“What if Journalists Have Always Been Post-Human? The Non-Human Turn in the Social Sciences & the Analysis of News Practices.”
Abstract submitted to The Nonhuman Turn in 21st Century Studies (May 3-5. 2012. Milwaukee, Wisconsin)
ABSTRACT: The most controversial– and thus perhaps the most useful– aspect of an Actor-Network Theory (ANT) approach to the study of science and technology is that ANT simultaneously acts as (1) a theory of knowledge, (2) a metaphysics, and (3) an empirical method. The central claim of theorists working in the ANT tradition, in other words, is that any analysis of the institutional production of knowledge requires certain ontological commitments and particular methodological approaches. While the underlying unity of this multi-dimensional argument is what renders ANT so powerful, it also opens it up to critique from those who disagree with any of these three central claims. It also invites derision from those social scientists who might prefer letting philosophers deal with metaphysical issues. That the ambitions of ANT now go far beyond the domain of science and technology studies should be obvious from its’ founders recent empirical work, including Latour’s analysis of religion and law, Callon’s studies of economics, and Law’s meta-theorization of research methods. All of these studies, in other words, examine the institutional production of socially ratified knowledge from an idiosyncratic perspective
In this paper I argue that the application of Actor-Network theory to journalism and news can not only provide new insights on journalism, but also sheds new light on the complexities of Actor-Network Theory itself. Unlike science, religion, economics, or even law, journalistic knowledge is a proudly mundane knowledge system, a knowledge produced rapidly, by poorly positioned professionals, often at the demand of a variety of economic and political interests. Journalism has been deeply affected by recent developments in digital economics and culture. Finally, few professionals have been as self-reflexive as journalists when it comes to openly talking about the manner in which their epistemological labor been has affected by emerging material practices. To the degree that ANT can help frame these developments, but also insofar as its’ epistemological, ontological, and methodological commitments must be adjusted in order to think about the production of journalistic knowledge, we can gain new insights into the non-human turn within the social sciences.
The paper proceeds in three parts. In the first part, I review some of the “post-science” scholarship produced by ANTs most prominent theorists: Latour’s The Making of the Law and Jubiler ou Les Tourments de la Parole Religieuse, Callon’s Laws of the Markets, and Law’s “Seeing Like a Survey.” In the second part, I apply these analyses of non-scientific knowledge objects to specifically journalistic objects (news interviews, documents, and reportorial observation, as well as to less-studied news objects like the hyperlink, the algorithm, and the public forum.) In the final part of the paper, I reflect on what an actor-network approach to journalism might teach us about the project of ANT itself.