Curating actor-network theory: testing object-oriented sociology in the Science Museum

Laurie Waller


Across different traditions of social research, the study of science exhibitions has often taken the form of an ‘object-oriented’ inquiry. In this tradition, actor-network theory (ANT) has focused on how the processes of exhibiting objects mediate relations between science and society. Although ANT has not developed as a theory of curating, it nonetheless contributes to revaluing the work performed by curators in relation to the practice of science. This article describes an ethnographic engagement with a curatorial experiment in a science museum which staged a ‘multi-viewpoint’ exhibition of an object. A display of an object ‘in process’, I take the opportunity of this curatorial experiment to explore analogies drawn in ANT studies between museums and laboratories in attending to the ways that curatorial practices mediate science. I ask whether, and to what extent, ANT can account for curating as a material practice that not only participates in domesticating objects for science but also in problematizing, multiplying and redistributing relations between objects and the social.

Key words: actor-network theory, sociology, science studies, curating, objects.

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Copyright (c) 2017 Laurie Waller

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Museum and Society

ISSN 1479-8360