Twitter observed as Communication Medium and Non-human Actor
This paper is a contribution to the workgroup Society and differentiation, which in its call for papers asks for contributions that compare and discuss modern sociological theories in regard to empirical questions. To meet this request the paper address one of the major theoretical questions, namely the question of how otherwise differentiated forms of being interact and continuously adapt to each other. It presents two theories, Niklas Luhmann’s systems theory and Bruno Latour’s actor-network theory in regard to the question. They are outlined as theories that in two very different ways present a transformation position to the question, and not a transmission position. Both can be used, as analytical strategies for analysing how otherwise differentiated forms of beings continuously adapt to each other through transformations and become each other’s possibility/limitation for new formations. After presenting the two theories the article put forward Twitter as an example making it possible to compare the two theories. Hereby the article also provides two analysis of how Twitter changes the communication milieu of modern society. In systems theory media can be seen as the mechanisms of structural couplings between psychic and social systems (Luhmann 2002: 275, Tække 2011). In this way media are seen as a necessary third, making it possible for two different kinds of systems to process, using complexity from one another - leaving out the idea of direct transmission. In actor-network theory society is described as networks binding bits and pieces together. Humans are also themselves networks of skin, bones, enzymes, cells etc. What homogenize the many heterogeneous entities in networks are processes of translations (Schiølin 2010). Translation is never neutral, and is not meant like from Danish to English, but to describe: “displacement, drift, invention, mediation, the creation of a link that did not exist before and that to some degree modifies two elements or agents” (Latour 1994, 32). The paper works with two aims. The first aim is to discuss what kinds of structural couplings and translations the social medium of Twitter opens for. The second, but most prioritized, aim of the paper is to present, compare and discuss the two theories: How do they understand what becomes visible in their different optics, which observations become possible in the one or the other – and is it possible to compare the semantics of their concepts. The paper first provides an analysis and discussion of language as the mechanism of structural coupling between the levels of psychic and social systems. Then the article provides an analysis and discussion of translation as a transformation process between actors creating networks consisting in both humans and non-humans. Then the two appearing frameworks are used to observe Twitter and discuss which structural couplings and translations are made possible by this medium. In the end of the paper the two theories are discussed and compared.
Luhmann; Latour; ANT (Actor-Network-Theory); Systems Theoretical Sociology; structural coupling; Twitter
Main Research Area:
Power and Participation: The 25th Conference of the Nordic Sociological Association, 2011