The Case for Asymmetry in Online Research: Caring About Issues in Australian and Canadian Web 1.0 Bee Networks

Mathieu O'Neil, Mahin Raissi, Bethaney Turner


We critically engage with the actor–network theory precept that human and nonhuman actants have symmetrical capacities. In contrast, we distinguish actor-actants, who have the capacity to care about other actants, from issue-actants, who do not. We explore the gathering of participants leading to the emergence of matters of concern by mapping how Australian and Canadian bee-related websites connect to the issue of bee extinction (“colony collapse”). A “symmetrical” hypothesis was that major differences in local geographies and exposure to parasites would result in different rates of connection. This hypothesis was confirmed: All influential Canadian actor-actants connected to “colony collapse,” whereas no influential Australian actor-actants did. Our findings also suggest an “asymmetrical” interpretation: Influential Australian actor-actants were aware of the catastrophic disappearance of bees, but did not care. Denying that some actants have agency over others means that it is impossible to form a moral opinion about connections or about the rights of dominated actor-actants.


species extinction, agency, actor–network theory, online networks, bees, environmental communication

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