Actor-network theory is an attempt to map relationships between both material things and social constructed concepts. It defies simple explanation but the paper below offers a practical example of how it can be used to throw light on, in this case, medical technology and it has a particularly useful account of three key concepts: punctualisation; delegation and translation. The big idea about ANT I take away from the paper is that objects are not things in themselves but things we interpret – they have a life of their own.
As you read it you might want to ask:
What different ways can technology be seen as influencing social activity?
What do you understand by the term ‘embedded’?
Does the example of the computer (p201) work for you?
Is there anything distinctive about how the author presents the description of the inhaler?
The idea of delegating is put forward – does this convince you?
What were the issues in the use of the device?
ANT can itself be translated into different setting. Can you see any advantages in taking an ANT approach in your research - for example do the key concepts of 'punctualisation'; 'delegation' and 'translation' have any resonance for you?
What objections do you have to ANT as a frame of analysis? What do you think someone with a medial training might make of this paper?
Prout, A. (1996) Actor‐network theory, technology and medical sociology: an illustrative analysis of the metered dose inhaler, Sociology of Health & Illness, 18, 2, 198–219,