Recently, someone asked a question of the Association of Internet Researchers mailing list regarding the use of actor-network theory (ANT) with the analysis of why (WoW) gamers have a negative stereotype.
A flurry of activity occurred commenting about the use of ANT. It’s not a method but a framework, for example.
I was excited because I am thinking of using ANT to look at WoW raiding practice, and since I wanted to get feedback, too, I posted the following:
I’ve recently starting reading about ANT and have been toying with the idea of analyzing how a raid in WoW works through an ANT lens, though I am unsure what it’ll get me more than using distributed cognition (Hutchins) or just simply describing the learning arrangement between various humans and nonhumans to get the job done.
I guess my problem with ANT is that it seems boundless in terms of macro vs. micro analysis. As has been mentioned, an actor network can be made up of actor networks. Where does one start?
So, for example, I have a 40 person raid group that learns to kill a boss over several weeks. It seems like each person should be considered an actor that had to be translated into the network. We’ve also collectively used certain addons and tools within the game to help us manage cognitive load and to make transparent some of the underworkings of the game. Does each of these addons get counted? Does each iteration of an addon get counted (40 people running the same addon in slightly different ways, positioned on the screen differently, paying attention to different parts of the addon, etc.)? Do specific functions of the addon get separated as individual actors? Do different elements of the UI get separated? To back up, do specific people get broken down to mind-body-fingers?
Latour (writing as Johnson) briefly mentions that a door closer, an actor that’s been delegated the task of making a hole back into a wall, can be further broken down into the mechanisms in the whole object (egs. a spring, a metal cylinder). Is it completely arbitrary where a researcher draws the line?
In Reassembling the Social, Latour emphasizes tracing associations, which is possibly an answer to my above questions. I could concentrate on describing practice in the raid activity as I see it (which is pretty much what I’ve been doing for a while now), but pay particular attention to describing the functions of specific things as they relate to other things. Do this as they come up. In turn, these associations lead to other things that come up. Is that no longer considered ANT but after-ANT?
Is it more useful to describe cognition and memory and material resources within an entity a la dcog than use ANT? (Though my prob with dcog is more that it seems like a snapshot-in-time where I am trying to document the change in practice. ANT seems like it inherently considers instability and change through the act of translation.) Is ANT reserved for bigger arguments about societal relationships? About translation being the leveraging or convincing of other actors to share tasks? Or maybe a dcog analysis is the way to use an ANT lens using my ethnographic mehod…
Lots of questions. Maybe better suited to a blog post, as I’m just throwing ideas out there without much experience with ANT and such… But I thought I’d throw them out since it seems to that me the fastest way to learn something is to make transparent what you don’t know. And my digital ears perked up when I saw Tamara’s first message in this thread. ANT and MMOGs!
NO ONE replied except Bonnie Nardi off list! 🙁
And even then, she gave me some good pointers to articles I should read without any editorial comments of her own. Gah, more reading! :p
Was it not clear enough? I don’t explain distributed cognition at all. I don’t explain ANT at all because I assume the people who were talking about it know more about it than I do. I don’t explain WoW raiding, either, but I thought they’d all know what I was talking about. Also, I didn’t want to make the email even longer than it was…
Ah well… I guess I’ll keep reading.