A Nomadic Diagram

Waddington's Epigenetic Landscape and Anthropology

in Social Analysis
Author:
Caroline Humphrey Anthropologist, USSR, Russia ch10001@hermes.cam.ac.uk

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Abstract

The idea of the diagram as a ‘working object’ is used to discuss the biologist C. H. Waddington's epigenetic landscape (EL) diagrams. This article investigates the diagrams’ history and discusses their usages in relation to Stengers's idea of the ‘nomadic concept’. What is it about these diagrams that have made them a tool for transdisciplinary research? The article argues that it is useful to distinguish between the diagram and the illustration, and that it is in part because the EL diagrams retain an illustrative graphic character that they have been apt for imaginative adaptation and reuse. The diagram in this case becomes an ‘ontological go-between’ that is thereby able to function in different contexts, such as sociology and anthropology.

Contributor Notes

Caroline Humphrey is a social anthropologist who has worked in the USSR/Russia, Mongolia, Inner Mongolia, Nepal, and India. Until 2010 she was Sigrid Rausing Professor of Anthropology at the University of Cambridge, and she is currently a Research Director at the university's Mongolia and Inner Asia Studies Unit. Recent publications include A Monastery in Time: The Making of Mongolian Buddhism (2013), co-authored with Hurelbaatar Ujeed; Frontier Encounters: Knowledge and Practice at the Russian, Chinese and Mongolian Border (2012), co-edited with Franck Billé and Grégory Delaplace; and Trust and Mistrust in the Economies of the China-Russia Borderlands (2018). E-mail: ch10001@hermes.cam.ac.uk

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Social Analysis

The International Journal of Anthropology

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