I was speaking with A earlier about the actors that I might follow during the Arnhem Weaving workshops. One powerful actor that emerged from this conversation was the book.
During the the two weaving workshops I participated in at Mäpuru, I used the book to write down new words I was learning in Gupapuyŋgu, stories people would share with me about my gurruṯu and to help keep the weaver’s time-sheets. It was for this final function that the book attracted a lot of attention from the weavers and its power in the network was reinforced. So how was this book performed at Mäpuru this July?
In hindsight it was not such a great idea for the time-sheets to be in my book. I became a sort of a gatekeeper to important information which the weavers wanted to access. All of the weavers knew about the time-sheet and that G (a weaver) and I were maintaining for the week. Weavers would often ask me, ‘Do you have x’s name in the book?’ and I would have a look in the book and confirm it was there. If not, we would write it in. Looking back at the situation, I realise I was quite anxious about the whereabouts of my book; it contained a lot of things that I considered to be important to my Yolŋu education. I had no idea until later in the week that the book was also being protected by other people, but for a different reason.
On occasions the book, which often sat on the mat next to where I was weaving, would be carelessly abandoned (by me) and safely put away by one of the weavers. This protection and care of the book (usually by others and not myself) was starting to tell a story. Was the story about the time-sheet? If so, what kind of story? At some point I need to write the back-story on how the time-sheet came into being, but I’ll do that later.
Throughout the week I increasingly felt like some kind of supervisor, for I was giving power to the time-sheet (a very Balanda construct) by helping to fill it in. Although we never spoke about this with each other, I have a sense that G also felt like she was in this prickly role. Whilst I could pretend that there was a balance that we were disrupting, I think that would be naive. There are all kinds of actors that have more power than others when these weaving workshops are being enacted (e.g. confidence in speaking English, mother’s with babies, bright and abundant piles of dyed pandanas and Balanda confident in speaking Yolŋu Matha to name a few).
At the end of the week G and I explained to the weavers how the time-sheet would be used to divide up the payments made by workshop participants. This was not the first time a time-sheet had been used, but was its performance during this workshop any different? My book was certainly not always an actor.
So, again it was A who reminded me of Latour with the question, what would it cost to break the network? A question I’ll leave open and contemplate! One thing I am becoming increasingly aware of is how I am trying to grasp ANT terminology – for me it is performing as an awareness that helps me to observe which actors are there, how they are performing and what networks are being formed/undone.