ASA14: Anthropology and Enlightenment

(Plen02)

Beauty, order, harmony and design

Location Appleton Tower, Lecture Theatre 4
Date and Start Time 20 June, 2014 at 16:00

Convenor

Stephanie Bunn (University of St Andrews) email
Mail All Convenors

Summary

A plenary with three speakers with backgrounds from disciplines across the theme of beauty, order, harmony and design. Each speaker will address the theme by giving short presentations or papers from their personal and disciplinary perspectives, leaving time for discussion and debate.

Long Abstract

This plenary addresses the apparent contradiction between the universal and relative aspects of Beauty, exploring it as a form of action and process rather than simply as the result of actions. As Suzanne Langer says, beauty is not only lodged in the eyes of the viewer, the critic or consumer, but also in the producer, who through engagement strives for some kind of balance, order, disorder or revelation, as wholesomely satisfying to the hand and heart of the maker as it is to the eyes of the beholder.

It is 20 years since the Manchester GDAT debate defeated the motion 'Aesthetics is a cross-cultural category', and fifteen since Alfred Gell wrote that artefacts which were awe-inspiring or made with incomprehensible skill were not beautiful, but 'possessed by agency'. This plenary provokes us to consider Beauty as something that people sense, seek and strive for, whether through a walk to a 'place of outstanding natural beauty', through acts of creativity, listening to music, experiencing architecture, visiting heritage sites (age, it seems, brings beauty) and art galleries, or through actions such as engineering bridges or designing for the future.

We take this to be an entirely perilous adventure, daring to bring the ephemeral, unquantifiable and magical into the realm of reflection, orderliness and balance, viewing Keats' 'A thing of beauty is a joy for ever' to be as equally tenable as Beauty's conflation with aesthetics or judgement.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Of Ossian and the end of the foolishness

Author: Peter Gow (University of St Andrews)  email

Summary

The debate provoked by James Macpherson’s publication of the mythic texts of Ossian during the Scottish Enlightenment was intense. Were these stories authentic? Dr Johnson famously demanded to see the original manuscripts. Today, the debate seems ludicrous, for we have now formulated the idea of an oral tradition which has originality, but no obvious originals. There has been a major shift in sensibility between then and now, and their aesthetic criteria are no longer ours. But that shift begs a question in turn. Contemporary anthropology owes a huge debt to the Scottish Enlightenment, so what does it mean to think one of its central premises to be risible? The paper offers a possible anthropological reason, and a possible anthropology.

Long Abstract

None provided.

Collaborative form(s)

Author: Wendy Gunn (KU Leuven)  email

Summary

Gunn asks us to consider beauty as collaborative forms of action generated by moving between design by means of anthropology and anthropology by means of design. Specifically, she gives focus to play-like reflexions on practices of designing energy products, systems and infrastructure. Design anthropology engages groups of people within collaborative, interdisciplinary, inter-organizational design processes and co-analytic activities vs. the individual anthropologist conducting studies of people. In doing anthropology by means of design as Gatt and Ingold (2013) have shown, design is considered the process of research rather than its object. In its temporal orientation, anthropology by means of design moves, ‘…forward with people in tandem with their desires and aspirations rather than going back over times passed’ (ibid 2013: 141). Doing design by means of anthropology takes as its most fundamental premise designing as a social process and can be understood as a material engagement and constructive critique involving participant observation.

Long Abstract

None provided.

Quaternions and the manifold in Oceania

Author: Susanne Kuechler (University College London)  email

Summary

Simon Harrison (2006) has provided us with a convincing argument for the role played by the ‘fracturing of resemblance’ in island Melanesia, placing differentiation and dissociation rather than consociation and congruence at the core of identity politics. This paper will ask how an ontology of identity as manifold is made to work by exploring image based systems that make use of quaternions to rotate and deform spatial entities, while keeping their identity stable. It is this topological imagination, the paper will argue, which makes it possible to conceive of a propensity for relation to rest in the multiple iteration, or the manifold, of one (see Wagner 1991). The fractal images of Eastern Polynesian patchwork will provide the backdrop against which to throw a perspective on the material imagination that uses number sets not for exact measurement, but to draw out spatial relations such as neighborhood, insideness and outsideness, disjunction and connection. Mathematical ideas implicit in the cultural products of Eastern Polynesia constitute the conceptual framework for the political economy of its societies that have placed the transitive iteration of genealogical time at the center of considerations of affinity. Returning to island Melanesia, quaternions will be shown to be implicit, rather than explicit, driving the iteration of generative and composite images that display a being in relation permanently under construction. The implication of the recovery of quaternions in Oceania for a re-conception of ‘art and agency’ will conclude the paper.

Long Abstract

None provided.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.