ANT/Gramsci, pt. 2

by CarlD

This is the actual title and proposal as submitted to RM.

ANT and Blogging as Gramscian Praxis

Gramsci’s Prison Notebooks were not written for public consumption. Nevertheless, they often read like blog posts, little condensed nuggets of information and analysis linking to a wide range of observations, readings and reflections. As praxis, they point to Gramsci’s understanding of the operations of hegemony across an immense and crosslinked field of structures and relations and the need patiently to respond in kind. Nevertheless, in their current form the notes are not easily ‘activated’ as praxis because their targeting is distorted by their removal from context.

In this paper I propose to participate in the growing conversation between Marxism and Actor Network Theory by thinking through what Latour’s concepts of alliance and network might offer to an understanding of how to activate Gramscian noting as praxis through the blog medium.

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7 Comments to “ANT/Gramsci, pt. 2”

  1. Carl: “In this paper I propose to participate in the growing conversation between Marxism and Actor Network Theory by thinking through what Latour’s concepts of alliance and network might offer to an understanding of how to activate Gramscian noting as praxis through the blog medium.”

    Kvond: Pretty cool. But as you qualify the difficulty in activating the notebooks as due to their “removal from context” how would the “blog medium” provide the context that might activate them? I mean, I see the beautiful analogy or, perhaps, homology of form: notebook entries are like blog posts, aesthetically, but what exactly is the “context” that is missing from Grasci’s notebooks that keeps them from being activated into praxis? And how do you envison the “context” of the blog medium replicating, or at the very least, catalyzing the notebooks?

    Is it that you are thinking like this:

    1. Gramsci’s notebooks are missing their context.

    2. Gramsci’s notebooks have the form of blog entries.

    3. The blog medium is the context of blog entries.

    4. The blog medium might provide an adequate context for the blog-entry-like notebooks, so as to activate them.

    If so, is it your suspicion that Actor Network Theory, as it may describe well the blog medium (into which you could graft the notebooks), stands in homology to Marxist theory, because Marxist theory described well the “context” for Gramsci’s notebooks (whatever that context may be)?

    A series of homological comparisons:

    1.Marxism = ANT
    2.Context x = Blog medium
    3.Notebooks = Blog entries

    Is this where you are going? If so, what is context x?

  2. Thank you Kvond, this is good to think with.

    What I meant by context was more along the lines of the very specific targeting of the notes. Although as a marxist Gramsci was certainly applying a top-down theoretical filter to his observations, otherwise his practice was a ‘granular’ bottom-up analysis of local dynamics in relation to more general network effects. So capitalist hegemony doesn’t exist as an abstract entity or force, but only as particular practices.

    This should make the notes hard to generalize, in much the same way Bourdieu was impatient with attempts to extract a standalone theory from his studies of specific milieux and dynamics. Gramsci himself said he wanted to transform the notes into that kind of theoretical text, but I suspect this was more because as a parvenu intellectual he thought he ‘ought’ to than actually believing it was the right way to go.

    Anyhoo, the contexts I have in mind here are not immediately the blogosphere itself (context =/= blog medium), but any of those particular contexts that a praxical blogger might examine in a gramscian way to build an analysis of the particular alignment of objects and relations that exists now. So the idea is that beyond a sort of general orientation it does little good to handwave about ‘networks’ and instead one must dive into a particular network and see how it actually works.

    Of course in this sense the ways blogs work to create networks should be a focus of investigation as the next step in building a network of gramscian praxis.

    Maybe I didn’t understand or answer very well, but now I must away to class so I’ll hit submit and we can clean it up as we go.

  3. the idea is that beyond a sort of general orientation it does little good to handwave about ‘networks’ and instead one must dive into a particular network and see how it actually works.

    Amen to that.

  4. Carl, So if I may correct my diagram of homologies you are seeing, it is something like this:

    1.Marxism = ANT
    2.”the very specific targeting of the notes” = what “a praxical blogger might examine in a gramscian way to build an analysis of the particular alignment of objects and relations that exists now”
    3.Gramsci = praxical blogger
    3.Notebooks = Blog entries

    I like it, but in order for this to hold, the form of the notebooks and the form of blog entries (I see that in your clarification you have taken out the factor of the “blog medium” which previously you mentioned as important) have to pertain to the same kind of things, do they not? What Gramsci targeted has to be homologous to what the bloggist targeted, right?

    Or, to put it another way, Gramsci picked his targets largely through a Marxist lens, and he applied his praxis method to those targets. Are you saying that the bloggist can do a similar thing by picking his targets through an ANT lens? If some, there would have to be a strict homology between these two types of lenses. Perhaps that is what you are intuiting.

    Are you seeing that given the form of Gramsci’s theoretical praxis of notebooks (which you say were not meant to be read by the public), Gramsci was exhibiting a kind of proto-ANT theorism. In a sense, the proto-ANTism is immanent to the form of his writings. And that a bloggist, using an full-blown ANT lens, and instead indeed writing for public consumption, can make use of SciANTism, pulling Gramsci’s Marxist conceptions of hegemony along with the form of his expression. I’m just guessing here where you might be heading.

    If this is so, there is a kind of cross description that is needed. ANT theory has to retroactively be applied to the targets Gramsci had in mind (facilitated by the clues of the very forms of his notebook), and Marxist (at least concepts of hegemony) need to be applied forwards in time, to the very Network like objects of blogged analysis (things that ANT theory does well with).

    The problem for me, if I can intuit one, is that somehow the “blog medium” got lost. I suspect that indeed it is the very networked connections of blogged commentary that attracted to you to powers of ANT analysis. But are these networks the very targets, “the particular alignment of objects and relations that exists now”, that you had in mind for the praxis blogger? Must not the medium itself (both under Gramsci’s conception of how his notebooks might operate, and in the powers of the blogger) be featured, and not really so much whatever targets each actor had in mind? Isn’t that where the real nexus between Gramsci and the praxis blogger resides?

  5. Perhaps an updated homology map would be:

    1.Marxism = ANT
    2.Gramsci = praxical blogger
    3.Notebooks = Blog entries
    4.Network medium Gramsci hoped his notebook entries to enter into = the disseminating objects/relations of the blog medium
    5.G’s target = a praxical blogger’s target of “alignment of objects and relations”

    All of it exposing a fundamental but perhaps complimentary tension between Network and Hegemony.

  6. Kvond @4: “Are you seeing that given the form of Gramsci’s theoretical praxis of notebooks (which you say were not meant to be read by the public), Gramsci was exhibiting a kind of proto-ANT theorism. In a sense, the proto-ANTism is immanent to the form of his writings. And that a bloggist, using an full-blown ANT lens, and instead indeed writing for public consumption, can make use of SciANTism, pulling Gramsci’s Marxist conceptions of hegemony along with the form of his expression. I’m just guessing here where you might be heading.”

    I’m not quite sure what you mean by SciANTism, but otherwise yes, this is what I think I’m getting at. I’d say more humbly that what Gramsci was up to and what ANT is up to look similar and largely compatible to me, although there’s nothing automatically Left about ANT and the reflex demonizing objection along the lines of ANT’s ‘complicity with neoliberalism’ will need to be addressed.

    Kvond @5 – yes, I think that’s nailed it (I may use this in the talk, if I may), with the usual proviso that homologies are rough-and-ready approximations, not identities. In terms of Left history and practice I especially think it’s important to resist the impulse toward the tyranny of orthodoxy, the ‘one right way’, which is going to mean that our meanings and projects will need to be alliance-driven rather than identity-driven; we’re not going to get conceptual rigor by analytic philosophy standards and that’s going to have to be ok somehow.

    I didn’t mean to drop the blog medium, just to suggest that it may or may not be the focus of investigation and action. So in a first moment of my analysis I just want to show that Gramsci and ANT are up to similar things; in a second, how that might relate to the blog medium.

  7. Kvond @4: “I suspect that indeed it is the very networked connections of blogged commentary that attracted to you to powers of ANT analysis. But are these networks the very targets, “the particular alignment of objects and relations that exists now”, that you had in mind for the praxis blogger? Must not the medium itself (both under Gramsci’s conception of how his notebooks might operate, and in the powers of the blogger) be featured, and not really so much whatever targets each actor had in mind? Isn’t that where the real nexus between Gramsci and the praxis blogger resides?”

    Yes, definitely, thanks for this. I’m not sure how far I’m equipped to go with this dimension of the analysis at this particular time, but it’s where the real drive is in this project. My intention at the moment is to gesture at it; I don’t think a conference talk is a good place to grind through a proper analysis. But it seems to me that this would be where the rubber would have to hit the road on showing how particular alignments of objects and relations work in the blog medium to constitute networks that might have some structuring leverage at a different scale.

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