discussion points


Before you begin to…

Apologies for the late posting. Some brief points on what we’d be interested in discussing tomorrow.  -Hector and Soo-Young

•    Fields of forces. According to Ingold, just as in organic entities a morphogenetic field sets the parameters of organic growth, artifacts are shaped within a “field of forces”.  Neither come about as a material translation of a preexisting blue print and both ontogenetic fields and fields of forces cut across a thing and its environment. In this scheme, the ‘maker’ is only a part of this environment, however an important part of it: “the artifact engages its ‘maker’ in a pattern of skilled activity” (Ingold, 2000, p. 345). As “the properties of the materials are directly implicated in the form generating process”, it is “no longer possible to sustain the distinction between form an substance” “so central to the standard way of making things” (loc. cit.).
This argument, as sensible as it definitely is, does not account for the practical success of the standard version and its relentless hold on us (lasting, according to Ingold, ever since Aristotle’s time). Even though it remains unable to fabricate proficient cello players or lasso users, it seems to have framed and guided the coming into being of a myriad of effective ‘as if’. Or, to put it in awkward metaphorical questions: has the potentiality of the hammer to overpower the force of iron proved forceful enough to turn the more authentic ‘weaving’ into the standard version of ‘making’? What are the consequences of its effectiveness?

•    Detachment, proficiency, and livability. According to Ingold, contemplation comes from a particular way of detachment; while, in opposition, ‘immersion’, where awareness of things is substituted by a heightened awareness of action and interconnection (like in the case of a cellist), is a sign of “dwelling” and/or proficient performance (cf. “Bringing Things Back to Life” and Ingold, 2000). Ingold also tells us that the reduction of things to objects ⎯falling for the “the illusion… by which materials are contrived to vanish, swallowed up by the objects made from them” (Ingold, “A Response to my Critics”, p. 33)⎯ is another way of substituting the awareness of things; but, this time, by becoming only aware of them as unproblematically bounded units, detachable from their context. This, according to Ingold, is made in a way concordant with a peculiar “academic perversion” (Ingold, “Materials Against Materiality”, p. 3) that delineates objects defined by their “over-againstness in relation to the setting on which they’re placed” (cf. “Bringing Things Back to Life”). But this peculiar type of awareness seems as a prerequisite of any analytic stance.  What would be the difference between these ways of awareness? What does this difference tells us about our engagement with things? What would be the practical limits between enskilment and enculturation (Ingold, 2000, p. 416)? How much we need to take things for objects in order to make places inhabitable? How much do we need take things for objects in order to make them manageable? Does the transformation actually make them more manageable? What is lost in the process?

•    Leaking. According to Ingold, things leak and consequently they are alive. The mind (or the cranium) leaks too (cf. “Bringing Things Back to Life”). Within this scheme, how can particular kinds of leaking be compared in order to be able to differentiate brains and kites, or human brains and non-human brains? What is the place of the mind ⎯imagination or creativity, if not intelligence⎯ within Ingold’s scheme of leaking things within a world of materials? Does leakage solve the problem of agency? How could leakage differentiate Ingold’s kite, Gell’s landmine, and the latest microprocessor? Or, in another note, could it be said that the possibility that things leak over us is precisely what we seek to control by turning them into objects?

•    Nature(-culture). If we re-frame the debate between Ingold and Miller as a conversation within a common project, in which mutual criticisms indicate shared concerns, one issue to which this common project certainly speaks is the relationship between nature and culture, specifically the constitution of each as a concept vis-à-vis the other. Ingold and Miller each contend that the other unduly disarticulates nature from culture. Ingold sees his turn from “the material world” to “the world of materials” as a move that recognizes materials within a context that, contra Miller, brings together the social and the natural, establishing them as “overlapping regions of the same world” (Ingold, Writing Texts, 32). Miller, meanwhile, sees Ingold as the one who insists on separating nature from culture: “Ingold wants us to contemplate the stone in its environment, but he seems to want this to be a natural, not a human, environment” (Miller, Stone Age, 27). In what ways are they conceptualizing nature vis-à-vis culture so as to allow them to trade the same criticism back and forth? In what ways does a particular conceptualization of nature shape an understanding of materials/materiality and of what’s at stake in discussing the material? CanIngold talk about plastic as something that “blight[s] the landscape” (Writing Texts, 34) without undermining his union of nature and culture? What is assumed about the landscape so as to understand it as something that can be blighted?

•    Ethnography. Ingold presents his work as a polemic, not at all a set of methodological guidelines. But can making his work speak to methodology open useful perspectives on his thinking? What kinds of anthropology can we imagine that a faithful deployment of Ingold’s concept-work (versus Miller’s) would allow? What would an Ingoldian ethnographic project look like? What are the strategies for constructing ethnographic objects in a world of mesh-works?

From Ingold’s 2007 British Academy lecture, “Anthropology is Not Ethnography”:
The objective of anthropology, I believe is to seek a generous, comparative but nevertheless critical understanding of human being and knowing in the one world we all inhabit. The objective of ethnography is to describe the lives of people other than ourselves, with an accuracy and sensitivity honed by detailed observation and prolonged first-hand experience. My thesis is that anthropology and ethnography are endeavours of quite different kinds.

•    Immateriality. Is there something productive in Miller’s discussion of immateriality (in the Materiality Introduction that we read last week) that we lose touch of withIngold’s rejection of the very concept of the non-material? That is, is there something that is addressed through Miller’s concept of immateriality thatIngold’s framework fails to recognize? Or does Ingold find other idioms through which to address the immaterial? How can we consider a conscious rejection of the material, as opposed to a failure to recognize the material? Spirits?




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