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CUC2022: Otvaranje u zatvorenom svijetu - postdigitalna znanost i obrazovanje / CUC2022: Opening up in a closed world - postdigital science and education

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Discovering postdigital contexts using Actor Network Theory. A methodological toolkit and guide

In 1961 E H Carr wrote a short pamphlet called ‘What is History’ the basic premise of which was that histories are constructed by selecting items from the past that reflect or justify contemporary positions and contexts. The postdigital is considered by some to describe a present where digital technologies are pervasive and no longer novel and are interwoven within the fabric of society so much so that they can disappear. The same could be said of the standard safety bicycle which probably has far more penetration globally than digital technology but unlike the digital, cannot disappear. This technological icon is credited with social effects ranging from improving fitness to increasing the mobility of the rural working classes in England in early 20th. In the postdigital present it is hard to know what is happening and who or what acts. Citizens are potentially infinitely connected and joined to networks of desire, hope, truth and untruth, creation, and consumption, either knowingly or unknowingly. The territory is unmapped and digital citizens are often unwitting participants in their own surveillance, curation and exploitation through new data driven digital economies and supply chains. Researching the postdigital present, speculating about the postdigital future or realising our own rights and commons are being colonised requires analysis of and within an often complex and opaque digital/analogue socio technical ecosystem. This presentation investigates the back catalogue of socio technical research by reprising Actor Network Theory (ANT) to research postdigital contexts. ANT looks at the interactions of both human and non-human (heterogenous) actors, how networks form, hold together and break apart including any relationships of power that may be evident. In this regard, who and what acts is a basic tenet of an ANT analysis as is the unpacking of network functions of actors to look for purpose and further connections. Central to ANT is the notion of assemblage which means to arrange, combine, and order for a particular purpose and such assemblies are therefore agentic. Law (2008) noted that ANT should not be seen as a theory but as a methodological toolkit for ‘turning over interesting stones’. This presentation explores how such a toolkit can be applied to Postdigital contexts to make their actors, connections, and network effects visible. A point of departure is the mapping and defining of boundaries around what is to be studied and ANT can help with this. At the same time as mapping, tracing - the drawing of connections between network actors is also important as is the researcher’s own position of inclusion in the network and as arbiter of the networks’ extent. Equally, ANT sees networks as purposefully agentic and how actors are recruited to join networks is important too. Finally, the presentation considers the network effects of actant switching through a process of speculative design and provocations – a series of what ifs – resulting from analogue practices becoming digital.

Karl Royle
University of Wolverhampton, Wolverhampton, UK
United Kingdom

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