Causal indexicals as the key thread

ImageAt the beginning of my research I identified the three main key words to connect my practice and the (now identified) field of design anthropology as being;




I am revisiting these in order to start and think of how they fit together.

Processual refers to the flows of materials related in archaeology and through my reading of the anthropologist Tim Ingold  (Ingold, 2012) usefully describes the interaction with materials and processes, out of which tools emerge. Imagining how past creators acted on materials and the processes used to make tools has always been a strong influence in my work. In my masters study I was particularly interested in how our understanding of material resistance could provide answers to our ability to predict environments. For this aspect of research I drew particular reference to the study of tools made by early man. I was intrigued by the possibility of early man understanding how force applied on one end of a material could pass through the material. The example that interested me was that of the use of obsidian to make arrow heads using bone as a hammer to create conchoidal fractures that removed amounts of the material and revealed the tool. The consistency of the size and shape of the tools created shows that early man had an ability to predict the amount of force needed to make the desired tool, even though they were unable to perceive the manner in which the force applied travelled through the obsidian.

Heuristic processes describe the trial and error processes that lie at the core of making, learning and creation. In my wider education research I have argued for the importance of allowing time for heuristic practice to engender the free play required for creativity to flourish and to create more individual responses to materials and  processes that can then be compounded through social learning. For me heuristic practice perhaps also has a more political dimension in my current research area of philosophy of technology. This is particularly pertinent in a number of examples such as;

the dematerialisation of technologies

the move to smooth architectonic surfaces rather than crafted objects that show the indexical mark of the maker

technologies that disguise provenance by obfuscating working

The above examples though not clearly defined perhaps begin to describe how technology becomes a full stop that denies or occludes the movement and gestures required in designing and using.

Generative – this key theme of my work describes the ability of technologies to shape imagination and includes recognition that imagining is present in perception. In the context of older research I used the example expounded by communication theorist James Carey that showed how historically electrification technologies such as the telegraph contracted our ideas of space and time.

What I am currently interested in is how the rough categories described in the heuristic processes and technology theme above begin to change our ability to render ourselves in future spaces, to literally change the way we picture future environments.

The key idea that links all of these themes together is that of affordance and particularly affordances proffered by technologies that have direct causal indexicals, which are those that imply action (Campbell 1993). The notion of affordances must underpin all the work I do as it links the key themes I am grappling with.


Campbell, J. (1993), The role of physical objects in spatial thinking, in Naomi Eilan; Rosaleen McCarthy & Bill Brewer, ed.,’Spatial Representations. Problems in Philosophy and Psychology’, Blackwell, Oxford, Cambridge MA, pp. 65-95.

Ingold, T., 2012. Anthropological Studies of Creativity and Perception. In: W. Gunn & J. Donovan, eds. Design and Anthropology. Surrey: Ashgate, p. xv.

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