Practice, Process, and Post-Rationalization:
Notes on Making and the Temporality of Creativity

Session reviewed by the American Ethnological Association
American Anthropological Association 113th Annual Meeting, Washington DC, December 3–7, 2014

Panelists: Charlotte Bik Bandlien (KHiO / Oslo National Academy of the Arts), Rodney Collins (McCann Worldgroup), Todd Nicewonger (Gothenberg University), Stephanie Phillips, (Teachers College, Columbia University), Stephanie Sadre-Orafai (University of Cincinnati), Liese Zahabi (Weber State University)

Discussant: Ruti Talmor (Pitzer College)
Co-Organizers: Todd Nicewonger, University of Gothenberg & Stephanie Sadre-Orafai, University of Cincinnati

Recent work in both popular science and anthropological theory has centralized the affective, bodily, social, and temporal dimensions of knowledge production, examining and, in the case of the former, attempting to harness the dynamics of creativity and innovation. From “thinking without thinking” (Gladwell 2005) and “thinking, fast and slow” (Kahnemann 2011) to the somatic features of political thought (Mascia-Lees 2011) and tactility of emergent forms of knowledge (Stewart 2007, 2012), interest in what Merleau-Ponty calls “pre-reflective” states of being has become a critical site for understanding how human experience and meaning coalesce.

Ethnographic engagements with and examinations of cultural producers in creative industries extend these efforts, providing unique opportunities for anthropologists to not just observe but also participate in these practices. In these contexts, producers take hunches, impulses, and sensations as critical insights for translating subjective experiences into aesthetic forms. Yet, what “exactly” these experiences mean, at least immediately, is rarely understood. For artists, designers, and other makers, such experiences offer insights for guiding their creative practices—insights that later take on more rationalized explanations.

Taking up the theme “Producing Anthropology,” in this panel we track the affective terrains that makers traverse as they turn their subjective inclinations into material and social realities, holding them in tension with our own anthropological endeavors to explore what happens at their intersection. Comparing artistic and design processes with anthropological practices, we argue that these contexts and interactions produce and make possible vivid scenes that can enliven anthropological analyses, generating new conceptual sites for cross- and trans-disciplinary work (cf. Rabinow & Marcus 2008). In this milieu, how are scholars and makers moving in and out of these sites and how are the particular ways of knowing valued in one site extended into another?

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Kahnemann, D. 2011. Thinking, Fast and Slow. New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
Mascia-Lees, F. 2011. Aesthetic Embodiment and Commodity Capitalism. In Frances E. Mascia-Lees, Ed. Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment. New York: Wiley-Blackwell.
Rabinow, P. and G. Marcus. 2008. Towards an Anthropology of the Contemporary. Durham: Duke.
Stewart, K. 2007. Ordinary Affects. Durham: Duke.
----. 2012. Precarity’s Forms. Cultural Anthropology 27(3):518–25.