Tommaso Venturini, Anders Kristian Munk, and Mathieu Jacomy

Download Full EssayActor-Network versus Network Analysis versus Digital Networks

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This paper discusses the differences and affinities among three types of networks (namely Actor-Networks, Social Networks and Digital Networks) that are playing an increasingly important role in digital STS. In the last few decades, the notion of networks has slowly but steadily struck root across  broad strands of STS research. It started with the advent of actor-network theory, which provided a convenient instrument to describe the construction work of socio-technical phenomena. Then came network analysis, and scholars who imported into STS the techniques of investigation and visualization developed in the tradition of social network analysis and scientometrics. Finally, with the increasing ‘computerization’ of STS, scholars turned their attention to digital networks as a way of tracing collective life. Many researchers have more or less explicitly tried to link these three movements in one coherent set of digital methods, betting on the idea that actor-network theory can be operationalized through network analysis thanks to the data provided by digital networks. Yet, to be honest, the affinity between these three objects is sketchy at best. Besides the homonym ‘network’, there is little to is little to show for it. Are we sure that we are talking about the same thing?