This article explores the methodological implications of actor-network theory for social research. Pointing to an increasing awareness of ANT in sociological discourse, but assuming that it is more widely known than well understood, the article outlines some of the key features of ANT as an approach to social life, before addressing the tricky question of how these ideas translate into methodological practice. The possibilities of the approach are illustrated by reference to the author’s own ANT-inspired historical research on the socio-material history of dairy milk in the UK, which is used as a point of reference and an example throughout. Particular attention is given to the practical method deployed in the milk study, namely documentary historiography, leading to a critical exploration of the use of ANT in the analysis of historical texts. This involves considering the nature of the relationship between texts and lived practices, and drawing out how ANT offers a distinctive way of seeing texts which challenges the standard ethnographic view of texts and fundamentally transforms the issue. Given that documentary historiography is not a method strongly associated with actor-network theory because it raises considerable methodological dilemmas, this discussion provides one particular account of how such dilemmas can be managed or overcome. Social researchers interested in the potential of actor-network theory should be able to draw upon this in exploring the possibilities of the approach for their own work.
|Methodological Innovations Online
|Published - 20 Dec 2011
- actor-network theory
- nonhuman agency
- relational ontology