Actor Network, Ontic Structural Realism and the Ontological Status of Actants

Proceedings of the 9th International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 (2014)
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In this paper I discuss the ontological status of actants. Actants are argued as being the basic constituting entities of networks in the framework of Actor Network Theory (Latour, 2007). I introduce two problems concerning actants that have been pointed out by Collin (2010). The first problem concerns the explanatory role of actants. According to Collin, actants cannot play the role of explanans of networks and products of the same newtork at the same time, at pain of circularity. The second problem is that if actants are, as suggested by Latour, fundamentally propertyless, then it is unclear how they combine into networks. This makes the nature of actants inexplicable. I suggest that both problems rest on the assumption of a form of object ontology, i.e. the assumption that the ontological basis of reality consists in discrete individual entities that have intrinsic properties. I argue that the solution to this problem consists in the assumption of an ontology of relations, as suggested within the framework of Ontic Structural Realism (Ladyman & Ross, 2007). Ontic Structural Realism is a theory concerning the ontology of science that claims that scientific theories represent a reality consisting on only relation, and no individual entities. Furthermore I argue that the employment of OSR can, at the price of little modification for both theories, solve both of the two problems identified by Collin concerning ANT. Throughout the text I seek support for my claims by referring to examples of application of ANT to the context of networked learning. As I argue, the complexity of the phenomenon of networked learning gives us a convenient vantage point from which we can clearly understand many important aspects of both ANT and OSR. While my proposal can be considered as an attempt to solve Collin's problems, it is also an experiment of reconciliation between analytic and constructivist philosophy of science. In fact I point out that on the one hand Actor Network Theory and Ontic Structural Realism show an interesting number of points of agreement, such as the naturalistic character and the focus on relationality. On the other hand, I argue that all the intuitive discrepancies that originates from the Science and Technology Studies’ criticism against analytic philosophy of science are at a closer look only apparent.

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Corrado Matta
Linnaeus University


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