Bogostian carpentry

Last updated: Wednesday, 10 July 2024

Constructing artifacts as philosophical practice. Analogous to woodworking, but material-agnostic; ‘to do carpentry is to make anything, but to make it in earnest, with one’s own hands, like a cabinet-maker.’ (Bogost 2012)

The products of carpentry are sincere philosophical/investigative outputs; ‘not mere accidents, waypoints on the way to something else.’ (Bogost 2012) Not a means to an ends. Prototypes embodying and advancing philosophical inquiry, providing fuzzy, speculative glimpses insight into the worlds of objects. Exploring ontology by practicing it? Playful, earnest, and sincere.

One way to conceptualise Bogostian carpentry is as a form of philosophical prototyping or model-making. The artifacts created serve as tangible representations of abstract concepts or hypotheses, allowing for hands-on exploration and experimentation. Just as scientists use models and simulations to study complex phenomena, philosophers can employ physical artifacts to investigate the nature of objects, their relationships, and their place in the world.

Bogostian carpentry emphasises the importance of engaging directly with materials, allowing the body to serve as a co-author in the process of inquiry. This tactile, embodied experience challenges the convention that scholarly productivity must take written form. By manipulating and “vivisecting” the objects under analysis, philosophers can uncover insights and secrets that may be obscured by purely theoretical or textual approaches. The materials themselves become active participants in the process, shaping and informing the inquiry through their affordances, constraints, and resistances.

An obvious question, then: must scholarly productivity take written form? Is writing the most efficient and appropriate material for judging academic work? If the answer is yes, it is so only by convention. — Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology (2012)

It’s not that writing cannot be interesting. Rather, we might consider that writing is not the only method of engendering interest. — Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology (2012)

However appealing and familiar the usual means of doing philosophy might be, another possible method involves a more hands-on approach, manipulating or vivisecting the objects to be analyzed, mad scientist–like, in the hopes of discovering their secrets. — Ian Bogost, Alien Phenomenology (2012)

“Major Author Seminar: Herman Melville’s Moby-Dick and 19th Century Technology.” Students read the novel as an encyclopedia of 19th century technology, with each producing a research project on the relation of that technology to 21st century practices. In addition, they chose several technologies to understand through “hands-on learning” including rope production, knot tying, celestial navigation, candle production, blacksmithing (they forged a harpoon on an anvil), and a 22 ft. plywood model of a whale skeleton cut on a CNC machine eventually donated to a south Atlanta nature center. — T. Hugh Crawford, “Making Theory: Useless Design/Risky Pedagogy” (2014)

  • [?] What counts as a “sincere philosophical output” in artifact form? What criteria distinguish it from artistic expression or design prototyping?
  • [?] How do you evaluate or validate the knowledge claims or insights embodied in an artifact? What modes of critique or peer review apply?
  • [?] How does the practice of taxidermy relate to Bogostian carpentry? Both involve a hands-on, material engagement with the subject matter; what insights can be drawn from this comparison?
  • [&] See also: experimental archaeology, field philosophy, critical making, ontography?

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