Actor-network theory.pdf

Download Actor-network theory.pdf

Post on 23-Oct-2015




2 download

Embed Size (px)


network theory


<ul><li><p> Sociology</p><p> online version of this article can be found at:</p><p>DOI: 10.1177/0268580909351325 2010 25: 818International Sociology</p><p>Jan-Hendrik Passoth and Nicholas J. RowlandActor-Network State : Integrating Actor-Network Theory and State Theory</p><p>Published by:</p><p></p><p>On behalf of: </p><p> International Sociological Association</p><p> can be found at:International SociologyAdditional services and information for </p><p> Alerts: </p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p> </p><p> What is This? </p><p>- Nov 18, 2010Version of Record &gt;&gt; </p><p> by guest on October 25, 2012iss.sagepub.comDownloaded from </p></li><li><p>International Sociology November 2010 Vol. 25(6): 818841 The Author(s) 2010</p><p>Reprints and permissions: 10.1177/0268580909351325</p><p>Actor-Network StateIntegrating Actor-Network Theory and State Theory</p><p>Jan-Hendrik PassothUniversity of Bielefeld</p><p>Nicholas J. RowlandPennsylvania State University</p><p>abstract: This conceptual article draws on literature in the sociology of science on modelling. The authors suggest that if state theory can be conceptualized as an engine rather than merely a camera, in that policy is mobilized to make the world fit the theory, then this has implications for conceptualizing states. To examine this possibility the authors look through the lens of actor-network theory (ANT) and in doing so articulate a relationship between two models of the state in the literature. They find that an actor model of the state is accepted by many scholars, few of whom develop network models of the state. In response, this study introduces an actor-network model and proposes that its contribution to state theory is in rethinking the character of modern states to be the outcome of actually performed assemblages of all those practices of building it, protecting it, governing it and theorizing about it.</p><p>keywords: organization political sociology sociological theory</p><p>What are states? Classic answers include normative claims of what states should be or empirical descriptions of what states really are. However, prescriptive and descriptive approaches routinely coexist in political theory, international relations, international law and social theory. Models of political action and political actions that result in new models, we propose, hold valuable insights related to performativity, in particular, regarding the character of modern states.Performativity, as coined by Austin (1970: 235), describes instances </p><p>where in saying what I do, I actually perform the action. Callon (1998) introduced the term to the sociology of economics and finance, suggesting </p><p> by guest on October 25, 2012iss.sagepub.comDownloaded from </p></li><li><p>Passoth &amp; Rowland Actor-Network State</p><p>819</p><p>that economics performs the economy, creating the phenomena it describes (MacKenzie and Millo, 2003: 108). MacKenzie (2006: 17) pre-pared a possible classification of four performativities. Basic levels of performativity include generic, which is the mere use of an aspect of theory in practice, and effective, where the aspect of theory being used in practice has an observable effect on the processes it depicts. MacKenzie (2006) asks readers to be especially cautious when considering deeper levels of performativity, which include Barnesian, where the use of an aspect of theory in practice shapes processes so that they becomes more like their depiction in theory, and counter-performativity, where the use of an aspect of theory in practice results in processes unlike their depic-tion in theory. The same case can be made with respect to political theories and state engineering.Political action has never been an exclusively academic exercise, and </p><p>the gap between theory and practice is a commonly voiced concern, for example, in literature on foreign policy (George, 1993; Nye, 2008). This gap is related to modelling because models guide practice but they are also used to improve knowledge. Models are designed to be parsimoni-ous abstractions but are also constantly edited to create ever more exact-ing depictions of issues under study. The boundary separating academic political theory and practical political action is porous in places and fixed in others, and discovering where and when is an important empirical matter, but one that is outside the confines of this article. The primary contribution of this article is to bring in action through </p><p>actor-network theory (ANT), which we consider necessary for future per-formativity research linking political theory and practice. If state theory is performative, then this implies that states are performed. To unlock this idea, we suggest, state theory could best see states as performed through the concepts and implied methodology of ANT. To that end, we review state theory and show how scholars depict the state to be an actor (i.e. a macro-entity with quasi-interests, quasi-goals and quasi-actions) and how few scholars depict the state to be a network (i.e. elaborate webs of dis-tributed agency). We then outline how an actor-network concept of the state helps to overcome (some of) the problems of the state as an actor and the state as a network models while at the same time not devaluing previous empirical findings or purporting that they are obsolete. We con-clude by reconsidering the value and dangers of performativity and document common criticisms aimed at actor-network approaches. We expect this article to be of interest to scholars pursuing performativ-</p><p>ity of politics research and that it holds promise for expanding the rele-vance of ANT outside science and technology studies (STS). While initially developed in STS, ANT was always intended to be a general theory of action, and one that we suggest is particularly well suited to </p><p> by guest on October 25, 2012iss.sagepub.comDownloaded from </p></li><li><p>International Sociology Vol. 25 No. 6</p><p>820</p><p>studies of state and state formation. Lastly, we review a vast literature in this short article; but we had to be selective and acknowledge that some readers will be dissatisfied.</p><p>Modelling the State in State Theory</p><p>State theories have been, for a long time, seen as blueprints for actual political practices, which makes a mixture of normative and descriptive elements the specialty of political theory. As a construct in political phi-losophy, the state has always been a shared term with a long history and many meanings. The advent of modernity and modern social theory changed the situation. In attempts to reconceptualize the state as an ele-ment of modern social order, social theory formulated models of the state, with the model seeing the state as an actor being the most accepted. </p><p>The Rise of Actor ModelsSeeing states as actors has been a well-spring for research, and by being a useful concept for political and governmental consulting, it has become a stable and robust model in sociological and political theory. It enabled a large body of research on how states relate to other states by signing contracts and waging war, how states relate to their civil societies and how states relate to other organizational entities of modern political life. But while it is mostly associated with the movement towards neostatism, towards bringing the state back in (Evans et al., 1985), its genealogy is more diffuse and intertwined. It emerged as a model of the state as an actor that mediates conflicting interests of different social groups in classical liberalism and as a model of the state as an actor whose actions are instrumental to maintaining social order in orthodox Marxism in the 19th and early 20th century. While social theory moved away from liber-alism during the second half of the 20th century and, driven by scholars like Parsons, Easton and Dahl, towards a different analysis of political systems, Marxism emerged as an asylum for modelling the state.Scholarly emphasis on this area is remarkable given the lack of explicit </p><p>conceptual tools for understanding the state in Marxs and Engels writ-ings. Marxs own account of the state is seemingly bipartite. Younger Marx (1970) thought of the state as semi-autonomous from the capitalist class and its interests. Later Marx reduced the state to something that directly served the interests of the ruling bourgeoisie (Marx and Engels, 1998). It was late Marxs conceptualization of the state that was perpetu-ated by the Second International and the Comintern. This instrumentalist approach (i.e. the state as an instrument of the ruling class used for dom-ination and exploitation) is therefore what is commonly linked to Marxist theories of the state (see Jessop [1977] for a review). However, some </p><p> by guest on October 25, 2012iss.sagepub.comDownloaded from </p></li><li><p>Passoth &amp; Rowland Actor-Network State</p><p>821</p><p>important transformations took place in Marxist theorizing during the 1960s and 1970s. Poulantzass (1978) move towards structuralism followed by poststructuralism and discourse theory (see Golding [1992] for later systematic approaches; see also Holub, 1992; Smart, 1986), progressively understood the state as a manifestation of power relations, transforming the concept of the state so that some relative autonomy of states and state projects could be analysed.Additionally, there was an increasing interest in the various forms of </p><p>capitalist welfare states, which fostered research in the complex interplay of social struggles and institutions (Jessop, 1977, 1990). Modelling the state as an instrument (i.e. as a structure that serves capitalism regardless of who in fact controls it, as a calculating subject, the ideal collective capital-ist) was replaced by a concept of the state as an ensemble of institutions that served specific, concrete class interests (e.g. Miliband, 1969; Offe, 1972). The model of the autonomous state developed as a byproduct of the attempts to overcome the instrumentalist and therefore reductive approach of traditional Marxist state theory and, thus, the state as an actor, one could say, was born of neo-Marxist theorizing during the 1960s and 1970s.</p><p>Towards a Reified Actor Model of State AutonomyNeo-Marxist state theory did transform the concept of the state so that some relative autonomy of states and state projects could be analysed. But for those who initiated an intellectual sea change (Evans et al., 1985: 4) in the 1980s this relative autonomy was not enough. By suggesting an increased relevance of the state in political science and historical sociol-ogy, they called for an even stronger position of historical comparative enquiry in the specific institutional forms and their contexts. Reaching back to a certain interpretation of Webers definition of the state as a compulsory political organization with continuous operations [politischer Anstaltsbetrieb] . . . [whose] administrative staff successfully upholds the claim of the monopoly of the legitimate use of physical force in the enforcement of its order (Weber, 1978: 54), neostatism opted for a strong actor model of relative and potential state autonomy. States could be weaker or stronger actors in the internal and external organizational proc-esses of political relations (Mann, 1983). Modelled as an entity acting in a world-historic context, states were structured by environments of rela-tionships, conflicts between different groups and nations and sets of insti-tutional structures embedded within international and domestic conditions (Skocpol, 1979: 290). The state was therefore not per se an autonomous entity; it gained and lost autonomy under specific historical circumstances. Neostatism freed state theory from conceptualizing the state as either </p><p>an instrument of control or a disinterested mediator between diverse </p><p> by guest on October 25, 2012iss.sagepub.comDownloaded from </p></li><li><p>International Sociology Vol. 25 No. 6</p><p>822</p><p>groups, which opened up new possibilities for comparative research. For example, this transition shed light on the distinct mechanisms of institu-tional infrastructure that enabled state managers to wield power (e.g. Mann, 1985; Nordlinger, 1981). It also helped scholars to ask about the ways in which state formation and war-making shape the institutional infrastructure in which states are embedded (e.g. Mann, 1987; Porter, 1996; Tilly, 1973). By inspiring this research and by being a useful concept for political and governmental consulting, it has become a stable and robust concept in sociological and political theory in recent decades. It also distracted from a set of other questions, however: the link between social movements and states, gender issues and a lot more (see Gordon, 1990; Jessop, 2001). Seeing the state as an actor, when laced with political conservatism and </p><p>anti-Marxism during the 1980s and 1990s (Binder, 1986; Mahon, 1991), was transformed from a clear analytical concept to a taken-for-granted theoretical presumption. This way of thinking about the state has already been criticized by scholars like Abrams (1988), who argued that the emer-gence of the state as a political or pragmatic tool was always a part of history rather than an assumed aspect of all sovereign governments. The notion of the state was potentially dangerous for scholars because:</p><p>The state is . . . in every sense of the term a triumph of concealment. It conceals the real history and relations of subjection behind an a-historical mask of legitimating illusion: contrives to deny the existence of connections and con-flicts which would if recognised be incompatible with the claimed autonomy and integration of the state. The real official secret, however, is the secret of the non-existence of the state. (Abrams, 1988: 77)</p><p>By conceptualizing the state as something that has a certain out-there-ness and by reifying it as an acting entity, the state has been frequently confused as an actual macro-being in its own right an entity whose actions can be studied by social researchers and abstractly systematized by political theo-rists. For example, Scott (1998) provides an image of the state as a central agency, which, through the creation and implementation of state planning policies to improve the aggregate lives of target populations, appears like a source of concerted action. Scotts (1998: 89) research describes state-driven planning as a high-modern project spanning the 1800s until the First World War, which, in Mitchells (1991: 83) words, makes the state appear like a person writ large. This conceptualization is not without its uses; however, its limitations are predictable. According to Carroll:</p><p>When social scientists uncritically adopt the idiom the actor-state, they do not so much describe a political reality as become agents in the construction and institutionalization of the...</p></li></ul>