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A Companion to the Philosophy of Technology by Vincent F. Hendricks, Stig Andur Pedersen, Jan Kyrre Berg Olsen Friis

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4. Theory and Description

In actant-network theory, what are constitutive features of actant agency? As already noted, these are figuration and traceability – which neither singly nor together constitute autonomy, one of the foundations of modernist moral theory. Technological artifacts, just like people, become agents when they exist in a form that makes a difference in the existences and actions of others. To elaborate, Latour adapts an analysis from Marilyn Akrich (1992), who has argued that the designers of technical artifacts place in them scripts indicating their functions or uses. Engineers, inventors and others inscribe worldviews and thereby define actant artifacts with specific competences, motives, aspirations, political prejudices and more. But technical artifacts function like film scripts: they provide frameworks for interactions with other actants; they do not fully determine such actions. Like a piece of music or a drama, they require the interpretation of performance. When a technology is used or performed, it is also possible for de-scription to take place, with new associations between humans and non-humans leading to the emergence of new and often unpredictable agencies.

Artifacts and humans are described as co-shaping the social by means of multiple mediations: translation, composition, blackboxing and delegation. Mediation by translation occurs when a human actant, attempting to reach some end that it may lack – for instance, sufficient strength to achieve ...

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