Actor-networking ceta-sociality, or, what is sociological about contemporary whales?

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In contemporary urban Euro-American societies, whales have become hugely popular and iconic creatures, arousing controversies more intense than most other instances of animal politics. How to account sociologically, however, for the dramatic social transformation of whales, from natural resource to near-sacrosanct agent, is far from self-evident. This article advocates a change of theoretical perspective, inspired by the work of actor-network theorists Bruno Latour and Michel Callon. Rather than focussing solely on the ‘humanity’ of human-animal relations, as does most of sociology, actor-network theory (ANT) allows for the inclusion of non-human ‘actants’ (like whales) into the fabric of sociality. In the ontology of ANT, sociality emerges as semiotic-material configurations of humans, animals, and technologies- Starting from a critical review of the work by Adrian Franklin on growing ‘zoocentrism’ in late modernity, the article proceeds by demonstrating how an ‘ecologised’ ANT sociology contributes towards a better understanding of the emergence of whale ‘actor-hood’ in global society. In broader terms, the article argues that as societies themselves ecologise by weaving ever-denser networks of humans and non-humans, sociology is in need of theoretical reconfiguration. Towards this end, some prospects and limitations for ecologising sociology are set out, suggesting how sociology might come to contribute to the project of living in a hybrid world.

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  • Anders Blok

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