Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers: Comparative Studies in the Sociology of Scientific and Indigenous Knowledge

By David Turnbull | Go to book overview

2

TALK, TEMPLATES AND TRADITION: HOW THE MASONS BUILT CHARTRES CATHEDRAL WITHOUT PLANS

Bringing Chartres into the Present

In this chapter I want to pursue a more detailed exploration of the ways in which the assemblages of local, messy practices coproduce a knowledge space. The Gothic cathedrals have been chosen because they are a premodern European example of knowledge in practice. By looking at a period where much of what we now take for granted about innovation, construction and design was not yet established, it is possible to undo some preconceptions about science and technology. We can consider some of the ways in which the technoscientific world we now inhabit came into being with the formation of a particular kind of knowledge space.

The construction of Gothic cathedrals such as Chartres poses a number of questions. How were they designed? What was the role of the architect, of plans, drawings and of scientific knowledge? How were innovations like flying buttresses possible in the absence of a theory of structural mechanics? How were large numbers of undifferentiated stones assembled into an organised structure? How was the labour and skill of large numbers of men and women coordinated? As a consequence of their presuppositions about the nature of the design process and about the nature of scientific and technical knowledge, many authors answer these questions in a way that on the one hand makes the construction process seem mysterious and radically different from ‘modern’ construction and design, and on the other obscures the historical emergence of such technical devices as plans. Plans are now a prerequisite for complex building and along with maps have become synonymous with organised, systematic knowledge. Yet, as will become apparent in this and subsequent chapters on navigation and maps, they are culturally and historically contingent devices for assembling knowledge. Important questions in understanding the formation of our technoscientific world are when, where and how plans and maps started to play a formative role in shaping our modes of understanding. The auxiliary question asks when plans and maps

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