Sergey S. Astakhov

National Research University — Higher School of Economics, Moscow, Russia

In the late 1990s, many researchers in STS were looking for new metaphors to replace the outdated and much-criticized vocabulary of actors and networks. Pickering, Haraway, Cussins, Law, and Mol put much effort into developing a new conceptual language. The main goal of the article is to conceptualize the so-called “Lancaster school” (Law, Mol) in ANT as a particular theoretical style. In the first part of the article, we propose a mapping of the problems that Latour, Law, and Mol encountered in the 1990s. ANT was criticized for its highly controversial concepts of time, the gap between its ethnographic sensitivity and theory of modernity, and for ignoring the phenomenon of alterity. We reconceptualize these critiques as problems of “pre-network”, “above-network” and “outer-network”. In the second part, we analyze how Law and Mol tried to solve these problems by creating a new conceptual style. Law gradually moved away from the metaphor of network towards more flexible abstractions like “modes of ordering” and “method assemblages”. Together with Mol, they solved the problem of managerialism by introducing the concepts of “flows” and “fractional objects”. In the third part, we explicate the key differences between the two branches of ANT. They interpret reflexivity and retroactivity differently, they do not agree on the nature of modernity; finally, they propose different
approaches to contingency.
Keywords: actor-network theory, Lancaster school, network, method assemblage