ETC Workshop on Theory

We are glad to announce the final event of Hilary term 2023, Discussing ‘Actor-Network Theory’: ETC Online Workshop in Memory of Bruno Latour.

Texts are often said to be produced within a so-called ‘social context’, which is often characterised by institutions organised along diverse lines from kinship to patronage, and along several axes such as age, gender, and class. A more fundamental issue that is not often addressed in humanistic fields is how these characteristics fit into a more foundational, theoretical definition of a ‘social context’. What does the term ‘social’ encompass? Is ‘the social’ a distinct domain of reality, or, as Latour (2005) puts it, simply ‘a trail of association between heterogeneous elements’? Can a deeper understanding of social entanglement enhance appreciation of texts in early cultures?  This workshop aims to investigate those questions, beginning with a general overview and proceeding to specific case studies. It will explore Actor-Network Theory and its application to the study of ancient and pre-modern texts and written cultures. 

The workshop will take place on Friday 17 March, 10 am-12 pm UK time.

To receive the Zoom link, please register here.


Flaminia Pischedda (Oxford)

Bruno Latour, ANT and Its Legacy 

Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is a theoretical framework developed by French sociologists Bruno Latour and Michel Cullon, together with British anthropologist  John Law. It aims to describe the complex relationships between both human and nonhuman ‘actors’ (or ‘actants’), preoccupied with the process of ordering or the ways in which societal order is achieved and the roles played by nonhuman entities, including material things, in that process. Originating in science and technology studies (STS) in the early 1980s, ANT has since percolated into diverse fields in the social sciences. Rather than ‘a neatly demarcated approach that can be “picked up” and applied across different empirical domains’ (Michael, 2017), ANT may be better regarded as ‘a complex resource that opens up methodological, empirical, analytic and political questions about the processes taking place in the (more-than-)social world.’ In this talk, I shall provide a general overview on ANT and highlight its legacy by discussing how it has been applied to various academic fields over the past decades

Uroš Matić (ÖAW)

Spaces of Fear: An ANT Perspective on Intimidation in New Kingdom Egyptian Palaces 

A number of ancient Egyptian textual sources describe the frightening experience of courtiers in their encounter with the king. Potential spatial settings of such encounters are known. However, until now there has been no attempt to investigate if the structure and material properties of these spaces could have been built and arranged in exactly such a manner to intimidate the Pharaoh’s subjects. By re-contextualising well known ancient Egyptian palace installations (dais), furniture (throne stools), wall and floor paintings and decoration, objects (footrests; walking sticks) and analysing the textual and iconographic evidence on appropriate movement, it is possible to write a novel Actor-Network-Theory driven description of frightening experiences. In this lecture I will argue that paths of movement, spatial structure, visual aspects and smell, worked together with rules of conduct to produce vulnerable subjects. Intimidation thus does not emanate solely from the figure of the Pharaoh, as textual sources want us to believe, but from a complex assemblage of spatial setting, materialities, sights and smells.

Wenyan Luo (Lingnan)

Translation as Actor-Networking: The Translation of Journey to the West as a Case Study

In my recent book Translation as Actor-Networking, I apply actor-network theory to explore the production of Monkey: A Folk-tale of China. Monkey is the English translation of Xi You Ji (Journey to the West), translated by Arthur David Waley and first published in the UK by George Allen & Unwin Ltd. in the 1940s. Having been applied to Translation Studies since the early 2000s, actor-network theory (ANT) is still relatively under-studied in the field of translation, especially compared to Bourdieu’s social practice approach. In this talk, I aim to answer some questions that are key to the studies that take an ANT approach: what were the actors of the translation? How did they interact to produce the translation? How did they affect the translation both as process and product? I will introduce the key concepts of ANT, how ANT has been applied in the book and elsewhere in Translation Studies, and the major findings and possible future developments of ANT-based translation studies. Moreover, I will share her research experience, to give the audience an impression of what a researcher might experience conducting ANT-informed research.