In case you missed it, Rodney Benson has an excellent piece here, delivered as a response on a panel at the Qualitative Political Communication preconference. It’s well worth the read, in part because the case he makes deserves to be considered and incorporated in many areas of sociology well beyond communication research. It’s also refreshing to see substantive, synthetic, and critical points raised in a panel response — #ASA14 discussants, read, consider, and emulate!
Personally, I think Benson remains too kind to ANT. My feeling is that ANT’s dogmatic stance toward description tends to be theoretically very naive with respect to representation: stubbornly constructivist on the question of what other people are doing, phenomenologically naive on what they themselves are doing. In particular on questions of the ontological status of evidence, I think this has led mostly to a kind of holier-than-though confusion not particularly good for description or explanation!
That said, the branch of ANT that Benson pays most attention to–the role of objects and technologies–has been productive, though even there there’s too much commitment to the “shock value” of the idea that objects might act and not enough analytical theorization of the status of objects vis-a-vis the social constellations from which they emerge and which they constrain and enable.
I know, I’m not being charitable to ANT, and I hope others will swoop in to disagree.
Beyond the specific ANT controversy, though, it’s worth theoretically-minded social scientists reading Benson’s critique and assessing how to achieve explanation and critique given the descriptivist tools that seem currently ascendant.