A Rhizomatic ANT In Germany

imageHere I am in Germany for my first holiday in five years, and while there is a nasty train strike going on across the country, I still somehow find myself on one of the trains that is running thinking about our #rhizo15 time together (and alone), especially as the informally formal part of it is nearing its end.

I posted a question in the #rhizo15 Facebook group about any experiences people had or thought about regarding travel and the rhizome, and I got the most interesting responses that helped push my thinking a bit further. In some ways, I have started to rely on this, my informal network, and can even envision maintaining contact with some of my new colleagues from here. Anyway, I digress.

There I was walking through Munich and I found myself in an antique coin dealer’s shop where a World War II era  coin was of interest and shortly thereafter purchased by one of my travel partners. Never much interested in coins, I did not at first pay attention to it until I noticed its date. Odd that the coin at first seemed to be missing a certain characteristic symbol, but upon closer inspection, there it was.

Covered by a tiny piece of tape.

You know the image I mean, right? That mark of a totalitarian and brutal regime, reproduced on nearly every item that originated and was used during that dark period in history. In some ways, it is not surprising that it is still around; to be realistic, it was used for a number of years. As that party originated in Munich itself, it would almost be surprising to not see it in any way.

Yet, it is nowhere to be found, unless you peel back the tape.

You see, it is illegal in Germany to show this. In some ways, it may not be surprising. After all, such a brutal symbol that reminds us of so many awful things done to, with, and by people, including even by their neighbors from down the street, would be a fitting thing to limit. No sense reminding people of so much hatred and brutality, especially with those who may still harbor certain affections for such an awful past. It makes sense we were now protected from it via this little piece of tape.

Alas, for an American, given our protected freedom of speech, it may seem odd that it is illegal to surpress any symbol as thoroughly as this one is outlawed here, though it seems such symbols that may stir such strong emotions need not be publicly depicted. This may not necessarily deny it is there, had profound effects, or still invite strong passionate responses. An elephant in the room may be safer than one that is there, loudly blowing its trumpet. Thank you, piece of tape. 

This is one of the best examples of actor-network theory I have experienced while traveling, namely how a simple line drawing stamped onto an old coin could have such power that it must be surpressed. Hidden, even, by tiny piece of white tape smaller than a fingernail. Actor-network theory is so useful here to see how non-human actors, such as ideas, exert power. This agency is so strong and its power to enroll people into extremism is so powerful that it has to be countered (cf. Callon’s (1986) Scallops, and her really exerted power and influence over another). Interesting that an image can still exertso much power and emotion over others. Then again, the American Flag, images of Mohammed, and a Crucifix have all been known to mobilize people into action and translate the new web of relations into a darker world order (cf. John Law,  2008). Better to formalize a suppression of images than for one issue of translation to fail and all sorts of awful things begin, again, in some way.

What does hiding really do, however? Do ideas go away, or lose their power to influence or enroll those who are so moved to act as a result of them? Will ideas temper or mellow by keeping them safely isolated? Perhaps they can be replaced with more appropriate ones, or at least those more fitting the current social norms or mores of society?

Thinking about the open world of #rhizo15, how can rhizomatic learning account for these things, especially as we can never really know how people or things will react once ideas are allowed to roam free?

This may be how the rhizome acts, in that ideas may influence us to act or believe or think differently about something (or not), as it is so representative for how our histories and experiences affect how we learn things or when things occur that challenge our taken-for-granted meaning making and moves us to a new place?

Let’s try a tiny case in point. What have I been considering and how have you understood it? I am ending with my meandering here without mentioning what symbol I have been considering. That is the rhizome; now what will you do with this?

23 thoughts on “A Rhizomatic ANT In Germany

  1. “What does hiding really do, however? Do ideas go away, or lose their power to influence or enroll those who are so moved to act as a result of them?”
    A personal take on hiding. I was born in Australia but my mother came to Australia at the age of 12 after leaving Russia aged 6 and living in Germany in her primary school years. She and her parents had fled Russia when they were tipped off that her father was about to be shot because of his anti-Communist activity in Russia. That whole community of Russians emigrating to Australia in those years had similar experiences and personal reasons for being afraid of the Communist regime. Consequently we were brought up to fear Communist Russia and although our Russian language school textbooks came from Russia, certain words/phrases were blacked out or pages were just glued together. We were intrigued and tried hard to see these forbidden words. Things are different now with the passing of time, but actually not so different because some of the older generation still have that fear and distrust. My generation can’t help be influenced by that although we have obviously moved on from the paranoia – some more than others.

    1. @Tania, this is a fascinating personal account, thank you so much for sharing it. I think your notion of paranoia is a powerful one, and it makes me think that even with changes in political processes and names of countries or colors in flags, some of the same intentions or hatreds or fears may still be alive, though move and shift in different forms. To this point, slavery has been illegal in the US for over 150 years, and while equality is firmly established in law, how they are lived by people and expressed or considered in how people experience them may show to many people that the same intentions and biases are still alive and well. Not protected here by tape, but rather a blind justice system that itself may be blinded at times.

  2. i’m glad you’re having a rhizomatic holiday and finding things that surprise you on your journey. i didn’t know this about the coins and tape… i’m kind of amazed. for me, the issues of eugenics in various forms, is of course related to that period in history – people with disabilities were the first victims, and part of the proof that made the deed doable came from the U.S.A., and people in both Canada and the U.S. were extolling similar ideas. they continue to do so. we might need more tape 🙂

    i’ve appreciated your presence in our #rhizo15 discussions!

    1. Indeed, @Aaron, we may need more tape. I wonder how those issues that seem to require the tape can be shifted.

      Alas, all this reminds me of issues of ISIS, and how the same things, in different places, may continue to happen . . .

  3. Thanks for the post Jeffrey.
    As I’m just setting out on my explorations of ANT, my musings are likely to rather naïve, so please forgive any shortcomings in my understanding … and for posing a bunch of questions, rather than any answers.
    My initial thoughts lead me to thinking about the other actants contributing to the actor-network of which the symbol is a part. There’s the coin which carries the symbol – is this an actant or a mediator? Does the symbol act differently and exhibit differing degrees of agency depending on the artefact which carries it – a flag, government documents, newspaper, uniform? And is that agency, powerful though it may be, different depending on the particular views of the human actors it enrols?
    I was also minded to think about the part played by the white tape covering; part of the actor network or not? The act of hiding perhaps sets the mind of the viewer on a different path than if it had not been there. Would you have noticed the coin and been provoked into considering an ANT perspective had the symbol been visible and consequently widening the network to include me and the other commenters? (If that is, we are indeed part of the network?)
    Thanks for helping me think.

    1. What great questions you raise, Ian. Thanks and welcome!

      I think, to your questions, that all the symbols we see, along with the symbols that are hidden, are part of various networks (and which you have now joined by posting here!), all of which may carry with them, or potentially provoke within us, various reactions and responses through their acting as they do. The tape was there as required by the government, either that or don’t see the items in public, which in a way enrols us. That I reacted as I did and raised other issues of freedom and speech and the power of symbols, may or may not be what was considered when the laws were themselves enacted. I suppose the laws may be understood by different people in different ways, though the desires to work within them also helps to maintain a much wider network.

      I am not sure what would have been my reaction had the tape not been present . . .

      Not sure if you have found it yet, but the ANT group on FB https://www.facebook.com/groups/220398254694166/ may be of some interest to you!

      Again, thanks for the comments. What brings you to ANT at all?

      1. Thanks for the reply Jeffrey.
        In October I embark on a PhD intending using ANT as the exploratory lens for my study, so currently just trying to view (let alone grasp!) this apparently slippery eel.

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