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    Scientific Playthings: Artefacts, Affordance, History

    Hakim, Lina (2013) Scientific Playthings: Artefacts, Affordance, History. PhD thesis, Birkbeck, University of London.

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    This research project aims to put forward, through the examination of three scientific artefacts as case studies, an applied philosophy and methodology for the study of things and the thinking that they allow. Within a phenomenological/ecological framework, the project proposes that thinking of scientific instruments as playthings puts forward their instability and mobility as artefacts, and develops the notion of ‘historical affordance’ to relate the evolution and variation over time in what they offer to perception, action and understanding. An historical account is adopted to show that change is occurring in a continuous subsisting thing and to register the mobility and transformability of a thing while keeping in memory its past affordances and anticipating future ones that extend previous uses and practices. Each chapter takes a scientific artefact as a case study: the string surface model, the Crookes radiometer and the gyroscope. All date from the nineteenth century, which as a transitional period for natural philosophy and science proved ideal. Through the notion of historical affordance, each case study addresses the different materials and technologies that compose the device as histories, and looks at these constitutive parts separately and as particular arrangements and relationships within the device. The instruments are examined alongside objects that they resonate with from the fields of arts, craft and pedagogy – material ‘declinations’ in a network of objects that bring attention to particular substances and qualities of the artefacts and allow for thinking through things about the thought that dwells in things. Having fleshed out the historical affordance of the three instruments, the thesis finally proposes that each seems to suggest a particular ‘shape’ for these movements of thought: a topological one in the case of the model, an atmospheric one in the case of the radiometer and a kinetic one in the case of the gyroscope.


    Item Type: Thesis
    Copyright Holders: The copyright of this thesis rests with the author, who asserts his/her right to be known as such according to the Copyright Designs and Patents Act 1988. No dealing with the thesis contrary to the copyright or moral rights of the author is permitted.
    Depositing User: Acquisitions And Metadata
    Date Deposited: 13 Feb 2014 10:11
    Last Modified: 25 Sep 2023 12:04


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