Polina S. Petrukhina

Lomonosov Moscow State University, Russia

Articles. Research

The article considers two episodes from the history of paleontology in the 18th to 19th centuries, where the main characters are the plesiosaurus (Plesiosaurus microcephalus) and the mammoth (Mammut americanum), the latter of which later turned out to be a mastodon. These creatures were able to manifest themselves as actors despite being extinct for thousands of years. Their actions are traced through their influences on the identities of other actors, be they individuals or entire nations. The Plesiosaurus helps its discoverer Mary Anning defend her rights to do science and to earn a living for herself and her family in the patriarchal society of England in the first half of the 19th century, while the mammoth-mastodon is engaged as an ally by Thomas Jefferson in strengthening the position of the young American nation. The range of interactions our heroes are involved in is heterogeneous: it includes not only the scientific sphere but also public policy, social and gender relations. The analysis of these cases is based on the methodological apparatus of actor-network theory (ANT), which makes it possible to escape the dichotomies of “living/nonliving”, “human/non-human” that hide the agency of objects from the observer. By avoiding these dichotomies it becomes possible to conduct unbiased research of different heterogeneous entities on equal footing.


Keywords: prehistoric animals, actor-network theory, paleontology, heterogeneity, non-human actants