Community Research and Development Information Service - CORDIS


KFI Report Summary

Project ID: 323677
Funded under: FP7-IDEAS-ERC
Country: United Kingdom


The primary aim of Knowing From the Inside (KFI) is to reconfigure the relation between the practice of anthropological inquiry and the knowledge to which it gives rise. We seek to establish and to trial a procedure by which our direct engagements with persons and materials, in the practice of fieldwork, amount not to exercises in collecting data for subsequent analysis but to experimental and speculative interventions by which we can explore – alongside the persons and materials with whom and which we work – the possibilities and potentials of sustainable living. This speculative and experimental mode of inquiry also lies at the heart of the disciplines of art, architecture and design. Thus a secondary aim of KFI is to work towards an interdisciplinary synergy which would see anthropologists working with artists, architects and designers in the common tasks of making sustainable futures.

The five sub-projects (SPs) of KFI pursue these aims in different but complementary ways, though with many cross-cutting themes. Thus in SP1, ‘Living and working with wood’, field research in Scotland carried out by staff member Vergunst, focusing on how the skills of carpentry are acquired and applied, raises questions concerning the ecology of craft practice that have also arisen in the context of PhD student Moderbacher’s fieldwork among immigrant trainee woodworkers in Brussels. As part of SP2, ‘Crafting relations’, Moderbacher undertook a year-long apprenticeship in carpentry, developed for migrants and refugees to enhance their employability within the urban labour market. Both projects are about how processes of making create knowledge, shape environments and thereby influence lives, but under the very different conditions, respectively, of local community involvement in forest landscapes and migrant integration into the mega-city. Meanwhile, also as part of SP1, postdoctoral research fellow (PDRF) Clarke has been working with artists from Japan, through experiments with a range of woods and papers, to explore how art and anthropology can answer to the experience of communities affected by the 2011 tsunami and its aftermath. The resulting work, currently on display at the University of Aberdeen, responds to people’s experience of radiation, and explores the ethical issues of conducting research in this context.

The importance of attending to materials is revealed not only in our studies of working with wood but also in PDRF Scheldeman’s (SP2) study of how Arctic scientists engage with the material of ice. She has shown how scientists – like craftspeople – have to relate to ice in a way that demands constant awareness and flexibility, and how scientific knowledge, in practice, grows from such environmentally situated awareness. The same is true in the field of policy. In SP3, ‘Environments of Policy and Practice’, PhD student Marin has completed a year’s field research on fishing, marine conservation and environmental policy in Argentina, during which she has been learning from fishermen and environmental policy-makers about how policies of sustainability are fashioned in daily practice, and about the difficulties of establishing common understanding when these practices, and the kinds of know-how that grow from them, are fundamentally incommensurable. There are close connections between this study, and Vergunst’s (SP1) ongoing exploration, by way of an art-anthropology collaboration, of the divergent approaches of local communities and nature conservationists to the management of Scotland’s native pinewoods.

The focus on materials has also emerged as a central theme of SP4, ‘An architecture of entanglement’. PDRF Harkness has been researching into the social histories of key building materials (earth, lime, concrete), learning from architects and materials specialists while based in the studio of a leading environmental artist based in Fife, Scotland. Harkness’s study is complemented by that of PhD student Marcore, who has completed a year’s fieldwork in L’Aquila Province, central Italy, hit by an earthquake in 2009. Here, the comparison is between the materials of stone, concrete and straw, each of which has its own histories and properties. Concrete has emerged as a particular topic of interest, and was the subject of a collaborative performance involving Harkness and SP5 PhD student Winter, on concrete’s role as representative of the Anthropocene era. In her research, Winter has been tracing the relations between art, architecture, design and anthropology in the history of the Bauhaus School. She has been focusing particularly on the educational mission of the School and on its parallels with thinking in contemporary philosophical anthropology, as well as exploring the potential role of the anthropologist as curator. The topic of SP5 is ‘Telling by hand’, and PDRF Hodson has continued her experimental, arts-based inquiries in Scotland and Iceland into drawing and abstraction, and into the transition from two to three dimensions, the results of which are expected to inform the work of KFI as a whole.

Through our research so far, three major themes have emerged, which are likely to dominate our agenda for the remainder of the project. The first theme is the importance of drawing, as a method of observation and description with far-reaching anthropological implications. While this theme is being developed particularly in Hodson’s work for SP5, we have explored it in two project-wide KFI workshops, and plan to develop it further. The second theme is that of attentionality as a way of understanding engagements between practitioners, materials and environments. This will be key to the project that PDRF Gatt is currently developing as part of SP3, which investigates the modes of communication involved in policy-making through a series of workshops with practitioners in dance and experimental theatre. Finally, we have discovered that anthropology, in the way we want to take it, is fundamentally an educational discipline. This theme of education is currently taking centre-stage in the work of PI Ingold, and has led to our determination that a key objective of KFI must be to address the pedagogical and curricular implications of our approach to knowing from the inside.


Elizabeth Rattray, (Deputy Director, Research and Innovation)
Tel.: +44 1224 273682
Record Number: 189582 / Last updated on: 2016-10-12