History in St Andrews had taught me a lot… Or so I thought. Transnational history is not a class that attempts to destroy or even discredit certain historiographical schools of thought and widely-acknowledged conceptions of history writing. However, Dr. Struck and Dr. Girardin made sure that I would never be able to look at well-established theories on historical writing in the same way again. Throughout this semester, I have grappled with the issue of networks and how agency is employed throughout these transnational routes between localities, nation-states, and across the world. Eventually, I came to understand actor-network (with help from Andy) as being a method for explaining the intricate nature in which actors create the network and the network creates the actors. This somewhat mutually-inclusive relationship helped me form the basis of my final project (with my focus on knowledge’s agency) – as you might know. However, when I first started to comprehend this theory in its entirety, I envisaged a different dynamic (quite separate to that of Andy’s seatbelt).
As I approached the topic of actor-network theory, I was struck by the ability of non-human actors to influence and even create transnational links between two places/regions. When I started to conceive of examples to illustrate this interaction in transnational terms, I placed non-human actors in a light of unwanted interaction. Now, I am not saying that Andy ignored the ability of un-wanted or un-intended consequences of non-human actors in transnational networks. Rather, my initial conception of non-human actors was that they were self-directing and did not ‘act’ at the behest of the human actors in these networks. Of course, this was an extremely limiting (and wrong!) view to hold. Nevertheless, my focus on the ability of non-human actors to contribute negatively to transnational actor-networks differed considerably to Andy’s image of the ‘desired intervention by seatbelt alarms. Thus, I produced a completely different image to conceptualise actor-network theory as it pertains to non-human actors (i.e. of a merchant vessel encircled by blood-thirsty sharks on its way across the Caribbean).
In my scenario, sharks were seen to be hindering the advance of the small, unarmed merchant vessel across their overseas route. As previously stated, I initially envisaged the relationship between these non-human actors (the sharks) and human-actors (merchants) as a self-deprecating dynamic in this particular overseas transnational network. As sharks were seen to be part of the actor-network (although unwanted), I placed sharks at centre of the causes for the decline in prominency of network between two Caribbean islands. However, as I started to really analyse the potential effects of these sharks, it became apparent that this relationship was not self-deprecating but ‘self-enhancing’. In order to explain this view, it is imperative to think of any potential benefits that these sharks might have on this Caribbean actor-network. To name a few: 1) improved defences for the ship following this attack. 2) potential food source once they are well-equipped to deal with this issue. 3)greater knowledge of potential shark feeding grounds. 4)necessitated improvements to the ship itself (i.e. strenghtening hull, more provisions for blockades – bait for sharks).
All these factors would have had the positive effect of increasing the networks’ and, thus, the actors’ own security, self-reliance, and knowledge/understanding of the waters that they traverse. My initial conceptualisation of non-human actors in this dynamic likened unwanted effects on actor-networks to something detrimental to the network. However, as I have shown, my thought process was flawed insofar as I excluded the true impact that knowledge of this danger could have on the survival and prominence of this actor-network. Of course, this line of thinking has arisen hand in hand with the progress I have made on my final project. I believe it will not only be helpful to include this in my analysis, but also it will be imperative to my final conclusions as well.