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What's A Mallet For: A Woodworker's Critique of The Workmanship of Risk

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journal contribution
posted on 2019-04-11, 08:00 authored by RTD ConferenceRTD Conference, Philip Luscombe

At the woodworker’s bench, a wooden mallet is used primarily for striking chisels. This is a straightforward answer to the question, ‘What's a mallet for?’. It is an account that focuses upon tool use as an activity that does something to the world – a mallet drives a chisel in order to remove waste wood. In this paper however, I aim to reconsider mallets, and tools more generally, not just as artefacts that enable us to do things to the world, but also as instruments for finding out how those things are going. The paper is based around a critique of David Pye’s concept of the workmanship of risk. My argument states that understandings of production such as Pye’s rely on an entirely pragmatic account of tool use, and action more generally, as a means of realising preconceived ideas in the material world. I draw on the concept of epistemic actions, which are actions intended to improve our understanding of a situation and aid decision making, in order to counter this tendency. This discussion is presented alongside a portable workbench and work-in-progress mallet I am making. By demonstrating the production and use of a mallet at the workbench during RTD 2017, I aim to illustrate my argument and describe its significance for how we talk about, and practice, designing and making. 


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