After ANT: complexity, naming and topology

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Contributed date

February 16, 2019 - 4:23am

Critical Commentary

What is a theory? Or, more broadly, what is a good way of addressing intellectual problems? This paper explores the tension central to the notion of an 'actor' - 'network' which is an intentionally oxymoronic term that combines—and elides the distinction between—structure and agency. It then notes that this tension has been lost as 'actor-network' has been converted into a smooth and consistent 'theory' that has been (too) simply and easily displaced, criticised or applied. It recalls another term important to the actor-network approach—that of translation— which is another term in tension, since (the play of words works best in the romance languages) to translate is to also betray {traductore, tradition). It is suggested that in social theory simplicity should not displace the complexities of tension. The chapter concludes by exploring a series of metaphors for grappling with tensions rather than wishing these away, and in particular considers the importance of topological complexity, and the notion of fractionality.


Law, John. "After ANT: complexity, naming and topology." The Sociological Review 47, no. S1 (1999): 1-14.



Cite as

John Law, "After ANT: complexity, naming and topology ", contributed by Parikshith Shashikumar, STS Infrastructures, Platform for Experimental Collaborative Ethnography, last modified 16 February 2019, accessed 17 May 2022.