Networks and Contexts
In this chapter, I analyze domestic Internet use, drawing on Actor Network Theory (Callon, 1987; Law, 1987). More specifically, I follow the direction proposed by Cowan (1987), who pioneered an actor-network approach taking the user as its point of departure. Cowan's (1987) project was to understand the network that holds users and technology together from “the consumption junction, the place and the time at which the consumer makes choices about competing technologies” (p. 263). Cowan believed that this consumer-centered version of an actor-network would help to explain the success or failure of different artefacts. The consumption junction represented for her “the interface where technological diffusion occurs” and also “the place where technologies begin to reorganize social structures” (p. 263).
In a somewhat different development inspired by Actor Network Theory, Gomart and Hennion (1999) elaborate on a “sociology of attachment” through the study of music amateurs and drug users. They introduce the concept of “subject networks” (p. 220), which attempts to capture the ways that “the subject can emerge as she actively submits herself to a collection of constraints” (p. 220). These constraints are imposed by entities found in the local environment, including objects and people, or actants and actors, which link together into a network. Making these networks the object of study, Gomart and Hennion propose, would help analysts move beyond questions like “Who acts?” and “What is the determinant and what the determined?” Instead, analysts can focus on the question, “What happens?” In this way, crude dualisms like those between agency and structure, activity and passivity, and freedom and determination would be overcome and replaced by a more fluid picture of mutual constitution between subjects and the entities of their surrounding world. Further, Gomart and Hennion invoke Foucault's notion of “dispositif” to define the focus of their analysis as “the tactics and techniques which make possible the emergence of a subject as it enters a ‘dispositif’” (p. 220). Within the “dispositif,” objects represent mediators, not causes. They do not carry inherent qualities but acquire qualities “contingent on the user's discovery movements” (p. 238).
I believe these ideas can yield interesting results when applied to some of the uncertainties generated by the interaction between users and technologies. Do technologies impose determinations of their own, as suggested by the numerous studies looking for the proverbial social effects of different technological innovations? Do they embody and enact the inten-