Policy meets ANT workshop


Call for participation
Policy meets Actor Network Theory: doctoral student workshop

Policy has become “increasingly central concept and instrument in the organization of contemporary societies [and] now impinges on all areas of life so that it’s virtually impossible to ignore or to escape its influence” (Wedel et al 2005: 3). It has been closely associated with the political in terms of decision making, yet it stems into specific domains for setting goals and means of achieving them.  Policy occupies space at the crossroads – for some it is at the overlap of authority, expertise and order. For others it merges politics, science, technology, and society. And for yet others, policy is associated with administration, management and organization. It conveys deliberation and purpose, competence as well as rationality.

The analytical approach known as Actor Network Theory (ANT), born in science and technology studies, is notoriously known for not being a theory in the strict sense of a testable, predictive and explanatory model. Starting as a negative reading of what is the world enacted in much of social theory ANT offers a set of ontological considerations in the larger scheme of things and associated methodological propositions at the level of research design. In the 1990’s, ANT inspired analytics have also ventured to studies of policy via the governmentality studies and their interest in mentalities as well as technologies of government and in the action at a distance. However, governmentality studies today as a mainstream body within policy analysis are more associated with the former interest in ‘mentalities’ of governing.

Our workshop wants to build on these traditions. We want to ask how ANT may enhance our understanding of policy beyond the rationalist vs. social constructionist debate which has marked policy analysis. This question also implies interest in innovative research design for studying policy which would move beyond the traditional commitments to either global or local scaling of research. We want to engage with some of the key propositions of ANT as deployed in our own empirical analyses of complex realities in the making. Here we refer to a series of methodological commitments applied to the study of policy worlds:

  • principle of symmetry as a way of working in the same analytical register with both success and failure of a policy or a reform
  • study of translations as a way of working with the complexities of new and often unexpected realities crafted in policy process and implementation
  • study of socio-material arrangements with a revised concept of agency which allows for materialities to have effects rather than merely index the social and the symbolic; the question extends to what materialities are engaged in holding policy worlds together
  • study of ‘ontological politics’ as a way of working with non-coherent realities and their co-ordination,
  • question of ‘performativity’ as a way to rearticulate analytical focus on the ‘existence’ of policy worlds in the making

Each participant will have 60 minutes allocated to their work. During this hour they will introduce their paper, providing an overview of the content and argument (approximately 10-15 minutes), followed by critical comments and questions from a predefined main discussant (approximately 10-15 minutes). The author then has a ‘right of reply’ (approx. 10 minutes), before general discussion of the paper (approx. 20-25 minutes).

All papers (max 8000 words) will be electronically circulated to all participants two weeks in advance of the workshop. Participants are required to read the papers. Organizers will name main discussants for each paper who will prepare a detailed reflection of the allocated paper.

PhD students interested in joining the workshop should email an abstract (500 words) to the organizers which will show how their research project fits within the parameters of the workshop and provide a brief summary of their paper.  Selected participants will be asked to submit full paper two weeks prior to the event for circulation. Deadline for abstract submission is 30 March 2012.

Workshop will be held on 21 and 22 June 2012.

Venue for the workshop will be confirmed. Currently, funding is being raised to support workshop participants in attending. There will be no attendance fee.

This workshop is part of University of Kent, South-East ESRC Doctoral Training Centre Advance Training in sociology of policy.


David Kocman, School of Social Policy, Sociology and Social Research, University of Kent, dk218@kent.ac.uk
Aleksandra Lis, Department of Sociology and Social Anthropology, Central European University, lis_aleksandra@phd.ceu.hu


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