ANT (work in progress #3)

by stronged

As Bogost notes, ontography employs associative principles that are not dissimilar to Actor-Network-Theory (ANT). The seemingly random list of objects that the ontographic process produces implies various connections between material and cultural “actants.”

According to ANT, actants are any ‘agent, collective or individual that can associate or disassociate with other agents’ (Ritzer, 2). Actants can be human or non-human things. The context that derives from being assembled into a network with other actants engages their agency and thus establishes their identity and intention.

Actants are therefore indeterminate, only assuming a specification when understood within a system of other actants. This reminds me of the functionalist approach Bordwell discusses in his article “Neo-Structuralist Narratology,” putting forward the notion that ‘film operates as a whole, its individual parts playing determinate roles in a larger pattern’ (209).

We only understand the nature of a thing when we place it within a context of existence. What is it’s role within that context? Why is it situated within this particular context?

An actants functionality may completely change depending on what it is networked to. This differs from my previous train of thought that posed the idea that pieces of information are accessed by how they are originally classified. Classification involves categorisation (i.e. Grouping information that features similar (if not the same) characteristics) that does not apply to ANT.

‘The focus [of ANT] is always on the connections among disparate things rather than on the similarities or regularities that may appear to be grouping actors together’ (Warf, 1).

The connections between each actant is what ANT is interested in. That is what transforms an actant into a meaningful thing: a spanner, window, house, thimble, etc. However, this assumed identity is not fixed. There is still a sense of agency within the thing, dependent upon what it is networked to. As Lippard says about placemaking:

‘It is about connections, what surrounds it, what formed it, what happened there, what will happen there’ (Lippard 1997, 7).

It is the connections that provide the context. An actant surrenders to the overall network, performing different functions associated with actants from other networks. The way in which an actant can reform/adapt itself depending on what it is networked to makes it difficult to pin it down to a fixed definition.

I feel a significant part of determining an actants role within a network is our subjective interpretation of it and the network itself. The personal nature of our subjective viewpoint expands the potential form of an actant further, as my impression of a particular actant may differ from yours. The particular experiences I have had of an actant dictates the role I feel it plays within a network. Hence, this means my personal interpretation determines the identity of an actant.

My impression of an actant changes with every new encounter, each instant prompts a new series of connections the actant may have with other actants, therefore an actant I first thought was a pen is now a pointer in a presentation or weapon in a prison yard.

The fact that every new experience involves the formation of new connections between actants means two things: One; that actants are multifaceted entities, and two; that connections are constantly being made and unmade within a constant state of flux.