DS10 - Défi des autres savoirs

Encoding and Transmitting Knowledge with a String : a comparative study of the cultural uses of mathematical practices in string-figure making (Oceania, North & South America) – ETKnoS

Submission summary

This project focuses on the practice of "string-figure making" which consists in carrying out a succession of operations using the fingers, to obtain a figure from a loop of string. Known in numerous societies with an oral tradition (notably in Oceania and the Americas), and often identified as a recreational activity, this practice brings into play gestural sequences similar to algorithms concurrently with the enunciation of terms and even specific stories (or chants). The overall aim of this project is to understand the mathematical dimension of such a practice (and particularly the expression of a mathematical rationality associated with it), by considering its place in particular cultural (and linguistic) contexts. Through a dual ethnomathematical and anthropological perspective, and based on ethnographies and ethnolinguistic analysis to be carried out in Oceanian (Vanuatu, and Trobriand), South American (Mapuche, Guarani-Ñandeva) and North American (principally Inuit) societies, the proposed study aims more specifically to investigate the relationships between the sequences of operations (procedures and sub-procedures) and the words that are spoken or sung during these sequences. Our objective is to reach a better understanding of the extent to which, in these societies, the practice of string-figure making constitutes/constituted a method for the organization and the transmission of knowledge (mythological, cosmological, sociological, geographical, etc.), involving the use of mathematical concepts.

Project coordinator

Monsieur Eric Vandendriessche (Laboratoire Sciences-Philosophie-Histoire, UMR 7219)

The author of this summary is the project coordinator, who is responsible for the content of this summary. The ANR declines any responsibility as for its contents.


SPHERE Laboratoire Sciences-Philosophie-Histoire, UMR 7219

Help of the ANR 435,132 euros
Beginning and duration of the scientific project: September 2016 - 48 Months

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