Accepted paper:

Materialising the digital object: knowledge and form in digital architecture


Kåre Poulsgaard (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

Digital practices and objects challenge anthropological tools and knowledge. Exploring this challenge via case studies of design, tools and practices in digital architecture, I develop an analytic framework that situates digital objects within a field of shifting material and immaterial registers.

Paper long abstract:

Anthropology has shown a productive interest in the nature of embodied engagement with objects, materials and design, stretching as far back as Mauss' Techniques Of The Body. As tools and practices are digitising this legacy face serious epistemic challenges. Anthropologists increasingly have to deal with phenomena that are irreducible to the social and material realities they are embedded within, yet lack clear frameworks for how to approach these in a holistic way. Proceeding through case studies from the field of digital architecture, I ask how these anthropological legacies might be reactivated through creative engagement with digital design practices - and what insights this engagement might hold for anthropological research into materiality and objects in a digitising world. A key question becomes how to contain and interrogate tools, objects and techniques that are at once material and informational. Drawing on the new materialism of Ian Bogost and Luciana Parisi as well as recent work in cognitive archaeology and the philosophy of information, I propose a relational ontology of digital practice. This non-anthropocentric approach situates design research and form generation within a field of shifting material and immaterial registers where digital tools and objects are inextricably tied up with techniques and cognition. These are classic concerns for anthropology and material culture studies and positing them within our current digital landscape, will reveal productive lines of inquiry that can re-invigorate our intellectual legacy for the present moment.

panel P044
Anthropology, the arts, and new materialisms