Friction: An engineer’s perspective on weaving grass rope bridges

Within the social sciences, metaphors provide a useful (if potentially problematic) way of explaining complex or alien views of the world in terms that can be more easily understood. However, beyond possible misunderstandings, the words behind some of these metaphors represent useful points of anthropological enquiry in their own right. This talk will examine one such word: ‘Friction’. Beautifully epitomised in Anna Tsing’s book of the same name, it is presented here as an engineering term – a lens through which we can examine production, materials, skill and their cultural consequences. Using the case study of a bridge made of woven grass in the Peruvian Andes, the so-called ‘last remaining keshwa chaca’, we will see how adopting an engineer’s perspective can offer a different appreciation for the bridge and its creation. During the talk, your own appreciation will be further enhanced when you do some of your own ‘weaving’ using two pieces of A4 paper!

Pitt Rivers Museum Research Seminar in Visual, Material and Museum Anthropology, Hilary 2023

Fridays, 12pm-1.30pm (Weeks 1-8)

ONLINE via MS Teams 

Convened by Charlotte Linton and Christopher Morton