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Sometimes I Wish That It Would Rain Here

Monday, December 19, 2005


it occurred to me that actor-network theory is sort of like a modern-day, westernized, academic form of animism. I know that phraseology implies that no one in modern society believes in animism, which I'm pretty sure isn't the case, but just go with it. I mean, the basic premise is a symmetric treatment of human and non-humans with regard to agency, interessement, etc., and the basic premise of animism is that non-human objects, such as trees, rocks, etc., have just as much soul and will and humans.

I think the most striking similarity between animism and ANT is their quality of distributed homogeneity. in animism, everything is really part of the same thing; every physical object in the universe is composed of the same god-stuff, from which it draws its aiwa. in ANT, the object of study is the relationships between actants, which, Latour argues in his "Ethnography of a High-Tech Case," are homogeneous and distributed among the various actants in the network. the difference between the two being, of course, that in animism the homogeneous stuff is (in) the objects themselves, whereas in ANT the homogeneous stuff is the relationships between objects.

granted, despite their similarities, the results and implications of these two are very different. however, they are (in my view) plagued by some of the same problems. if I throw a rock at you, is it my fault that the rock's aiwa didn't divert it from its path? if the rock has just as much agency as a human, how come the rock can't act on its own? does the rock have a different sort of aiwa or agency than that of humans? if so, why do we insist on a homogeneous treatment?

Latour said that "the ridiculous poverty of ANT ... was a clear signal that none of these words could replace the rich vocabulary of the actor's practice." many have gone on to do work after ANT, but I'm not sure how much this helps. from a certain standpoint, animism and ANT are both very appealing, but they both make understanding many aspects of day-to-day experiences nearly intractable.

however, I am an expert in neither ANT nor animism, so feel free to provide more insight to (or arguments against) this claim.


  • From the little I know about ANT, the basic premise is true. Each object plays a part in how that particular moment plays out. I don't know much about ANTs difference in importance between actors. However, I have noticed that people have a bad habit of animizing non self aware (or alive for that matter) clumps of matter. It's one of the side affects of imagination and that pesky frontal lobe. Perhaps the difference really lies in action. You throw the rock at me, and although you, me, the rock, gravity, oxygen, the ability to hear, and a piece of grass stuck on your shirt are all somehow interacting in that moment, the rock can't change it's course because it is a rock. It's nature is not to change course. it is constructed in a way that it is solid and inviting to be an object for boys to throw. I have to get to work, but if you want to talk more about it, send a myspace message. I barely even check my e-mail.--Smoochie to you!!

    By Anonymous Invader Liz, at Wednesday, December 28, 2005 3:32:00 PM  

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