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Oscillating politics and shifting agencies: equalities and diversity work and actor network theory

Shona Hunter (School of Sociology and Social Policy, University of Leeds, Leeds, UK)
Elaine Swan (Lancaster University Management School, Lancaster, Lancashire, UK)

Equal Opportunities International

ISSN: 0261-0159

Article publication date: 3 July 2007




The paper has two purposes: to introduce a new perspective on power and resistance in equalities work; and to trouble either or theorisations of success and failure in this work. Instead it offers a new means of exploring micro‐practice.


The paper applies/develops an “actor network theory” (ANT) analysis to a single case study of Iopia, a Black woman equalities practitioner working in a prison education context. It uses this to explore the ways in which Iopia interacts with a variety of human and non‐human objects to challenge racism in this context.


Iopia, from an initial position of marginality (as a Black woman experiencing racism) is able to establish herself (by virtue of this same identity as a Black woman combating racism) as central to a “new” network for equality and diversity. This new network both challenges and sustains narrow exclusionary definitions of diversity. Thus, Iopia's case provides an example of the contradictions, and paradox, experienced by those working for equality and diversity.

Research limitations/implications

In the future, this type of feminist ANT analysis could be more fully developed and integrated with critical race and other critical cultural theories as these relate to equalities work.

Practical implications

The approach, and, in particular, the notion of translation, can be used by practitioners in thinking through the ways in which they can use material objects to draw in multiple “others” into their own networks.


The article is one of the first to explore equalities workers via the lens of ANT. It is unique in its analysis of the material objects constituting both diversity workers and diversity work and thus its analysis of diversity workers and their work as part of a complex set of social and “material” relations.



Hunter, S. and Swan, E. (2007), "Oscillating politics and shifting agencies: equalities and diversity work and actor network theory", Equal Opportunities International, Vol. 26 No. 5, pp. 402-419.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2007, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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