OAC Seminar - "How Knowledge Grows: An Anthropological Anamorphosis" by Alberto Corsín Jiménez

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I am pleased to announce that the second OAC seminar will be presented by Alberto Corsín Jiménez. The title of the paper is "How Knowledge Grows: An Anthropological Anamorphosis," which has been published on the OAC Press's website. (Download Here). This forum will remain closed until the 8th June, which will open once I have introduced the paper and have opened up discussion by posing the first question(s). This is a two-week seminar and will last from 8th-22nd June, 2010. During this time, members of the OAC are welcomed to contribute by posing questions and adding to the dynamism of the discussion. The seminar will unfold at a leisurely pace, as and when participants, including the presenter, find the time to post. After two weeks, the chair will thank the presenter and discussants, announce the next session and close the seminar.

This paper offers anthropological insight into a certain fashion of Euro-American intellectual practice, namely, the operations through which knowledge comes-unto-itself as a descriptive register (of other
practices). I am  interested in the cultural epistemology that enables knowledge to become an enabler itself: what the growth of knowledge – or its rise as an expression of enablement – looks like. What does knowledge need to grow ‘out of’ for such an escalation to become meaningful or, simply, visible?


Alberto has read Economics in Madrid and was previously an economic analyst in both Madrid and London, before he turned his interests towards anthropology. In 1996, he completed an MSc in Social Anthopology at the London School of Economics, then moved to Oxford where he completed his D.Phil, which focused on the relationship between the industrial and labour history, and the urban life within Antofagasta, a mining town in the Atacama Desert of Chile. This fieldwork took place from 1997-1999. He completed his D.Phil in 2001.What emerged from this body of work were questions of political economy and urban space, which led to a critique of anthropological analyses of place and landscape.


His career includes a British Academy Postdoctoral Research Fellowship in 2001 at St Hugh's College, Oxford, a position in the Department of Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester, where he was also a member of the Executive Committee of the Cultural Theory Institute (September 2003). From 2004-2007  he acted as Media and Public Relations Officer at the
Association of Social Anthropologists of the UK and the Commonwealth, during which he was Book Reviews Editor for Critique of Anthropology (2004-2006). In 2009  he became the Dean at Spain's School for Industrial Organisation in Madrid (2009).  As of June 2009 he has been the Senior Scientist at Spain's National Research Council (CSIC).


His books are "Culture and Well-Being: Anthropological Approaches to Freedom and Political Ethics" (2008) and "Anthropology of Organisations" (2007). Other publications include:


2010. 'The political proportions of public knowledge.' Journal of Cultural Economy, Vol. 3: 1, pp. 69-84.

2009. 'Managing the social/knowledge equation.' Cambridge Anthropology. Vol. 28, No. 3, pp. 66-90. Special issue in honour of Marilyn Strathern, eds. Ashley Lebner and Sabine A. Deiringer.


2005. ‘Changing scales and the scales of change: ethnography and political economy in Antofagasta, Chile.’ Critique of Anthropology, vol. 25, no. 2, pp. 155-174


To see a complete list of Alberto's publications, please visit his publications page.




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Just to clarify/contextualise my earlier query about 'growth' - here is Hobbes' opening to Leviathan. Alongside signifying a craftsman/artist, 'Artificer' was commonly used to mean someone who tricks other people (often the Pope and his clergy are referred to as artificers; Hobbes goes on and on about the Pope and the Papist Universities in England in Leviathan).

Nature (the art whereby God hath made and governes the world) is by the art of man, as in many other things, so in this also imitated, that it can make an Artificial Animal. For seeing life is but a motion of Limbs, the begining whereof is in some principall part within; why may we not say, that all Automata (Engines that move themselves by springs and wheeles as doth a watch) have an artificiall life? For what is the Heart, but a Spring; and the Nerves, but so many Strings; and the Joynts, but so many Wheeles, giving motion to the whole Body, such as was intended by the Artificer? Art goes yet further, imitating that Rationall and most excellent worke of Nature, Man. For by Art is created that great LEVIATHAN called a COMMON-WEALTH, or STATE, (in latine CIVITAS) which is but an Artificiall Man; though of greater stature and strength than the Naturall, for whose protection and defence it was intended; and in which, the Soveraignty is an Artificiall Soul, as giving life and motion to the whole body; The Magistrates, and other Officers of Judicature and Execution, artificiall Joynts; Reward and Punishment (by which fastned to the seat of the Soveraignty, every joynt and member is moved to performe his duty) are the Nerves, that do the same in the Body Naturall; The Wealth and Riches of all the particular members, are the Strength; Salus Populi (the Peoples Safety) its Businesse; Counsellors, by whom all things needfull for it to know, are suggested unto it, are the Memory; Equity and Lawes, an artificiall Reason and Will; Concord, Health; Sedition, Sicknesse; and Civill War, Death. Lastly, the Pacts and Covenants, by which the parts of this Body Politique were at first made, set together, and united, resemble that Fiat, or the Let Us Make Man, pronounced by God in the Creation.

To describe the Nature of this Artificiall man, I will consider

First the Matter thereof, and the Artificer; both which is Man.

Secondly, How, and by what Covenants it is made; what are the Rights and just Power or Authority of a Soveraigne; and what it is that Preserveth and Dissolveth it.

Thirdly, what is a Christian Common-Wealth.

Lastly, what is the Kingdome of Darkness.
After reading Alberto's paper again, I made my own experiment. I wanted to know if a lens as an optical device is a good metaphor for constructing knowledge. It is a fact that a device, abstract or otherwise, is used in experimentation and intellectualization. In microbiology, a microscope is used to study the microscopic. In philosophy, one has to ground himself in a certain theoretical perspective in coming up with a set of reasons. The process of seeing I call intellectual optics in analysis is undeniably important in our interpretation and understanding of just about anything.

I used a magnifying glass over a newspaper. The lens magnified and minimized depending on the side I used. When I exposed it to the sun, the magnifying side only discolored the paper while the minimizing side burnt it. The metaphorical conclusion I got from the experiment was that there are four possible cases that can happen in using an optical device, again, abstract or otherwise, in analyzing, intellectualizing or theorizing. It can magnify knowledge, minimize it, mask it, or destroy it.

The question is: In which case does anamorphosis belong? Does it magnify, minimize, mask, or destroy knowledge?
A nice but misguided experiment. For details see http://www.anamorphosis.com/what-is.html.



M Izabel said:
After reading Alberto's paper again, I made my own experiment. I wanted to know if a lens as an optical device is a good metaphor for constructing knowledge. It is a fact that a device, abstract or otherwise, is used in experimentation and intellectualization. In microbiology, a microscope is used to study the microscopic. In philosophy, one has to ground himself in a certain theoretical perspective in coming up with a set of reasons. The process of seeing I call intellectual optics in analysis is undeniably important in our interpretation and understanding of just about anything.

I used a magnifying glass over a newspaper. The lens magnified and minimized depending on the side I used. When I exposed it to the sun, the magnifying side only discolored the paper while the minimizing side burnt it. The metaphorical conclusion I got from the experiment was that there are four possible cases that can happen in using an optical device, again, abstract or otherwise, in analyzing, intellectualizing or theorizing. It can magnify knowledge, minimize it, mask it, or destroy it.

The question is: In which case does anamorphosis belong? Does it magnify, minimize, mask, or destroy knowledge?
I do not think it was misguided. I was not experimenting specifically on anamorphosis, but on a device that I metaphorically redefined later as either an abstract perspective or a physical instrument used in analysis. If anamorphosis is an epistemological device for constructing knowledge, I think it should possess a function or all functions of a device like a lens. A film or a digital camera also has long, close, dark and blurry shots.

Initially I thought there were six functions including clarification and distortion that depended on the distance of the magnifying glass to the text of the newspaper. I did not include them because in an experiment there should be a degree of uniformity-- the distance should be the same. In my view, clarification and distortion do not really construct knowledge. The former reinvents the wheel and the latter denies the existence of the wheel, metaphorically, of course.
John: You are right: my appraisal of Benkler's work was a bit blunt and reductionist. All I meant to say was that his account of cooperation, sharing and reciprocity in the network economy is not 'anthropological'. He explains these in terms of transaction costs, motivations, incentives, psychological rewards, etc. His language is that of institutional economics and organizational sociology. To me, his account looks a bit like a review of a theatrical production: he tells us how things are brought to life on stage but we know very little about the social energy expended backstage.

Huon: 'How knowledge grows' aimed at pointing to the rise of 'size' as a theoretical idiom; the way in which certain proportional arguments are endowed with greater explanatory and/or epistemological efficacy than other arguments. So to answer your question, my use of 'growth' here (in the shape of proportionality) would fare as a technique.
Thanks Alberto, I have very much enjoyed reading the paper and your elaboration here.
Me, too. This has been enormously stimulating and a great example of how well an on-line seminar can work. I look forward to reading your book.

Huon Wardle said:
Thanks Alberto, I have very much enjoyed reading the paper and your elaboration here.
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read the paper and engage very productively in discussion. It has been my first online seminar and I hope it will not be my last. It has been very rewarding and I am most appreciative of everyone's contribution and interaction. Thanks again.
Alberto Corsin Jimenez said:
Thank you everyone for taking the time to read the paper and engage very productively in discussion. It has been my first online seminar and I hope it will not be my last. It has been very rewarding and I am most appreciative of everyone's contribution and interaction. Thanks again.

We still have one more day to go everyone, so please get in your final questions whilst this discussion is still up and running.
Whilst reading “The special report on the genome” featured in The Economist (19.06.10-25.06.10 issue) it dawned on me how relevant Alberto’s paper may be to the politics behind the growth of knowledge as it pertains to the recent advancements in biotechnology—specifically the human genome—and its previous and future obstacles.

I have gathered that the anamorphic lens is a device in which one ‘tinkers’ with representations lending to a political illusionism at times, but most importantly how ‘scaling’—the act of zooming in and out—represents the way knowledge goes through vis-à-vis theoretical analysis.

For years, biotechnology of the genomic kind has been one of dynamism, as the human genome has been abstracted, dissected, and reassembled in ways that have, in the past, proved far from substantial. This was partially attributed to a focus on “linking the genetic variation to disease” as opposed to more emphasis to “the way genes are switched on and off”. Hence, the emphases on slicing genes to support genome sequencing was meant to ambiguate then disambiguate its composition. However, this was more portentous than helpful. The reason being is that it was not with reconfiguring of a present genome that has the biological and medical world on bated breath, but the synthesizing of a new genome borne from a lab—specifically through the development of computer technology. As technology grows it gives way to more efficient means of ‘scaling’—in this case cross-species comparisons and identifying new traits within the genome—within genomics.

In addition, I thought of the public imagination and how it manifests from the production of new knowledge—how will biology classes be taught? Will we be in for pre- vs. post- genomic biology as is suggested in The Economist? This may very well be the case, and what how with religious agents deal with the rise of this new knowledge?

These are not questions to be answered, but rather reflections vis-a-vis Alberto's paper. Very inspiring Alberto!
For years, biotechnology of the genomic kind has been one of dynamism, as the human genome has been abstracted, dissected, and reassembled in ways that have, in the past, proved far from substantial. This was partially attributed to a focus on “linking the genetic variation to disease” as opposed to more emphasis to “the way genes are switched on and off”. Hence, the emphases on slicing genes to support genome sequencing was meant to ambiguate then disambiguate its composition. However, this was more portentous than helpful. The reason being is that it was not with reconfiguring of a present genome that has the biological and medical world on bated breath, but the synthesizing of a new genome borne from a lab—specifically through the development of computer technology. As technology grows it gives way to more efficient means of ‘scaling’—in this case cross-species comparisons and identifying new traits within the genome—within genomics.

Wow, Stacy, thanks for that. That's pretty much how I envisaged the application of anamorphosis: a tool for tracing deployments of 'scale', 'inversion', 'disambiguation', as, precisely, analytical artifices / strategies.
Alberto, I am glad that we can end this seminar on an inspiring note. I am actually quite eager to consider this anamorphosis even further. However, I must stop here for now.

Thanks to Alberto for providing us 'knowledge for growth', and 'food for thought'. This seminar has officially come to an end, and has been made a success through all those who participated. We are currently soliciting contributors for another OAC Seminar, so if anyone is interested please contact Huon Wardle at oacpress@openanthcoop.net.

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