Nothing in-between?

In amongst all of my mussings over interstices and what dwells in-between the strands of the web I came across a statement by Latour (1996) about how actor-networks deny the existence of the inside/outside duality:

A network is all boundary without inside and outside. The only question one may ask is whether or not a connection is established between two elements… Literally, a network has no outside… The great economy of thinking allowed by the notion of network is that we are no longer obliged to fill in the space in between the connections… A network is a positive notion which does not need negativity to be understood. It has no shadow (p. 6).

Oh dear… I’m not sure that I totally agree with Latour on this one, unless the ether was conceptualised as being part of the network, i.e. that we drag what appears to be nothing and give it form in the web/network.

Thoughts anyone?!?



Latour, Bruno. “On Actor-Network Theory. A Few Clarifications Plus More Than a Few Complications.” Soziale Welt 47 (1996): 369-81. Print.

1 Comment

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One response to “Nothing in-between?

  1. I have just read Latour’s article and won’t pretend I understood everything he said, but drawing on this and other articles I would say in reply:
    Yes, if there is ‘an ether’, a something which is doing something, then it is an actor too. Maybe it’s participation in a particular network is remote (through many other translations) or maybe direct. But if by the ether you mean the ‘space’ in which a network lies, an empty space, then I think you are misunderstanding the ANT notion of a network. As Latour in this article says, the modern emergence of technical networks has distorted the notion which was originally in the word when they decided to use it, way back in the 70s-80s and coined the phrase actor-network. When we think of a modern network (a system of highways, the www, a telephone network) we envisage all of these operating through strategic nodes which are spatially separated in a world we see reflected in the geographers maps. This space isn’t empty, it is filled with things. When we apply this imagery to the notion of an actor-network we intuitively think of it as having this space between the nodes, the actors, and our gut says there must be something there. But it is this visual image which is the problem.
    Remember we are dealing with a way of talking about the world here, and we may choose to talk about it in a different way. The idea of liminal spaces, cracks, in an otherwise known, space-filling world, is an image, a tantalizing one. Maybe it seems a bit prosaic to apply the ANT language to this notion and claim that may be in the ‘spaces’ must be potential actors too .. but this is what you need to explore.
    This all takes me back to Latour’s book, The Reassembling of the Social. He worked very hard on this issue in that book. Take for instance the meaning of the title of the book. He is arguing that society is not a ‘thing’ in which we operate at its bidding, which is what we imply when we make society the subject of sentences or say things like, ‘Oh that is a social problem!’ Similarly people talk about individuals becoming a crowd, and responding to crowd behaviour, as though there is an entity, ‘the crowd’ which exists whether the people are in it or not. If we watched a footy match and had a sense that there was something called ‘the game’ which was at work, through the players, we’d have a similar notion. Of course there is the idea of ‘a society’, ‘a crowd’, ‘the game’, and these can be very powerful actors. Also a particular lump of ‘society’, or a particular crowd, or a particular game could also act as actors in larger networks. But take away the oval, the ball the players, the onlookers and there is no such thing, just stories about games, etc. Society is the same, it is a heterogeneous phenomenon reproduced moment by moment. This is relatively easy to see, but what if we said, So is space. So are gaps.
    There was a story in the Old Testament Bible, which I can’t recall, except for the phrase, ‘ichabod’, which someone saw scrawled on a wall, maybe the temple, and it meant, ‘the glory is departed’. I wonder if an ANT view of the world is a problem in your work because it chases entities out of liminal spaces and gives them names. Does it make mystery and the potential enchantment of ‘otherness’ seem banal? For myself I don’t feel this. It doesn’t reduce complexity, but rather acknowledges it. It doesn’t name actors and their properties and agencies and their ultimate forms or stable/unstable manifestations before-hand, though it may well lead to such revelations.
    I will enjoy talking more about this!

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