More selected projects


Cumulative Disadvantage and Actor Network Theory Study



produced by: Robert Hillson


Cumulative Disadvantage and Actor Network Theory Study







Source of Research

Contextual boundaries between subject domains



Cumulative Disadvantage

The Social

The Source

Computational Artefact


















Cumulative Disadvantage and Actor Network Theory Study




Source of Research.




In the sphere of finance where the social has no part to play in assembling what could reveal the difference between those chances afforded to us at the start and our subsequent standing in the future are put under the microscope by Oscar H. Gandy, Jr, is Professor Emeritus of Communication, in his book entitled Coming to Terms with Chance: Engaging Rational Discrimination and Cumulative Disadvantage. Many aspects of the book, are, in retrospect not necessarily conducive to the methodology of research practice I have chosen to use, but can at least open up avenues for further inspection.


Contextual boundaries between subject domains.



Sociologists tend not to stray too far over the boundaries between the social and the economic. In Actor Network Theory (ATN), there is no distinction. All actors in any event, context or boundary are part of what happens in the various relationships and connections between the web and the other webs that create something. Using ATN as methodology that can explain why but not how.






Borrowing from Karen Barad's method of diffraction, an extension to ATN, the focus of attention or study, the source at which there lies desire for investigation, is observed through an interrupt, called an interference (Fenwick, 2016).






Inheritance or endowment is at the fore of what I have come to believe plays a major role in the relationship between individuals, established fiscal institutions and institutional bias. However; my role in being drawn to this focal point is unique, and has come aided by a “mutated critical tool of analysis” (Barad, 2007) using both situated knowledge and academic methodology.


The premise, that inheritance or endowment is a major focal point of contention is one I make so that I can clearly understand the relationships that make up cumulative disadvantage, the source in question.


Diffraction allows an observer to chose where to disrupt and interfere between a source, as previously mentioned, those actors, consisting of institutions, family, individuals, algorithmic modelling, to mention but a few, and the way in which they become an entangled web of knowledge (Fenwick, 2016).


In terms of the apparatus, in which diffraction of the source is observed through, unlike traditional modes of accruing information with well known presumptions, there is no a priori knowledge. This is not a methodology going though the motions of old, adhering to the status quo. What cannot be seen, will not be seen within a set of old and known assumptions. One example of this (Fenwick, 2016), is how a light source through a prism will produce colours of the rainbow, change the shape, opacity etc of the prism and the same source has an altogether different result, these differences bring new knowledge about the same source,


So in this understanding of a particular phenomenon there is no a priori previously decided distinction between subject and object for example. It’s really to do with the process of the research.1.




I have adopted the methodology put forward by Bruno Latour from the book, Reassembling the Social, in order to illicit preparatory groundwork for further study. In doing so I allude to the work of Karen Barad's diffraction in which interference is an entry point from the perspective of the observer. The idea, shape and form of this interference is unique, in that the apparatus belongs to and is created by anything other than a method that explains, but instead one that highlights or traces.


In an attempt to computationally represent a sense of my study, I have chosen to elaborate on some of my findings, both through Barads interference, and my situated knowledge in a way that perhaps could be seen as a precursor for further ideas, i.e. many of the family board games, for example, Monopoly or Game of life, in a way deal with this idea of chance.



Cumulative Disadvantage



The world talks about the distribution of wealth with varying rigour from country to country and with that the social fallout of those exact inequalities. In his book Engaging Rational Discrimination and Cumulative Disadvantage Ghandy Jr attempts to unpick how life chances are preordained specifically from the perspective of inheritance. The fiscal portfolio of most individuals is less to do with hard work and more to do with luck. In truth Gandy does not just look at these life chances from a monetary perspective but also the genetics bestowed upon us. He claims the colour of one's skin is as life changing as, the realization of extraordinary intelligence or inherited wealth,


how well we do in the natural lottery that distributes genetic endowments at birth helps to determine how race, gender, and social class combine in unimaginably chaotic ways to move us down different paths along the unmapped roads of life.”2




Essentially, it is pointed out, cumulative disadvantage is an embedded institutional bias and associated agency's become the gate keepers to fiscal opportunities afforded to specific socio-economic groups.


Policy decisions, informed by statistical analysis, shape the opportunities people face in the markets for education, employment and health.3







The Social



To start unpicking even the surface of the analysis put forward in his book, which is lengthy, and heavy on statistical analysis, there is already enough actors within the scene to illicit a focal point. In his book Reassembling the Social, Bruno Latour advocates seeing the social not as something to be measured but something all together different. Sociology tends towards explaining the social within a social-context, but this is not good enough. It does not take into account anything beyond what is considered a social element. The social window is just that, it does not breech into other domains, for example, law, finance or psychology.


For instance, although it is recognized that law has it own strength, some aspects of it would be better understood if a ‘social dimension’ were added to it; although economic forces unfold under their own logic, there also exists social elements which could explain the some- what erratic behaviour of calculative agents;... ”4


In limiting social enquiry this way, some elements that could be considered social are not, they do not become enveloped into the wider context and so are missed. Barbara Czarniawska notes, rather than being concerned with answering how social something is, the emphasis should be looking at the relationship of things, people and ideas, which in turn produce an assemblage of actors within a network. (Czarniawska, 2006).


Given agency, these actors, including both human and non-human can then be considered an extension to the social. These actants, their relationships and associations form an assemblage of meaning that is otherwise overlooked using traditional methods that merely peer at the social domain.


The Source



It is not about why the world is as it is but rather why! (Socio-material approaches: Actor-network theory and Karen Barad’s diffractive methodology, 2016). Sarah Doyle makes reference to the health care professionals she has followed in order to understand how they learn about diabetes. In essence, all of the social material elements rather than discreet social elements were given equal status. The actants in this case, included carer, hospital and a device used to inject insulin. By focusing the relations among them, entanglements arise between human and non-human objects. It is here the phenomena of the pump became the focal point. (Socio-material approaches: Actor-network theory and Karen Barad’s diffractive methodology, 2016), and a good example of socio-technological embeddings and entanglements


In terms of my own work Ghandy Jr proposes a biased infrastructure which exists predominately for fiscally processing those from specific socio-economic groups, and that both chance and bias are key factors in how people are set for life (Gandy, 2009, p3).





The game of life is fixed and the house always wins, chance is no longer a factor, as in a gust of wind that helps that hole in one, the wind here is statistically controlled where the financial landscape is peppered with bunkers. The skill probability of making that hole in one is neither here or there, primarily it is your social standing, which inevitably is cast at birth and then falls into a path only wealth can dictate.


The locus of control can influence decision making, and opportunities that are taken, perhaps rather than a more structure rational, knowledge based approach!” (Gandy, 2009, p3).



A web itself can be chosen to address webs themselves, the former of which is arbitrary. Making the arbitrary decision to study a particular webs such as Cumulative Disadvantage becomes inherent in that work.


None of this is wrong. Material semiotics is a set of tools and sensibilities that may be used to explore a wide range of concerns. This tells us that that are many different webs that might be followed. But one thing is clear. Since we cannot trace them all, we need to decide which are the most important for our study.”5



Framing and re-framing shows how we attend to webs and how we could attend webs. Leaving nothing to presumption or the status quo, so that weighted pre-ordained webs are re-framed, such as 'human and non-human symmetry, objects as weaves and scientific facts as valid only in special places.' (Law, 2007). To be situated in a weave is to be partial to it, not detached but subjectively engaged.





Computational Artefact



Ideally the computational artefact would dynamically changes in response to a Java Script Object Notation file (JSON) data sets, like a weather app; however, the data sets I found were not, but do closely align with my focus.


Using JavaScript Object Notation (JSON) inheritance tax data sets downloaded from HMRC, in combination with the JavaScript library for creative coding, p5.js, the interactive locally served web site which is the computational artefact, is in its infancy as a proof of concept for further development. The main goal was to present, in a fun way, data sets that really do make a difference in the real world. Every click produces a random UK government administrative region along with data on how many instances of inheritance there was for the specific financial year and what that amount to in millions. Using these two number, I drew an ellipse, although a primitive, in terms of sophistication, I merely wanted to get the idea across.



The data present chance data sets along side an image that is an abstract representation of it.


To run the program.


(1) The folder with the files are downloaded from p5.js to my desktop.


(2) These same folder is dropped into Sublime text.


(3) I run terminal on my mac.


(4) I use the command CD to find the current directory (Desktop) and run a local server using the built in Macintosh Python code from the terminal command called:


python -m SimpleHTTPServer.


(5) In my chrome browser, I type the URL 'localhost:800' into the address bar.


(6) Find the folder with the files and the interactive code starts.


(7) Recording attached.









Barbara Czarniawska (2006). Book Review: Bruno Latour: Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network Theory. Sweden: Oxford University Press.


Bruno Latour. (2007). Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. USA: Oxford University Press.


J. Law, Actor network theory and material semiotics. (2007) Version of 25th April 2007 available at (downloaded on 13 June 2016).


K. Barad, Meeting the Universe Half-way. (Durham, NC: Duke University Press 2007)


Oscar H. Gandy (2009). Coming to Terms with Chance: Engaging Rational Discrimination and Cumulative Disadvantage. New York: Ashgate Publishing.


T. Fenwick, R. Edwards and P. Sawchuk, Emerging approaches to educational research: Tracing the socio-material. (London: Routledge 2011)


Tara Fenwick. (2016). Socio-material approaches: Actor-network theory and Karen Barad’s diffractive methodology. Available: Last accessed May 2020.






1 (Socio-material approaches: Actor-network theory and Karen Barad’s diffractive methodology, 2016, 00:09:40)

2 Oscar H. Gandy (2009). Coming to Terms with Chance: Engaging Rational Discrimination and Cumulative Disadvantage, Page 1

3 Oscar H. Gandy (2009). Coming to Terms with Chance: Engaging Rational Discrimination and Cumulative Disadvantage, Page 1

4 Bruno Latour. (2007). Introduction: How to Resume the Task of Tracing Associations*. In: Reassembling the Social: An Introduction to Actor-Network-Theory. USA: Oxford University Press. 14.

5 J. Law, Actor network theory and material semiotics. (2007) Version of 25th April 2007 available at (downloaded on 13 June 2016). p4