Actor-Network Theory: why it’s relevant in the cafe

Trying to understand Bruno Latour’s Actor-Network Theory sometime feels as difficult as understanding… Higgs Boson. Explaining Actor-Network Theory to a lay person can feel clumsy and not-so academically accurate. So apologies in advance if this is overly simplistic (or indeed, if it’s overly confusing).

Look around you, can you see your smartphone? I bet it’s within arm’s reach or at least in the same room as you.

Your smartphone was invented by a human. Someone dictated what went where to make it work, they decided what functions it should include.

But then you purchased the smartphone and it started to mould your behaviour, the way you interact with others and how they interact with you. In turn, you’ve added more apps and data to your smartphone to change your actions and influence your living further.

(are you still with me? I hope so.)

My understanding of Actor-Network Theory is that that humans and non-humans (objects, things, concepts) are all ‘actors’ in a ‘network’ where we impact, influence and change one another in equal parts.

And what does this have to do with coffee and wifi?

Actor-Network Theory is just one ‘sociological lens’ we can use to look at the cafe.

I assert that we’re being moulded and shaped by wifi, the location of wifi and the actions we do via wifi. The very fact that wifi is in a cafe shapes the way we interact with others in and out of our immediate vicinity.


2 thoughts on “Actor-Network Theory: why it’s relevant in the cafe

  1. This reasoning can extend beyond the coffee ship. I noticed that the State Library of Queensland essentially halved the age demographic of it’s clientele by offering free wifi.

    it didn’t lose any of it’s older clients but gained a whole new base of uni students, high schoolers, back-packers and casual workers

    • Funny you should mention the library, I’ve noticed that too here at Goldsmiths. Universities worldwide take part in the ‘eduroam’ wifi network. Essentially, anyone with an institutional IT account can access free wifi at other participating unis simply by entering their home university credentials.
      But back to libraries and wifi – I remember when I was doing my undergraduate degree, the university library was virtually empty on the weekend because there wasn’t yet wifi available. Great if you wanted peace and quiet. Now many libraries over here are open 24/7 – I regularly go to the library on Sunday afternoons and it can be difficult to find a space to study. I’m all for it!

      (I also secretly love the idea of all the microfiche readers hanging out amongst the laptops in the State Library…)

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