Table of Contents

Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute Special Issue Book Series

The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute is the principal journal of the oldest anthropological organization in the world. It has attracted and inspired some of the world’s greatest thinkers. International in scope, it presents accessible papers aimed at a broad anthropological readership. We are delighted to announce that their annual special issues are also repackaged and available to buy as books.

Volumes published so far:

Making Knowledge: Explorations of the Indissoluble Relation between Mind, Body and Environment, edited by Trevor H.J. Marchand

Islam, Politics, Anthropology, edited by Filippo Osella and Benjamin Soares

The Objects of Evidence: Anthropological Approaches to the Production of Knowledge, edited by Matthew Engelke

Wind, Life, Health: Anthropological and Historical Perspectives, edited by Elisabeth Hsu and Chris Low

Ethnobiology and the Science of Humankind, edited by Roy Ellen

Title page

Notes on contributors

Emma Cohen is a researcher in the Research Group for the Comparative Cognitive Anthropology attached to the Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, and the Max Planck Institute for Psycholinguistics, Nijmegen. She has conducted fieldwork on an Afro-Brazilian religious tradition in Belém, northern Brazil, focusing primarily on concepts, behaviours, and practices associated with spirit possession. Her publications include The mind possessed (Oxford University Press, 2007). She is currently researching the ways people (across cultural and religious contexts) represent the relationship between minds, bodies, and persons. Research Group for Comparative Cognitive Anthropology, Max Planck Institute for Evolutionary Anthropology, Leipzig, Germany.

Roy Dilley is Professor of Social Anthropology and Dean of the Faculty of Arts at the University of St Andrews. He specializes in the study of Haalpulaaren (Tukulor) social organization and culture in Senegal, and published Islamic and caste knowledge practices among Haalpulaaren, Senegal: between mosque and termite mound (Edinburgh University Press for the International African Institute, 2004). Other research interests include anthropological theory and cultural economics, and he is editor of two thematic collections entitled Contesting markets: analyses of ideology, discourse and practice (Edinburgh University Press, 1992) and The problem of context (Berghahn, 1999). Department of Social Anthropology, University of St Andrews, St Andrews, Fife, UK.

Greg Downey is Senior Lecturer in Anthropology at Macquarie University. His research bridges cultural anthropology with biological and neurological studies of sport and embodied knowledge. He is author of Learning capoeira: lessons in cunning from an Afro-Brazilian art (Oxford University Press, 2005) and co-editor (with M. Fisher) of Frontiers of capital: ethnographic reflections on the New Economy (Duke University Press, 2006). He is completing a monograph on The athletic animal with support from the Wenner-Gren Foundation. Department of Anthropology, Macquarie University, Sydney, Australia.

Tim Ingold is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen. He has conducted fieldwork among Saami and Finnish people in Lapland, and has written extensively on comparative questions of environment, technology, and social organization in the circumpolar North; evolutionary theory in anthropology; biology and history; the role of animals in human society; and issues in human ecology. He is currently exploring the interface between anthropology, archaeology, art, and architecture, and his latest book is Lines: a brief history (Routledge, 2007). Department of Anthropology, School of Social Science, University of Aberdeen, Aberdeeen, UK.

Dr Nicolette Makovicky is Lecturer in Russian and Eastern European Studies at the School of Interdisciplinary Areas Studies, University of Oxford. She obtained her PhD in Anthropology at University College London, followed by a Junior Research Fellowship at Wolfson College, Oxford. Her research considers the impact of socio-economic reforms and EU-integration on historically embedded modes of economic activity in Central Europe. Examining the political and social context of production and innovation in textile crafts since the early 20th century, she has a particular theoretical interest in processes of value creation, work ethics, entrepreneurialism, gender and citizenship in post-socialist society. An external tutor in the department of the History of Design at the Royal College of Art since 2007, she has also published on the relationship between craft, modernity and ideology, as well as memory and the domestic interior. Wolfson College, Oxford, Oxford, UK.

Trevor H.J. Marchand is Professor of Social Anthropology at the School of Oriental and African Studies, where he teaches the anthropology of space, place, and architecture. He has conducted fieldwork with masons in Arabia and West Africa, and as an ESRC Fellow (2005-8) he studied training and practice among English woodworkers. His research focuses on embodied cognition and communication and he is the author of Minaret building and apprenticeship in Yemen (Curzon, 2001) and The masons of Djenné (Indiana University Press, 2009), and co-producer of the documentary film Future of mud (2007). Department of Anthropology, School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK.

Anna Odland Portisch is a Postdoctoral Associate of SOAS, where she also received a Ph.D. for her studies among the Kazakh of western Mongolia. Her research examines learning and skill-based knowledge in felt-craft production, and her work is focused on apprenticeship, cognition, and identity formation. She recently curated an exhibit on Kazakh textiles for the SOAS Brunei Gallery, and was an ESRC Fellow at Brunel University, where she lectured on anthropological and psychological perspectives on learning. School of Oriental and African Studies, London, UK.

Konstantinos Retsikas is Lecturer in Anthropology of South East Asia at SOAS. His research focuses include phenomenology, identity, and Islam. Recent publications include ‘The Semiotics of violence: ninja, sorcerers and state terror in post-Soeharto Indonesia’, Bijdragen tot de Taal-, Land- en Volkenkunde (2006) and ‘Knowledge from the body: fieldwork, power, and the acquisition of a new self’ in Knowing how to know: fieldwork and the ethnographic present (eds) N. Halstead, E. Hirsch & J. Okely (Berghahn, 2008). Department of Anthropology and Sociology, School of Oriental and African Studies, University of London, London, UK.

Tom Rice received his Ph.D. in social anthropology from Goldsmiths and was a postdoctoral Research Fellow at the University of Cambridge. He is currently a Teaching Fellow at the University of Exeter. His research explores the sonic environments of institutions and the types of auditory knowledge used and applied in these settings. He has published articles on ‘auditory anthropology’ in Anthropology Today, Critique of Anthropology, and The Senses and Society. Room 313, Department of Sociology and Philosophy, University of Exeter, Exeter, UK.

Soumhya Venkatesan is a Lecturer in Social Anthropology at the University of Manchester. Based on fieldwork with Muslim mat-weavers in South India and carpet-weavers in Bukhara, her research focuses on materiality and the relationship between people and things, and explores issues of embodiment and the transmission of skills. Her present research on Indian potters and sculptors of venerated idols considers the relation between makers and objects. She is currently preparing a book manuscript based on her doctoral research. Social Anthropology, University of Manchester, Manchester, UK.


Trevor H.J. Marchand

School of Oriental and African Studies

In 2005, with funding from the Economic and Social Research Council (ESRC), I commenced a new project with woodworkers in East London that built upon my previous studies of building-craft knowledge and apprenticeship in Yemen and Mali. In addition to the fieldwork and theoretical investigations into motor cognition and embodied forms of communication, the project also allowed me to invite anthropologists with shared interests in skill-learning to present their research in a seminar series and a subsequent one-day workshop, both hosted at the School of Oriental and African Studies (SOAS) in 2007. This volume grows out of the proceedings of that programme, initially titled The transmission of knowledge.

It is now three decades, and longer, since the works of Foucault (1977), de Certeau (1984), and especially Bourdieu ushered ‘everyday knowledge and practice’ to the fore of the social science agenda, and this focal concern is retained by the volume contributors. But while participants in the seminars and workshop gratefully acknowledged Bourdieu’s seminal role in excavating Mauss’s ‘techniques of the body’ (Mauss 1934) and developing a theory of habitus (Bourdieu 1977), they were invited to consider the limitations of ‘practice theory’ (e.g. Bloch 1991; Farnell 2000; Jenkins 1992) in advancing their own empirically based accounts of learning, situated practice, and embodied cognition. A project statement and set of questions framed the seminar programme. In particular, participants were asked to consider: How might social anthropologists effectually chronicle manifestations of human knowledge that ‘exceed language’, including bodily and perceptual practices? In which ways can ‘know-how’ be cogently described and represented in our ethnographic accounts? How, and under what circumstances, are new practices taken up and honed? And by what combination of cognitive and social mechanisms do they become stabilized as ‘memory’ or ‘habits’ that are consciously or unconsciously enacted? What drives improvisation in activity? And how do innovations in practice become publicly recognized and validated? How are different domains of knowledge co-ordinated within the mind-body complex, thereby resulting in both intelligent and intelligible performance? How are different ways of knowing variously communicated and interpreted by participating members within fields of practice? And crucially, how might we appropriately account for the necessary but ever-changing relations of learning to the physical and social environment in which it unfolds?

The follow-up workshop provided an intensive forum for seminar speakers and an invited panel of discussants to present and debate issues of theory and method, and consider anthropology’s current and future contributions to the enduring, cross-disciplinary study of human knowledge. During the roundtable session we critically assessed the word ‘transmission’ and debated its appropriateness for accurately describing the myriad of complex ways in which knowing is articulated, acquired, and transformed in situ, involving communities of actors engaged in co-ordinated (and sometimes discordant) practices and communication. In the social sciences, ‘transmission’ has been regularly employed as a shorthand for the combined processes of teaching and learning, or for the operations of socialization and enculturation across generations, and several contributing authors rightfully use the term in this manner. But it can also bear problematic connotations of mechanical reproduction and homogeneous transferral of facts and information from one head (or body) to another. Lave has argued that ‘transmission and internalization [are not] the primary mechanisms by which culture and individual come together’, proposing instead ‘that activity, including cognition, is socially organized and quintessentially social in its very existence, its formation and its ongoing character’ (1988: 177). In wanting the title of our collective work best to convey our shared aims in representing learning and knowing, I have renamed the volume Making knowledge. ‘Making’, I feel, more accurately captures the processes and durational qualities of knowledge formation; and rather than being suggestive of hierarchical and methodical transfer, it fosters thinking about knowledge as a dialogical and constructive engagement between people, and between people, things, and environment.

This special volume of the JRAI features the works of leading scholars who promote bold, innovative approaches to understanding the nature and social constitution of human knowing. Notably, the theme, ‘making knowledge’, is not an intended revival or perpetuation of the ‘anthropology of knowledge’ subfield that emerged in the 1970s. Rather, the collection represents a concerted investigation into the core activity of all anthropology: namely ‘the making of knowledge about the ways other people make knowledge’. The ethnography, theory, and methods presented expose possibilities for interdisciplinary collaboration and lay solid foundations for further investigations into embodied cognition and conceptual thinking. Ideas are couched in long-term, worldwide fieldwork; and a host of intriguing commonalities and differences emerge across the collection. All the authors are deeply unified in their concern for the appropriate study and representation of knowledge in its diverse forms and expression. Knowledge is explored both in its various modes of articulation (i.e. motor, sensory, and propositional) and in its range of social, cultural, and material manifestations. Conclusively, knowledge and practice are not fixed; nor are they hostage to unconscious reproduction. Rather what the chapters demonstrate is that our human knowledge, like our physical bodies, is constantly reconfigured in the activities and negotiations of everyday work and life.

I thank the seminar speakers and workshop discussants for their co-operation in realizing this project, and the ESRC for their generous funding (Res-000-27-0159). The workshop discussants included Emma Cohen, Anna Portisch, and Charles Stafford. Chapter contributions from Cohen and Portisch are included in this collection. Regrettably, Rita Astuti, Susanne Kuechler, and Harry West had to withdraw from publication, but their individual contributions to the seminar series were highly valued. I also thank Richard Fardon and my fellow colleagues at SOAS for their support throughout the seminar series; and the students of SOAS and other colleges who regularly attended and enlivened the discussions with shrewd insights and penetrating questions. Finally, I thank Julia Elyachar and an anonymous reviewer for their valuable comments on an earlier draft of the volume, and Justin Dyer for his meticulous copy-editing.


BLOCH, M. 1991. Language, anthropology and cognitive science. Man (N.S.) 26, 183-98.

BOURDIEU, P. 1977. An outline of a theory of practice (trans. R. Nice). Cambridge: University Press.

DE CERTEAU, M. 1984. The practice of everyday life (trans. S. Rendall). Berkeley: University of California Press.

FARNELL, B. 2000. Getting out of the habitus: an alternative model of dynamically embodied social action. Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute (N.S.) 6, 397-418.

FOUCAULT, M. 1977. Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison (trans. A. Sheridan). New York: Smith.

JENKINS, R. 1992. Pierre Bourdieu. London: Routledge.

LAVE, J. 1988. Cognition in practice: mind, mathematics and culture in everyday life. Cambridge: University Press.

MAUSS, M. 1934. Les techniques du corps. Journal de Psychologie 32, 3-4. (Reprinted in his Sociologie et anthropologie. Paris: Presses Universitaires de France, 1936.)