The reindeer herdsman’s lasso

Tim Ingold*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalComment/debatepeer-review


I have latterly found myself thinking more and more about ropes. They have come, in my mind, to epitomise everything that an object, as we usually understand it, is not. An object, we suppose, has a certain fixity about it. It may be moveable, in its totality, but at any moment you can point to it and say where it is. We also expect it to be sufficiently solid to keep within the contours of a determinate form. We can say where it ends, and where other objects begin. It is complete in itself. But the rope has none of these properties. It is neither fixed nor solid; neither bounded nor complete. It is flexible rather than rigid, allowing for differential movement all along its length. Its conformation is continually shifting, subject to its own momentum and the vagaries of applied force. It holds together not because of the solidity of its material, but through the countervailing torque of each of its strands with that of the strands with one another. And its end marks a moment not of completion but of potential undoing, from which it will fray if not spliced, knotted or sealed. In principle, it could carry on forever. It is no wonder, then, that ropes have been largely overlooked in inventories of material culture centred on collections of objects. They simply don’t fit.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)163-168
Number of pages6
Issue numberNumero Especial
Early online date22 Dec 2022
Publication statusPublished - 22 Dec 2022


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