Cornell box as tabletop game

I’m working on a material rhetorics independent study with Collin Brooke this semester which quickly turned from a reading list to a constellation of which gaming, hypertext, Peter Elbow, bots, byzantine art, and a world of 4D are all a part. For one of my projects, Collin asked me to locate a photo of a Joseph Cornell box and to invent the game for which that box/contents are the pieces. This was one of the most challenging|captivating things I have ever made.

I started with this Cornell Box

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Solar Set)

Joseph Cornell, Untitled (Solar Set)

and created the game Mission: Perilous Planet 

Overview: For 2 players

Earth can no longer sustain the human population. Extreme storms and unstoppable blights wreck havoc on what little crops are still able to grow in the barren ground. Inhabitants who have not been stricken by the pandemic of flu strand X, are starving. Mission: Perilous Planet is sending two teams of explorers to investigate a group of five biospheres they have deemed fit for settlement to flee the destroyed Earth. Your mission: give humanity a fighting chance.

Game Contents

  • Eclipse Event bar
  • Solar Phase marker
  • Lunar Phase marker
  • Habitus orb
  • Touchdown Timeline
  • Gravity Force Rings of small and large intensity
  • Terrestrial Biospheres: two water, two desert, one temperate forest planets to play as
    • water: Aquater and Hydralus
    • temperate forest: Taiga
    • desert: Nomadian and Orelian
  • Dice: gravity (black), eclipse (white), collect and refine resources (green), project construction (blue), and hardship (red)
  • Status and Inventory card

Eclipse Event Bar

Play space to determine effects of gravity and eclipses with each turn. The Eclipse Event bar has 13 spaces for Gravity Force rings to be moved across both forward and backward based on the roll indicated by the Gravity die. When a small and large Gravity Force ring meet over a planet, no actions can be taken on that turn by the player in control of the planet as a Flux Event has taken place. Each player controls a small and a large Gravity Force ring to keep from coalescing, but may also influence the occurrence of a Flux Event on the opposing player and planet.

Solar Phase Marker and Lunar Phase Marker

Located on the Eclipse Event bar, these two markers are used to indicate what type of Eclipse a planet is experiencing during a Flux Event. The Lunar Phase marker (depicting phases of the moon) brings about natural disaster on the planet by disrupting planetary levels of gravity. The Solar Phase marker (depicting the sun) impacts the player’s ability to collect and process resources by disrupting the balance of night and day.


Gravity Force Rings and Gravity Die

When Gravity Force rings meet, a Flux Event occurs. During a Flux Event, the player must roll the Eclipse die to determine the effects of Gravity on their planet. Located on the Eclipse Event bar, these four rings (two large and two small) are controlled by the Gravity die. Each turn, the players roll the Gravity die to determine how many spaces along the Eclipse Event bar the Gravity Force rings are moved.

Rolls and resulting moves to be divided between small and large Gravity Force Rings:

1     move one notch backward; cannot be used on opponent

2    move two notches forward

3    move three notches backward; cannot be used on opponent

4    move four notches forward

5    move five notches backward; cannot be used on opponent

6    move six notches forward

Each roll can be split between the small and large rings. If roll is being used to move opponent’s rings, only even rolls can be applied in an amount half the total.



Eclipse (white die)  controls the Lunar and Solar Phase markers

rolls and resulting actions:

  • blank (2 side): no effect
  • partial solar eclipse (half yellow circle): cannot collect resources this turn
  • partial lunar eclipse (half black circle): lose last resource or food collection
  • full solar eclipse (yellow circle): cannot collect or refine resources or begin or complete projects this turn
  • full lunar eclipse (black circle): lose all uncompleted projects

Collect/Refine Resources (green die):

numbered 1-6 to be allotted across actions:

  • collect food
  • collect resource
  • refine resource
  • process food

Each number indicates one food or resource action. For example, rolling a 3 might be divided across the actions: collect 1 food, collect 1 resource, process 1 food. Refining and Processing can only be performed on food or resources in inventory from a previous turn and cannot be applied to food or resources collected in that turn.

Projects (blue die):

numbered 1-6 to indicate phases of completeness in a structure’s construction (6 being complete)

  • build shelter
  • build processing or refinery plant

Hardship (red dice):

Icon die is type of hardship to affect player, while corresponding number die is intensity of hardship in play

  • blank (3 sides) : no effect
  • blight/parasite of food (bug icon): roll 1, 3, 5 lose last food collection; 2, 4, 6 lose ½ of food inventory
  • natural disaster (fire icon): roll 1, 3, 5 lose last resource collection; 2, 4, 6 lose ½ of resource inventory
  • desolation (skull icon): both natural disaster and blight/parasite roll 1-5 lose ½ of food and resource inventories; 6 lose food inventory and processing plant at highest phase of completion


Habitus Orb

Mission: Perilous Planet only has eight weeks to establish living conditions for Earth’s resettlement. At the end of each round, the habitus orb is moved up on space on the Touchdown Timeline.


Status and Inventory Card

When the Habitus Orb reaches the end of the Timeline, each player must take stock of the state of their biosphere.

  • Each completed shelter: + 2
  • Each completed processing/refinery plant: + 4
  • Each refined or processed food or resource: + 3
  • Each unfinished project: -2
  • Each unprocessed or unrefined food or resource: -1



Players roll to decide who goes first; highest roll earns first turn and the choice of location for their biosphere in the orbital cups.

Each player gets to select a biosphere for resettlement. Each biosphere has strengths and weaknesses for its lifeforms that are affected by gravity and solar and lunar eclipse phases.

Water: Aquater and Hydralus

  • resources: fishing and algae materials
  • environmental instability triggered colossal high tides

Desert: Nomadian and Orelian

  • resources: mining and stone materials
  • environmental instability: obliterating wind storms

Forest: Taiga

  • resources: hunting and lumber materials
  • environmental instability: mass plant eradication

To set up the Eclipse Event bar, both Solar and Lunar Phase markers are pushed to the center. Each player takes a small and large Gravity Force ring and places them above their orbital cup that locates their biosphere. Each player gets the following dice:

  • gravity (black)
  • eclipse (white)
  • collect and refine resources (green)
  • project construction (blue)
  • hardship (red: one icon and one numbered)



Each turn, the player rolls each of their die except the Eclipse die, which is only rolled to determine the effects of a Flux Event when Gravity rings coalesce. After both players have taken their turn, the Habitus Orb is moved one space forward on the timeline.


Game End

When the Habitus Orb reaches the end of the Touchdown Timeline, the time for choosing the more hospitable biosphere is determined. The biosphere with the most stable colony conditions at the end of the development period receives the Earth population for resettlement. The conditions are determined by taking inventory of the environment on the Status and Inventory card.

alien games: gamer theory as phenomenology

Aristotle’s conception of knowledge includes theory (theoria—specifically looking at), practice (praxis), and art (techne). Praxis is complimentary to theoria, with praxis functioning as a tool or medium for theoria.  In reading McKenzie Wark’s Gamer Theory, I thought about what it meant to practice gamer theory instead of game theory or even a theory of gaming. How does play align with praxis?

Wark differentiates gamer theory from game theory by stating:

If game theory is objective, rational, abstract, gamer theory is subjective, intuitive, particular. If game theory starts with the self-contained agent, like a prisoner in a cell, calculating the odds against a disciplinary world, gamer theory wonders how the agency of the gamer comes into being as something distinct in the first place (124, emphasis mine).

I read Wark’s concept of gamer theory as something akin to Ian Bogost’s alien phenomenology—as the blurring of the line that separates subject and object, gamer and game and considers them instead as something more ontological in terms of agency. Bogost explains phenomenology through object oriented ontology by working in the space between nature and culture; “In contemporary thought, things are usually taken either as the aggregation of ever smaller bits (scientific naturalism) or as constructions of human behavior and society (social relativism). OOO steers a path between the two, drawing attention to things at all scales…and pondering their nature and relations with one another and with ourselves” (6). Gamer theory seems to be working in the gap erected in between games and everyday life/reality to “make the now rather familiar world of the digital game strange again” (225). This resonates with Bogost’s reminder that “The alien isn’t in the Roswell military morgue, or in the galactic far reaches, or in the undiscovered ecosystems of the deepest sea and most remote tundra. It’s everywhere” (Alien Phenomenology, 113).

What might it mean to look at games as playing with object oriented ontology? Imagine games as something posthuman—in which games don’t just exist for us or as something we create, master, abandon to gather dust, dispose of (to become…). Gamer theory seems to open up praxis/theoria as something akin to Bogost’s concept of carpentry, or the practice of constructing artifacts as philosophical practice (92)—practicing|theorizing how things fashion one another and the world at large (93). What artifacts could be constructed to theorize games (encompassing gamers and gaming which encompass even greater still)? Instead of making games (design and development practice|theory) and playing games (mechanics and culture practice|theory), we might be entangled with games in gamer theory. Wark poses—”The final question for a gamer theory might be to move beyond the phenomena of gaming as experienced by the gamer to conceive of gaming from the point of the view of the game” (223). What is gamer theory or play from the point of view of the game? What does this perspective make available to the gamer—as an entangling of game, gamer, gaming and all the objects in the ontologies that populate the space in between)? What if we treated our games as alien objects—as estranged, as practicing theory instead of an object of study—instead of as mirrors or departures from the real world? What if we moved beyond making our games and our games making us to consider the space/objects in between?






Rough Cuts: Post-Techne and Posthuman Material

Hawk, Byron. “Vitalism, Animality, and the Material Grounds of Rhetoric.” Communication Matters: Materialist Approaches to Media, Mobility and Networks. Eds. Jeremy Packer and Stephen Wiley. NY: Routledge, 2011. 196-207.

“If ceaselessly redefining life goes hand in hand with rhetoric and politics, I would redefine life not as animal, human, or bare, but emergent—the complex production and circulation of in/corporeal assemblages through which refrains emerge and life communicates with itself” (206).

Expanding Kennedy’s vitalist turn (humanist) through the works of Agamben (antihumanist), Deleuze and Guttari (posthumanist)

  • humanism: privileges human thought and embodiment over other aspects of the world and builds rhetoric on models of representation and persuasion that uphold these distinctions
  • antihumanism: privileges apparatuses that dominate humans and sees rhetoric as a corrupting force
  • posthumanism: privileges assemblages that are multiple, open, and always in the process of transformation

Humanism: The Anthropological Machine

  • ancients produce the human through humanization of the animal
  • moderns produce the human by animalizing the human
  • humans can see their limited environments via the critical distance that language provides

AntiHumanism: Apparatuses

  • there is not inherently or distinctly human life, only living beings and the apparatuses that captivate them
  • with no existing human subject, apparatuses have to create a subject that corresponds to the functioning of their networks
  • language a manipulative force within media apparatuses or increases the distance of language from the system, leaving rhetoric to retreat into an outside

Posthumanism: Refrain

  • a refrain is any recurring pattern of sounds, positions, actions, or qualities that simultaneously marks a territory center from its outside, internally organizes the assemblage, and opens it to other functions and assemblages
  • assemblages (from Deleuze and Guatarri) are part of a constant process beyond a deterministic notion of system of apparatus with three types of movement
  • one that demarcates an assemblage in relation of the chaotic world around it
  • one that organizes the internal assemblage once is is distinguished from its milieu
  • one that opens the assemblage back to the outside world in order to make new connections with it
  • posthuman: capacities of humans as would be conceived of any animals but always within the context of specific assemblages and processes of re/territorialization
  • rhetoric in materialist flow acknowledges in/corporeal aspects of rhetoric’s role in emergence

Hawk, Byron. “Toward a Post-Techne Or, Inventing Pedagogies for Professional Writing.” Technical Communication Quarterly. 13(4) 371-392.

Technique is both a rational, conscious capacity to produce and an intuitive, unconscious ability to make, both of which are fundamental to technê. This dual conception of technique moves technê away from a reductive, generic, a-contextual conception of the technical toward a sense that technique operates through human bodies in relation to all other bodies (animate and inanimate) in larger, more complex contexts (372)

pushes the discussion away from a humanist conception of the subject that is caught in a subject/object dilemma (i.e., do humans control technology or does technology control humans?) toward one that is posthuman

[complex] systems evolve toward an open future marked by contingency and unpredictability (quoting N. Katherine Hayles 373)

Heidegger as proto-posthumanist

classical rhetorical theory tends to uphold the concept of the human subject in control of the technological object. Heidegger’s view of technê, on the other hand, redefines the human relationship with technology as one that can no longer be reduced to deliberate human intervention or to a narrow view of human control over the contextual situations—especially human control via technology or technique (374)

instrumental conception/implementation of technology is also a way of revealing that allows us to see one truth about the world; that is, by pushing us to see the world’s limits, technology forces us to see ourselves in an ecological relationship with itself, nature, and language (375)

Rickert’s integration of ambient rhetoric/logic with network logic through Heidegger

posthuman subject based on relationality in terms of complexity theory and emergence and links it to the concept of ambience (378)

“This view sees cognition, thinking, and invention as being beyond the autonomous, conscious, willing subject. A writer is not merely in a situation but is a part of it and is constituted by it. A human body, a text, or an act is the product not simply of foregrounded thought but of complex developments in the ambient environment”

method: post-technê would follow Heidegger in viewing technique as a way of revealing constellations or ecological realities within these situations

Technique as post-technê, then, should set up constellations of relations that allow its users to see something as something else—that is, to see in a new way through those constellations of relations (379)

Heidegger’s recognition that something can arise spontaneously from itself and its situation is a key to moving beyond instrumentality and humanism with regard to invention (380)

Aristotelian theory argues that everything has four causes:

  • material cause—what the thing is made of
  • efficient cause—the agent, beginning, or source that brings the thing into existence
  • formal cause—the thing’s abstract structure or design
  • final cause—the thing’s purpose or aim

Pedagogical Techniques

Janet Atwill

Atwill argues that Aristotle’s notion of productive knowledge has been lost because rhetoric (and consequently technê) has been cast in terms of theoretical (subjective) and/or practical (objective) knowledge.

transferable strategy for her notion of power and subjectivity:

one: discern a point of indeterminacy in the situation

two: overreach a boundary that the situation places on you

three: intervene in the systems of classification and standards of value set up within and by the situation

productive knowledge has three primary characteristics:

1. it is never static

2. it resists identification with a normative subject

3. it is not a subjectivity or virtue but a capacity or power to transgress existing boundaries

Cynthia Haynes

The goal for Haynes’s technique is not intervention as much as invention through the human body’s situatedness in a context that draws on the power of a particular constellation. Like Hayles’s discussion of navigation, Haynes utilizes human codevelopment with technique (technology) and physical context as a distributed cognitive environment.

Atwill’s heuristic emphasizes the subject’s power external to the situation that prompts the action—that is, the intervention. Haynes’s technique seems to rely more on situating a body in a never-static context that prompts the enaction, the opening up of that constellation’s possibilities.

Haynes’s is closer to utilizing all three criteria I’m using to characterize post-technê: placing a body within a situation, utilizing the power of that situation, and enacting ambient elements of that situation in the service of invention

Post-technê, as it has developed through this article, is the use of techniques for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal models for enacting that open up the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques.

A post-technê that is more attuned to kairos, emergence, and ambience starts with the structure of particular constellations and the invention of techniques for and out of those specific occasions (384)

This constellation amounts to continual, situated invention—that is, remaking techniques for every new situation.

Screen Shot 2014-09-26 at 7.19.25 AM

question: making computer interfaces from posthuman perspectives

Hawk, Byron and Andrew Mara. “Posthuman Rhetorics and Technical Communication.” Technical Communication Quarterly. (19)1 1-10. 

We have always been posthuman—humans have lived in, beside, and as hosts of systems (from N. Katherine Hayles)

traditional humanistic tools/hueristics for anticipating system behaviors and complications (audience analysis and peer review) become overwhelmed when trying to account for “the tendential forces if nonhuman actors and activities” (Mara and Hawk 2).

Posthumanism is a general category for theories and methodologies that situate acts and texts in the complex interplays among human intentions, organizational discourses, biological trajectories, and technological possibilities. These approaches counter theories that see human action and production from either the perspective of individual intention or the dominance of larger human discourses and mechanical structures (Hawk and Mara 3)

Why pro/tech writing is good to explore:

As organizations become more complex, technologies more pervasive, and rhetorical intent more diverse, it is no longer tenable to divide the world into human choice and techno- logical or environmental determinism. Professional and technical communication is a field that is perfectly situated to address these concerns. Because it is already predisposed to see the writer in larger organizational contexts, the moment is right to explore technical communication’s connections to posthumanism, which works to understand and map these complex rhetorical situations in their broader contexts

The prevalence of increasingly seam- less human-machine-network environments calls for broader and more rigorous investigation of technical writing’s connections to the automated and globalized workplace and the multiple systems that users and producers inhabit

Spinuzzi’s model of distributed cognition:

Weaving is based on humanisms such as Marxism and activity theory that see communities built by artisans. Workers might weave nets, fish, build boats, and cook, all to support the community. But the larger these networks get, the more fragile they become. Splicing, on the other hand, is based on the posthumanism of Latour. In contemporary society, communities give way to net- works in which technicians splice together electronic devices to build new alliances.

Brooke’s extensive technological contexts deictic systems:

function as actors to collate data in ways that enable human communication and choice. Without the capability to constantly update mass amounts of information that these technologies provide many of the corresponding human acts would not be possible

Posthuman Models

Foucault: He argues that it is not possible to map all relations into a totalizing picture or theory; instead, he emphasizes diagramming the local points of contact through which power passes in order to contextualize rhetorical action in that specific configuration.

Latour: Actor-network theory ascribes agency to non-human actors that contribute to the development of scientific thought. Latour is interested in examining how scientific discoveries are not just the product of a single scientist’s mind or intentions but they emerge from the larger, more complex associations of material, social, and human capacities.

Haraway: She complicates the boundaries between human/animal, human/machine, and physical/nonphysical with the image of the cyborg as a new map for social and bodily reality…acknowledging connections across these binaries

Hayles: characterized posthumanism as locating thought and action in the complexity of distributed cognitive environments…Agency emerges from “the distributed cognitive system as a whole, in which ‘thinking’ is done by both human and nonhuman actors”

Rough Cuts: Techne from Neoclassicism to Postmodernism

Pender, Kelly. Techne: From Neoclassicism to Postmodernism: Understanding Writing as a Useful, Teachable Art. Parlor Press 2011.

  • relationship between techne and the development of rhetoric and composition as an academic discipline in the mid-twentieth century the influence of postmodern theory on that development what we don’t often teach/don’t teach under the rubric of “writing” in contemporary comp courses (3)
  • defending techne as a way to understand and teach writing
  • from Greek tekhne – no approximate in English, so likened to art, skill, and craft – but none of these embrace the whole complex structure, so when we use any of these, it is only a part
  • art-fine art
  • craft-more utilitarian
  • created confusion in the circulation of art in the rhetoric community
  • what connects techne to art, skill, or craft?
  • all a process of making – producing
  • poeisis – the act of bringing something into being; techne is a form of poeisis that follows a course of reasoning (one that can be studied, systematized and taught), has its origin in a maker (work toward something knowable), is concerned with things that can either be or not be (to locate in a world of contingent), and locates its end outside of the process of making in the use of the thing made (in a category of activities that are meant to accomplish something in the world) (5)
  • the base techne served in establishing research and legitimacy to the growing field of rhetoric and composition – a sturdy but narrow foundation (6-7)
  • composite definitions of techne:
  • techne as a “how-to” guide or handbook: absence of theoretical discussion is primary deficiency; serves as a technique to be applied or examples to be mimicked – not addressing what causes rhetorical success and failure (17)
  • techne as a rational ability to effect a useful result – a state of capacity to make; end of techne is instrumentally valuable in the use made of its product (21)
  • techne as a means of inventing new social possibilities – capacity to challenge status quo “mark the shifting and contestable borders of what is possible” (qtd. Atwill 27). makes techne situational (agile practitioners in situation, bodily implications less strict)
  • techne as a means of producing resources –  production never ends; every product becomes means for another round of production (31); risk of mere instrumentality (utility and usefulness become standards of judgment) – technology driven (making things with tools in opposition with the natural)
  • techne as a non-instrumental mode of bringing-forth – bringing forth of something from concealment to unconcealment; doesn’t fall on opposite end of the spectrum as fine art (35)
  • techne’s prominent and problematic features: its association with instrumentality and its emphasis on teachability – “And what happened once they began pointing out how theories of writing that privilege it teachable dimensions, which is to say its rational dimensions, often ignore its non-rational, material dimensions? (10)
  • “After all, if I want to establish techne’s value as theory and pedagogy of writing, then I need to demonstrate that it is not the semantic equivalent of an inkblot” rhetoric rorschach test (14)
  • definitions of techne exist on two continua: epistemological – definitions of techne establish different criteria for what kinds of knowledge can count as technical knowledge and axiological – the end of a particular techne always resides in the use of its products, not in the activity of producing them (15)
  • techne as a decontextualizing form of knowledge (20)
  • techne | knack (22-24)
  • “the artist’s ability to make universal judgments that allows her to take a specific situation into account” (25)
  • results as valuable as products (stable materials) or conditions (unstable materials)
  • taking the situation into account requires the ability to modify one’s plans for achieving a part. end, but also the ability to redefine that ed as the situation dictates (26)
  • maker | user exchange (bottom of 27)
  • new social possibilities from an exchange of power or of cultural critique (27)
  • techne as delusion or deception
  • subversion
  • experiential knowledge in terms of street smarts (not embodied knowledge) – lived experience that allows you to get around in the world how it circulates, what we value, economy of knowledge
  • techne as dangerous to social order (28, Greeks)
  • dolie techne “trap art” (28)
  • embodied knowledge to respond to kairos (29) –  ability to recoginize oprtune moment ingrained in being and body
  • techne creates opportunities for cultural critique by making tacit social practices explicit (qtd. Atwill and Lauer 30)
  • “when a boundary between insider and outsider is marked-when agents who have not been socialized into the practices of certain rhetorical situations must learn by art what those who have been in those situations have done by habit” (qtd. Atwill 30)
  • only when practices are made explicit to teachable strategies can values, subjectivities, and ideologies that operate within them can be examined/critiqued and then revised or replaced to better (30) – otherwise conditions continue to appear natural “immutable structures of reality and truth” instead of particular constructions (31)
  • frankfurt school: issues of reproducibility
  • “man the user” (33): solution to problem by shifting attention from utility to user (but problem: maker is lost; gets swept up in capitalism) – at industrial scale
  • techne ussually pitted against nature/ntural world
  • telos: predetermined end (other three cause: material, efficient, and formal)
  • coresponsibility of four causes ditinguishes techne from instrumentality
  • post-techne (Hawk): writers are embedded elements of complex situations who work through the power of embeddeness to work with nature (not independently working on it) (37)

 From Derek’s blog on Bogost’s “Carpentry” and our reading discussion series:

“[W]hy do you write instead of doing something else, like filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening?” In this context (and in this contrastive framing), writing is something of an attention or activity hog. It gets overplayed in the liberal arts; it gets over-valued in exceedingly strict economies for tenure and promotion. According to the chapter, these are cause for concern because 1) “academics aren’t even good writers” (89), and 2) writing, “because it is only one form of being” (90) is too monolithic a way of relating to the world. I generally agree with Bogost’s argument that scholarly activity should be (carefully!) opened up to include other kinds of making, but I’m less convinced that the widespread privileging of writing is the culprit here. It’s fine to say that academics aren’t good writers (though I’m reminded that we should never talk about writing as poor or problematic without looking at a specific text/unit in hand), but why would they be any better at “filmmaking or macrame or sumi-e or welding or papercraft or gardening” or coding APIs? So while I’m interested in the call for an expansion of what can be considered scholarly activity, it remains unclear to me why writing should be at odds or brushed aside with that expansion. Instead of “Why do you write instead of doing something else?”, I would rather consider “How is your writing and making and doing entangled?

  • Is this where Hawk’s post-techne (post-humanism) comes into vision – the entanglement? Hawk isn’t OOO (is he?), so what does it mean for invention to view people at he level of other materials for techne?
  • what is available as material?
  • that the materials may lead to invention (working in an opposite direction to a traditional approach of writing in which writer defines and responds to situation systematically/accordingly)
  • closing down vs. opening up
  • sophistry (122)
  • narrow view of techne reduces it to teachability too narrowly and ignores some of its most important defining features – dependence on time, circumstance, experience, the contingencies of human interaction, and the situational potential of rhetorical ecologies (123)
  • offical aritsotle: meand and ends are distinct, and its the end that’s valuable – not the means
  • “The official version of techne we are left with then is one in which the artist devises, initiates, and controls the changes that will turn the presumably inert materials into a predictable final product”
  • product of art happen in their own accord (130) – collapses divide between art and nature
  • activity a strategic detour (131) – diminishes impact on the process of making (131)
  • does techne not work because of its history? what would be the consequence of reterming? same impact as techne? – Pender is defending the term: instrumentality and teachability it posesses
  • closing down vs. opening up (140)
  • teaching writing as writing (140) as a techne, which is a form of poesis – productive knowledge that engages its user in the process of making
  • “writing both locates us on the threshold between the known and unknown and intensifies our experience of being here” (141)
  • creative writing, invention as “archeological topos” – a course in metawriting
  • “Historically, we have valued techne because it focuses our attention to external goals; or to put it more precisely, we have valued techne because it allows us to align writing with particular external goals” – techne as a bringing forth allows students to write as writing to achieve an external goal
  • a focus on external goals overlooks the thingness of writing

Articulating Making

[The following is a project I’m working on for my Rhetorics of Craft seminar. It is far from settled, or even really articulate, but it is articulating. It is an exploration of taking up Ian Bogost’s carpentry, from Alien Phenomenology, through Nathaniel Rivers and Jim Brown’s forward of the concept as rhetorical carpentry. While working with rhetorical carpentry in my own scholarship and pedagogy is thought provoking enough to me, I am working to understand it more on terms of the materiality of objects – that is articulating their agency (affordances and limitations). My questions concern whether or not understanding what happens when objects interact, in terms of techne in making an object, better situate rhetorical carpentry as a method of enacting rhetoric.]

What does it mean to make with objects?

Note: not make texts with objects, but make with objects as a rigorous academic process. My interest in making as rhetoric began in the summer of 2012 in discussing Ian Bogost’s Alien Phenomenology, Or What It’s Like to Be a Thing with a reading group in my MA program. Much attention was devoted to his chapter on “Carpentry”; Bogost posits the philosophical practice of making to destabilize the mostly unquestioned practice of producing written texts as products of scholarship. He explains that

“‘carpentry’ borrows from two sources. First, it extends the ordinary sense of woodcraft to any material whatsoever—to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s hands, like a cabinetmaker. Second, it folds into this act of construction Graham Harman’s philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things”…to refer to how things fashion one another and the world at large. Blending these two notions, carpentry entails making things that explain how things make the world” (93).

Bogost begins his carpentry chapter by calling attention to the dominance of writing as the work of philosophers, which I would extend to academics, by explaining that its unquestioned dominance comes from convention (89); “writing is only one form of being. The long-standing assumption that we relate to the world only through language is a particularly fetid, if still baffingly popular, opinion. But so long as we pay attention to only language, we underwrite our ignorance of everything else” (90). This is reminiscent of conversations we’ve had about craft  and it’s difficulty communicating knowledge – the knowledge that is embodied in making something doesn’t necessarily render well to written accounts, thus the struggle in legitimizing craftsmanship (making objects) as valuable. Bogost defines carpentry as the “practice of constructing artifacts as a philosophical practice” (92) that “entail making things that explain how things make their world” (93). He borrows carpentry from woodcraft (perhaps a bit too easily) and extends it to any material – “to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s own hands” (93), and combines it with the philosophical sense of “the carpentry of things” (from Graham Harman and Alphonso Lingis) that refers to “how things fashion one another and the world at large” (93). To Bogost, making things (with things) remakes us in the making by opening a “non-human, alien perspective onto everyday activity” (106) (maybe this is where his use of carpentry becomes odd). This is his work toward representing practice as theory – moving beyond putting theory into practice (111).

In preparation for one of the discussion meetings of Bogost’s text, Derek Mueller posed the following questions on his blog post  – “The OOOist Writer and the Great Outdoors

“ Instead of “Why do you write instead of doing something else?”, I would rather consider “How is your writing and making and doing entangled?”, whether gardening, drinking beer, or even welding (the second slide here suggests that writing and welding are compatible, though paper-based dossiers are already heavy enough; also weld-writing does not correspond to slideshow-encoding).”

What we discussed, summarized here succinctly by Mueller, was an enthusiasm, but also a  hesitation to embrace the making of objects totally – as scholars (students and faculty) situated within a writing program. While carpentry seemed rich in potential, enacting would take theoretical and methodological work. After reading, Bogost’s notion of carpentry as legitimate practice in scholarship is something that has lingered. What if objects could be made with other objects in earnest that were accepted as rhetorical texts? What would those look like? And moreover, how would they be made? In enacting carpentry at greater depth than metaphor (like concepts of craft are sometimes appropriated to describe the process of making something, while not accounting for interacting with the materials in making), what does it mean to make?

Making as Techne

Before I can work toward an understanding of making, the concept must be made specific by giving it a definitional frame. I borrow from the work of Kelly Pender in Techne: From Neoclassicim to Postcolonialism to situate making in terms of techne, specifically Pender’s definition of techne as a form of poeisis, or the act of bringing something into being. Althought Pender works through techne as poeisis in a number of definitions that she provides meticulous historical accounts of, I take interest in her use of techne as a non-instrumental mode of bringing forth – the bringing forth of something, an object, from concealment to unconcealment (35). Making framed in this way builds from Martin Heidegger’s work (particularly An Introduction to Metaphysics, The Origin of the Work of Art, and The Question concerning Technology) that argues that techne is a kind of knowledge that has nothing to do with technique or skill. Techne cannot be reduced to any kind of action or practical performance that results in a product; it is knowledge that provides an opening through which the being of a work can come into appearance in the world (35). Heidegger’s framing of techne reconciles its opposition to nature in terms of physis – or emergence from an object. Physis, often translated as nature, referring to the natural world, opposes techne as instrumentality – conceived not of nature, but upon it (the example Pender refers to is seeing a forest not for the trees but for a housing development). But Heidegger frames techne as complicit with physis, producing something in the sense of techne is to allow for its own way of presencing (36). In rhetoric and composition, this is what has been taken up as post-techne, particularly in the work of Byron Hawk. Techne as a non-instrumental mode of bringing forth locates writers in complex, ambient situations that reveal constellations that thus allow them to invent or see something as something else. We are not acting on nature, but with it in embeddedness (37). What is of importance are the relationships among elements in a situation – what exists between objects. But how can these relationships become noticeable? They must be articulated.

Articulation as Making

In Pandora’s Hope,  Bruno Latour defines articulation outside of human privilege (human as dominate over mute objects) as a common property of propositions, in which many kinds of entities can participate. As a ontological property of the universe of objects, not a property of human speech, articulation occupies the position between the object and the subject (303). He states that propositions are not positions, things, substances, or essences pertaining to a nature made up of mute objects facing a talkative human mind, but occasions given to different entities to enter into contact (141). Many differences exist between propositions, and there isn’t a knowing in advance of what these are; “Whereas statements aim at a correspondence they can never achieve, propositions rely on the articulation of differences that make new phenomena visible in the cracks that distinguish them” (143). Articulation isn’t a description of one object in terms of another, but the consideration of objects in their relation to one another. He explains,

“The point to be made now is that, in practice, it is never the case that we utter these statements by using only the resources of language and then check to see if there is a corresponding thing that will verify or falsify our utterances…our involvement with things we speak about is at once much more intimate and much less direct than that of the traditional picture; we are allowed to say new, original things when we enter well-articulated settings like good laboratories. Articulation between propositions goes much deeper than speech. We speak because the propositions of the world are themselves articulated, not the other way around. More exactly, we are allowed to speak interestingly by what we allow to speak interestingly” (144).

In allowing for the articulation of objects, we are in the workshop of carpentry. In Composing the Carpenter’s Workshop, Jim Brown and Nathaniel Rivers construct their concept of rhetorical carpentry, building from the work of Ian Bogost. They summarize Bogost’s carpentry as both a description of how objects make one another and a practice of doing philosophy (2), they extend carpentry one step further “suggesting that such making can be undertaken in an effort to do rhetoric” (2). In doing rhetorical carpentry, we would be engaged with “how we might ‘construct objects (and conversations among objects) in order to demonstrate approximations of the strange, alien conversations happening around us’” (quoting Brown) (2). Rivers and Brown carefully work to show rhetoric and composition as not only a hospitable space for carpentry, but a vital space –

“The field’s interest in ecologies of writing and its pedagogical commitment to making strongly indicates that it can be yet another place to explore how objects carpenter one another and the world. An ecological approach to rhetoric and writing can fold together the work of making and relating, while keeping in place the withdrawn actuality of all objects” (3).

They work to establish connections between rhetorical carpentry and innovative work being done in the field that is considering the rhetoric of objects in composing – working with and against the agency of objects. They are careful to account for the usefulness in this speculation of objects in explaining that

“Rhetoric is always speculative: about its objects, practices, effects, and, importantly, audiences. Rhetoric’s audience is always withdrawn, and this means that issues of race, class, and gender might also call for a speculative approach. Rhetorical instruction again and again drives home the key claim that a rhetor can never fully know or understand an audience” (2).

The end of their article sets the scene of a classroom enacting rhetorical carpentry as methodology from the perspective of an outside onlooker entering the alien environment of working with objects. They narrate, “Part of what throws visitors and colleagues alike is that the class is not about the objects; the objects under composition are part of the class (they are what the students work on, of course), but, more importantly, the objects are also what the students work with” (5). Rhetorical carpentry is made possible through the articulation of objects in working with them to craft rhetorical texts that account for the complex relations of political actors both human and nonhuman. But in crafting texts through rhetorical carpentry, how are the objects articulated? What is the action that brings forth objects?

Articulation of Objects

Exploring what articulates objects in making is speculation on my part – informed both by theory as techne and rhetorical carpentry, and as methodology borrowed from Bruno Latour’s  “A List of Situations Where an Object’s Activity is Made Easily Visible” (80-81 Reassembling the Social) and from Laurie Gries’ processes for conducting object analyses from her “Iconographic Tracking: A Digital Research Method for Visual Rhetorics and Circulation Studies” (by way of Nathaniel Rivers’ course syllabus for Problems in Rhetoric: Animal, Vegetable, Mineral). Davies explains that “Too often, we miss the opportunity to acknowledge the force of things because we assume they are inert tools used by human agents to whom we typically credit with full-blown agency” (Rivers “Methodology”). I hope to establish these methodoligcal approaches as ways of doing rhetorical carpentry that is more focuse don making at the level of object and their articulations. Latour’s means of bringing forth objects are as follows:

  • study innovations in the artisan’s workshop, the engineer’s design department, the scientist’s laboratory, the marketer’s trial panels, the user’s home, the many socio-technical controversies – object’s multiple, complex life
  • approach through/with distance – in time as in archeology, distance in space as in ethnology, distance in skills as in learning – make the normal course of action novel/strange
  • accidents, breakdowns, and strikes – objects that were automatic, autonomous, and devoid of human agents are now frantically moving humans with heavy equipment
  • bring objects back through archives, memoirs, museum collections, documents to artificially produce through historian accounts the state of crisis in which machines, devices, and implements were born
  • use of fiction can bring the solid objects of today into fluid states where their connections with humans may make sense – use of counterfactual history, thought experiments, and ‘scientification’

Each of these works to account for objects through different articulations – relations between objects and what they have contributed or thwarted. To study innovations is to follow an object through its making, use, and circulation to take note of its situatedness as it (re)articulates itself. Approaching an object through distance changes the scale at which an object is interacted with, therefore rendering it strange enough to notice its action. In breakdowns, accidents, or strikes, an object once muted in its action is noted in tis failure to continue on in concealment. In creating account of an object’s articulation, elements can be better documented through tracing to speculate factors of objects. Lastly, fiction can destabilize objects that are no longer noticed because they are accepted as unwavering facts.

Rhetoric scholar Laurie Gries describes “seven different yet overlapping rhetorical processes: composition, production, distribution, assemblage, circulation, transformation, and consequentiality.” These seven processes provide the framework for constructing object analyses that “empirically discover how this thing becomes eventful and rhetorical as it circulates with time, enters into new associations, transforms, and affects a multiplicity of consequences.” The seven processes are exemplified by the following definitions (Rivers):

  • Composition can best be understood as the design of an object
  • Production indicates the techno-human labor devoted to create or bring an object to life, to reality.
  • Distribution is the way in which objects get to where they are intended, by the designer, to get
  • Assemblage, perhaps a process more readily recognizable to traditional understandings of rhetoric, captures how objects bring other objects (humans and nonhumans) together
  • Circulation describes the movement between and within assemblages irrespective of the designer’s or producer’s intent
  • Transformation is a particularly interesting process, and it’s constantly overlapping the other processes. How are objects changed by and through their distribution, circulation, and assemblages?
  • Consequentiality is where we can find meaning from and in an object. Meaning, in other words, is a consequence of (re)composition, (re)production, (re)assemblage, (re)circulation, and (re)transformation

Like Latour’s situations, these processes work to articulate objects. While I see this as useful conceptual work in terms of definition, I would like to apply them to an example from recent coursework. I employ these methodologies to make noticeable the articulation of objects in a screenprinting project for a seminar course. My focus is not on the process of screenprinting, but in the failure to clean the screen after producing a print. The relationship between objects, and the articulation of them, while not an action of making, seek only to notice – to bring objects forth – at a small scale.

Articuable Objects of Screenprinting

For the Rhetorics of Craft: Techne to DIY seminar with Dr. Krista Kennedy, part of our understanding of craft came from selecting a craft skill to develop, its focus described in the course syllabus as

“Your work on this project will involve learning and taking auto-ethnographic notes on your progress, as well as re-search into pragmatic and theoretical aspects of the craft that you are working on. Field notes should be posted to your blog weekly. The end result will be an essay that incorporates situated experiential knowledge within a well-researched theoretical framework that is drawn from course readings as well as your own reading.”

I selected screenprinting to develop my skillset in, particularly in the drawing fluid and/or screen filler method. To produce a screenprint using this method, one must have (at minimum) the following:

  • a nylon screen
  • a squeegee
  • screen filler
  • acrylic ink
  • paintbrush
  • something to print onto

The print is created by first planning a design. The design (and this is one that is only of a single layer) must consider what the ink should pass through on the screen and what will serve as negative in the print – that is blocked with the painted on screen filler. “White space” is painted around with screen filler to create the parameters of the print; think of the opposite of painting to create an image; space is what creates the image for the print. The ink is applied to the screen on one edge and is dragged across with the squeegee. I arrived at enacting this process through a combination of watching and reading expressive instruction sets posted on the web by both amateur and professional printers, as well as in reading the instructional labels on the jars of the printing materials. The written instructions nor the accounts on the labels account for amount of materials (ink, screen filler, and drawing fluid, if used – something that can help control the creation of the “white space” in the print for sharper lines using the screen filler that has the consistency of watered down acrylic paint), nor the drying times of the materials (the screen filler must be dried before ink can be pulled through the design) or what the material looks like when it is ready for printing, nor the technique for pulling the squeegee across the screen to distribute the ink to produce the print. This is to say that language falls short in this process; much of the action that producing a print requires necessitates an attention to the materials, or objects, that are being used to print – what the screen filler looks and feels like when dry, how much is enough ink to create a design that is evenly coated without bleeding from over saturation, what type of brush will produce the cleanest lines of screen filler for the image. The objects in this process of printing articulated themselves – moving from mute characteristics to determining agents in the action. And as a fellow object, I worked with and against them to produce a screenprint. No part of the printing process, from design to production, could be enacted without the articulated relationship between objects and the characteristics, affordances, and limitations of each.

While accounts for process of printing were available, they mostly account for the process in terms of steps and lacked the same robust explanations in accounting for the objects themselves. Nowhere was this more articulated to me than by the process of cleaning a screen after the print has been made.

From reading expressive accounts of screenprinting on the web before beginning my midterm project, I noticed a cleaning agent was mentioned that removed screen filler. When I purchased the materials to print at a local art store, the cleaning agent was carried. Most of my concern was on working with the materials during the printing; little thought was given to cleaning. Assuming the cleaner, designed for the purpose of dissolving screen filler, would act in this way, I read and followed the instructions. However, the cleaner did not clean the screen. In reading the instructions again, an account of the process that does not focus on making the objects involved accountable, I could only look at the objects that were involved in cleaning (all of these could be broke down further into constituent items, but for my purposes I will highlight the following):

  • myself – the source of scrubbing pressure
  • the screen
  • the screen filler
  • ink
  • the bathtub
  • the faucet
  • water – water pressure and temperature (this could get reduced further)
  • a paintbrush
  • a nylon brush

These were not accountable beyond my speculation on water temperature, water depth, water pressure, amount of cleaner, type of brush based on experiences interacting with like objects before in cleaning situations. While these helped me to approximate, they did not make the objects in this situation accountable. I sought articulation through language and action on the web by means of tutorials in videos and forums. The following are three accounts of cleaning: one from the bottle of the cleaner, one from a DIY web community, and one from a screen supplies website. The process and objects of cleaning are highlighted.

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Slide One: Instructions on cleaning screens from Speedball using their Speed Clean

Objects: cleaner, paint brush, nylon brush, (pressurized) hot water

Slide Two: Instructions on cleaning screens from a user in the Instructables dot com community

Objects: garden hose, pressurized water, hand, scratchy side of a kitchen sponge

Slide Three: Instructions on cleaning screens from Silk Screening Supplies dot com

Objects: small pressure washer of 1000-1500 PSI

These cleaning accounts highlight different objects, and even describe articulations of the objects in terms of water – it is pressurized. But knowing what the objects are, even some conditions of them, does not fully encompass the action (they why and the how) taking place with the objects.

Screen: Object Articulation

To better make visible the articulation of objects involved in cleaning, I created a short video that explores articulation through the methodical definition work of Bruno Latour, in relation to working toward an understanding of objects through the theory/methodology of rhetorical carpentry. The focus of the video is not on me cleaning the screen as a human controlling nonhumans, but as a situation of complexly articulated objects interacting with one another. The screen doesn’t come clean. In addition to the cleaner, other household cleaners were used (bleach based degreasers for tile, soapscum, glass), as well as paint thinner, before the pressure washing tool at the drive thru car wash was brought into interaction. What is left is not the screen imagined through the written account of the cleaning process, but blood knuckles, a bathroom full of swirling cleanser vapors, and a screen weathered by water.

Contemplating Articulation

In looking at the objects involved in the cleaning process, I wonder what is articulated. Employing the methodologies of Latour and Gries, I can see application of the following to this situation:

From Latour: a breakdown between the cleaner, the brushes, the screen, and the water in the process of cleaning, as articulated in written instructions, did not act as expressed. Although written to describe the characteristics of the objects in the process, they could not articulate the objects in this situation.

From Gries: the assemblage created between the cleaner, the brushes, the screen, the water (bathtub and car wash), and myself. This was articulated through different object failures – the cleaner and brush and me, other household cleaners and brush and me, the power washer and screen and me, and so on.

What does this articulate? Although this is a small scale, a very close examination of objects, and is more focused on unmaking than making with objects, the emphasis is on the exploration of articulating objects. In contemplating what it means to make with objects, to do rhetorical carpentry, the ability of objects is something to be considered. Understanding these abilities through methodologies that work to make objects and the relations between them knowable, speculatable, articuable, might help further build these concepts.

hand(s) tool

In making this last print, I became aware at how much I used my hands to print:

  • to draw the design with pencil
  • to stir and apply the drawing fluid with paintbrushes of different sizes
  • to touch the fluid to ensure it dried
  • to stir and apply screen filler with a paintbrush
  • to ensure the screen filler is dry to the touch
  • to gauge the temperature of water, cool, to rinse out drawing fluid and to use the fingers as a brush to help remove the drawing fluid
  • to dry the screen while making sure the screen filler is still set
  • to measure and cut papers to print on
  • to mix and apply ink
  • to draw ink over the screen with the squeegee, ensuring thickness is even
  • to hold the paper under the screen in place during the printing
  • to lift the screen steadily while holding the paper in place to prevent smudging
  • to open seals
  • to wipe drips
  • to clean – to apply screen cleaner with a wide paintbrush on both the front and back of the screen; to run hot water while scrubbing to remove screen filler (hot enough to break down the filler, without burning my skin)

Taking inventory allows me to gain perspective on what the process requires of me. Within each of those steps of the printing process is a calculation angle, pressure, a range of motion. And beyond my hands, how I position my arms, how I hold my elbows, how I bend over my kitchen table to print and over my bathtub to clean the screen. Pulling, pushing, scrubbing, sketching – each a small process unto itself. The movement, the actions of the process are wonder(ful) to me as someone who is learning to screen print through the process of screen printing – the cultivation of technique through embodied learning. I still make mistakes, I still lack precision, but I am printing in so far as I am making products.

Technique has a bad name; it can seem soulless. That’s not how people whose hands become highly trained view technique” (Sennett 149). Technique is intimately linked to expression. Richard Sennett’s chapter on “The Hand” is something I returned to as I felt a stasis in my printing – no visible development from the second to the third print. I questioned what, in the drawing fluid technique, didn’t produce a more skilled print. And while it is difficult to isolate a singular aspect of the process (too much ink, paper that isn’t porous enough to hold the print well), I can think about what I did or did not do. This is learning from the technique of printing – the looking at process and product as isolated and in unison to determine what seems to be “off”. A techniquing of technique.

Transitional objects”, material things that themselves change, what can engage curiosity: an uncertain or unstable experience…In developing technique, we resolve transitional objects into definitions, and we make decisions based on such definitions” (158-59). The materials, despite being the “same” as far as the state that they are in, still have great variance. Thickness, how long something dries, proportion of mixing materials – these keep the process of printing from being “same”. They are always unstable, and have potential for variance, which keeps technique in making in developing – in the process of.

Technique develops, then, by a dialectic between the correct way to do something and the willingness to experiment through error” (160). Despite variance, experience and growing knowledge of properties and actions permit technique. Though I have watched videos and read text directions on the web, I have not learned the “correct” way of printing from a printer in terms of apprenticeship. It is the combination of these web instructions with the material conditions and my (in)capability that foster technique.

We have become the thing on which we are working” (174). This seems odd to me that I don’t think of myself in terms of being a screenprinter, an identity as a craftswoman, but in terms of my screenprints – what I am making as process and product. My movements, my work, are situated in my body by what I am doing. I think about what is possible and limitations in my prints in the making of them; what results, what yields is because of a physical working.

Rhetorics of Craft: Final Project Proposal Scraps

For my final project in the course, I would like to explore the relationship between human and machine through Latour’s concept of hybrids (which I have yet to do much reading on, so this is rather cursory understanding: the seamless being between nature and culture) to consider the connection between techne and technology. This seems a rather large undertaking, though, but I have yet to decide on a material or process artifact. But I think I want it to be a digital.

EDITION: I started thinking about tools in terms of programs, like Photoshop as the focus for this project. But I then realized what I wanted to look at is information architecture  (craftsmanship) on the web. I initially thought about GUIs, but I a now thinking in terms of tools, or add-ons, to the web browser as a way of crafting information we encounter on the web. Maybe through the metaphor of carpentry, thinking back to Ian Bogost’s carpentry in Alien Phenomenology.

Rhetorics of Craft: Midterm Project Proposal

For my midterm project, I would like to make a small book. The idea is that it would be a mashup of a zine, a DIY guide, an account of the process of making and breaking (with asides, witticisms, and maxims), and research that brings together theory with praxis in concepts of craft and materiality. The idea of making a book appeals to me because it is something that I am making that will account for making (a made thing on making?). While it won’t necessary be beautifully bound (a new craft endeavor), I would like to print my own cover, incorporate photos of the process and products, as well as prints that showcase the process of screen printing that make it visible (not pictures of it, but prints in the book) and tactile to communicate through the materials of printing. This will also be an exploration in what it means to make texts, with considerations for application in scholarship and pedagogical potential, and questions of material affordances and limitations.

American Arts and Crafts Movement Field Trip

I had the privilege to attend An American Look: Fashion, Decorative Arts & Gustav Stickley at the Everson Museum downtown with the rhetorics of craft collaborative (our seminar course on techne and rhetorics of craft with the wonderful Dr. Krista Kennedy). The exhibit showcased a collection of elegant, simple handcrafted pieces of clothing, pottery (some of which reminded me of Pewabic Pottery from Detroit), and Stickley furniture representative of the Arts and Crafts movement in the early 20th century. Syrcause, which was headquarters to Stickley’s company and The Craftsman magazine, was one of the seminal cities in the movement. The focus of the Arts and Crafts movement was on good design that regarded the relationship between the form and the use of the object.

In class we have read a number of texts – from a base in ancient rhetorics through Plato and Aristotle on techne, Kelly Pender’s thoughtful account of techne’s presence in the development of rhetoric and composition as a discipline in her book Techne: From Neoclassicism to Postmodernism, and currently John Sennett’s account of craftsmanship in The Craftsman – that are working to serve as a basis to explore the value and ethics of craft, the craftsman, and craftsmanship and how these concepts might illuminate composition and rhetoric as craft in making (and in making as action beyond use as metaphor).


Richard Sennett: The Craftsman

Sennet, Richard. The Craftsman.  New Haven: Yale University Press, 2008.

Richard Sennett, from Richard Sennett dot com

Richard Sennett, from Richard Sennett dot com

Richard Sennett’s website

About the author, from his Brief Biography

“Richard Sennett has explored how individuals and groups make social and cultural sense of material facts — about the cities in which they live and about the labour they do. He focuses on how people can become competent interpreters of their own experience, despite the obstacles society may put in their way. His research entails ethnography, history, and social theory.  As a social analyst, Mr. Sennett continues the pragmatist tradition begun by William James and John Dewey.”

Describes his works as “cultural studies“, but is using the phrase in an unusual manner to capture looking at how individuals and groups of people “make sense of material facts about where they live and the work they do”.

  • Works from interview and ethnography
  • Centennial Professor of Sociology at the London School of Economics and University Professor of the Humanities at New York University
  • Pragmatist/m: the function of thought is not to represent reality; instead, thought is a tool for prediction, taking action, and solving problems. Knowledge, language, science, and like philosophical topics are viewed in terms of practical uses and successes in action.

The Craftsman

From The Craftsman Magazine archives

From The Craftsman Magazine archives

“History has drawn fault lines dividing practice and theory, technique and expression, craftsman and artist, maker and user; modern society suffers from the historical inheritance. But the past life of craft and craftsmen also suggests ways of using tools, organizing work, and thinking about materials that remain alternative, viable proposals about how to conduct life with skill.”


“The craftsman represents the special human condition of being engaged” (20) in collective, tangible, material reality. But craftsmanship is poorly understood as a reduction to manual skill in a singular being without recognition of value in joining skill and community. Sennett sets out to examine the concrete practices of craft as investigatable – expanding notions of what counts as craft to technology, science, medical and like domains of craftsmen as craftsmanship has become institutionalized. His aims (as we continue reading) are to “explore what happens when hand an head, technique and science, art and craft are separated” (20) through larger issues presently and historically.

Main Argument (thus far)

Craftsmanship, dedicated,  skilled, good work for its own sake (20) that focuses on achieving quality to standards set by a community (25) is now organized in three troubled ways (52):

  • attempts of institutions to motivate people to work well (issues of individual competition, charades of cooperation)
  • developing skill, a trained practice, in environments that deprive people of repetitive, hands on training (a separation of head and hand)
  • conflicting measures of quality in products – one based on correctness and the other on practical experience (pulled between tacit and explicit knowledge)


In a time and global economy of automation and mass production, what is an available means of production that reorients itself as craft – making with a connected head and hand – beyond small enclaves of artisinal and craft counter-movements? (Sennett cites Japanese factories as more successful than Western production based on the collective way of doing, despite the scale and range of production.)

Does Byron Hawk’s post-techne – “the use of techniques for situating bodies within ecological contexts in ways that reveal models for enacting that open up the potential for invention, especially the invention of new techniques” ( “Toward a Post-Techne” 384) in combining technique, the technical, technology, and techne – provide illumination as a means toward solving the problems that Sennett is setting up to work through? What might this look like in action?