Latour 4: An ANT reading list

A transcript of an OOPSLA talk: Table of contents

Update 1, update 2, update 3: Added links to some useful reviews.

A reading list

Science in Action (powells, amazon) is probably the best place to start. It’s written in a sprightly style, has good examples, is more of a summary than an original study, and I think has the most immediately applicable ideas.

Laboratory Life (powells, amazon) is an extended case study. It’s Latour’s first book, so many of the ANT concepts are only in embryonic form. The style is a little more turgid than his later books, but not bad for the genre.

The Pasteurization of France (powells, amazon) is another case study (in its first part). The first chapter I remember as being a bit of a slog, but it perks up after that. The style is closing in on Latour’s mature style, which is more accessible to people used to reading technical work and fiction than your average social science text. The second part of the book is pure philosophy, which may or may not interest you.

That’s what I think of as the “case study” branch of the Latour tree. We Have Never Been Modern (powells, amazon) is more of a prescriptive argument than a description. Latour argues that modernity has been successful because it pretends that the social and the natural are separate while at the same time creating ever more complex networks of people and things. The prescriptive question is: where do we go from here? Modern is in Latour’s sprightly style and so nicely readable, except that he has that annoying habit European intellectuals have of assuming that the educated reader is familiar with the history of Western thought. I mention this book because I’m sure there’s something very very relevant to us in it, but I haven’t figured out what yet.

Reassembling the Social (powells, amazon) is subtitled “An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory” but I found it disappointing. It’s not an introduction so much as a revisiting of key points from a long intellectual journey. The audience (I think) already needs to know the material an introduction would introduce. It’s also a sustained and often repetitive argument against two other schools of sociology. I would probably care a lot about that if I were an academic jostling with academics from other schools. Since I’m not, I don’t. It’s worth reading for the completist.

Actor Network Theory and After (powells, amazon) is a collection of papers from a conference; useful for seeing that ANT isn’t just all Latour all the time. Expect the the contributors to write in a more ponderous academic style. I would also put this down for the completist. It does have a nice piece by Latour in which he explains that the only things wrong with Actor-Network Theory are the word “actor”, the word “network”, the word “theory”, and the hyphen. The problem is that all of them lend themselves to misinterpretation.


Latour has written other books. Either I haven’t read them or didn’t have time to revisit them.

PS: While finding the bookseller links above, I ran into some entertaining reviews by Eric Nehrlich. He reviews Science in Action and Reassembling the Social. He’s also reviewed other books I haven’t read: Aramis, or the Love of Technology and The Politics of Nature (here, here, here, and here), which seems to be a follow-on to We Have Never Been Modern. His use of Latour seems similar to what I do. (See here, here, here, and a seemingly endless list of crosslinked postings. Good stuff.)

Software people who read Latour keep popping up. David Carlton has a nice review of The Politics of Nature. It looks like Latour’s framework there is something I could use.

UPDATE: See also Michal Migurski’s good summary of Science in Action.

3 Responses to “Latour 4: An ANT reading list”

  1. Exploration Through Example » Blog Archive » Latour: Table of contents Says:

    […] An ANT reading list. […]

  2. philk Says:

    Thanks for the list, I’ll start at the start…

    I’ll save the request for anthrax books for another time

  3. ailsa Says:

    I strongly rec aramis

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