What is ANTi-History?

ANTi-History is an alternative approach to historiography whose theoretical development and empirical application to craft an organizational history of Pan American Airways was the focus of Gabrielle Durepos’ PhD dissertation. ANTi-History draws on insights from three distinct literatures: 


  1. The sociology of knowledge;
  2. Cultural theory historiography;
  3. Actor-network theory


ANTi-History is rooted in an amodern ontology, and a social constructionist epistemology.  The method of ANTi-History draws largely on actor-network theory (ANT).  Drawing on ANT, ANTi-History assumes a relational lens to understand the construction of history as a product of the politics of actor-networks who perform their past.  The task of the researcher becomes one of tracing the negotiations, politics, and acts of translation and enrollment of human and nonhuman actors as they form networks, whereby a unified understanding of what happened before-now comes into being.  Simply put, the task is to trace the performances of actors as they negotiate the past into written histories. 


Though ANTi-History has been developed and used fruitfully in the archive, it has not been used with human actors in organizational sites.  This is significant because ANT has itself been criticized for its lack of specific methodological direction in terms of dealing with and understanding the motives of human actors.  To the degree that ANTi-History draws on ANT, it can be subject to similar criticism.  Using ANTi-History for applied research that involves human actors (i.e., heritage interpreters in the case of writing an organizational history of Nova Scotia Museums) will offer an opportunity to address this criticism.

Click here for a Powerpoint Presentation on ANTi-History
Naming ANTi-History

ANTi-History has assumed its name for a number of reasons including that it:


(1) Is anti-‘history’ in the sense of denying the possibility of pre-given stories of the socio-past (history) awaiting discovery:  This means that a researcher who uses ANTi-History does not begin their historical analyses by assuming as given what they wish for those very analyses to show.  Because of this, conducting a historical analysis using ANTi-History does not begin with an assumption that there is a history per se, or pre-ordered knowledge of the past with a given plot. ANTi-History does not assume that the traces being followed actually lead to a pre-ordered story that is to be unearthed in its entirety.  Rather, the researcher who uses ANTi-History assumes that their role in the tracing of the constitution of the socio-past has an active influence in the ordering of those traces of the socio-past into history.  Following this, those using ANTi-History assume the stories they are to tell are ordered effects of the interrelationship of the situated historian and her situated traces.  To draw on ANTi-History means privileging empirical observations or traces of the socio-past by following traces of both nonhuman and human socio-political actors, thus heterogeneous actors.  This is done in an effort to (re)assemble the constitution of the social by looking at the actors relationally, thus looking between actors to understand how one actors’ interests were altered as a result of interacting with another.  And, which networks were built as a result of these interactions.


(2) Is anti-‘history’ in the sense of questioning the limitations imposed by the academic category of ‘history’ upon doing history:  ANTi-History is anti-‘history’ in the sense that it questions the limitations imposed by the modern Western conventions of the academic category of history.  As a result, the researcher who uses ANTi-History is not constrained by the institutionalized academic categorization of history as a social science and its associated rules for creating knowledge of only social phenomena.  Our modern Western categorical apparatus (categories of thought, of which history is one of many) ascribes the study of material and non-material phenomena to different isolated academic spheres, that of the natural and the social sciences.  Historically, history has been deemed a social science, and thus dedicated to knowledge creation of social or non-material phenomena. The modern Western categorical apparatus that orders our knowledge creation activities is limiting.  This means that the issue should be less about which type of phenomena the academic category of history is dedicated.  Thus, it is less about whether history should be dedicated to isolated knowledge creation about either material or non-material phenomena.  Instead the issue is that the academic category of history should not be limited to creating knowledge about social phenomena because it is classified as a social science.  History should be refocused towards creating knowledge about the inter-relationship of material and non-material phenomena.  As Gunn (2006: 186-187) notes, it “is not simply about bringing ‘nature’ back into the historical picture so much as attempting to decipher the interrelationship between human and non-human worlds.”  ANTi-History is dedicated to tracing the constitution of the socio-past and does this by (a) assuming the socio-past as constituted of heterogeneous actors, and, (b) following the traces of these heterogeneous socio-political actors to (c) (re)assemble their constitution.


(3) Is anti-histor’y’ but pro-histor’ies’:  That the (re)assembly of the various traces of a socio-past into history can take on varying forms, depending on factors such as the situatedness of the historian, brings us to the third point.  ANTi-History is anti-histor’y’ but pro-histor’ies’.   Inherent in ANTi-History is the rejection of a singular authoritative history or the construction of plural stories of the past.  Similar to postmodern historians and specifically the ANT and After literature, the researcher who uses ANTi-History seeks to the reassemble of history in tis multiplicity.  Therefore, she participates in the enactment of different, yet interrelated versions of the socio-past.


(4) Draws on ANT, thus ‘ANT’i-history:  A researcher using ANTi-History does history by drawing on the method of actor-network theory, which is commonly denoted by the acronym ANT.