Paolo Volonté

The contribution of Actor-Network Theory to the discussion on the agency of the objects

  • Abstract

Informations and abstract

Keywords: Actor-Network Theory; Agency of the Objects; Material Culture; Social Agency; Sociological Phenomenology.

In recent decades, the role of objects in the determination of social situations has attracted the attention of various disciplinary approaches, from anthropology to sociology, to the theory of design. In this regard, it has been widely suggested that thorough understanding of social phenomena requires acknowledgement that also objects - under certain conditions - have agency, i.e. the capacity to produce autonomous and unexpected effects in their surroundings. The Actor-Network Theory of Bruno Latour is a potentially very important theoretical source for this debate. This article reconstructs the contribution of Latour's theory to the discussion on the agency of objects by addressing three matters in particular. Latour's theory is presented in the context of the debate on the agency of objects in order to highlight its original contribution. The roots and evolution of the Latourian position on agency of objects is reconstructed within the broader framework of the Actor-Network Theory, because Latour's theory has undergone constant change and specification over the years since its original formulation. The article concludes by reflecting on an issue that Latour's contribution does not help to resolve: the correct definition of the role performed by the phenomenological intentionality of humans in determining the agency of objects.

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