Oral Presentation Session
Reviewed by: Society for Cultural Anthropology
Of interest to: Teachers of Anthropology in Community Colleges, Students
Primary Theme: Inclusivity
Together with tying, binding, weaving or wrapping, as well their contrary actions of untying, unfastening, unwrapping, disentangling, or cutting, knots connect, or disconnect, a variety of objects, such as ropes, strings, cords, mats, nets, webs and textiles. In addition to their functional uses, in this session, we want to emphasize that knots, and their related activities and objects, make up a trope. Knots constitute a family of signifiers not just of closure, relationship and command, but of social and moral closure, relationship and command, as well as a trope of desire for agency to achieve these ends. One thinks of the Akedah, the binding of Isaac, in which Abraham tied his son up by way of showing his submission to the authority and legitimacy of the Divine or the knots tied by Sami magicians to secure or release favorable winds to sailors or endanger them. In contemporary Western modernity, knots, however disenchanted they may have become, serve as moral images of social relationships. We “tie the knot” upon marrying. In Western scholarship, theory is said to be challenged by “knotty” problems that need to be “disentangled.” There are obviously several different approaches to the study of knots, in addition to the one we have begun to outline here that puts emphasis on knots as signifier of the moral. The agenda or focus of this session will not seek to reduce, or limit, the great variety of the contemporary and historical meanings of knots to one analytical framework. It would rather have the goal of making a start on a comparative ethnographic project about knots in society, modernity and social theory. What do knots mean in context? How are they used metaphorically? What relationship do they have to the signification of moral relationships in society? How are they used in theoretical discourse? Do they have instrumental uses in daily life? Do they have magical uses? To what extent are they gendered? How are their meanings and significations changing, or how have they changed, particularly in relationship to modernity and modern rationality.