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The primary aim of Knowing From the Inside (KFI) has been to reconfigure the relation between the practices of inquiry, in anthropological research, and the knowledge to which they give rise. We have sought to establish and 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 has been 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 have pursued these aims in different but complementary ways. Thus in SP1, ‘Living and working with wood’, field research in Scotland and Japan has focused on how the skills of carpentry are acquired and applied, raising questions concerning the ecology of craft practice, and has considered how art and anthropology can answer to the experience of communities affected by disaster. Research in SP2, ‘Crafting relations’, has explored the intimate relation between attending to materials and shaping environments, through fieldwork among immigrant trainee woodworkers in Brussels, Arctic scientists working with ice and artists using the material of clay for large-scale installations. This work has shown how knowledge grows from environmentally situated awareness. The same is true in the field of policy and in SP3, ‘Environments of Policy and Practice’, field research on fishing and marine conservation in Argentina has shown how policies of sustainability are fashioned in daily practice, and addressed the difficulties of establishing common understanding when these practices are fundamentally incommensurable. The focus on materials also emerged as a central theme of SP4, ‘An architecture of entanglement’. Through fieldwork in Scotland and in an earthquake-prone zone of Italy, we learned how materials such as stone, concrete and straw each have their own histories and properties. In SP5 is ‘Telling by hand’, we have carried out experimental, arts-based inquiries in Scotland and Iceland into drawing and abstraction, the results of which have informed the work of KFI as a whole.

In the course of our research, three interconnected themes emerged: correspondence, attention and education. Correspondence is about how lives and materials, going along together in time, answer to one another in a way that is continually generative of new forms. We have shown how correspondence and attention, taken together, amount to a practice of education in the literal sense of a ‘leading out’ into the world, as opposed to the more conventional idea that education is about the delivery of ready-formed knowledge into the minds of learners. Following from this, it became a key concern of KFI to address the pedagogical and curricular implications of our approach to knowing from the inside. This has led us to redefine the objectives of anthropology as primarily educational rather than ethnographic, and to show that research in anthropology – as indeed in art, architecture and design – is above all a practice of correspondence.

KFI has been driven throughout by a strongly collaborative ethos. Alongside the fieldwork of its individual researchers, the project has delivered an intensive programme of workshops and exhibitions, and a publications series, all of which have been premised on the idea of the ‘unfinishing of things’: that what is crucial for sustainable design is not that finished objects should last forever but that nothing should ever be finished. Acknowledging that things are always in the making, allows every generation to begin afresh, and for life to carry on. We have sought to establish this principle at the heart of all we do, as practitioners, scholars and educators. In so doing, we hope to have set an example for academic endeavours more generally, across the entire spectrum of research in the arts, humanities and social sciences.