Original Research

Observing representational practices in art and anthropology - a transdisciplinary approach

R Preiser
The Journal for Transdisciplinary Research in Southern Africa | Vol 6, No 1 | a121 | DOI: https://doi.org/10.4102/td.v6i1.121 | © 2010 R Preiser | This work is licensed under CC Attribution 4.0
Submitted: 02 March 2016 | Published: 04 April 2010

About the author(s)

R Preiser, Department of Philosophy, University of Stellenbosch, South Africa

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It has been suggested that anthropology operates in “liminal spaces” which can be defined as “spaces between disciplines”. This study will explore the space where the fields of art and anthropology meet in order to discover the epistemological and representational challenges that arise from this encounter. The common ground on which art and anthropology engage can be defined in terms of their observational and knowledge producing practices. Both art and anthropology rely on observational skills and varying forms of visual literacy to collect and represent data. Anthropologists represent their data mostly in written form by means of ethnographic accounts, and artists represent their findings by means of imaginative artistic mediums such as painting, sculpture, filmmaking and music.

Departing from a paradigm that acknowledges the importance of transdisciplinary enquiry, the paper proposes a position suggesting that by combining observational and knowledge producing practices, both anthropology and art can overcome the limits that are inherent in their representational practices. The paper will explore how insights from complexity theory offer the necessary conceptual tools with which anthropology and art can work together in offering solutions to problems of presentation that emerge when dealing with complex issues.


Transdisciplinarity; complexity; art; anthropology; knowledge producing practices


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