Workshop1 - Discussion - Geoffrey Lloyd

Geoffrey Lloyd (Needham Research Institute, Cambridge) - Response to the afternoon’s papers and discussion

Interestingly, Geoffrey Lloyd’s questions and comments posed in the response to the first  day of workshops’ presentations and debates corresponded directly to the themes of the upcoming Experimentality programme. Lloyd’s arguments can be classed in five separate but interrelated categories.

Firstly, Geoffrey Lloyd posed following questions:

  • What are we talking about? What is experimentality?
  • Is there a subject/ or are we all doing our own thing and hoping it might make sense to the majority at the end?
  • How many ethnographic reports have an account of actor’s categories concerning experimentation?

He continued in arguing that actor’s categories must be crucially established, as observer’s categories can be deceptive.

Secondly, Lloyd emphasized that we cannot afford to take a merely anthropocentric account and emphasized the universal capacity of all animals to be able to conduct trial and error, posing the question: what is the difference between human and animal cognitive capacities?

Thirdly, Lloyd argued that some trial and error is extremely risky, subversive but at the same time vital, giving examples of military technology and agriculture.

He has also pointed to a discriminating factor that needs to be addressed, namely, that parts of innovation or experimentation present particular risk as opposed to those that are favoured.

Fourthly, Lloyd moved his comments into a sphere of politics, probing three particular arguments: of elites surrounded by prevention of infiltrating by dissidents, of diversity and lack of a single generalization across cultures or history, and of politics of institutionalisation.

Finally, Lloyd asked what difference does it make to be explicit and self conscious about what is it that you are doing. He pointed to increasing evidence of much greater self consciousness in ethnography.

In terms of responses presented during general discussion, the following views were established. Firstly, there was an agreement about the importance of moving from observer’s categories to actor’s categories within ethnographic research. Secondly, participants have established a need for call for specificity: seeing the link that connects our cognitive activity/apparatus to the actual activity. And thirdly, there was an emphasis on the importance of holding onto ontology.

Discussion ended considering how different forms of experimentality across the society bring about different power relations and forms of subjectivity, with an awareness that this will be a recurring theme in the programme.