Description and Creativity conference

Approaches to collaboration and value from anthropology, art, science and technology

A conference at King's College, Cambridge

3rd - 5th July 2005

Convenor: James Leach

1st October update

Most of the papers, along with audio files of all the presentations are now available on this site, for those who attended.  If you need this link, please email rohan(at)

As one of the speakers (Robert Thornton) articulated in detail, the value created by such an event (his focus was the University in general) expands through peoples' subsequent collaborations and interactions, and in the way ideas are carried forward into new arenas and towards new aims. These are not necessarily easily quantifiable, but this does not mean we should not consider them as value creation. The conference provided a context for understanding collaboration in a new way, was innovative in bringing together practitioners from many disciplines, and fostered a genuinely focussed discussion on the politics, practicalities and possibilities of 'Description'.

To download a pdf of the conference book click here


What creative work does description do? What work can it do? This conference addressed issues of description in interdisciplinary collaboration and in ethnographic practice.

This conference brought together people working in collaborative projects, particularly those between artists and scientists, and others who are interested in the description, understanding, and promotion of novel (creative) combinations. Speakers addressed issues of interdisciplinary collaboration, ownership and transactions in knowledge, representation, performance and digital technology, architecture and virtual environments, and the problems and issues of social science as a ‘Descriptive’ discipline. Where and how does description fit into creative processes? What must description ‘do’ in order to be useful? Ought we aim for usability at all? If so, with whom in mind? How might we recognise and reposition description as ‘enabling’?

Speakers were drawn from art and science, anthropology, architecture, digital technology, choreography, history of science, including:

Christopher Alexander (Author of ‘Pattern Languages’), Roy Ascott (The Planetary Collegium, Plymouth), Heather Barnett (Artist), Debbora Battaglia (Anthropology, Mt Holyoke), Lissant Bolton (British Museum), Peter de Bolla (English, Cambridge), Scott deLahunta (Performance Research, Dartington College), Harri Englund (Soc. Anth, Cambridge), Bronac Ferran (Interdisciplinary Arts, Arts Council England), Daniel Glaser (Cognitive Neuroscience, UCL), Simon Goldhill (Classics, Cambridge), Judith Green (King's, Cambridge), Mark Harris (Anthropology, St Andrews), Caroline Hupmhrey (Anthropology, Cambridge), Tim Ingold (Anthropology, Aberdeen), Jaromil (GNU/Linux Programmer), Monica Konrad (Girton College), Thomas Lehmen (Freelance choreographer and writer DE), Bronwyn Parry (Queen Mary University of London (QMUL)), Simon Schaffer (HPS Cambridge), Marilyn Strathern (Social Anth. Cambridge), Gron Tudor-Jones (Physics, Birmingham), Soumhya Venkatesan (King's, Cambridge), Alejandro Viñao (Composer, London), Eduardo Viveiros de Castro (Museo National, Rio deJaneiro), Alan Wall (English, University College Chester), Robert Whittle (Genetic Science, Sussex)

Send all enquiries to rohan(at)

Generous support for this conference comes from Arts Council England, the AHRC and King’s College Cambridge.


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