Accepted paper:

Gaps, traps and trips: how ideas manifest in practice


Jessica Symons (University of Manchester)

Paper short abstract:

Gell argues for objects as ‘vehicles of complicated ideas’ (Gell 1996:36). However fieldwork in a Salford community shows that ideas themselves have become ‘vehicles’ that get trapped in particular times, places and contexts

Paper long abstract:

Gell embraces a Zande hunting net in an art exhibition as a trap that can "communicate the idea of a nexus of intentionalities between hunters and prey animals via material forms and mechanisms" (Gell 1996:29). The hunting net alongside Western artworks is an object that can be "scrutinised as vehicles of complicated ideas" (ibid:36). The net constitutes art because it captures social meaning in relationship with people and objects.

In my paper, I explore how social meaning is born from ideas trapped and tethered to a particular time, place and context. Through fieldwork in a 'hard-to-reach' community in Salford on a AHRC funded project focused on cultural intermediaries, I show how particular ideas of culture, creativity and community create traps for local people whose values do not align with policy-driven government instruments that dominate their lives.

I argue that paying attention to local people's ideas and supporting them to realise their own ambitions created a gap for productive work whilst also tethering the activity to a particular individual. It was through the combined effort of local mentors to support the process and the individual's commitment to their vision that the 'material forms and mechanisms' were able to cohere into a 'nexus of intentionalities'.

I suggest that creative city agendas trip up by over-focusing on ideas in the abstract rather than on the processes through which ideas come to be manifest in practice. Gell's insight into agency and how ideas are actively grounded in social contexts draws

attention to this gap.

panel P30
Creative horizons: steps towards an ethnography of imagination