I know we’ve not had our discussion of agents and agency yet, but I had a few quick thoughts I wanted to share. Firstly, I appreciate the basic approach of understanding transnational connections through identification of actors (individuals) and the mapping of those relationships (networks). With regards to my own project, I am leaning towards incorporating a type of actor-network analysis; though not based around an individual (such as a political leader, for example), my understanding of the cultural legacy of the communities built around Regla de Ochá rests upon the paradigm of organization out from the central hub of a santero(a) and the relationships between that leader and the wider group of practitioners. Kind of like the hub and spokes of a wheel, rather than the specificity of a spider with a unique web, if that makes any sense to anyone but me.

Secondly, in researching potential dissertation options, I was directed to an article by Walter Johnson called ‘On Agency’. While not entirely germane to the methodological considerations of this week’s discussion, the article discusses the difficulty in assessing the extent to which certain individuals are capable of shaping human development (that is, of being active actors). This had particular significance to my project this semester, since Regla de Ochá is the inheritance of trafficked Africans and a byproduct of colonialism; as slaves, West Africans in the Caribbean had extremely limited options when it came to determining their lives and were thus restricted from truly driving the sociocultural, political, etc. development that appears to be the hallmark of agency. For me, then, it is key to understand the point at which the people of the communities I am studying made the transition from players in other actors’ actions to actors in their own right. Johnson’s work is a really interesting read if you are interested in social history or the history of slavery, and it raises intriguing questions about the responsibilities we historians have to our subjects as people.

Also, a totally different question: is anyone else struggling massively with word repetition? I must find another word for ‘communities’ or my project is going to make really unpleasant reading. Also, the term ‘Regla de Ochá’ is really clunky as I repeat it; ‘Santería’ is much easier to fit into the rhythm of my writing, but given the fact that many practitioners consider this to be a derogatory and dismissive term, I don’t think I should be using it in an objective historical study. Any feedback on any of this would be massively helpful!

Johnson, Walter, ‘On Agency’, Journal of Social History 37, 1 (2003), pp. 113-124.

Agents and Defining Agency (Plus, A Plea for Assistance)
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One thought on “Agents and Defining Agency (Plus, A Plea for Assistance)

  • March 29, 2016 at 11:35 am

    Many thanks for tackling the issue of word repetition. Could you possibly use the term “network” or “subculture”, instead?

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