Tag Archives: Assembling Publics

Assembling Publishing Publics

What is the Relationship Between Different Publishing Tools & Techniques & The Social In “Publishing Assemblages”?

May I present to you my very over-simplified diagram of the world of Publishing :

This diagram shows that within the complex world of publishing, there are subdivisions and networks that are, & continue to be created as the nature of publishing changes. These networks of social and technological interaction can be called “Publishing Assemblages”. It’s a network that centres on publishing and distributing content, the technolgies used, the expressions and forms that enable content to be published, and how publics nfluence publishing. So how are these publishing networks and relations changing?

One way of looking at these “Publishing Assemblages” is through the ‘Actor-Network Theory’  (ANT) developed by Bruno Latour and others. The following video explains ANT in plain English:

As the video explains, when studying networks, we often focus on the technological or social aspects which form the network. Arguments are that only technology accounts for any technological changes, versus social cultures determining technological changes. (Wikipedia 2011) The Actor-Network theory however suggests that all actants (elements) in a network, Social and Technologial, human or non-human, should be treated the same, as they are hard to distinguish. This is “Generalised Symmetry”.

“What seems to be Technical, is partly Social; and what seems to be Social, is partly technical” – (Delukie 2009)

Criticism comes down to “agency”, the capacity for humans to make choices and impose those choices in the world (Wikipedia 2011), being given to non-human actants. How do non-human actants have “intentions”? Also, it ignores power and pre-existing social standings.

So how does this all relate to ‘Publishing’:

Here’s a simple example of eBook Publishing network. The human actants are of course publishers, software developers, readers/buyers, writers, adverstisers, etc. Non-human actants include iPads, Kindles, the software, libraries etc. According to ANT, everything has equal agency. But is it that simple? Let’s look at publishing tools for instance. Publishers and companies such as Amazon would influence what tool or media is used for the product, e.g. iPad, Kindle, PC. 

 The issue of publishing technology is tricky. If new-technology is made, the former becomes outdated, thus a change in the eBook network is apparent. The new technology is created as a result of social intentions.Yet, for example, if people aren’t buying Kindle’s, then publishers won’t give Amazon the authority to sell and distribute their eBook. Publishers have control. What this does then is distort the part of the network of eBook reader who read with Kindles. Thus, a change to iPad or PC only use may be the result of social influences. Pricing of eBooks may be influenced by the technology created, but there are human actants that have a stronger role in determing this.

 How an iPad or Kindle itself has intentions still puzzles me, which is why I’m not eager to accept the ANT. But all in all, when it comes down to complex publishing networks, it’s the social and technological aspects that result in the continuous creation of, and changes of publishing networks.


  1.  Wikipedia 2011, ‘Actor Network Theory, , last modified 13 March 2011, accessed 19 March 2011
  2. Wikipedia 2011, A New Philosophy of Society: Assemblage Theory and Social Complexity’, , last accessed 19 March 2011
  3. Delukie 2009,  Khaki Films, ‘Actor-Network Theory In Plain English’, YouTube Video, accessed 18 March 2011,
  4. Wikipedia 2011, ‘Agency (philosophy)’ ,, last modified 16 March 2011, last accessed 20 March 2011
  5. School Of English, Media & Performing Arts 2011,  ‘ARTS2090 Publics & Publishing In Transition  – 2011 Course Outline’ , accessed from,   pp.29-32

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