Actant Switching

A method for Speculative generation based on Actor Network Theory.

For something to happen, a system needs to be in place. Latours Actor Network Theory (ANT) states systems are made up of both human and non human actors. In each system, each actor has a specific role. Actant Switching is changing the actors from nonhuman to human actors while keeping the role the actor preforms the same.

Configuring systems by Interchanging actors, allows tensions to bubble up. The action of the system remains the same, but the actors are different.

In ANT, both non-human and human actors are equal players in a system, one is reliant on the other for the network to work. Latour felt that a system could not exsist unless it took into consideration the co-dependency artifacts that humans had with each other. Actant switching plays with this co-dependency.

The above-left system of going to bed is a generic system, when it gets dark, and it reaches a certain time, a human actor goes to bed and reads until they fall asleep. The book, the time, the bed and the fact that it gets dark are all non human actors, enabling the human actor to get tired which then close the loop and fulfills the system of the human actor going to bed.

Each actor in a system preforms a role necessary for the system to move forward. If one starts playing with whether or not an actor was human or non-human, the script the actor follows stays the same but the connotation is different. By interchanging actors with actant switching, from human to non-human, these systems become services. This method produces tension in the system in a way that makes one question their relationship to their technology.

An example of this would be a sleep mobile application. The app would not be effective unless the person who downloaded it interacts with it and has entered data such as times going to sleep and waking up. The app is useless without the data. One actor is reliant on the other for the action to take place, but both have equal agency. When one applies Actant Switching to this system, the person facilitates the same action the app was fulfilling, the action stays the same but the connotation of this actor changes and the person doubles as an observer/ a curator/ or a psychologist.

Benefit of use:

Actant Switching has highlighted ones relationship to technology, for example, why is it weirder to talk to a person you don’t know about your day vs write about your day in an app where you don’t know what they are doing with the data.

Switching actants provides an imbalance that allows one to examine the roles and meaning placed upon nonhuman or human actors.

Actant switching is a useful generative method to use when one wants to explore specifically the benefits of different actants. Use of this method in generation of scenarios for design research, led to data showing when it is appropriate to use humans or technology in the design of services.

How to Use:

Actant switching has formed the basis of the speculative scenario creation that service fictions was based off of.

Actants can be switched from human to non-human, but it is much more interesting to go from non-human to human. Human to non-human is automation, and the imbalance is not as severe because we are more used to this. That being said going from non-human to human, in some cases, such as travel, the imbalance created was more comfortable than unsettling, as things are now just being automated.

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