Actor‐Network Theory, Callon's Scallops, and Process‐Based Organization Studies

Tor Hernes

in Process, Sensemaking, and Organizing

Published in print November 2010 | ISBN: 9780199594566
Published online January 2011 | e-ISBN: 9780191595721 | DOI:

Series: Perspectives on Process Organization

Actor‐Network Theory, Callon's Scallops, and Process‐Based Organization Studies

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In this chapter I present a comparison between Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and process thinking, with the aim of understanding the potential contribution of ANT to process-based process thinking. Such a comparison is important, given the increased focus on process thinking and the growing interest in ANT in process thinking. I suggest three topics of comparison between the two, all of which are central to process thinking. They are as follows: the becoming of things, heterogeneous relationality, and contingency and time. It seems clear from the comparison that ANT has much to offer process-based process thinking. Most importantly, ANT works from an ontology of becoming rather than assuming that entities can be defined in terms of pre-given competencies and capabilities. Where ANT has limitations for the study of organization is at the level of actor networks and their conceptualization of meaning making. I seek to address this by introducing the notion of meaning structures. ANT tends to take a flat view of actor networks, where cohesion depends on the strength of associations between actors and the meaning that actors make of their respective connections, rather than the wholeness of the network. I suggest that meaning structures, inherent to the process thinking represented in pragmatism and phenomenology, may be used to adapt ANT, making it more appropriate for process-based process thinking. Meaning structures imply that actors sense both wholeness and parts, enabling meaning making to transcend the level of local connections. Whereas this capacity is reserved to human actors, it does not necessarily violate the ANT principle of symmetry between human and material actors.

Keywords: Actor-network Theory; meaning structures; process thinking; process philosophy

Chapter.  9910 words. 

Subjects: Organizational Theory and Behaviour

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