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Actor Network, Ontic Structural Realism and the Ontological Status of Actants
Stockholm University, Faculty of Social Sciences, Department of Education.
2014 (English)In: Proceedings of the Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning 2014 / [ed] S. Bayne, C. Jones, M. de Laat, T. Ryberg, C. Sinclair, 2014, 195-202 p.Conference paper, Published paper (Refereed)
Abstract [en]

In this paper I discuss the ontological status of actants. Actants are argued as being the basic constituting entities of networks in the framework of Actor Network Theory (Latour, 2007). I introduce two problems concerning actants that have been pointed out by Collin (2010). The first problem concerns the explanatory role of actants. According to Collin, actants cannot play the role of explanans of networks and products of the same newtork at the same time, at pain of circularity. The second problem is that if actants are, as suggested by Latour, fundamentally propertyless, then it is unclear how they combine into networks. This makes the nature of actants inexplicable.

I suggest that both problems rest on the assumption of a form of object ontology, i.e. the assumption that the ontological basis of reality consists in discrete individual entities that have intrinsic properties. I argue that the solution to this problem consists in the assumption of an ontology of relations, as suggested within the framework of Ontic Structural Realism (Ladyman & Ross, 2007). Ontic Structural Realism is a theory concerning the ontology of science that claims that scientific theories represent a reality consisting on only relation, and no individual entities.

Furthermore I argue that the employment of OSR can, at the price of little modification for both theories, solve both of the two problems identified by Collin concerning ANT.

Throughout the text I seek support for my claims by referring to examples of application of ANT to the context of networked learning. As I argue, the complexity of the phenomenon of networked learning gives us a convenient vantage point from which we can clearly understand many important aspects of both ANT and OSR.

While my proposal can be considered as an attempt to solve Collin's problems, it is also an experiment of reconciliation between analytic and constructivist philosophy of science.

In fact I point out that on the one hand Actor Network Theory and Ontic Structural Realism show an interesting number of points of agreement, such as the naturalistic character and the focus on relationality. On the other hand, I argue that all the intuitive discrepancies that originates from the Science and Technology Studies’ criticism against analytic philosophy of science are at a closer look only apparent.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
2014. 195-202 p.
Keyword [en]
Actor Network Theory, Ontic Structural Realism, Relational Ontology, Actants/Actors
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
URN: urn:nbn:se:su:diva-103026ISBN: 978-1-86220-304-4 (print)OAI: oai:DiVA.org:su-103026DiVA: diva2:714425
Conference
Ninth International Conference on Networked Learning, Edinburgh, Scotland, 7th, 8th, 9th April, 2014
Available from: 2014-04-28 Created: 2014-04-28 Last updated: 2017-03-15Bibliographically approved
In thesis
1. A Field of Veiled Continuities: Studies in the Methodology and Theory of Educational Research
Open this publication in new window or tab >>A Field of Veiled Continuities: Studies in the Methodology and Theory of Educational Research
2017 (English)Doctoral thesis, comprehensive summary (Other academic)
Abstract [en]

Empirical educational research enjoys a methodological and theoretical debate that is characterized by a number of unresolved and lively debated controversies. This compilation thesis is an attempt to contribute to this debate using the toolbox of philosophy of science.

The thesis consists of an introductory chapter and four essays. In the introductory chapter I identify three methodological and theoretical controversies that are discussed within the field of educational research. These are: 1) the controversy concerning the scientific status of educational research; 2) the controversy between cognitive and sociocultural theories of learning; and, 3) the controversy between realist and constructionist interpretations of theories of learning.

I provide in the essays a critical assessment of the claims behind each of these controversies, and argue for an alternative reconstruction of these issues.

In Essay I, I criticize a view about the interpretation of human action, labeled in the text as interpretivism. This view posits a sharp separation between the natural and social sciences, to the effect that the methods of the latter cannot be applied to the former. The first controversy seems to rest on this position. As I argue, the arguments in support of interpretivism are contradicted by actual research practice. I conclude that the interpretivistic claims lack support and that the general separation claim appears as problematic.

A further debate has fueled the first controversy, that is, the supposed distinction between qualitative and quantitative methods. In Essay II, I argue against this distinction. More specifically, I discuss the concept of empirical support in the context of qualitative methods (for short, qualitative support). I provide arguments that although there are two specific and non-trivial properties of qualitative support, there is no methodological separation between quantitative and qualitative methods concerning empirical support.

Considered together, the first two essays indicate two points of methodological continuity between educational research and other scientific practices (such as the natural sciences). I therefore conclude that the controversy concerning the scientific status of educational research rests in large part on unjustified claims.

Essay III focuses on the second controversy. In this article I argue that Suárez’ inferential approach to the concept of scientific representation can be used as an account of scientific representation in learning, regardless of whether learning is understood as a cognitive or social phenomenon.

The third controversy is discussed in Essay IV. Here, I discuss some ontological aspects of the framework of the actor-network theory. Reflecting on the use of this framework in the research field of Networked Learning, I argue that the assumption of an ontology of relations provides the solution for two puzzles about the ontology of networks. The relevance of my argument for the third controversy is that it suggests a point of connection between constructionist and realist interpretations of the ontology of learning.

The last two essays suggest two points of continuities between theoretical frameworks that have been and still are argued to be incompatible.

Place, publisher, year, edition, pages
Stockholm: Department of Education, Stockholm University, 2017. 75 p.
Series
Doktorsavhandlingar från Institutionen för pedagogik och didaktik, 49
Keyword
Methodology of Educational Research, Educational Theory, Educational Philosohy, Philosophy of the Social Sciences, Causal Explanations of Actions, Qualtative Methods, Scientific Representation, Learning, Actor Network Theory, Ontic Structural Realism
National Category
Pedagogy
Research subject
Education
Identifiers
urn:nbn:se:su:diva-140475 (URN)978-91-7649-732-6 (ISBN)978-91-7649-733-3 (ISBN)
Public defence
2017-05-05, De Geersalen, Geovetenskapens hus, Svante Arrhenius väg 14, Stockholm, 13:00 (English)
Opponent
Supervisors
Note

At the time of the doctoral defense, the following paper was unpublished and had a status as follows: Paper 2: Manuscript.

Available from: 2017-04-10 Created: 2017-03-09 Last updated: 2017-03-28Bibliographically approved

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