Workshop Overview

Learning How: Training Bodies, Producing Knowledge


Thursday, February 5, 2015 - 09:00 to Friday, February 6, 2015 - 17:00


Nina Lerman, Stewart Allen


Dep. III, Artefacts, Action and Knowledge, Max-Planck Institute for the History of Science, Berlin, Germany

The focus of this workshop will be on processes of learning in relation to material production: how a less-knowing body becomes more-knowing; how mastery is understood by both "masters" and others; what provisions and resources might be available, and to whom, in a particular time and place. Finding words to analyze knowledge of material processes is often a contested project, but whatever terms scholars choose -- regenerating/ acquiring/ emulating/ developing knowledge -- we propose there is a common set of questions to explore and a rich conversation to be had.

The tools of the project "Histories of Planning" are particularly adept at opening and analyzing processes of knowledge production and regeneration: "making material things work" highlights both the intentions of actors engaged in perpetuating material techniques, and the improvisations and insights produced in artisanal encounters over generations, within communities, across boundaries, between bodies and minds. The rubric demands situating types of knowledge specifically -- in particular materialities, workplaces, workshops, kinship groups, classrooms, laboratories, markets, structures of power etc. – yet seeking methodological and comparative points of commonality and conversation.

Focal questions for this workshop will be:


  • What are the structures, from apprenticeships to classrooms, to pay scales to inheritance, within which learning is envisioned? How rigid or flexible are the rules, plans, boundaries?
  • How is "learning" understood by the people involved? Who is expected to become knowledgeable, and about which materials and processes?
  • How do we go about studying and articulating human learning processes, familiar or unfamiliar, historical or contemporary? When can we assume a common neurological being or when should we emphasize the contingent cultural constructions of knowing?
  • Similarly, when can we assume continuities of specific materialities -- "stone", "wood", "metal", etc -- and when do apparently obvious continuities turn out to be materially incommensurate?
  • How do various cultures, societies, or communities define and value modes of knowing, and how do these differences shape the questions we can ask?


Against this topical background the workshop invites discussions about how anthropologists, historians, sociologists, archaeologists, scientists and others can know, investigate, and write about the nonverbal, the veiled and the embodied. We seek to interrogate and explore the different forms of knowledge produced by different disciplinary methods (e.g. interviews, archival research, participant observation, quantitative sampling etc.) and how such data may be used to generate and inform novel understandings of the subjects under scrutiny.

Contributors are requested to send in a 250-300 word abstract with their biographical details (full name, institutional affiliation, e-mail address and telephone numbers) by 16 May, 2014.

Funding will be available.


Attachments: Program