“The Valency of Misplaced Concreteness in Design and the Mathematical Sciences” Session at 4S 2017, Boston

For the 4S Annual Meeting 2017, I am co-organizer, along with Clare Kim of MIT’s STS Program, of a closed panel that rethinks the abstract-concrete opposition in design and mathematics. The panel draws on A.N. Whitehead’s “fallacy of misplaced concreteness” as a provocation to work with these in-between labels, shelving binary categories and studying how such categories strengthened at certain moments. Breaking from empirical traditions invested in material concreteness, designers enlist mathematical abstraction for purposes that range from epistemological consolidation to aesthetic renewal. At the same time, mathematical practitioners draw from aesthetic and material resources to reason with, teach, or communicate the abstractions with which they operate. We ask how abstraction engages with existing socio-technical arrangements in both planned and unplanned ways, facilitating both collaborations and contestations. Ultimately, this panel recasts “misplaced concreteness” as a productive process, bearing analytical and critical potential for STS. Participants include Alma Steingart, talking on midcentury mathematics and aesthetic autonomy, Daniel Cardoso Llach, presenting on plexes, patches, and the early history of CAD, and Matthew Allen, speaking about abstract art, concrete poetry, and algorithms in architecture. Clare’s paper revolves around mathematical abstractions of Eastern aesthetics in US math. My talk examines the Concreteness of mathematical abstraction in 1960s design theory by delving into graph’s geometric presentation. More details about the panel in this link.

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