The Prototype: More Than Many and Less Than One

Corsín Jiménez, Alberto
Journal of Cultural Economy

The essay offers an introduction to the special issue and further attempts to situate the concept of the prototype within the larger field of an anthropology of prefiguration. I make a particular claim for the rise of ‘prototyping’ as a cultural discourse today, in design, engineering and artistic circles but also among analogous experimental moments in social studies of science and critical theory. I focus in particular on the affordances of the prototype as material culture and sociological theory: prototyping as something that happens to social relationships when one approaches the craft and agency of objects in particular ways. Last, the essay examines the work that prototypes do as figures of suspension and expectation, where they can be seen to function as ‘traps’ for the emergence of compossibility. They offer in this guise a design for contemporary complexity that is at once ‘more than many and less than one’.