From Knowing from the Inside to Anthropology and Geometry

Knowing From the Inside: Anthropology, Art, Architecture and Design(KFI) was a 5-year research project funded by the ERC and led by Professor Tim Ingold at the Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen, from June 2013 to May 2018.

The KFI project aimed “to reconfigure the relation between practices of inquiry in the human sciences and the forms of knowledge to which they give rise. Its fundamental premise is that knowledge is not created through an encounter between minds furnished with concepts and theories, and a material world already populated with objects, but grows from the crucible of our practical and observational engagement with the world around us.”[1]

Art and craft practice and its anthropological relevance was at the heart of this project, which aimed to establish and trial “an experimental and speculative mode of anthropological inquiry”, exploring the relationship between people and materials alongside the conditions and possibilities of sustainable living.

There was a core team of 6 postgraduates and 4 PhD students, along with an additional 6 associates and many visiting scholars. One of the project offshoots was the Anthropology and Geometry Research Groupwhich met three times during the project’s last two years, and it was here that the first experimental collaborations between basketmakers and anthropologists took place in Aberdeen, in January 2018. 

The Anthropology and Geometry Research Grouphad all been drawn to the interface between geometry, maths in general, and anthropology. The open nature of the KFI project enabled this interest to develop. ‘Geo’ plus ‘metry’ literally means ‘the measure of the earth’, and this highlighted the fact that geometry, a subject which may seem very abstract today, had its roots in a practice which was both material and necessary – literally measuring the earth in the process of  building. Ray Lucas, one member, raised some additional money, and so we held the first Anthropology and Geometrymeeting in Manchester, follow six months later by the second meeting at the KFI HQ in Aberdeen.

For the second meeting, Stephanie persuaded the group to have a hands-on session on basketry and maths. Mary Crabb, Geraldine Jones, and Hilary Burns were invited to introduce a session on plaiting and looping. Coming from craft backgrounds and not usually working with such large groups (around 30), the basketmakers all produced detailed worksheets to enable the group to work without the full attention of 1 to 1 assistance.

The outcome was fascinating. The strain of following the worksheets was almost palpable among the thirtyfold participants (mainly anthropologists). Everyone seemed to focus on the point of action, the hands in relation to materials. The tension, strain, force and effort all seemed to be condensed here. Our bodies were, in the main, quite still. Worksheets, we have come to realise since, can lead to a very linear approach to craftwork. It is sometimes hard to follow the steps and keep a sense of the whole and the outcome, when one is learning a skill for the first time from a worksheet. 

[1]KFI Project report

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