Comparative Globalities: Actor-Network Theory and the Topologies of Japanese “Research” Whales

Volume 07, Issue 2

This article draws on ethnographic studies (conducted in Japan) into ongoing controversies over Japanese “research” whaling, in order to theorize what it might mean, in STS and elsewhere, to think comparatively about global connections, networks, and flows. Since the 1970s, Japanese whaling has been constituted as a high-profile global controversy, mired in a sensitive cultural politics of so-called whaling cultures (alongside Norway, Iceland, and various indigenous groups). While Euro-American environmentalists attempt to turn whales into charismatic friends of “humankind,” the Japanese prowhaling establishment continues to justify whaling in the Antarctic for scientific purposes. The ethnographic puzzle picked up here is how such work of scientific justification plays out in transnational contexts. Engaging discussions in actor-network theory (ANT), the article addresses this question by elaborating a notion of “comparative globalities.” Gradually, this concept comes to absorb three different STS-analytical strategies in the context of Japanese whaling: the “multicultural global” (ubiquitous cultural comparisons with political effects); “global assemblages” (specific conjunctures of scientific, legal, and cultural trajectories); and a notion of “interobject” and “intraobject” comparisons elaborated in the (post-)ANT language of topology (Law and Mol). This topological strategy of formal comparison aims to extend the notion that technoscientific objects, such as Japanese whale inscriptions, travel the world in different sociospatial patterns, each carrying specifiable effects. The article ends by reflecting on the methodological implications of such comparative globalities for STS work, which, like this article itself, travels between Euro-American and East Asian contexts.

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