today we’re driven less by the words on a page (or screen) inspiring thoughts in our minds, and more by how a title or topic trigger other people to validate, praise, and fight us.”

As well as this, there are so many ways of publishing that are continually emerging that it’s difficult to even keep up – the e-book, in particular the development of Spritz for example, as well as 3D and 4D printing. Have a look at this video: It printed a functioning wrench from powder. Crazy. Even better, with talks of 4D printing there are transformable objects on their way too.

I Think Barbara Brannon sums it up by saying:

In the 1450s the technology of printing arose as a way of duplicating the way people wrote; in 1984 and beyond, is it too much to imagine that digital technologies aim to duplicate the way people think?

Overall, one of the most valuable things I’ve learnt from this week’s material is that publishing is not confined. At all. It’s continually extending to include new methods of production and dissemination, from a newspaper column to new music on Soundcloud to Spritzing and all things in between. This means that our ways of reading and processing are changing – be it a good or bad thing.

I think I need to find a quiet corner to read now… on my Kindle.