smsociety15 has ended
Back To Schedule
Tuesday, July 28 • 14:46 - 16:15
"Just What Is Social in Social Media? An Actor-Network Critique of Twitter Agency and Assumptions"

Sign up or log in to save this to your schedule, view media, leave feedback and see who's attending!

Author: Jeffrey M Keefer


While social media includes the applications that support the creation and exchange of user generated and participatory content (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010), the focus is commonly on the presentation or actions of users, the networks created on the platforms, and what we can do to promote our various WIIFMs (What’s In It For Me). It is less studied from the perspective of the networks themselves, especially through the influence and role of the non-human elements. Through this inverted perspective much may be learned, especially involving simple assumptions about the role of agency, namely the power to act (Latour, 2013). It is this social aspect of social media where actor-network theory can be most usefully employed, as the agency of things themselves may frequently be overlooked (Adams & Thompson, 2011) when rushing to understand the black box of assumptions present in social media research and practice.


This theoretical study will explore a seven-part framework (Kietzmann, Hermkens, McCarthy, & Silvestre, 2011) of social media—identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups—through the lens of actor-network theory (ANT). A traditional human-centered study commonly fails to acknowledge the complexity and levels of agency that get black boxed as a frozen network elements (Walsham, 1997, p. 468), resulting in an oversimplification and blurring of networkability.


This study utilizes actor-network theory, a theory or methodological approach that focuses on continuously generated networks, webs of relations, where power can reside within any actor (or to be simpler, any person, place, or thing) who continuously participates in the connections themselves (Callon, 1986; Latour, 2007; Law, 2008). Using ANT, we will partner with the elements in social media (Thompson & Adams, 2013) to better understand the “impacts of digital engagements on processes of knowledge-making and interacting” (Fenwick, 2014, p. 2) and seek to answer the question, “Just what is social in social media?” Given the cornucopia of networks from which to choose, Twitter, due to its seeming simplicity, will be the material-semiotic focus of this 7-part actor-network inquiry where the “hows” of network formation channel new perspectives of our social interactions.


This work in process is ongoing, with explorations, examples, and network perspective of identity, conversations, sharing, presence, relationships, reputation, and groups through Twitter being the focus, via both human and non-human actors.


  • Adams, C. A., & Thompson, T. L. (2011). Interviewing objects: Including educational technologies as qualitative research participants. International Journal of Qualitative Studies in Education, 24(6), 733–750. doi:10.1080/09518398.2010.529849
  • Callon, M. (1986). Some elements of a sociology of translation: Domestication of the scallops and the fishermen of St Brieuc Bay. In J. Law, Power, action and belief: A new sociology of knowledge (pp. 196–233). Boston: Routledge & Kegan Paul.
  • Fenwick, T. (2014). Social media, professionalism and higher education: a sociomaterial consideration. Studies in Higher Education, 1–14. doi:10.1080/03075079.2014.942275
  • Kaplan, A. M., & Haenlein, M. (2010). Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of Social Media. Business Horizons, 53(1), 59–68. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2009.09.003
  • Kietzmann, J. H., Hermkens, K., McCarthy, I. P., & Silvestre, B. S. (2011). Social media? Get serious! Understanding the functional building blocks of social media. Business Horizons, 54(3), 241–251. doi:10.1016/j.bushor.2011.01.005
  • Latour, B. (2007). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory (Clarendon Lectures in Management Studies), 1–312.
  • Latour, B. (2013). Biography of an inquiry: On a book about modes of existence. Social Studies of Science, 43(2), 287–301. doi:10.1177/0306312712470751
  • Law, J. (2008). Actor network theory and material semiotics. In B. S. Turner, The new Blackwell companion to social theory (3rd ed., pp. 141–158). Oxford: Blackwell.
  • Thompson, T. L., & Adams, C. (2013). Speaking with things: encoded researchers, social data, and other posthuman concoctions. Distinktion: Scandinavian Journal of Social Theory, 14(3), 342–361. doi:10.1080/1600910X.2013.838182
  • Walsham, G. (1997). Actor-network theory and is research: Current status and future prospects. In A. S. Lee, J. Liebenau, & J. I. DeGross, Information Systems and Qualitative Research (pp. 466–480). Boston, MA: Springer US. doi:10.1007/978-0-387-35309-8_23

avatar for Jeffrey M. Keefer

Jeffrey M. Keefer

Director of Training & Knowledge Management (Urban Parks) + Educational Researcher + Professor, New York University & The Trust for Public Land
Director of Training & Knowledge Management (Urban Parks) + Educational Researcher + Professor = Actor-Network Theory + Liminality + Connected Learning

Tuesday July 28, 2015 14:46 - 16:15 EDT
(7th Floor) Room TRS1-129 (Ted Rogers School of Management) 55 Dundas Street West, Toronto, ON M5G 2C3

Attendees (0)