Following the book

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. 

5 Comments

Filed under Life as Bilinydjan

5 responses to “Following the book

  1. SMC

    Powerful, so powerful. Im entranced by the pages, flicking, reading bits here and there. Going back and forth.

  2. I sent a test comment and it looks like it is in a queue for your blessing, so it has succeeded where the last one didn't. I will continue!I had a look for Latour's question, 'What would it cost to break the network?' and I can't find it. I realise it may have been me who coined it that way. He used the term 'value'. He was talking about what he calls 'sociologics', and he says,'From the observer’s point of view none of [the actors in a particular network] ever think either illogically or logically, but always sociologically; that is they go straight from elements to elements until a controversy starts. When this happens they look for stronger and more resistant allies, and in order to do so, they may end up mobilizing the most heterogeneous and distant elements, thus mapping for themselves, for their opponents, and for the observers, what they value most, what they are most dearly attached to.' (Science in Action, p205)It is that idea, 'mapping what we are most dearly attached to', that I have paraphrased as, 'the cost of attachment', or rather the 'cost of detachment'. (But he may have used the idea of cost elsewhere; I'd have to check.)It is an idea that rings true for me .. all over the place. What would it cost Yolngu to do something in a Balanda way in a workplace if it meant breaking a kinship network? What would it cost the women at the weaving workshop to loose the timesheets and not get paid? Yes, a monetary value, but what was the real value of the money? It was attached to what it would buy .. like food .. and in a Yolngu setting that isn't just attached to personal well being but also to relationships. Always back to relationships. An ANT voice might say, 'Duh!' to that because attachments (to network elements) are just that, relationships .. sociologics .. but I guess when we are talking about Yolngu relationships we are taking about rom. But then rom performs through totally heterogeneous networks too .. it's not social, it's sociological.

  3. MC

    I Like the story about the book. It was, there, a 'boundary object' – a participant in your collective action, but which meant and did something quite different for you and for the women who looked after it while you were awol. Have you read Addelson's 'The emergence of the fetus?' It might help you think about ANT and your role as an activist-researcher.

  4. Thanks for all of the above comments. I've not yet read Addelson's 'The emergence of the fetus'… I'll get onto it!

  5. I read 'The emergence of the fetus', here are my thoughts… Addelson raises the interesting question of WHO gets to define the issues (e.g. Who gets to name the public problem? What is perceived as the problem? Who is defining is? How does this influence the solutions that are proposed?). Now this is a process that I am having dilemmas over, just how do I define the 'issue' that is central to my thesis? Surely this process should be collaborative and one that gives voice to the people who are closest to the action. I still feel like an outsider, so what legitimacy do I have in the defining process? Some more food for thought from Addelson: 'Scientific epistemology rests on a pretense that knowledge and truth require an observer that is not a participant in the collective action out of which life itself emerges (131).' This quote brings me back to the idea of where I sit in the research. I am clear that I am not coming at my research from a scientific epistemology and want to make visible a Yolŋu worldview. But, where do I position myself?

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