The Anthropology of Drawing
Location SOAS Main Building - G51a
Date and Start Time 01 Jun, 2018 at 11:30
Sessions 3


  • Frances Robertson (Glasgow School of Art) email

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Short abstract

This panel considers how groups acquire and invent in a self-reflexive manner specific drawing styles and strategies as a means of learning, teaching, inhabiting and articulating particular genres of visualisation with a focus that overlaps design thinking, STS approaches and cultural anthropology.

Long abstract

This panel considers how groups acquire and invent in a self-reflexive manner specific drawing styles and strategies as a means of learning, teaching, inhabiting and articulating particular genres of visualisation. With a focus that overlaps 'design thinking' and STS approaches, speakers examine children's drawings, design methods and other contemporary working practices. The introductory session drawings as the expression of closed and somewhat abstract dialogues—in relation to facilitating children's examination of social conventions; in elucidating the multiple shifting viewpoints of landscape architects; or in asking how much outsiders can understand financial experts via trading screens. The second session considers performative enactments of drawing genres by participants, with large gestures and comic book styles—in relation to choosing the correct tone, whether serious or comical, for public health messages; to challenging interpretations of children's drawings and their application to current STEM teaching in schools; and to the development of a critical methodology of visual research into Indonesian wayang puppet theatre. The final session examines the active drawing practices of educators, and their relationships to past and future distinct genres—in relation to the relationships between ergonomic thinking in product design in the 1940s that developed alongside life room conceptions of the human body; in the 'walk about' sketches of a Jamaican art educator; and finally in live demonstration of the performative architectural lecturing practice of John Soane through time in the early nineteenth century.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


"Spaghetti, and a special fork for my little brother": children's drawings as idioms of childhood

Author: Francesca Vaghi (SOAS) email

Short abstract

This paper will discuss children's drawings of food and meals as meaningful depictions of their daily lives through the concept of 'idioms of childhood', which highlights the imaginative and performative dimension of children's modes of communication.

Long abstract

Based on ethnographic research conducted in a inner-London nursery, this paper will focus on drawings about food and mealtimes made by young children. Following the work of childhood studies scholars, particularly Nolas, Varvantakis and Aruldoss (2017) on 'idioms of childhood', drawing activities were used in this project as part of a mixed methods approach. Visual and drawing activities have been championed as one of the ways in which researchers can gain access into children's viewpoints about their daily lives (Punch 2002; O'Connell 2013). It will be argued that drawings created by participants, when pieced together with other types of data and situated in the broader context of this ethnography, provide an insight into what children considered valuable about mealtimes, and their food preferences. Further, following Corsaro's sociology of childhood (2011), drawings will be considered here as one of the ways in which children are creatively involved in the process of 'interpretive reproduction'. As well as showing awareness and understanding of adult norms around mealtimes, drawing provided children with a medium through which to challenge conventions, and to even alter the way in which this was being used as a method by the researcher. Theorising children's drawings as emblematic of their worldviews by using the notion of idioms of childhood thus opens an important avenue through which children's knowledge can be gauged, with significant implications for debates about the integration of children's viewpoints and participation in society.

Drawing as environmental revelation: sketching plans and sections in modernist landscape architectural design

Author: Margot Lystra (Cornell University) email

Short abstract

Drawing on landscape theory and science and technology studies, this paper analyzes how U.S. modernist landscape architects' design practices cultivated plan and section sketching as a practice of environmental revelation, in dynamic relationship with living others and natural forces.

Long abstract

From the early twentieth century to the present, landscape architects have used drawing and making practices to enact design process as a form of dynamic, revelatory interrelationship with the materialities and living qualities of landscapes. These designers have engaged techniques such as sketching interrelated plan, section, and perspective views in order to locate themselves in multiple roles and relationships at once: as active mediators of living forces and material flows, as virtual bodies situated within the space of the drawing, and as participants in the becoming of the sites under design. Such practices have been handed down over time, evolving with political shifts, disciplinary trends, and technological advances. They have also remained largely tacit: sometimes alluded to in writing and discussion, but primarily manifested in the many small actions of designing. As such, their cultural capacities remain relatively unarticulated. Using 1930s-60s U.S. modernist landscape architects' plan and section sketching practices as a case study, this paper cross-references landscape theory discourse regarding the revelatory dimensions of drawing with science and technology (STS) discussions of enactment and interspecies relationships, in order to elucidate how landscape architectural drawing techniques construct the bodily actions of drawing as communication with the multiple agents and agencies of real-world sites. The resulting account demonstrates the environmental dimensions of certain modernist design practices, and models the use of STS-based frameworks in praxiographic analyses of architectural drawing.

Financial Markets on Paper: Drawings of Trading Screens by Informants as an Ethnographic Research Method

Author: Deniz Coral (University of Minnesota) email

Short abstract

This paper proposes drawings of trading screens made by informants as a research method. It also discusses how this research method provides a critical lens to examine the ways traders and brokers, whom I call "financial players", interpret and engage with financial markets.

Long abstract

Using drawings as a research method is not foreign to ethnographic endeavors (Martin 1994; Causey 2016). However, due to the heavy digitalization of financial market structures and practices, ethnographic investigations of financial markets put this method aside, and choose to solely rely on researchers' observations and interactions with traders and brokers, whom I call "financial players". I argue that these investigations fall short of providing an adequate answer to this critical question: if financial players' expertise, which seems to equip them with knowledge and power to understand the complexity of markets more than non-players, how insightful can the observations of ethnographers (as non-players) be in capturing how financial players perceive and interpret markets? To address to this question, I will introduce drawings of trading screens made by financial players as a research method that expands the conventional methods implemented to ethnographically study financial markets. By following Raffles' approach (2011) on drawings as being equipped with social meanings, I will discuss the theoretical and conceptual ground upon which "drawings by informants" as a method might reveal how financial players make sense of and engage with markets. I will also draw from ethnographic vignettes from my fieldwork and drawings made by my informants to elaborate on why the analysis of financial players' drawings is crucial and productive to explore market mechanisms.


Causey, Andrew. 2016. Drawn to See: Drawing as an Ethnographic Method. University of Toronto Press.

Martin, Emily. 1994. Flexible Bodies. Beacon Press.

Raffles, Hugh. 2011. Insectopedia. Pantheon

Drawing and attentive perception

Author: John Temperton (York St John University) email

Short abstract

This proposal considers a series of three drawings by the contributor which investigate alternative interpretations of a pre-existing concept created by a child. The variants will consist of the original drawing and three alternate figuration's which challenge perception, intention, and usefulness.

Long abstract

The author intends to demonstrate the behavioural link which exists between curiosity, local processing, visuo-spatial drawing ability and functional changes which might occur as a consequence of intensive drawing practice in the individual. Drawing skill varies enormously in the population and access to creative subjects in education particularly since the introduction of the new baccalaureate continues to challenge the creative sector. How we value drawing as a process matters in respect of culture, economic potential and use. Many children have a burning need to draw the world around them. While making a mark remains essential in public language drawing skill at a certain age becomes less useful except to those associated to have natural talent alone outside of the rigour of core subjects. Drawing could be considered a physical activity promoted by the way in which our minds reach out to the external domain in order to intellectually disseminate, interpret and express, all advanced critical academic activities stimulated by our common ability to visually interpret the world. There has been some academic debate which suggests drawing accuracy is not a result of better perception, veridical or motor coordination but an ability to construct in the mind a robust internal representation of object structure in visual memory by discriminating between the relative spatial position of object segments, in both broad and fine detail. Is it possible then that drawing can be used across the modern curriculum as a critical form of inquiry in support of STEM?

Drawing in between

Author: Giulia Panfili (FCSH-UNL; CRIA) email

Short abstract

This paper presents drawing as crucial practice in the creative process of a PhD research on/through/for Indonesian wayang puppet theatre.

Long abstract

Studying the Indonesian wayang puppet theatre recognised by UNESCO as intangible cultural heritage of humanity, the drawing practice opens to me the possibility to perform in between anthropology and art.

ON wayang:

I draw and copied drawings of wayang characters made by practitioners for better understanding them.

THROUGH wayang:

I sketched situations, people, movements and performance, thoughts and ideas, as living experiences.

FOR wayang:

I use drawings and texts in form of comics for showing and communicating what I have encountered. Do we know what we don't know? The knowledge is there but is tacit. How far can I write it down in an organised way? Text and drawing in the form of comics are a way to know and reveal what is there.


Drawing can be a way to observe, to participate, to be present, to be here and now.

Drawing can be a way to inquiry, to know, to reveal.

Drawing can be a way to communicate, intuitively, synthetically and beyond language.

This presentation is structured in two parts: the first is to show the drawings and present the argument; the second is for live demonstration and practical workshop.

Industrial design, body imaging, and the ultrasonic life room

Author: Frances Robertson (Glasgow School of Art) email

Short abstract

The Dugald Cameron archive at Glasgow School of Art (GSA), informs this interpretation of imaging practices adapted when developing ultrasound equipment for scanning the live foetus in the womb in the 1960s, from new ergonomic concepts in industrial design to traditional life room skills.

Long abstract

Ultrasound scanning of the live foetus in the womb was pioneered in the 1950s and 1960s by Professor Ian Donald, Regius Chair of Midwifery at Glasgow University. This procedure offered an unprecedented view of the unborn child that affected the imagination and understanding of doctors and patients alike. Working with Donald and his team, Dugald Cameron, a recent graduate of industrial design at Glasgow School of Art (GSA) designed the first commercial production version of ultrasound equipment at the start of his career as an influential design educator.

Drawing on the recently acquired Dugald Cameron archive collection of drawings at GSA, this paper considers the range of drawing and imaging practices that were adapted and called into being in this design process, from new ergonomic concepts in industrial design to traditional life room skills. One question to be addressed is the role of the life room and its close study of human anatomy, and the ways in which study of the human form migrated into ergonomic procedures of design drawing. Ultrasound equipment was an imaging technology that was used by human operators in order to peer into other human subjects. While acknowledging the biopolitics of these techniques of body imaging, however, the immediate focus of this paper will be on the drawing strategies and techniques of designers engaging with medical industrial design, using drawing archives and oral testimony from practitioners such as Cameron and some more recent of his successors at GSA in the field of medical imaging.

Towards A Life in Images - The 'Walk About' Sketches of Maurice DaCosta

Author: Courtney Hogarth (The University of the West Indies) email

Short abstract

This paper takes as its core the locating of Maurice DaCosta within the broad movement of art in Jamaica, with particular focus on his 'Walk About' series through which he fully explores the ballpoint medium, whilst narrating the story of a small Jamaican town - Chapelton.

Long abstract

Maurice DaCosta internalized the words of the French Master, Jean-Auguste-Dominique Ingres,"Drawing is the probity of art". Something of a child prodigy, whose artistic talents were recognized early on and fostered through both the Junior Centre of the Institute of Jamaica and the fledgling Jamaica School of Arts and Crafts, Maurice DaCosta dedicated several decades of his life to Art Education. While this, in large measure, prevented him from painting, as he would have liked, yet it didn't dull his appetite for observing the world around him, through drawing.

After pursuing studies at the Central School of Art in London, he returned to Jamaica in 1975 to head the Art Department at Clarendon College. Six years later, he would embark upon what he has termed his 'Walk About' series, depicting the land and people in and around the town of Chapelton, in upper Clarendon. This oeuvre in drawing and sketching explored the poetic possibilities of the ballpoint medium.

This observation of life progressed simultaneously with DaCosta's philosophical flowering, as both educator and individual. Possessive of broad knowledge, DaCosta's drawings and sketches eloquently course his geography, exploring the metamorphosis and maturation of visual language. Too, we have, through the 'Walk About' series, a veritable history of development and changes that have occurred in and around Chapelton for well over three decades.

The author's perspective will be historical, philosophical and biographic, employing that rich tapestry which is DaCosta's 'Walk About' oeuvre.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.