Accepted Paper:

Uses of ANT in design research: towards a critical dialogue  


Ali O. Ilhan (Ozyegin University)
Harun Kaygan (Middle East Technical University)
Sebnem Timur Ogut (Istanbul Technical University)

Paper short abstract:

The paper reviews the uses of actor network theory and related terminologies in design literature in the last decade from a critical perspective, and underlines the opportunities and pitfalls towards establishing a dialogue between the two fields of STS and design.

Paper long abstract:

Actor Network Theory (ANT) has been increasingly utilized in recent design literature, albeit often with a celebratory rather than critical tone.ANT indeed provides a powerful toolbox to untangle complex technoscientific assemblages, yet—like any other large framework—it is not without its shortcomings. We argue that ANT's full potential in design research can only be realized through a critical lens.

To this end, we review four distinct uses of ANT terminologies in design research. These are (a) theoretical introductions for design researchers, (b) ANT analyses of design products, which typically foreground the concept of nonhuman agency, (c) ANT analyses of design processes, which often return to Callon and Law's early work, and (d) the uses of ANT concepts, and especially Latour's writings, to theoretically ground co-design practices. For each of these headings, we identify key opportunities and potential pitfalls by turning to the original theory and its well-established critiques such as the problematic status of the notion of non-human agency, problem of managerialism and disregard for existing social structures.

We argue that such a critical dialogue with design research can be beneficial also for the STS field at large. Despite its increased relevance today with regard to material, organizational and social change, the agency of design is still largely missing from STS accounts. We demonstrate that current engagements with ANT in design literature provides questions and arguments that complements the STS interest in the mutual shaping of the social and the technological.

Panel C12
Colliding theories, cultures, and futures. STS view(s) beyond the horizon. Or: STS diaspora