techniques and technologies are harder than we think!

One of the things I like about anthropology is that it's so gosh darn interactive. Coming from an economics and social theory background, I'm accustomed to talking about things - talking a lot about things! However, as Marx put it, "The philosophers have only interpreted the world in various ways. The point, however, is to change it." (I am uncertain what of Feuerbach's writings provoked that particular thesis, but IMO it's a good one.) Getting to the point, this summer at Trelleborg I purchased a pair of reproduction tortoise brooches, of the type used by Viking women to hold their clothes together. Also, a pair of horn needles and a little set of snips. This has inspired a feverish desire to recreate the clothing around them, starting with spinning the yarn. You'll be happy to know I've resisted buying a sheep, but everything else is open to discussion. 

The upshot is, there's a lot going into this dress. I'm not even going to try the linen for the underdress, but will instead use commercial linen and attempt to dye it myself. Basically, the process of flax to fabric is too complicated. Nor am I going to try to make my own sewing thread. I am going to spin the yarn, weave the fabric, and tablet-weave the belt and trim for the over-dress (apron dress). I expect it to take a year to learn to do, even though I am already accustomed to hand-sewing. It might take longer than that. I expect to have to adapt a lot of techniques already worked out by other people, because I'm ambidextrous but left-hand dominant and my fine motor control in my right hand isn't good enough to do most craft activities with it. I started with learning naalbinding, since I can do that on the train or while watching television, and even finding the right yarn to do it is kind of a pain. (I already worked out how to do that left-handed.) I've started a tiny dyer's garden, though I don't actually know yet how to turn woad or weld into dye. So the upshot of this little reflection is: a lot of work and skill and time goes into something as simple as dressing oneself respectably. This is easy to forget when you can buy a jumper for £10 at H&M. I wonder which techniques we use will be most mystifying in 200 years?

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Comment by Joel M. Wright on October 3, 2012 at 7:51pm

John, I knew there was something about you that I really liked (beside your apparent personality). Confession: I, too, am a lefty (in more ways than one).


Keith: I had the same first response. In 200 years, typing on a keyboard may indeed be a lost technique/technology. Building on that, texting will also likely be a thing of the ancient past. Indeed, it would be very interesting to see just how we consume, create, and manipulate information.

To speculate a little along the Isaac Asimov line, I wonder what the advent of personal robotics would do to humanity. Not just anthropomorphized robots, but any machine that is commonly used by humans to perform what we consider to be everyday tasks and labor. With increasing mechanization, it's not just hand-crafting clothing that we loose. How about slaughtering and dressing animals for consumption? I’m not sure I even have the skill to find food, outside of a grocery store.


Anybody read Dan Simmons' dualogy Illiad and Olympos? A great feat of imaginative science fiction, in which baseline humans have turned somewhat eloi-like.

Comment by John McCreery on September 28, 2012 at 6:14am

Consider, too, contributing something to PopAnth. Check out this article. It would be great if you could do something similar on your crafts and the communities in which they are embedded.

Comment by John McCreery on September 28, 2012 at 6:06am

Kate, if you have the time, please contribute to the seminar on Ted Fischer's paper. I expect that you can contribute a lot. 

Comment by John McCreery on September 17, 2012 at 4:46am
As someone with an economics and social theory background, you must, if you are not already, become familiar with Andrew MacKenzie's Material Markets: How Economic Agents are Constructed. The discussions of the "trader's ear" and why fractional stock prices are traditionally quoted in quarters of a point, opening the way for computerized leveraging that takes advantage of the gaps, are brilliant.
Comment by Keith Hart on September 16, 2012 at 2:16pm

Typing on a keyboard. Reading paper. With luck, having to jump on a vehicle to go somewhere (Star Trek was in the 23rd century). Beam me up Scotty. Techniques are also often harder than they need to be.

Comment by John McCreery on September 16, 2012 at 3:43am

Great, great post. Has special appeal to me, directly because I, too, am left-handed. In my case, the special twist is that, while I am strongly left-handed and eat, write, and do everything that requires close attention and fine motor control left-handed, I am, perversely, right eye dominant, so I swing an ax or baseball bat and throw (an American) football right-handed. The way in which these [I think this is the right word] affordances affect our worlds is a fascinating topic to think about. Also, while not hand-crafty myself, I am married to a knitter who is currently stretching her skills by knitting stuffed animals. Her works to date include a T-Rex and a stegosaurus, a lugubrious angler fish, and, just today, a squid. She, too, by the way is also left handed. 


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