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In and out of actor-network theory: a necessary but insufficient journey

Mitev, Nathalie (2009) In and out of actor-network theory: a necessary but insufficient journey. Information Technology and People, 22 (1). pp. 9-25. ISSN 0950-3845

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Identification Number: 10.1108/09593840910937463


Abstract: Purpose – This paper seeks to offer a retrospective look at an intellectual journey in and out of using actor-network theory, which the author drew on to carry out an in-depth case study of the troubled implementation of a computerised reservation system in a major transport company. The application of some key ANT concepts, i.e. human and non-human actors, symmetry and translation, is reflected upon, highlighting their benefits and limitations. Design/methodology/approach – The paper's aims are accomplished through a confessional account of how it was done, rather than a normative post hoc justification. Some empirical evidence is provided to illustrate the difficulties and problems encountered in travelling back and forth between theory, methodology and data. Findings – In particular, ANT was very useful in focusing the paper on how to look at IS success and failure symmetrically and how social and technical distinctions are socially constructed, for instance in the conception and application of yield management software. Formulating a series of translations to encompass a large number of actors is shown to have provided some explanatory capacity. But a limitation is how to relate local and global actors, which is also a matter of power relations and politics. Originality/value – The paper explains why, as a late and unplanned reaction to this, but also in contradiction with ANT principles, it ended up complementing ANT with Clegg's theory of power to bridge that gap. The paper concludes with a discussion of where the difficulties lie in using ANT and how it can be misused in IS research; the author argues that this is due to a lack of exposure to post-structuralism in IS research, compared with other management-related disciplines; and that recent efforts by scholars in the science and technology studies field to combine constructivist approaches such as ANT with critical social analysis should be considered.

Item Type: Article
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Additional Information: © 2009 Emerald Publishing Group
Divisions: LSE
Subjects: T Technology > T Technology (General)
H Social Sciences > HE Transportation and Communications
Date Deposited: 26 Jun 2009 08:33
Last Modified: 10 Jun 2024 20:06

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