Technology and Social Agency or The Evolution of Basket Weaving?
In his article “On weaving a basket,” Tim Ingold develops the idea that an object does not simply represent the creation of a completed form and idea from someone’s mind, an object instead embodies a pattern of skilled movement and production. “culture is conceived to hover over the material world, but not to permeate it. In this view, in short, culture and materials do not mix; rather, culture wraps itself around the universe of material things, shaping and transforming their outward surfaces without ever penetrating their interiority, (Ingold 200: 340-341) Marcia-Ann Dobres in her book Technology and Social Agency calls for the exploration of the production processes, with an understanding that the modes of production are also culturally constituted. It is now fairly well known that modes of production reflect cultural practices as much, if not more than the finished products themselves. In many cases, it is not the finished product that even matters, the object is simply the consequence of the actions performed.
Ingold continues, discussing weaving as not conforming to the “stereotype of the artifact.” I was left wondering exactly what this stereotype is? He differentiates weaving on the basis that to create a woven object, one does not work upon the surface of a material, but actually creates a surface through practice. I had a lot of problems with this sweeping argument, not directly with his discussion of weaving, but of his disregard of all other materials and production processes as simply “surface imposition.” I understand this idea via stone working and wood carving, but metalworking and ceramic production present special cases. One can beat metal on an anvil, but one can also melt it down and pour it into a mold. Clay can be sculpted or coil built, but it can also be made into a slurry and poured into a mold, or can be thrown on a wheel. Throwing present the ultimate example of both of Ingold’s ideas: that of objects being grown and not made, and that of the process leading to forms not previously conceived of. I also strongly object to the idea that weaving above other forms embodies rhythmic movement, for if anyone has ever watched a professional potter create coil-built storage jars, the only way to create standardized wares is through the perfection of rhythmic movements of coil production and building technique.
I partially agree with Ingold’s point concerning how the materials themselves, and the learned movement of production, lead to shapes and forms not previously conceived of by the mind. While the utilization of different materials does not only affect the properties of a completed object, the materials chosen also help to dictate the ways in which an object can be produced. One cannot melt and pour wood to make a figurine for examples, nor can you knap clay (easily anyway) or throw cotton. When considering any object it is important to consider the materials it derived from and the production process via which it is made. Yet, in order for the basket maker to begin the weaving process, or to develop a process of weaving, someone had to conceive, had to want a container of some type.