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Rather, each carried over into the next. It all began with the question of what it means to say of human beings that they are the producers of their lives. But I did not cease thinking about this question as it gave birth to another: how is it that, in producing their lives, humans create history?

How, if at all, is this history to be distinguished from the process of evolution in which all living creatures are supposed to be caught up? And I have not ceased thinking about dwelling in my current explorations in the comparative anthropology of the line, which grew from the realisation that every being is instantiated in the world as a path of movement along a way of life. Or to trace the progression of my thinking in reverse: to lay a path through the world is to dwell; to dwell is to live historically; every historical form of life is a mode of production.

In what follows, I shall recapitulate the first three phases of this progression, in their original order, as an introduction to the fourth, which is represented by the essays that comprise the present volume.


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Production I came initially to the question of production through a reflection on how the ways of working of human beings differ from those of non-human animals Ingold Over a century previously, Friedrich Engels had been pondering the same thing. True, human activities are not alone in having significant environmental consequences; moreover the great majority of these consequences, as Engels was the first to admit, are unintended or unforeseen.

Finally, in another contemporary fragment, Engels conceded that it is the end-directedness of human action that qualifies it as production.

Essays on Movement, Knowledge and Description, 1st Edition

To put it another way, irrespective of the actual impact of their activities, animals do not labour in their environment in order to change it. They have no conception of their task. But human beings always work with some notion of what they are doing, and why, even though the results never quite conform to expectations. This, too, was the conclusion to which Karl Marx had moved in the first volume of Capital, published a few years earlier, in Yet for Marx, this model of creation presented something of a dilemma. For if the form of a thing must already exist in the imagination before the work of production can even begin, where does this initial image come from?

In notes published posthumously as the Grundrisse, Marx came up with his answer. It is consumption, he argued, that sets the aims of production. It does so by creating expectations about the forms things should take and the functions they should fulfil, and these expectations, in turn, motivate the productive process. Or in a nutshell, whereas producing things gives us objects to consume, consuming things gives us ideas of what to produce.

The result is a closed circuit, of production and consumption, the one converting pre-existing images into final objects, the other converting objects into images.

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To ask which comes first, production or consumption, is to pose a chicken and egg question. How could he prove, as his philosophy of materialism required, that production takes precedence over consumption? If that were really so, however, then somewhere along the line products would have miraculously to appear that present to the consumer the need that subsequently motivates their production. Whereas Marx, the materialist, had to pull objects from a hat in order to set the ball rolling, the culturalist Sahlins has to conjure symbolic representations from thin air.

Indeed so long as we assume that there is no more to production than converting images into objects, and no more to consumption that turning objects back into images, there appears to be no escape from the circle. Neither object nor image can take precedence, neither production nor consumption, when each is a precondition for the other. Yet Marx himself, spelling out the elements of the labour process in Capital, hints that there is more. Images do not turn themselves into objects just like that.

Moreover as he 6 Prologue labours, it is not only the materials with which he works that are transformed. Latent potentialities of action and perception are developed. He becomes, even if ever so slightly, a different person. Perhaps, then, the essence of production lies as much or more in the attentional quality of the action — that is, in its attunement and responsiveness to the task as it unfolds — and in its developmental effects on the producer, as in any images or representations of ends to be achieved that may be held up before it.

There is indeed a precedent for this view in the earlier collaborative writings of Marx and Engels. In a passage from The German Ideology, penned in , they go so far as to equate production with life itself, and every mode of production with a mode of life. Conceived as the attentive movement of a conscious being, bent upon the tasks of life, the productive process is not confined within the finalities of any particular project. It does not start with an image and finish with an object but carries on through, without beginning or end, punctuated — rather than initiated or terminated — by the forms, whether mental or ideal, that it sequentially brings into being.

And it is, once and for all, to restore to production the existential primacy that Marx had always sought for it Ingold Its primacy is that of life itself: of the processes of hoping, growing and dwelling over the forms that are conceived and realised within them.

Yet this assertion of the priority of ongoing process over final form, as we shall see, poses a fundamental challenge to the very model of creation to which both Marx and Engels had appealed in order to characterise the distinctively human character of productive labour. Indeed, once we dispense with the prior representation of an end to be achieved as a necessary condition for production, and focus instead on the purposive will or intentionality that inheres in the action itself — in its capacity literally to pro-duce, to draw out or bring forth potentials in the person of the producer and in the surrounding world — then there are no longer any grounds to restrict the ranks of producers to human beings alone.

Growing into the world, the world grows in them.

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And with this, the question concerning production gives way to another, this time about the meaning of history. History As he drafted the introduction to his Dialectics of Nature, Engels was well aware of the intimate connection between these two questions. There is a limited sense, he admits, in which animals produce, yet without ends in mind, their activity — more or less instinctive — does not really count as production. Only when human beings Anthropology comes to life 7 appear on the stage do we enter history proper: that is, a history they have made themselves in the conscious pursuit of predetermined aims.

Writing over a century later, Maurice Godelier returned to the same theme, in virtually identical terms. Introducing a collection of his essays on The Mental and the Material , dedicated to the revival of a Marxian approach to anthropology, Godelier, too, grants that non-human species have histories of a kind. These natural histories, however, have come about not through any intentional activity on the part of non-humans themselves, but are rather compounded from the reproductive consequences of accidental variations and recombinations of hereditary material along lines of descent.

The human species, of course, has an evolutionary history of this sort, which palaeo-anthropologists have been at pains to unravel. By this he means that the designs and purposes of human action upon the environment — action that yields a return in the form of the wherewithal for subsistence — have their source in the domain of social relations. But although Godelier takes his inspiration from Marx, in fact Marx does not say that humans produce society.

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He says they produce themselves and one another. They do so by reciprocally laying down, through their life activities, the conditions for their own growth and development. What they produce, in short, is not society but the ongoing process of social life. As Marx and Engels had put it, in The German Ideology 42 , human beings are the what and how of their production: each is the instantiation of a certain way of being alive and active in the world.

In an influential work from the same period, entitled Theoretical Anthropology, David Bidney objected that this presents us with a false choice. Human nature and cultural history, Bidney argued, are not mutually exclusive but rather complementary. Each depends on the other, and adequate self-knowledge required the comprehension of both Bidney Humanity, he is telling us, does not come pre-packaged with species membership, nor does it come from having been born into a particular culture or society.


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It is rather something we have continually to work at. For both Marx and Ortega, then, what we are, or what we can be, does not come ready made. We have, perpetually and never-endingly, to be making ourselves. That is what life is, what history is, and what it means to produce. And that, too, for these authors, is what it means to be human. To inquire into human life is thus to explore the conditions of possibility in a world peopled by beings whose identities are established, in the first place, not by received species- or culture-specific attributes but by productive accomplishment.

The thesis he sets out to prove, in The Mental and the Material, is that History is wrought in the human transformation of nature. Through their creative action upon the natural environment, Godelier claims, human beings bring about changes not only in their relations with that environment but also in the relations among themselves constitutive of society Godelier 1.

In so far as humans are encompassed within this world they are objectively bound to the determinations of an evolved human nature which they had no hand in shaping; conversely they are able to shape their own destinies only in so far as they issue from a historical consciousness that is constituted without the material world, in an intersubjective or social domain of mental realities that stands over and above the sheer materiality of nature.

Being alive : essays on movement, knowledge and description

My reflections on the concept of production, however, seemed to offer a potential resolution. And might it not be in precisely this mutual establishment of developmental conditions that we find the meaning of history? Human actions, of course, establish such conditions not only for other humans.

They also do so for assorted non-humans. Moreover, granted that not all producers are human, it is easy to turn the argument around and show how various non-humans contribute, in specific environments, not just to their own growth and development but also to that of human beings. It follows that human social life is not cut out on a separate plane from the rest of nature but is part and parcel of what is going on throughout the organic world. In so far as the forms of beings arise within this process, it may be described as evolutionary.

This argument, however, has a radical corollary, and it took some time before it fully dawned on me. It is that variation under natural selection, although it undoubtedly occurs within evolution, is not, in itself, an evolutionary process Ingold a: The differential reproduction of organisms, competing for resources within a finite environment, leads to population-level changes in gene frequencies; evolution, however, is about the emergence of form within matrices of development.

Genes are of course critical components of these matrices. They make a difference. But the forms of organisms are not compendia of difference but the everemergent outcomes of processes of growth. The penny dropped thanks to my encounter with the work of the philosopher of biology, Susan Oyama. In her path-breaking book The ontogeny of information , Oyama shows that mainstream evolutionary theory, modelled on Darwinian principles, is disabled by an elementary fallacy.

The fallacy is to suppose that organic form pre-exists the processes that give rise to it Oyama Positing the objective consequence of ontogenetic development as a pre-existent design specification, technically known as the genotype, orthodox theory Anthropology comes to life 9 proceeds to account for organic form as the external, phenotypic materialisation of this inner design. And the solution, in both cases, is the same: that is, to insist on the primacy of process over product; of life over the forms it takes, whether covert as mental image or genotype or overt as material object or phenotype.

Following Oyama, I argued that the forms of organisms are not genetically preconfigured but continually emerge as developmental outcomes within matrices comprised of mutually conditioning relations. Far from being confined to the transitive intervals between genotype and phenotype, life carries on in the unfolding of the relational matrices wherein organic forms are generated and held in place. Evolution is the name we give to this unfolding.

With DST, it is possible to resituate the historical experience of human beings within the evolving matrices of development in which all living beings are immersed Ingold b. Homing in on any one such matrix, what we discover there is not so much an interplay between two kinds of history — the upper case History of humanity on the plane of society and the lower case history of nature — as a history comprised by the interplay of diverse humans and non-humans in their mutual involvement. There are human becomings, animal becomings, plant becomings, and so on.

As they move together through time and encounter one another, these paths interweave to form an immense and continually evolving tapestry. Anthropology, then, is the study of human becomings as they unfold within the weave of the world. And it was this idea of history, evolution and social life as woven, rather than as either made by humans or made for them, that led me to dwelling. Dwelling I had been pondering the distinction between building and dwelling long before a chance conversation with a student of architecture, circa , directed me towards the philosophical writings of Martin Heidegger on the subject.

The distinction seemed to me to offer an exemplary instance of the contrast, to which I have already drawn attention, between transitive and intransitive senses of production.