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From Anthropologist to Actant (and back to Anthropology): Position, Impasse, and Observation in Sociotechnical Collaboration

By Anthony Stavrianakis

Cite As:
Stavrianakis, Anthony. 2015. “From Anthropologist to Actant (and Back to Anthropology): Position, Impasse, and Observation in Sociotechnical Collaboration”. Cultural Anthropology 30 (1):169-89.


Anthropologists are increasingly invited to participate in collaborations with natural scientists, among other experts, in their capacity as anthropologists. Such invitations give pause for thought about the character of the positions and practices that an anthropologist can occupy and perform. This article draws on participant observation in the Socio-Technical Integration Research (STIR) project, an endeavor based at Arizona State University, which aimed to modulate scientific practice. I observe and analyze the disquiet of participating social scientists by questioning the epistemic, ethical, and affective parameters of such modulation, in which social scientists were ultimately positioned and framed as actants—and not engaged as thinking subjects—for the reflexivity of natural scientists toward natural scientific work. I describe how such a method for increasing and extending the scope of scientific reflexivity was ultimately bound to the dominant instrumental norms and values of contemporary technoscience. The article suggests that reflection on problems of collaboration through questions of position and mode of engagement opens the scope and parameters for contemporary anthropological inquiry into anthropological collaborations within domains of science and technology.


collaboration; ethics; modulation; participant-observation; position; reflexivity; science