Project Overview

The project is anchored in anthropology. More than any other discipline in the human sciences, anthropology is about learning how to learn. It is not so much a study of people and things as a way of thinking with them: a protracted master-class in which the novice learns to perceive things in the ways his or her mentors do. An education in anthropology, therefore, serves not just to furnish us with knowledge about the world, but to educate our perception of the world. It is to join with people in their speculations about what life might or could be like, in ways nevertheless grounded in a profound understanding of what life is like in particular times and places. Yet the speculative ambition of anthropology has been persistently compromised by its commitment to an academic model of knowledge production according to which lessons learned through observation and practical participation, in what is called ‘the field’, are recast as empirical material for subsequent interpretation. In this recasting, field observations are normalised to conform to the expectations of the academic model. Lessons in life become qualitative data. Our mission is to refute the division between data gathering and theory building that underwrites normal science by re-establishing anthropology as an art of inquiry, dedicated not to the interpretation of what has already come to pass but to finding pathways along which life can be carried on. Here, every work is an experiment: in the sense not of testing a hypothesis but of prising an opening and following where it leads.

In this, we find common cause with the disciplines of art, architecture and design, which – like anthropology – seek to re-awaken our senses and allow knowledge to grow from the inside of being in the unfolding of life. All four disciplines inquire into the ways people inhabit, perceive and shape their environments, in currents of space, time and movement. All four, too, are both inherently speculative and yet ground their speculations in an understanding of the lived world. This commonality establishes possibilities for collaboration that lie at the heart of the present project. Departing from the conventional anthropologies of art, architecture and design, which treat artworks, buildings and other artefacts as objects of analysis, we seek to unite the four disciplines on the level of practice, as mutually enhancing forms of exploratory engagement with our surroundings. In this sense the project is interdisciplinary. But it also antidisciplinary, in that it overturns the canonical understanding of the academic discipline as a bounded knowledge domain which maps externally onto a delimited class of phenomena in the world. For in our perspective of knowing from the inside, the disciplines of anthropology, art, architecture and design figure not as adjacent fields of study but as convergent lines of interest. We aim to bind these lines into a common pathway.