Following the Lobster
In this article, lobsters serve as an analytical trace element for a further discussion about the mutual relation between materiality and meaning. Through keystrokes in different historical and contemporary contexts, the first part of the text presents a number of examples of what a lobster could be – and what it could also be expected to do. The second part discusses the act of following as a culture-analytical method, and indicates the benefits that concepts like frequency, density and population can have.
Asking oneself what a lobster could be underlines that lobsters have more than one meaning. In other words, it is a way of helping us to see how the meaning we ascribe to a lobster is dependent on the kind of company it keeps. Lobsters seldom appear alone. On the contrary, they are almost always surrounded by other things, at the same time as they are objects for highly varying practices. For someone whose task it is to actively look for lobsters, i.e. what in the article is called following the lobster, this is especially clear. When lobsters are moved from one context to another, the setting is also changed. The earlier network of objects, people and physical environments that surrounded the lobsters changes shape. For lobsters, every new setting also means a new network.
In this way, the following of lobsters illustrates how translations and meaning-making should be understood as both material and cultural phenomenon. In the analysis, the object is always one and the same – lobsters – while the setting and the network can change several times by simply twisting the lens. All this can be regarded as a kaleidoscopic cultural analysis, where the ambition is to discover something new about the lobster by searching for it in expected as well as unexpected places. At the same time, the intention is also to generate new knowledge about the contexts and activities that are actualised by the presence of the lobsters. This is why the article’s recurring question – which is posed in the presence of every specific lobster population – is, what is the work that the lobsters are expected to do, right there and then?