March 12, 2013 § Leave a Comment
Mark Matveyevich Antokolski, The Dying Socrates, 1875.
Socrates died 2,412 years ago by drinking hemlock. The account of the trial that lead to his death sentence is famously documented by Plato in the Apology and also by Xenophon in his Apology. In the introduction to Xenophon’s two works, Raymond Larson tells us that Plato’s account of the trial was probably first hand, whereas Xenophon’s account was through the secondary source of a mutual friend of Socrates, Plato and Xenophon, a man named Hermogenes (17). Although the two accounts differ in certain respects, when combined, they offer the only historical records of the trial. For this paper we’ll focus on the relevance of death and how mortality relates to the philosophy of Socrates.
The way we understand Socrates is by knowing that he died doing philosophy. He was officially charged with impiety (asebeia/ἀσέβεια) and for corrupting the youth of Athens. But, it was also because he was making himself known by calling into question the widely held beliefs of those who would be offended when shown their opinions were wrong. The emphasis here will not be to focus on the charges or the trial outright, instead we will look at the attitude Socrates takes toward death itself in the two Apologies and how his unique way of contending and discussing death philosophically expands our own concepts surrounding end-of-life matters. It is in the extraordinary way in which Socrates eloquently speaks of death (thanatos/θάνατος) that inspires readers with his courage, fortitude and wisdom. He was willing to die for his cause, rather then to live into old age with compromise.
As we all know Plato’s Apology is replete with references to death, probably because Socrates knew that he’d be given the death sentence. Not only does he seem to know that his death was immanent, but he extends the meaning of it to demonstrate that the fear of death is comparable to ignorance.
For the fear of death, men, is in fact nothing other than to seem wise, but to not be so. For it is to seem to know what one does not know: no one knows whether death does not even happen to be the greatest of all goods for the human being; but people fear it as though they knew well that it is the greatest of evils (29a-b).
C.D.C. Reeve in his book on the Apology rightly compares this statement to what he calls “the Digression” (180). This alignment is made with the celebrated ‘digressive’ statement made earlier in Plato’s Apology, where Socrates claims to not be wise and that to be wiser one has to know what one doesn’t know (21b-d). All this is essentially and slyly positioned by Socrates to demonstrate a vital component of Socratic wisdom: know what you don’t know, or at least be cognizant of the fact that there are things that one can be ignorant of. This extends to the ultimate awareness about what we do know, in the sense that sometimes what we think we know more than we do and this might actually be a way to conceal a fundamental ignorance. So how, according to Socrates, can we know that death is something to be feared since we don’t know what happens after death? As we can see, this illustrates a typical problem and habit we have with fearing most of what we cannot understand, in this mindset, things that we don’t understand are things to fear, at least if we are ignorant of the fact that we need not always fear the unknowable, as with the benign things that are unfamiliar or even death itself. Not only do we fear death, but we also fear ignorance itself. It is for this reason that we often wish to conceal ignorance and death at all costs. So, the underlying lesson in the dual example of death and not being wise is manifold. To be wise, is to embrace your own ignorance, at least to the extent that you’re aware of it enough to know when you’re hiding behind knowing something when you really don’t. And it also shows that the fear of death is not something to avoid, but is something to face with fresh eyes, since it’s ultimately inevitable. Socrates cleverly demonstrates that the unknowability of death can disclose these things.
Xenophon’s Apology, as mentioned, does differ from Plato’s, it’s considerably shorter and it also depicts Socrates as having a slightly more down-to-earth attitude toward the issue of his impending death. For Xenophon’s Socrates, death is a welcome avoidance of the infirmities one would possibly have to endure with as old age advances.
But now, if my life continues, I know I’ll have to pay the price of old age […] What pleasure will I get out of life if I see myself deteriorating and reproach myself for it? […] A person is bound to be missed if he passes away with a healthy body and a soul capable of amiability. […] I’ll offend the jury and choose death like a free man rather than slavishly beg for the worthless gain of continued life (6-9).
Here, in Xenophon’s account, as it was conveyed to him by Hermogenes, Socrates almost suggests that to beg for life would be cowardly. It should be evident why death would appear to be the better option, because he would be dying for his cause. As Socrates attested near the end of Xenophon’s account, “I never harmed anyone or made anyone bad […] I helped those I conversed with by freely teaching them every good I was able” (26). It is for these seemingly simple reasons that we are still remembering Socrates—he was a great teacher. In our contemporary era this example seems too quick, it is as if he’s too eager to die. Nowadays we do not hesitate to think in terms of clinging to life at all costs. No matter what, death is always to be avoided. Socrates presents us with an alternatively extreme view that sometimes death is better than life. We must advocate such a view with caution and without any haste, but we do know that the untimely death of a wise man can serve to emphasize his altruistic and noble cause to do philosophy. We still think of Socrates as wise and that he died for his cause.
To continue on this thantic theme, we should include a few more things that shouldn’t be left out. We’ll be sure to recall the oft-repeated quote given by Socrates toward the end of Plato’s Apology after the jury has found him guilty and he is asked to give a ‘counterproposal’ to a possible death sentence. As Socrates speaks, he mildly suggests a possible exile where he would continue his work and the young would listen to his teachings and his way of doing philosophy (37d). He continues with the conviction that even in exile he wouldn’t stop “…conversing and examining both myself and others—and that the unexamined life is not worth living for a human being…” (38a). Although he is not explicitly speaking of death in this quote, the implication is too strong to ignore. Again, to paraphrase, Socrates is positioning the claim that if one doesn’t actively examine, interrogate and inquire about life and how to live it, he is better off dead. This idea demonstrates his predicament as much as it shows his wisdom. If he is (and, as we know he will be) presented with the death sentence, he can no longer practice his work of doing philosophy, therefore, he can no longer examine life, since he might be asked to keep silent in exile. The lesson is not lost on us either, if we are to truly live an examined life we much inquire, question and examine life as much as we can. Curiosity is at the base of this suggestion. All we have to do is act with a similar conviction to know more about life.
As the trial unfolds in Plato’s Apology, he is in fact, given the death sentence to drink the poisonous hemlock and then he gives his pensive closing remarks. Now that he knows his fate, he has no regrets about the way he defended himself “I prefer to die having made my defense speech in this way than to live in that way” (38e). When he says that he didn’t want ‘to live in that way’ he must have meant that he is proud that he didn’t have to grovel nor beg for his life. This connects with Xenophon’s record to show that Socrates was not willing to compromise his values at any expense, thereby setting a laudable example for the people of Athens and for posterity.
There is another strangely appropriate quote in Plato’s retelling where Socrates is continuing to talk after the death penalty is read, this is where he is sorting through the notion that escape from death could have been a possibility for him had he made a stronger more eloquent plea and defense. “But I suspect it is not hard, men, to escape death, but it is much harder to escape villainy. For it runs faster than death” (39a-b). This is easily directed at his accusers and the percentage of the jury who condemned him to die. The villainy of deciding that someone should die for showing people the truth is not as far-fetched as it sounds on the surface. We already know that sometimes people don’t like to be told the truth of things, namely if the truth is made to expose their ignorance, since we don’t like to be shown to not know something. Villainy is typically characterized as evil, crafty and deceitful, among other things. If we think just for a second about these qualities in comparison to what Socrates is saying, we see his point. People are quick to judge others, it’s easy to find flaw with someone else and it is easy to misinterpret things if we’re not thinking carefully. But villainy calls for darker motives, it’s faster than death because it can’t stay anywhere for too long. A villain doesn’t want to be figured out so he will move with speed, yet the speed belies his deeper problem of plain old ignorance. This kind of ignorance resides in all of us and usually we’re too afraid to see it—to know it. Socrates teaches us these things and then some. His way demonstrates that we must not be afraid to say we don’t know everything, something and nothing.
To be sure, this leaves us with four more pressing questions that have already been implied. How do I contend with my own ignorance? How do I contend with my own death? Then, how does this help me contend with the ignorance of others? And what wisdom is to be had when we witness and contemplate the death of others?
Larson, Raymond. The Apology and Crito of Plato and the Apology and Syposium of Xenophon. Lawrence, KS: Coronado Press, 1980. Print.
Plato and Aristophanes. Four Texts on Socrates. Trans. Thomas G. West and Grace Starry West. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1998. Print.
Reeve, C.D.C. Socrates in the Apology. Indianapolis, IN: Hackett Publishing Co., 1989. Print.
 The plant from which the hemlock Socrates is made to drink is formally known as Conium. It is a large flowering weed which resembles parsley and grows in many parts of the world, including here in Colorado.
February 24, 2013 § 2 Comments
Our objectives for this post are brief. We’ll start by laying down A.J. Ayer’s goal to ‘eliminate’ metaphysics and what he meant by the term. Then we’ll look at one of Carl Hempel’s arguments that takes into account the “isolated sentences” that proved to be damaging to the stridency of logical positivism’s requirements. This was a philosophic attempt to give verifiable room to a wide array of scientific theories. Then, we’ll turn to W.V.O. Quine who transitioned from Hempel’s position into his own attack on two widely held dogmas of empiricism. Quine will offer substantial criticisms about empirical orthodoxy that thereby allow for more leniencies in the way we regard positivism and empiricism itself. Lastly, we’ll examine a notion of truth, suggested by Quine, that Ayer may have disqualified as metaphysical and so on.
Ayer makes no bones about his positivist project from the onset. One needs only to consider the title of the first chapter of Language, Truth and Logic, “The Elimination of Metaphysics” to know where he’s coming from. But we must be sure to recognize that Ayer’s conditions are about language, henceforth he wishes to account for any metaphysical statement to be nonsense. As Ayer puts it “…it must follow that the labors of those who have striven to describe such a [metaphysical] reality have all been devoted to the production of nonsense” (34). What he is excluding as metaphysical basically has to do with any sentence that is not logically sound and cannot be verified by empirical evidence. Essentially Ayer wishes to conditionally discard any sentence that “…transcends the limits of all possible sense experience…” as metaphysical. On the surface this sounds easy enough to get to work on, eliminating unscientific speculative statements and nonsensical sentences in the name of doing better science, but as we’ll see, this motive is replete with irregularity from the beginning.
In the 1950s Hempel got to work analyzing empiricism’s criteria of cognitive significance from multiple angles. In his paper “Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes” he demonstrated problematic issues with the specific restrictions and some of the unanticipated laxity of empiricism’s fundamental tenets. For instance, when speaking of a scientific theory a scientist would have to include what Hempel calls “primitive sentences and statements” such as “’angle’,’ triangle’, ‘length’ (674). These primitive statements are usually not defined outright when a scientist develops a theory—that is, when his theory is “axiomatized”(674). These primitive statements are positioned in a given theory that must be proven by empirical evidence, such things as measurement and the like. By the nature of applying such abstractions on to the real empirical world, we end up with considerable wiggle room by which to calculate errors in a given theory, thereby the possibility of including imprecision in the minutest detail. Suddenly there’s too much that’s undefined and has to get cut out because it’s simply not absolutely observable. Something like Newton’s law of gravitation would have to be dismissed as too liberal in its allowance of theoretical sentences (Hempel 675). Then Hempel continues to show that “…theory and concept formation go hand and hand; neither can be carried on in isolation from the other” (696). Basically the theory has to contain statements that are not entirely observable. It is because this that before long, in our scientific theories, we start permitting “isolated sentences” (Hempel 676). These peculiar sentences are linked to the primitive sentences and can be deemed too metaphysical under certain empirical standards. So when Hempel applies a logical structure to this, he reveals that if we disallow any primitive statements that are also isolated and ‘partially interpreted’ we’ll have to get too strict with our science. It is because of these isolated sentences Hempel suggests that scientific work including such things within its general laws will “…have to rise above the level of direct observation” (678). These examples are ways in which Hempel regards the metaphysical problems inherent with so called isolated sentences.
We now move toward Quine to continue recognizing empiricism’s problems in his brilliant paper “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” Although the two dogmas conceptually converge, we’ll look at only one of the dogmas, namely “…the dogma of reductionism: the [empirical] belief that each meaningful statement is equivalent to some logical construct upon terms which refer to immediate experience” (Quine 455). This dogma makes too many assumptions under close analysis. Quine has to demonstrate that science has to work with an imprecise world “…statements about the external world face the tribunal not individually but as a corporate body” (464). In short, scientific statements are made up of words, statements and ideas that are not entirely—piece by piece—verifiable. Quine puts it beautifully toward the end of the essay, when he simply states that such disciplines as physics, mathematics and logic are man-made, and “…impinge on experience only on the edges” (465). There’s too much that has to be accounted for between the language of science and the hard facts of the empirical world that would be enough to suggest the two are exact observable equivalents. The real world is not that neat. Quine believes that empirical reductionism is itself “nonsense” (465). It is the “…root of much nonsense, to speak of a linguistic component and a factual component in the truth of any individual statement” (Quine 465). Remarkably, we are reminded of Ayer’s admonition about the metaphysical as nonsense—but with Quine the nonsense is much more forgiving, since it offers empirical truth more leniencies.
Plainly said, we can’t be too rigid with the way we think, and the way we do science, and by extension the way we practice philosophy, but in this case it takes the rigors of a complicated analysis to provide us with the exactitude by which to weigh the circumstances of understanding language, philosophy and science combined, as Ayer, Hempel and Quine have proven.
Ayer, A.J. Language, Truth and Logic. New York: Dover Publications, 1952. Print
Hempel, Carl. “Empiricist Criteria of Cognitive Significance: Problems and Changes.” The Philosophy of Language. Eds. A.P. Martinich, David Sosa. New York: Oxford University Press, 2013. pp.669-681. Print.
Quine, W.V.O. “Two Dogmas of Empiricism.” Martinich and Sosa. pp. 455-468. Print.
January 2, 2013 § Leave a Comment
December 12, 2012 § 2 Comments
fig. 1. Anonymous. “Monstrance,” silver gilt, 17th century (Denver Art Museum).
Cleverly positioned—in the center of an upper gallery floor at the Denver Art Museum—is the small silver gilt monstrance pictured in Fig. 1., its exact dimensions are not listed, but it looks to be about 16-18” tall, with the diameter of the base around 6-8”. This little monstrance is placed amidst dozens of other pieces of Spanish colonial silver from all over the Americas. This specific piece is from Peru and was made anonymously sometime in the 17th century.
What is a monstrance, you ask? The New Catholic Encyclopedia describes a monstrance as
A liturgical vessel used for showing the Blessed Sacrament at exposition and benediction, and in processions. Its name and the alternative name of Ostensorium are derived from the Latin words monstrare and ostendere both meaning ‘to show.’
Although it is tempting to dive into its historical background as a piece of Spanish colonial silverwork, that history will have to serve as a background to a basic formal analysis. With this in mind, we still have to pay some attention to its form as a religious object and to its relative position in the history of art in general. The fact that it is a display receptacle for the host—a paper thin wafer of fine bread, said to symbolize the body of Christ—is enough to suggest that its form follows its function. Yes, the motto ‘form follows function’ was a popularized during the modernist period of art history in the 20th century. However, this object is not modern per se. If a clear style can be attributed to the piece, it would have to be the Baroque, or better said, the Colonial Spanish Baroque. As we already know, the Baroque is a style that was often characterized by elaborate surface ornamentation coupled (usually) with a strong sense of dramatic movement. This piece does exemplify some of these stylistic motifs in moderation.
On the website Sancta Missa, A.J. Schulte gives a few of the many rigid prescriptions as to how a monstrance must serve as a proper host receptacle, where the upper part, that actually encapsulates the host, must have as its outer frame “the most appropriate form […] of the sun emitting its rays to all sides.” Although in this case, the ornamented pierced eight pointed star doesn’t exactly look like sun’s rays, it does serve as an effective way to bring the utmost attention to the centered circular viewing capsule. Schulte also gives permission to the adoring angels at the stem “…it is appropriate to have two statues representing adoring angels.” In this case, the silversmith seems to have strayed from these liturgical rules and instead of two angels, we have six adoring angels. In addition to the full-bodied angels on the stem, the surrounding star frame includes four tinier adoring angel faces. Incidentally, because of its small size overall, we will assume that this portable monstrance was intended for a small church with a limited budget. Annoyingly, the top piece is bent forward. It would not take too much restoration to make the crooked straight, so as to give this monstrance an ordered appeal, as it is exhibited it looks ever so slightly broken, despite the prominent position given to it in the center of the gallery.
The overall lines of the monstrance are fairly simple. We have a circle atop a line with a proportionate horizontal base that is roughly the size of the filigree star frame itself. The monstrance is entirely symmetrical on both sides (with the slight variations of the all angel’s gestures), this lends to its harmony as a visual object. It has a predictable Platonic order. This symmetry was probably enhanced when the Monstrance was placed on an altar, in situ. And even now, the symmetry is further referenced in the way it is strategically displayed at the museum, flanked by the evenly spaced vitrines on either side of it, with it in the center, in its own vitrine.
This naturally leads us to the shape of the object, which has everything to do with its explicit purpose—that is, to venerate, uphold, display, enshrine and to adore the host. As we have discussed already, the sun’s rays, or better yet, the star shaped frame is eight pointed and this holds the center crystal as the ultimate focal point. The stem is multi-tiered and lathed. This complicated stem, as with any well-made stem of this kind, is direct evidence of the labor it took to fabricate it. The Baroque style demanded such a devotion to intricacy. The six angels must have been affixed after the stem was complete. They are somewhat rough-hewn without much exacting attention given to a making them appear too lifelike and cherubic. They look like winged apparitions who are suddenly appearing out of the blue, like supernatural birds, to help the faithful to cherish the symbolic body of God in the form of a delicate wafer of bread under glass.
Its color is golden silver and the texture of the monstrance is vividly detailed, smooth and metallic. Although the silver is gilt, the gold has partially worn down, probably due to its vigorous cleanings over the centuries. This means that the surface is also highly reflective and bright. Silver is precious because it takes a polish so well, another reason we like it has to do with its malleability. Silver takes any form a talented silversmith imagines. Gold and silver are liturgical metals. They are highly reflective and under the candle light of mass they glisten and look esteemed. All of these metallic qualities are valuable, hence their widespread use for formal occasions in and out of the church. When the Eucharist is placed in the monstrance to be adored, it is given a position of great importance because it is housed in this beautiful metal. Here is this specially made silver and gold object surrounding the very thing that is an expression of those who have taken to the faith. It is a vehicle of faith. This is a form of devotional hardware.
It must be said that one need not be a Christian to look at and admire this brilliant object. If we didn’t comprehend the religious component of art, we would have to excise generous swathes of art history. Yes, artistic expression can thrive without religiosity and religions can be effective without their materialism, but can we exclude the attention to either art or religion when we seek to know about those who have worshipped before us? The formality of this gleaming monstrance speaks to the contrary.
 New Catholic Encyclopedia, (Washington D.C.: Catholic University of America, 2003), s.v. “Monstrance.”
 A.J. Schulte. “Ostensorium – Monstance” Sancta Missa, 2010. http://www.sanctamissa.org/en/sacristy/sacristy-sanctuary-and-altar/ostensorium-monstrance.html
December 2, 2012 § 2 Comments
What patterns do we find when we look to the past of people and things? When we look to the past of people who have lived in the margins, how do we misunderstand their stories? When we look to the past, do we ever consider the importance of things and ideas that are not human? For this paper the emphasis will be to look at the autobiographical American Indian stories of Simon J. Ortiz and Joseph Bruchac. This will be done while trying to contend with several overarching themes, theories and ideas. The attempt will be to pass the American Indian experience, in these particular examples, through modes of thought not typically used in such an endeavor. To begin with we’ll look at Walter Benjamin’s conception of history and the not so obvious problems that arise when we don’t approach history critically. Then, we’ll briefly look at a study done by Susan L. Star and Geoffrey C. Bowker that coincides with Benjamin’s history, where they suggest that residual categories are lost by the wayside in the name of strict organization. Bruno Latour and John Law’s Actor-Network Theory will be the next focus as a unique method in which to reorganize our typical perspective that accounts for non-human agency as much as it considers human agency. This will segue over to Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari and their innovative exploration of rhizomes, multiplicity and deterritorialisation. Before all of that, we’ll attempt to draw an outline that takes into account our popular story/narrative/stereotype about the past and present of the American Indian experience. This short paper is an uncharted map that hasn’t been drawn yet. To chart it will be a way to designate what we can know and what our limitations might be. This map will lead us not to a fixed, demarcated destination. It will lead to a series of ideas that will then lead us somewhere else—off the map.
We already know part of the story of the American Indians, but let’s review it as we remember it. Their story is an aspect of our American history. It is our story too. Looking back, our memory tells us that the Europeans travelled to the New World to find a new way of life. They were sometimes running from their oppressors in Europe, and once over here, they could invent another way of living. Often they were running away from the people who were telling them how to live their lives. We know that life was hard for these brave colonizing people, the Spaniards, the British, the Dutch, the French, the Germans and the many others. Before this, life was also going along with the pre-colonial hardships for the natives, the Indians, yet with the onset of the Europeans, their sufferings grew exponentially, disease, injustice, war and hatred all coalesced into what we are taught. The Indians were treated unfairly, their land was stripped from them and they were forced into newly oppressive ways of living, thinking and being. The Indians were not Christian and they were not white. Nothing would be the same and nothing can be reversed—the damage has already been done. The regrettable assimilation took some time. Their descendants tell their history, their stories, their myths and legends against the backdrop of the white man’s engulfing narrative. They too are history’s children. In fact, this narrative is a way their stories are told. Everything after this has to take these things into consideration. It is how we understand the American Indian stories now and that past that is gone.
Before we dive headlong into an analysis of American Indian narratives, we should clarify that the above mentioned way of looking at how the stories are understood and mediated, is through our western eyes, our American/Eurocentric perspective. This doesn’t mean, however, that Europeans (and by extension Americans) have always repeated the same tired patterns that got us so confused in the first place. The Europeans we’ll turn for answers in this paper are avid and often subtle critics of the way things are, the way things were, how things have been portrayed, how history has been told, and how to see things from another vantage. For these thinkers, it has been to their benefit to be on the inside of western culture in order to critique it from the outside. We, no matter what ethnicity, need to caution against continuing to make the same hegemonic mistakes of any so-called oppressors, past and present.
The most obvious place to turn our attention, before ANT and the rhizome, is to question the way we understand history, the way history has been told and by whom. The German philosopher, critic, and historian Walter Benjamin is someone to turn to for a unique view of history, particularly with one of his last essays “On the Concept of History” (also known as “Theses on the Philosophy of History”). It’s important to know that this was written around the time Benjamin was fleeing Nazi Germany during World War II, ending up in Spain only to commit suicide in 1940, oddly, same year the essay was written. This is not a random point because it directs us to the notion that Benjamin was critical of the status quo. Historical ideology needs to be called into question directly or indirectly. When we accept things as they are, we suffer for our acquiescence as well. Benjamin was critical of a view of history as truth simply waiting to be discovered. The British sociologist Graeme Gilloch, in his book Walter Benjamin, writes that for Benjamin’s way of thinking about history “…the image of the past becomes a source of, and focus for, contemporary struggle and conflict. What has been is always open to (mis)appropriation and erasure” (225). This is amplified in Benjamin’s essay when he underscores the idea that a history of the vanquished is told by the victors “…not even the dead will be safe from the enemy, if he is victorious. And this enemy has not ceased to be victorious” (¶ 6). And later, Benjamin continues with the idea that history is a story told by the victors “the spoils are, as was ever the case, carried along in the triumphal procession. They are known as the cultural heritage” (¶ 7). With any American Indian narrative things are lost, people are forgotten and an Indian’s history is spoken of with condescending pity. Yes, the Europeans took the land, but they can’t exactly give it back either. If blatant misunderstanding thwarts our view of the present moment, then how can we ever imagine the same problems cannot cloud our view of the past, recent and distant? There are plenty of things in the past we’ll never have the ability to summon up. Gilloch quotes Benjamin as saying “the task of history is to grasp the tradition of the oppressed” (226). The trickery of the oppressor always sounds correct under the guise of rational/national progress and in the name of doing good for the sake of others who are less able to so for themselves. However, when doing well entails a dogged insistence on cultural assimilation at any cost, who loses? We often make the careless mistake to demonize people who enforce cultural assimilation, while at the same time stubbornly insisting that everyone follow our line of thinking and if they don’t then they’re in need of improvement because we know better. ‘They are bad, we know better.’ Little do we know, that yes, this sounds innocent, yet if allowed to persist unchecked, it leads to overt oppression and the obliteration of contrary ideas. These long lasting paradigms, unbeknownst to us, are under the surface. To this, Benjamin insists that “The subject of historical cognition is the battling oppressed class itself” (¶ 12). The battling oppressed need to make their voices heard to tell their histories from beyond the blur of stereotypes, myths and rumors. As Gilloch shows, Benjamin’s way of telling history is focused, to a certain degree, fragmentary, which means that a defeated history will “…be only represented as fragments, debris and detritus” (227). This means that in our view of the American Indian context, we can see that there has already been plenty of loss, and this loss cannot be entirely recovered, even with a history that arrogantly aims to be complete. This pattern of history is not what we readily recognize, since we continually want to recover all that has been lost in the mire of nationalism and hatred.
In a 2007 paper by Susan L. Star and Geoffrey C. Bowker, “Enacting Silence: Residual Categories as a Challenge for Ethics, Information Systems and Communication” the emphasis is on showing that in this day and age certain things fall beyond typical categories that are too difficult to classify into neat classifications, resulting in being overlooked, forgotten, or rejected. This idea that we often have a tough time accounting for that which we cannot account for, is similar to Benjamin’s way of doing history, Star and Bowker write “A system without the possibility to understand the history and sociology of its residual categories desiccates stories it already labels ‘unknowable’” (274). The history, people and language that fall outside the normal is easily passed over, thus challenging the normative ways we mis-categorize and ignore what we don’t understand. Even when we dare to think of the English language that American Indian history is usually related as the white man’s lingua-franca, we forget that things are easily lost in the gloss of retelling—in another language. The pattern is now less of a homogeneous past, instead, it is heterogeneous, it becomes tough for us to recognize, and it doesn’t fit all our biased traditions. This heterogeneity will be looked at in more detail later when we compare it to an American Indian narrative to Actor-Network Theory (ANT) and to the rhizome.
Simon Ortiz is an American Indian from the Acoma Pueblo tribe located in New Mexico. He spoke his native Acoma as a child. His story is found in a collection of biographical sketches of various American Indians included in the book I Tell You Now. His autobiographical essay titled “The Language We Know” tells a familiar yet personal story. He opens by giving the reader insight into his relationship with language, how he loves it and how it caused him pain. Ortiz does the difficult job of expressing that he had a love for his native language, while at the same time expressing that he doesn’t speak it much “I had come to know English through forceful acculturation” then, he writes “significantly, it was the Acoma language, which I don’t use enough of today, that inspired me to become a writer” (188). He outlines his history of having to go to an American Indian boarding school where English was the rule, with no room allowed for his culture and, of course, no room allowed for his language. Ortiz addresses this unilateral theme “…I felt an unspoken anxiety and resentment against unseen forces that determined our destiny to be un-Indian” (191). This is a strange and uncomfortable mix of being forced to learn one way in order to better appreciate what you originally had to begin with. It is in this fracture that we anxiously look for what has been lost that might not be found. Benjamin’s oppressive Germany suddenly resonates with how we perceive our own disfigured American past. If we think everyone needs to live life in one way, then we’re not allowing for the possibility of another way of living one’s life. We are often under the illusion that we know this now, after the fact, but do we honestly practice it in our everyday lives?
Actor-network theory (ANT) was developed sometime in the late 1980s by the social scientists Bruno Latour, John Law and Michel Callon. In a paper titled “‘The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory.” The British archaeologist Jim S. Dolwick, is keen to illustrate a primary feature of ANT “Here [with ANT] the definition is significantly extended from humans-only to include anything and everything that might be associated together” (Dolwick, 36). This means that traditional social theory was centered on the human activity and human agency, and rarely, if ever, extended to the non-human activity and non-human agency. For ANT, agency “…is regarded not as a unique human quality or force, which act upon the world, but as an action that is shared with the world” (Dolwick, 38). Every thing, human and otherwise, becomes important when we set out to identify a network. Also, as Dolwick indicates “…ANT places more emphasis on how associations are made…” (36). ANT is less of a theory about networks and more about how networks are connected and associated. ANT, as Dolwick describes it, is also about human and non-human agency. It must be repeated that the non-human things, ideas, entities, organizations, groups, microbes, objects, things, etc. have their influence, affect, pressure, temptation, power on us as much as we have on them, and it is the fluid interconnectedness that ANT wants to bring to our attention. Dolwick underscores this further “…the focus for them [ANT and its proponents] is not on the ‘object’ (in isolation), but on the ambivalent subject-object imbroglio, defined as ‘actor-network’” (38).
We’ll look now to the French philosopher of science Bruno Latour and the British sociologist John Law to define ANT a little more specifically. For Latour an actor-network must not be confused entirely with a standard network of, say an engineering network, a telephone network, etc. As Latour indicates in his essay “a technical network in the engineer’s sense is only one the possible final and stabilized state of an actor-network” (2). So, it is not just a clean-cut technical network that has to be delineated and, as stated with Dolwick, and according to Latour, ANT “…does not limit itself to human actors but [it] extends the word actor—or actant—to non-human, non-individual entities” (2). For our application of how ANT is associated with the American Indian, Latour’s points are easy to see. For instance, with Ortiz, mentioned earlier, his network has to do with his immediate family, his family’s relationship with the land, the land as it is associated with the violence of early colonialism, the land’s inherent value, the current post-colonial concerns of reservation life, his school/s, his farm, how the English language was enforced onto to him, his stories, his parents, the U.S. Government, and all the other connections resulting from an elaborate web of associations that can be thought of as actors in his unique instance. Consider this point and in addition, consider the fact that there can be networks that extend off of all those things, apart from him, as well. When James Bruchac, who was a so-called half breed, writes about his life in “Notes of a Translator’s Son” in the same book of American Indian stories I tell You Now, he asks “do we make ourselves into what we become or is it built into our genes, into a fate spun for us by whatever shapes events?” (199), suddenly we see a possible connection in relation to ANT. It becomes a little easier to answer that it has to be both, his genes and his environment that shape his events, because we can think of events happening in his environment to be his network in action. Bruchac’s network helps create what he is and he helps create what his network is. What is fascinating about this approach is that everything Bruchac and Ortiz detail about their lives, is really an ultra-specific network and all the actors are named. The human actors are obviously named and the non-human actors are also elaborated. For example, with Bruchac’s childhood home “…it is an old house with grey shingles, built by my grandfather…” (199). Ortiz’s family of subsistence farming “…I learned to plant, hoe weeds, irrigate and cultivate corn, chili, pumpkin, beans” (189). These things form a network of relationships and associations, whether we want to call them American Indian networks, spatial networks, or even farming networks that extend way beyond Bruchac’s.
It is easy to sort though some (and only some of) the ways the non-human actors have played a part in the American Indian past, starting with the most obvious contested questions of land, territory, reservations, relocation, and language and so on. These things must be taken into account when we think of their networks, as a matter of fact, these things usually rise to the top of the way we remember the American Indians. Then we must additionally recognize that the American Indian networks can extend far away from these purely obvious things. Let’s not forget that all this also applies to us and that we are not always in control of the relationships and how we are affected by them and how they are affected by us. We are nothing if not in a network.
For another proponent of ANT John Law, in his paper “Actor-Network Theory and Material Semiotics” ANT falls under the “…disparate family of material-semiotic tools, sensibilities and methods of analysis that treat everything in the social worlds as a continually generated effect in the webs relations within which they are located” (2). In this way, the network remains open. The network doesn’t stop making new associations. As for the semiotic approach, the word actor, or actant is important. This is because ANT borrows the definition of an actant from semiotics. In Marcel Danesi’s Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications, under the entry for “actant” we find that an actant “…is, in effect, who or what perpetuates or endures specific actions in a narrative” (5). Perhaps due to ANT’s semiotic/linguistic ties, while writing about ANT, Law touches on how translation is related to the network “to translate is to make two words equivalent. But since no two words are equivalent, translation always implies betrayal…” (6), surely, a network includes language and its translation. The way this translation operates works to clarify as much as it distorts and reconfigures. In Bruchac’s aptly titled “Notes of a Translator’s Son” he talks about his avoidance of the calling himself an ‘Indian’ and with a touch of ambivalence he accepts it, but he prefers to call himself a metis “…in English it becomes ‘Translator’s Son.’ It is not an insult, like half-breed. It means that you are able to understand the language of both sides, to help them understand each other” (203). Yes, he writes to us in English and not in his native Abenaki language, and in this, even in translation, we are limited in how much we’ll retain of his actual past. His is a voice that is aware of the limitations of language and this is part of his network—and it is heterogeneous. His network is not always recognizable. We’ve noticed it before, and in this case it is specific, it won’t always look like the predetermined categories we’ve have prescribed for it. Like us, American Indians are creative and they have already learned how to contend with the restraints of history, and so have we, but this doesn’t stop all ignorance. The network of understanding has to remain open, while paradoxically knowing that there will always be closures, obscurities, ignorance and erasures. Ominously, Law tries to sum up ANT by suggesting that “there is nowhere to hide beyond the performativity of the webs” (16). Since we can’t escape, we can at least recognize the patterns that stare at us from the past and that continue to form the future. The networked map of an American Indian past (and present) overlaps with everyone else’s, even if we think it doesn’t.
Jim Dolwick helped us to move into the connection between ANT and Gilles Deleuze and Félix Guattari’s (D&G) concept of the rhizome. As Dolwick outlines, they have to make the case that the rhizome is against the arboreal (tree-like) ways of thinking and organizing (34). What this means is that Western thinking has consistently clung to the metaphor of a tree, where associations, categories, and meanings are derived from, for instance, the Tree of Knowledge and the like. The botanical metaphor of the rhizome is not like this, since a rhizome lacks the centeredness of a tree’s roots and branches. Dolwick says that the idea of the rhizome “…is depicted as a decentered system of points and lines, which can be connected in any order and without hierarchy” (34). Also, as we’ve noted over and over again, with ANT, D&G’s rhizome takes into account the non-human actors. In D&G’s celebrated book of the 1980s A Thousand Plateaus, the opening chapter takes us right into the concept of the rhizome amidst other complicated permutations of their philosophy. “Multiplicities are rhizomatic…” (8) D&G write, showing that the multiple is not the unified, or arboreal, therefore demonstrating that the rhizome is inherently multiple and multiplying. Interestingly, we find a passage about ants (the insects) “you can never get rid of ants because they form an animal rhizome that can rebound time and again after most of it [the ant colony] has been destroyed” (9). This reflects ANT’s insistence that there is nothing outside a network, and it also emphasizes the persistence of insect connectivity. D&G elaborate and try to summarize what their rhizome is “…unlike trees or their roots, the rhizome connects any point to any other point, and its traits are not necessarily linked to trait of the same nature…” (21). American Indians were not always linked to the Europeans, but now they are, and this rhizomatic pattern is map-able. Remember too, that since we normally come to these things from the arboreal way of thinking, everything has its source, its trace, yet with the rhizome the networks can be tough to recognize. “The rhizome is an acentered nonhierarchical, nonsignifying system without a general and without an organizing memory or central automation” (D&G, 21). In Bruchac’s story, he takes us through his childhood, to a slightly unrecognizable part of it “my junior year of high-school I was still the strange kid who dressed in weird clothes, had no social graces, was picked on by the other boys, scored the highest grades in English and biology, and almost failed Latin and algebra” (198). Here, if we insist on a center, we can find one, but if we don’t, we start to loose the stereotype of this man as an American Indian. His clothes are playing a part in how he’s treated, his emphasis on the different subjects in school he’s interested in, or not, becomes part of his network—another rhizome. It is only when we require that his story needs to be thought of only in one way that we start to lose what D&G wanted to show us with the rhizome. If we can’t let go of a unilateral way of seeing his past, then we’re not seeing his multiplicity and multiplicity as a D&G concept. In an online reference for the term “multiplicity” Nicholas Tampio shows that multiplicity also steers away from the arboreal because “…their [D&G's] method aims to render political thinking more nuanced and generous toward difference” (1). An American Indian story can always have a unique reading. Their story need not always be about oppression and loss.
Back in A Thousand Plateaus, D&G connect the rhizome to deterritorialisation. “Every rhizome contains line of segmentarity according to which it is stratified, territorialized, organized, signified, attributed, etc., as well as lines of deterritorialisation down which it constantly flees” (D&G, 9). This is fascinating when we are looking at the American Indian with his history with the non-human land itself, the land that was taken (now known as the United States) and the land that replaced their former territory (the reservations). The critical part of what D&G imply is that when there is an established sense of territory, the possibility for that to be disrupted is contained within it, in the form of deterritorialistion. Territory contains it very undoing. Adrian Parr in The Deleuze Dictionary writes on the entry for “Deterritorialisation/Reterritorialisation” where it “…inheres in a territory as a transformative vector; hence, it is tied to the very possibility of change immanent to a given territory” (67). When Ortiz at the end of his essay talks about the continuing of oral traditions of his people, he talks about the obvious barriers “…it is amazing how much of this tradition is ingrained in our contemporary writing, considering the brutal efforts of cultural repression that was not long ago out-right U.S. policy” (194). Here we see this concept of deterritorialisation in its full effect, the process of acculturation deterritorialises the Indians to create a new territory. The Indians have had to reterritorialise their traditions in spite of the efforts to eradicate it.
As we recall any of this history, we remind ourselves of the other histories told alongside this, including our own. We, of course, know of the African Americans who were hated because they were not white, while their work was exploited. We barely remember the way the Spanish (and by extension the Mexican) history in the New World has been maligned and is now forgotten, lost and ignored. When we think of ANT and the rhizome, we should take into account that these are methods to expand our thinking, instead of always trying to narrow people and things down to one or two general stereotypes. However, this should still include the view that everything stems from one source. In other words, we still have to allow for the opposing view, because if we didn’t, we’d have to ignore the very thing that got us in here to begin with and that it is part of the network. American Indians and how their story is told, is generally obscured and misunderstood, as much as they’re never to be reduced to one singular memory since their story is our human and our non-human story—multiplied together—and then some…
Benjamin, Walter. “On the Concept of History.” The Marxist Internet Archive. Trans. Dennis Redmond, 2005. Web. 11 Nov. 2012.
Bowker, Geoffrey C., and Susan Liegh. “Enacting Silence: Residual Categories as a Challenge for Ethics, Information Systems, and Commincations.” Ethics and Information Technology. 2007. 273-280. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
Bruchac, Joseph. “Notes of a Translator’s Son.” Swann and Krupat 195-206.
Danesi, Marcel. “Actant.” Encyclopedic Dictionary of Semiotics, Media, and Communications. Toronto, Canada: University of Toronto Press, 2000. Print.
Deleuze, Gilles, and Félix Guattari. A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia. Trans. Brian Massumi. Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press, 1987. Print.
Dolwick, J. S. “‘The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory. Journal of Maritime Archeology, Vol. 4. Springer Science + Business Media. 2009. 21-49. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
Gilloch, Graeme. Walter Benjamin: Critical Constellations. Malden, MA: Blackwell Publishers Inc., 2002. Print.
Latour, B. “On Actor Network Theory. A Few Clarifications Plus More Than a Few Complications.” Soziale Welt, Vol. 47. 1997, 369-81. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
Law, J. “Actor Network Theory and Material Semiotics.” Heterogeneities. 2007. 1-21. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
Ortiz, Simon. “The Language We Know.” Swann and Krupat 185-194.
Parr, Adrian. ed. “Deterritorialisation/Reterritorialisation.” The Deleuze Dictionary. New York, NY: Columbia University Press, 2005. 66-69. Print.
Swann, Brian and Arnold Krupat eds. I Tell You Now: Autobiographical Essays by Native American Authors. Lincoln, NE. University of Nebraska Press, 1987. Print.
Tampio, Nicholas. “Multiplicity.” Encyclopedia of Political Theory. 2010. SAGE Publications. PDF. Web. 15 Oct. 2012.
November 30, 2012 § Leave a Comment
Proper wire dressing is an art form. Improper wire dressing is more the rule than the exception.
There are competitions, I think there’s one at CES, iirc.
A good buddy of mine is a fiber-optics system engineer and he has some funny stories along those lines.
I learned a fair bit about wire dressing from a couple of guys I worked with in the SCAD film and video dept.
One did that sort of work for Microsoft back in the 90s and the other, in retrospect, is probably the best I’ve seen.
They were both fonts of knowledge and know-how, on many levels, so my learning curve was more like a spike.
(I sort of fudged my way into that job, I had some operational engineering experience, but I was a bit under qualified, at first.
plus, I’m left-handed, dyslexic and was never mechanically inclined — I always seem to go for jobs that I’m not qualified, credentialed
or even capable of performing and then just immerse myself, fumble through, master it, get bored, move on, repeat.)
We all had started working there within months of each other and found that we had inherited a ridiculous kludge of wiring nightmare,
it was like something between Pollock and Giger in wire. Eventually, we worked it all out and left pure functional elegance in its place.
Before that, I was a master control operator for a TV station.
The engineer did not practice good discipline. It was indecipherable.
I wish I had some photos.
be seeing you,
October 31, 2012 § Leave a Comment
© Tomas Saraceno
Focus on 14 Billions, 2010
c-print mounted on dibond, framed
61 3/4 x 80 1/8 inches
This is a literature review, meaning that the purpose will be to lay down the groundwork for the possibility of a future study. The emphasis here will be to simply look at and consider the works in question. The prevailing theme of the four papers under discussion is the social sciences. With that said, it’ll be noted that there are convergences, overlaps, and networks amidst the social sciences that meld into other disciplines, this will become evident with the exploration and definition of actor-network theory (ANT) along with Martinez’s (2006) study concerning American Indians. The many relationships will be a way to define ANT. The Encyclopedia of Social Theory lets us know that “…the key ideas of what came to be known as actor-network theory (ANT) were first formulated in a 1981 paper by Michel Callon and Bruno Latour. Their work, along with that of John Law, has been closely identified with the approach” (Barry, 2006, pp. 4-5). Of these three authors, two will be considered here, Bruno Latour (1990) and John Law (2007). Bruno Latour has become a prominent spokesperson for ANT along with his many speaking engagements, curatorial and writing efforts. By way of introduction, it’s important to understand a few things, but there is still one key word we’ll need to think about before we even get to a full fledged analysis. As Latour opens his discussion of ANT he makes a quick mention of the word ontology (1990, p. 1). It’s vital that this word be defined before anything else, because if we don’t know what ontology means, then we won’t have any root to understand ANT. Ontology usually has to do with being with special consideration given to the origins of being, but when we consult The Oxford Companion to Philosophy it indicates that “Different systems of ontology propose alternative categorical schemes” (“Ontology,” 2005). This shows us that ontology is not only about being, but it is also about the way things are categorized and how they’re related generally and specifically. In a way, this has everything to do with ANT, as defined by Latour, Law, Allen (2011) and Dolwick (2009). It will also be clear that this isn’t a theory per se. ANT can be generally thought of as an application. This will explain why Martinez has been included. Her work is here to bring in a study of two American Indian tribe’s efforts to negotiate and work with government officials, archaeologists and the like. Hers is an emphasis on cognitive psychology and communication. The possibility of fusing ANT to her project in an upcoming paper will offer an in-depth bridge to work in the humanities and to demonstrate the links ANT shares with any alternating disciplines.
If anyone is an authority on the clarifications and complications of actor-network theory (ANT) it’s the sociologist of science and anthropologist Bruno Latour (1990). In his paper “On Actor-Network Theory: A Few Clarifications Plus More Than a Few Complications” Latour makes it clear that understanding ANT is no simple task because of the way one has to make essential structural changes to the very core of how we think of how things and people are working—with agency—in a network. He starts with a definition of ANT by showing that ANT is not to be confused with engineered networks like a telephone network, a transportation network, etc. Instead these networks are said to be “…the final and stabilized state of an actor-network” (p. 2). A good way to think of this might be to think of the various interactions we have with others and the interactions we have with objects, aside from a more formalized ‘network.’ We don’t need something to already be named a network to call it a network. It is important to note that ANT doesn’t account for the exclusivity of human relationships as the social sciences have traditionally explored. Instead, ANT closes any gap between the human and non-human actors within any heterogeneous (unique) relationship, without the other traditional devices of spatial dimensions of distance, scale and interior/exterior. This is probably the fundamental feature of ANT that differentiates it from most other social science ideas—most only account for the human with minor, or no consideration for objects. If anything, as mentioned earlier, ANT is ontological, in that it seeks to explore, investigate and include the relationship of things and humans (and vise versa). Also, ANT is less of a theory, and more of a relational methodology. In a way, an actor (or actant, the two terms are interchangeable) is defined by its relational effects without any space between the connections (p. 5). This means that when we act, for example when we’re typing on a keyboard with someone else online, there is nothing that separates these actions in a network. Yes, there can be spatial differences, but not in that sense that the network would be any less of a network if these physical distances were closer or more distant. ANT has grown from the discipline of semiotics, but it doesn’t concern itself exclusively with text and language, instead it is extended to the sciences (and into other arenas), thereby questioning the notions of physical nature as being “out there” (p. 8) and society as being “up there” (p. 8). ANT is relational rather than relativistic. ANT grants no a-priori (presupposed) assumptions about relational network patterns. Latour says that “a network is not a thing, but the recorded movement of a thing [within a network]” (p. 14).
The prominent sociologist John Law (2007) is another innovative proponent of ANT. In his paper “Actor-Network Theory and Material Semiotics,” Law will immediately make the connection to semiotics (the study of signs, language etc., their relationships and the conceptual meanings thereof) and how ANT had its origins in semiotic theory, with its well known emphasis on the material (things, not just the human). This repeats one of ANT’s indispensible features: the role and agency of the non-human, along with the agency of humans as both material mediators in a heterogeneous network. Law is keen to point out that ANT is not actually a theory, but an approach that looks to find connections, relationships, accounts, stories (etc.) about these findings. Remember that an aim of ANT is to be used as a tool to perform a study and to use it to do research. When using ANT in the field one would have to employ effectively it to have enough know how with it to gather data to then make observations and hypothesize about the findings to propose new ideas and so forth. Material-semiotics, instead of ANT, seems to better apply to what Law describes as a term that “…better catches the openness, uncertainty, revisability and diversity of the most interesting work” (p. 2). Law stresses the relational qualities of ANT and sometimes these relations are unrecognizable. Law then looks anecdotally at the intricacies of the developments of ANT, its intimate relationship with the sciences and engineering. The theme/metaphor of language translation (perhaps reaching to its semiotic roots) is looked at as a way to think of how networks can misinterpret each other, i.e. each actor network speaks its own language, and this translational idea stems from the complicated work of the philosopher of science Michel Serres (p. 5). Then there are the intrinsically interactive themes of order and disorder, recalling that ANT is about finding and recognizing heterogeneity (disorder) out of a preconceived operational order (networks). Law emphasizes the recognition of “…process and its precariousness…” (p. 7) as it’s related to a given network’s reliance on process and how to keep the network together. Power also is vital to a network’s ability to retain it, and most importantly how its power affects other networks and actors. Law also shows how ANT grew out of a so-called “post-structuralist relationality” (p. 12) that took cues from the philosophies of Foucault and Deleuze and Guattari (we’ll be looking to them in an upcoming humanities paper). Since ANT itself emerged from post-structuralist tendencies, Law indicates that “crucial to the new material-semiotics is performativity” (p. 12), in other words, this has to do with how things (actors/actants) perform, operate, relate, interact, react, repulse, reject etc. There is the importance of multiplicity, for example, how a singular body can have a multiplicity of networks that deal with it. Fluidity is additionally named as a way to think of networks as having fluid connections that lack centers, hence the heterogeneity of fluid network (p. 14). Throughout his paper Law demonstrates with scenarios that demonstrate how ANT is used to examine an array of scientific, sociological, anthropological, networks and the human and multiple non-human actors thereof.
The maritime archaeologist Jim S. Dolwick’s (2009) paper “The Social’ and Beyond: Introducing Actor-Network Theory” is another excellent introduction to actor-network theory via an extensive definition of the word and concept of the social. Using ANT, Dolwick promises to get beyond the norms concerning the way the social is understood, his view “…allows us to move beyond the restrictive ontology of the social” (p. 1). Dolwick presents a brief, yet precise, history of how specific sociologists and philosophers (Bataille, Bauman, Bourdieu, Deleuze and Guattari, Durkheim, Luhmann, Marx, Lacan, Weber and others) have understood the complexity of the word social that clearly has a wide array of meanings, once it’s cracked open and sorted through. The social can simply mean an association, but usually this takes into account the multiplicity of meanings that have traditionally positioned the human actor as the center of the social, rather than the human’s involvement/association with non-human actors. The idea that the social means association is solid link to ANT’s non-human component.
Continuing with Dolwick’s (2009) study, there’s a view of the word social that gets a little narrower and “…refers to human aggregates or humans-among-themselves…” (2009, p. 22). This is the perspective of the social sciences where the human to object connections are ignored and the emphasis is how humans interact and pass knowledge within a strictly human domain. Here is where we find some of the unconscious influence on the social, but not too much attention has been given to the agency of objects. The last definition Dolwick looks into has to do with the social to mean “social structures and social facts” (p, 22). This perhaps the most restrictive meaning where the social “…stands apart from other concepts such as ‘individual,’ ‘psychical,’ ‘natural’ [etc.]…” (p. 22). Because the social has been defined in these confusing ways, Dolwick has to resist a working definition by stating that “…there are so many different ways of defining and characterizing this concept [the social] that it almost has no meaning” (p. 23). This leads Dolwick to conclude that there is little agreement as to what the central paradigm of sociology actually is. Dolwick has to then show how the sociologists and philosophers were positioned within a complex web (perhaps a network) of polarities and similarities, with attentive regard to how each defined the social (p. 25). Dolwick determines that the popular philosophical team Deleuze and Guattari are the most similar to ANT. This shows how philosophy and the social sciences eventually meet. Few metaphors are as well-known as Deleuze and Guattari’s rhizome’s similarity to ANT. About the rhizome Dolwick writes “visually, this is depicted as a decentered system of points and lines, which can be connected in any order and without hierarchy” (p. 34). This connection to ANT is important and it will be looked at in the promised humanities paper. Meanwhile, Dolwick carefully guides his study through the complicated history of the social that leads to a working definition of actor-network theory (ANT) as defined earlier by Callon, Latour (1990) and Law (2007). ANT is unusual in the practice of social theory because of its insistent inclusion of all non-human actors into a decentralized network of associations. Dolwick’s final overarching consideration has to do with how archaeologists understand the social in connection with its artifacts of inquiry.
Much like Dolwick (2009) had to work hard to define the social, Casey D. Allen’s (2011) paper “On Actor-Network Theory and Landscape,” wrestles with the ever-changing definition of the word landscape and how it has been used in tandem with the equally challenging concept of nature. Both meanings (landscape and nature) are usually held together, and both are typically thought of as human constructs. First we have “landscapes as human-in-nature” (p. 275) and then we have “landscapes as nature-in-human” (p. 275). The first is the most traditional view that man resides in nature and his landscape is what he sees around him. According to Allen landscape “…stems from something with which I’m already familiar, something perhaps socially constructed” (p. 275). Which leads to a construct of “nature-inhuman” (p. 276) that can be viewed in terms of consumption (something to be consumed, or a place to consume), similarly it can be thought of a human construct. With these multiple considerations, Allen then has to look at landscape through the ideas of several sociologists and philosophers (Bourdieu, Foucault, Marx, Lefebvre, Thrift, Soja and others). For instance, Bourdieu’s habitus (roughly comparable to the way humans relate to the environment and the social with a strong emphasis on agency and less of an emphasis on determinism) is related to Foucault’s notion of how the body becomes a place of mediation for the social, nature, landscape etc. (p. 276). Allen entertains the metaphor of the natural root (of a tree) to the urban environment of New York’s subway system of ‘routes,’ hence illustrating a connection to the natural in the manmade. Lastly, Allen details and champions the specifics of how ANT can be an invaluable research tool in the study of landscape, physical geography and human geography along with other disciplines, yet without the usual spatial considerations these disciplines deploy (p. 278). ANT’s value has to do with its ability to contend with the heterogeneous, while at the same time deflating issues of time, space and scale—as elaborated by Latour (1990) earlier. It becomes easy to notice that all the intermeshed networks of the human, landscape, society, culture, urban and rural are already operate as networks, we simply have to do the research to find and identify them using the untraditional methodology of ANT.
Lastly, in the attempt to bring in an alternate voice that could be easily connected to ANT and its methodologies we’ve included a paper that demonstrates a ready-made network. With “Overcoming Hindrances to our Enduring Responsibility to the Ancestors: Protecting Traditional Cultural Places” Desireé Reneé Martinez (2006) draws on her intensive work with two American Indian tribes, the Wana Pa Koot Koot and the Payos Kuus C’uukwe of the Northwest United States, who were negotiating with archaeologists and U.S. government officials to outline what she identifies as problems with the way the groups mis/understand each other within a cognitive social psychological framework. This is “in recognition of archaeology as a colonial and imperialistic tool…” (p. 487). Looking to the specifics of how the different groups were negotiating to preserve sites of cultural interest in the late 1990s, she observed several preconceived cognitive notions, presumptions and misperceptions that each side had about the other group. Martinez names “Naïve realism, the fixed pie myth, loss aversion and the status quo biases” (p. 491) as potential negotiating pitfalls that each of the groups might have. These cognitive problems would therefore have to be eliminated and worked on before any work on the cultural sites would be done (or avoided). Essentially all parties involved would have to create a way to reflect on their own bias beforehand in order to move forward. Her general theme is that to collaborate one must look inward to fix prejudices, before looking outward to attempt to help others. As mentioned several times before, this paper is brought in the mix with an eye to possibly compare Martinez’s work with ANT in a later project, showing that not only is cognitive psychology an important factor, but also the actants of landscape, nature, cultural artifacts, ideas and places, are of relevance using ANT’s unique perspective.
With all this said it becomes clear that this very research is its own heterogeneous network that requires the effort of study and evidence to become another venue by which to observe the social, humans and nature as equally powerful actors ready to make newer meaning, relationships, systems and networks that will continue to grow and manifest far beyond these small introductory steps.
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