Our Own Devices
In this day-long workshop hosted by GIDEST and Parsons School of Constructed Environments, anthropologists were invited to describe aspects of their research practice that departed in significant ways from the received conventions of long-term, individualized, text-based ethnographic fieldwork and production.
The first chapter of Essentials of Anthropometry, published in 1928 by the Division of Anthropology of the American Museum of Natural History, is dedicated to “necessary instruments” such as the “stature rod,” the “sliding compass,” and “spreading calipers.” “The nearest large police station,” writes Luis R. Sullivan ominously, “will furnish the address of supply houses.” Anthropometry would eventually go out of fashion. Its instruments went with it, as did others once thought necessary for the measurement of culture. Today, we have pens, notebooks, cameras, and audio recorders. And, we have our bodies and senses, tuned through anthropological practice to observe, interact, experience, and, perhaps, to generate insight.
What other devices — tools, prosthetics, enablers, substitutes, models — already are or could in future be taken as instruments of ethnographic research? What if we left for fieldwork with a microscope or a clarinet under our arm? What if we used “sand play” or theatrical scripts to interact with our interlocutors? What if we built computer games or sculptural prototypes, drew maps with professional software, analyzed soils or wrote poetry, or built large-scale installations as way of questioning and knowing? And what if we displaced the individual researcher into a collective or swarm?
Valentina Bonifacio, Marie-Curie Research Fellow at Ca’ Foscari University of Venice, Italy, and Parsons School of Design
Abou Farman, anthropologist, writer, artist, and Assistant Professor of Anthropology at The New School for Social Research
Alberto Corsín Jiménez, Reader in Social Anthropology in the Department of the History of Science at the Spanish National Research Council in Madrid
Kristina Lyons, Assistant Professor of Feminist Science Studies and Anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz
Rane Willerslev, Professor of Anthropology at Aarhus University and Director of the National Museum of Denmark, Copenhagen