Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Amazing Grace

Proving that I have a social life, i saw this film over a bottle of pinot noir. But even in my social life the PhD doesn't go away.
Reading Latour's 'Reassembling the social', has altered my vision so that everything is reconfigured in terms of actors and mediators.
Unfolding throughout the film was an exercise in change; What does it take to change the world but assemblages of actors. Please be warned: if you don't know the plot or the history of British politics of the time 1833, there is a plot spoiler coming. Although the film centre staged a major player in Witherford, there was also the rise of the PM Pitt the younger. The influence of the friends, Quakers (Clarkson) as well as those of other religious persuasion (Newton, previously a captain of a slave ship and later writer of the hymn Amazing Grace) as well as non religious or secular friends both political and otherwise, and people both black and white, and gendered. The multiplicity of factors that effect change was magically portrayed. The movement of Bills, not passed, the falling out of friendships for what seemed political mistiming. The apparent lack of influence of petitions and of sugar boycotts. And then the cleverness of the boring approach, the conniving to remove opposition and the attack surreptitiously made on the maintaining forces, the structures that stabilize current practice, that allowed slave ships to trade. Something here about preventing the use of flags carefully unattaching some of the scaffolding that sustained the slave trade by the removal of an actor- in this case the actor to use Latours description, is a flag. This move reduced the amount of slave trading that could occur, and this had a flow on effect that reduced the economic reliance on slave trading. A timing of parliamentary sittings reminiscent of Yes Minister, involved deliberately engineering non attendance by the opposition in an actual and psychological sense. Tickets elsewhere were freely provided and the proposal of a boring bill proposed by the most disarming and boring MP, told most boringly, and seemingly innoccuous. Is it just in history being dramatized, that the act can be seen as so powerful, and a clever ploy, presumed with deliberateness? And with the declining business of slave trading it then became possible to oppose slave trading when it was no longer the economic necessity it was previously seen as. The influence of other players; the writer of Amazing Grace, the song becomes an actor, the trace of an ex ship's captain reformed from slave trading who entered the church....
How much may or may not be constructed for the media. Certainly web sites for the support of Clarkson suggests his part was underplayed while Wilberforce was grandstaged. Nonetheless an entertaining exercise in the Latour's Reassembling the social: Fourth source of uncertainty. Groups are made, it is not political will or societal pressures that brought change, it is actors whose actions can be traced. And in the Fifth source of uncertainty the writings and tracings themselves have influence (eg amazing grace as song, and also where the film has continued influence on modern day slave trading).

1 comment:

  1. an advantage in blogging the thesis is the capacity to move between times. I found this today about Marshal MacLuhan-
    "he could never stop pondering the kaleidoscopic change going on around him. His mind, always spinning like a Catherine wheel, never stopped sending off sparks. The curse of genius?

    One spark, often overlooked, but crucial, I found buried in The Gutenburg Galaxy, a book often passed over by those who prefer his later, more popular works. Philosophers have always asked what drives history. Is it revolutionary ideas, manifest destiny, great individuals, something called “the life force”? McLuhan denied none of these causes but, following one of his most influential mentors at U of T, Harold Innis, he asked: “How about tools?” We may think the end of the slave trade on the Atlantic was powered by humanitarians and abolitionists in England and America, and McLuhan would not disagree. But the main impetus, he would say, was the steam engine, a tool that reduced the need for muscle. This example is not one I have taken from McLuhan’s writings. As far as I know I arrived at it all by myself. But I would never have thought of it if I had not read McLuhan. That’s how his probes work."
    An essay by
    Bob Rogers