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Sociology Department Seminar

Date: 6 November 2007 Time: 16.15-18.00

Venue: Management School Lecture Theatre 6

The Wedge and the Knot: Hammering and Stitching the Face of Nature

Tim Ingold (Department of Anthropology, Aberdeen University)

Outlining his idea of the 'struggle for existence', in The Origin of Species, Charles Darwin compared the face of Nature at one moment to a surface riven by innumerable wedges, and at another moment to an entangled bank. In subsequent ecological thinking the former image has tended to prevail, along with the idea that organisms are externally bounded, solid entities that compete for limited space along the lines of their adjacency. In this paper I explore the implications of an alternative viewpoint, suggested by the image of entanglement. Here the organism is imagined not as a wedge-like block in a carpentered world, but rather as a line - or rather a knotted bundle of lines - in a world that is woven. In such a world, how should we conceive of 'the environment'? Literally, an environment is that which surrounds; however you cannot surround a knot without enclosing it, which would immediately transform it into a bounded form. What we have been accustomed to calling 'the environment' might, I suggest, be better envisaged as a zone of interpenetration or entanglement. It is within such a tangle of interlaced trails, continually ravelling here and unravelling there, that organisms - both human and non-human - grow or 'issue forth' along the lines of their relationships. This tangle is the surface texture of the world. It has no insides or outsides, only openings and 'ways through'. Thus an ecology of life must be fashioned in the stitching of lines, not in the hammering of blocks.

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Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences
Lancaster University
Lancaster LA1 4YD
United Kingdom

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