Is the streetlamp an actor in a network?

Slack, J. D., & Wise, J. M., (2007). “Agency” In Culture and technology: A primer. New York: Peter Lang.


Actor-Network Theory (actors, translation, delgation, prescription), anthropomorphism, causality, agency, technological determinism, cultural determinism, articulation, mediation.


Slack and Wise begin to reconcile the restrictive viewpoints of cultural and technological determinism with technological agency and the Actor-Network Theory. The authors argue that technology is as critical an actor in the network as human (cultural) factors, and that the constant interplay between the two constantly contributes to and redefines the network itself.


“Instead of human intention as the centerpiece in a relationship with technology, we now understand that technology is every bit as critical an actor as the human. Humans may delegate to technologies, but technologies invariably prescribe back” (146).

“The actor/agent is the structure (the network) and the structure is the actor/agent” (145).

“As Latour uses the term, anthropomorphism means ‘either what has human shape or what gives shape to humans’” (145).


In “The Medium is the Massage, McLuhan states that “all human artefacts are extensions of … the human body. They are translations of us, the users, from one form into another form” (116). McLuhan’s view of artefacts as translative extensions of the body is helpful in understanding Slack and Wise’s discussion of technological agency in relation to Latour’s Actor-Network Theory, setting up their next chapter on articulation. In order to fully understand Slack and Wise’s technological applications of the Actor-Network Theory, I began to think of it in terms of smart phone usage, before they used it as an example on page 143.

The advent of the smart phone (with web browsing, email, texting, etc. capabilities) liberated the human actor from the constraints of a desktop or laptop for certain forms of communication. You could now travel and communicate. You were no longer married to a fixed position for certain acts. But thinking of a smart phone in terms of the Actor-Network Theory, the technology employs its own structures as an actor, forcing the human actor to engage with it on its terms.

Actual text I received while writing this

The smart phone’s place as an actor in the network is dependent upon its interactions within the network. The smart phone mediates how we communicate with each other and translate how we perform actions. I can always tell when a certain colleague has sent me an email while ‘on the go’. Whether while walking through an airport or from one meeting to another, an email sent from her mobile phone contains language structures strongly resembling a text message rather than a more thorough email written at a desktop. An email sent from her smart phone while walking through an airport is likely to be more dictative in giving information and more passive in receiving information.

When you use a smart phone, you are communicating with a person, whether via voice call or text, gaming or internet (someone put that information there). This extends the actor network. We are interacting with the mobile phone through prescriptive designations — forms in which the interactions are structured. The smart phone itself is not a passive tool through which humans achieve actions, but rather it is anthropomorphic, giving shape to the network.


Using the example of smart phone communication, what are some of the other human and non-human factors in the Actor-Network Theory , and what are their prescriptive, delagative, and translative atributes?


The network is always changing, but does the charger work? (this is the only clean version I could find)

More Quotations

“The received view of technological determinism would look at the scene [desktop computer and hardware accessories] described and consider the computer to be the center of attention. It would focus on how the computer affects life: changes work habits, communication patterns, posture, and so forth” (137).

“In contrast, the received view of cultural determinism would look at the scene in Greg’s office and focus on how the computer in general and this computer in particular have been developed in response to the to the needs of computer users such as Greg. The computer itself almost disappears from the picture, obscured by the functions for which it was developed and to which it is put” (137).

“The causal approach [of cultural and technological determinism] does not adequately grasp the particulars of situations” (138).

“A causal approach is reductive; that is, it reduces the multiple elements that matter into a simple line of determination that holds ‘true’ for all causes” (138).

“To obtain a richer view of the role and work of technology, we propose a multidimensional view that is sensitive to the contingent interplay of a wider variety of factors, what we call the work of articulation” (138).

“To insist that the interplay is contingent is to recognize that culture (or technology) is not a set of stable, unchanging and fixed elements or components, but rather a set of dynamic, changing, and interrelated connections or relations, within which elements and components (such as a computer) are produced and perform work” (138).

“The popular view of agency, as reflected by the dictionary, reduces agency to a thing, and further as the possession of an agent, ultimately with human intentions. It does not recognize, as we’ll explain, agency as a process or a relationship” (139).

“Agency not just about human intention; many elements are involved in relations of agency, including technology. Second, agency is not a possession of agents; rather, it is a process and a relationship in which some elements are designated as agents, as having power to act” (139).

“Technologies are particularly important active participants in everyday life and can be seen as participating in relations of agency” (139).

“Technologies are actually mediators, not intermediaries” (139).

“A mediator is active and presumes a transformation: the demands of both sides are altered to reach common ground” (139).

“In our discussion of the Actor-Network Theory we seem to have slipped into using a construction we initially objected to: referring to technologies as objects possessing agency” (144).

“What technologies do is not that different from what humans do. Technologies are not mere tools that we use, but active forces in the world” (145).