Tom Fisher

I introduced myself as an academic – a researcher who writes about plastic (among other things). I do write about plastic, and it has got me into the sociology of consumption, material culture studies, design history, history of science, science and technology studies, among other places. So I could identify with the humanities researchers present at the workshop, and very much with the interdisciplinary feel of the session. But my introduction to myself was only partial – I spent some years designing and making furniture; I am a musician and now also make and restore musical instruments. Here is one:

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So there is much about the workshop for me to comment on because I can connect with it at many levels. One of my current interests, as yet not fathomed at all, is how we know what to do, as makers particularly, but also as parents, as academics, as citizens… As a maker, and as a Design academic, I feel pretty unconfident in thinking how to address this. But during the materials and emotion workshop this question came to my mind.

We were being asked to think about ‘non-reasoned’ responses to the objects and narratives that Roger and Matt presented (so well) and as Adam Drazin pointed out, there seemed to be an assumption that we would feel some emotions in relation to them, and that there were appropriate emotions to feel. In my casting about for toe-holds on knowledge, {embodied, aesthetic or rational} and reasoning {deductive, inductive or abdutive} I think I have encountered the proposition that emotions, or ‘affects’ are understood to be a component of all cognition. From the point of view of my experience as a maker, and as a father, citizen etc. this makes sense; it feels right – more emotion talk.

I am aware of a literature that attends to this from literary criticism – Terry Eagleton’s Ideology of the Aesthetic, comes to mind. If I remember correctly, he points out the role of aesthetic knowing in political action, both progressive and conservative. And I am familiar with some theories about this that have been used in Design research. Donald Schon’s ‘reflection in action’ is often used to account for the relationship of technical rationality to knowing practice. Then there is Michael Polanyi’s work on tacit knowledge. But I guess the workshop did not intend that we should think in these terms, but wanted us to use the presentations and activities to engage more directly with our own experiences – the sort that Schon and Polanyi are describing.

And I did find myself ruminating as I bent some lovely bendy copper wire about my delight as a child making wire figures, which made me think about how we learn dexterous skill. I am left feeling that inspecting how we come to embody material practices is a good way to get some sort of grip on how those practices are made up. This could be approached a number of ways…

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