Actor-network theory and learning


Actor-network theory has been characterised by a strong aversion to cognitive metaphors and explanations ever since its early history. In the Postscript to the second edition of Laboratory Life (1986: 280), Latour and Woolgar go as far as calling for a moratorium on cognitive explanations:”Perhaps the best way to express our position is by proposing a ten-year moratorium on cognitive explanations of science. If our French epistemologist colleagues are sufficiently confident in the paramount importance of cognitive phenomena for understanding science, they will accept the challenge. We hereby promise that if anything remains to be explained at the end of this period, we too will turn to the mind!”

Latour’s (1988: 218; 226) Irreductions also mounted an attack on knowledge as an explanatory concept: “Knowledge doesn’t exist – what would it be?” (…) There is no such thing as ‘knowledge.'” (A notable exception is Edwin Hutchins’s (1995) theory of distributed cognition, which was fully embraced by actor-network theory, as despite its disciplinary affiliation it made some very important contributions to understanding the role of physical artefacts in cognition, and thus furthered the programme of ANT.)

All this perhaps explains why the field of learning and education has been relatively slow in taking on board the insights of actor-network theory. This situation is about to change however, thanks to an interesting doctoral course coming up in the autumn at the Danish School of Education at Aarhus University: “Introduction to Actor-Network Theory and its application in learning research.


Latour, B. (1988). The Pasteurization of France. Cambridge, Mass.; London, Harvard University Press.

Latour, B. and S. Woolgar (1986). Laboratory Life: The Construction of Scientific Facts. Princeton, N.J, Princeton University Press.


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3 Responses to “Actor-network theory and learning”

  1. ailsa Says:

    Similarities can also be seen here with connectivism; worth a look at George Siemens and Stephen Downes connectivism as a learning theory, their work would be much enhanced if it were to look at actor-network theory.

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