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Accepted Paper:

Innovation and uncertainty: a new bridge in the highlands of Borneo  
Ian Ewart (University of Reading)

Paper long abstract:

Fieldwork in Malaysian Borneo in 2008-2010 by the author, an engineer turned anthropologist, provides the data for an examination of the relationship between innovation and uncertainty in design. With limited resources and knowledge, a Kelabit community set out to build a new type of bridge in the rural highlands of northern Borneo. Skills and knowledge of something familiar (such as housebuilding) were used as the basis for the production of something ostensibly new. In this way uncertainty is constrained but so then is the scope for innovation: Coping with surprise is done through practices 'in-the-hand' rather than 'in-the-mind'. Uncertainty is seen as centrally important, despite the methodological difficulties inherent in recording something so fleeting, and its potential association with failure. This paper argues that innovation requires the generation of uncertainty, and that a successful design means overcoming those uncertainties through the skills of competent producers.

Panel W047
Design anthropology: intertwining different timelines, scales and movements
  Session 1