Actor-Network State plugged on International Law Blog

Jan and I’s paper about the possibility of unlocking the performativity of political science through an actor-network approach to states was just plugged on Larry Backer’s exciting blog on international relations.

Larry’s summary is outstanding, and as good summaries go, it adds to the discussion in the process of reviewing it. Of particular interest to me (and presummably others) is the following point below about using an actor-network approach to understand the relationship between form and function (of presummably any object):

Taken together,  the [actor-network] framework suggests a way of de-centering ideology from the understanding of the state, or for that matter any entity with operational or situational effects.  ‘We know it when we feel it’ is a powerful tool for  examining a thing, especially  dynamic thing that is itself an abstraction.  That applied with equal force to states as it does to multinational corporations and non-governmental organizations like Amnesty International. The notion that character is not inherent in organization–a core presumption in the ideological construction of the state–is particularly useful.  Yet it may also be true that particular clusters of actors gathered within a construct that acts may indeed exhibit a proclivity to particular forms of behavior that may well be inherent in the networked relation though it may not be in the organization itself.  As such, ANT may explain that the character of states is not inherent in the form of the state, but it does not explain why peculiarities of action appear to be replicated in states and multinational corporations when they exhibit particular amalgamations that produce effect.  More importantly, the de-privileging of formal consideration s may produce distortion.  It is well understood in law (and customary system) that function may sometimes follow form, or lmore likely, that from may constrain function.  That leads to a further insight–that form itself has function.  ANT tends to avoid those considerations and thus may become overly indifferent to the form of action (law versus norm; consultation versus imposition for legitimacy effects; etc.).  The focus on ex post effects may also make it harder to provide  insights on future actions.  ANYT, in this sense, may be an approach always seeking to catch up to the present.   Yet for all that, the approach is powerfully sensitive to the internal construction of action and the importance of action on those ideological systems (also an effect) that themselves then produce and contain both the reality of the world within which action is deemed possible and impossible and their justification (also an effect designed to produce self restraint in those who are charged with behaving in appropriate ways).

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About Nicholas

Associate Professor of Sociology, Environmental Studies, and Science and Technology Studies at Penn State, Nicholas mainly writes about understanding the scientific study of states and, thus, it is namely about state theory. Given his training in sociology and STS, he takes a decidedly STS-oriented approach to state theory and issues of governance.

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