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Exploring agency beyond humans: the compatibility of Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and resilience thinking

Angga Dwiartama, Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago, New Zealand; School of Life Sciences and Technology, Institut Teknologi Bandung, Indonesia
Christopher Rosin, Centre for Sustainability, University of Otago, New Zealand


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At first glance, the compatibility of social theory and resilience thinking is not entirely evident, in part because the ontology of the former is rooted in social interactions among human beings rather than ecological process. Despite this difference, resilience thinking engages with particular aspects of social organization that have generated intense debates within social science, namely the role of humans as integral elements of social-ecological systems and the processes through which given social structures (including material relations) are either maintained or transformed. Among social theoretical approaches, Actor-Network Theory (ANT) is noted for its distinctive approach to these aspects. ANT proposes that human and nonhuman components (both referred to as actants) have the same capacity to influence the development of social-ecological systems (represented as actor-networks) by enacting relations and enrolling other actors. We explore the notion of agency that is employed in resilience thinking and ANT in order to extend our understandings of human-environment relationships through complementary insights from each approach. The discussion is illustrated by reference to ongoing assessment of resilience as it is experienced and expressed in two distinctive agricultural production systems: Indonesian rice and New Zealand kiwifruit. We conclude by establishing the potential for ANT to provide more profound theoretical conceptualizations of agency, both human and nonhuman, in analyses of social ecological systems.

Key words

actor-network; kiwifruit; nonhuman agency; relationality; rice

Copyright © 2014 by the author(s). Published here under license by The Resilience Alliance. This article is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License. You may share and adapt the work for noncommercial purposes provided the original author and source are credited, you indicate whether any changes were made, and you include a link to the license.

Ecology and Society. ISSN: 1708-3087