You think you have problems with your research participants? My research subjects don't have a pulse!

Year: 2003

Author: Luck, Jo

Type of paper: Abstract refereed

As a lecturer in information systems I am very interested in information technology and its uses, in particular the design and implementation of educational technologies used to support teaching and learning in higher education. I use actor-network theory (ANT) as a conceptual framework to research these technologies. ANT employs a sociotechnical approach that requires all actants (human and non-human) to be treated equally for the purposes of analysis. As a human and an ANT enthusiast, I found myself on the horns of a dilemma: is it intellectually desirable and politically responsible that 'agency' may be ascribed to non-human entities that cannot speak for themselves, thereby constructing them as potential stakeholders and/or gatekeepers?

In this paper I will draw on ANT to investigate reflexively the risks and dilemmas of researching non-human entities. A nonhuman entity is a technical artefact such as a computer (it could also be an animal such as a scallop - see Callon (1986) - or a book or a policy). I will explore the various types of stakeholders and the types and roles of gatekeepers in an ANT informed study. Finally I will discuss using the metaphor of performativity as a tool to overcome the dilemmas and/or reduce the risks of researching socio-technical systems. Examples will be drawn from a study that investigates the implementation of an interactive video-conferencing network at a multi-campus, regional university in Australia.