Allies in anthropology: Ingold on material culture, technology and some other things…
The anthropologist Tim Ingold gave a talk in UCD recently, discussing a number of things, and using a range of concepts, of real interest to enactive thinking. Ingold’s work, I think, provides a rich view of enactive-style thinking at the level of culture. His emphasis on understanding culture and meaning within what he calls “webs of life”, examines living, experiencing organisms embedded in a “mesh” of society/culture/material.
Ideas in there relevant to participatory sense-making and he hits on the extended mind (briefly but tellingly) toward the end.
Both material culture studies and ecological anthropology are concerned with the material conditions of social and cultural life. Yet despite advances in each of these fields which have eroded traditional divisions between humanistic and science-based approaches, their respective practitioners continue to talk past one another in largely incommensurate theoretical languages. Through a review of recent trends in the study of material culture, the reasons for this are found to lie in: (1) a conception of the material world and the nonhuman that leaves no space for living organisms; (2) an emphasis on materiality that prioritises finished artefacts over the properties of materials, and (3) a conflation of things with objects that stops up the flows of energy and circulations of materials on which life depends. To overcome these limitations, an ecology of materials is proposed that focuses on their enrolment in form-making processes. The paper concludes with some observations on materials, mind and time.