Fibre Formations: Wool as an anthropological site

Annika Capelan Köhler

Research output: ThesisDoctoral Thesis (monograph)

1153 Downloads (Pure)


Contemporary debates on sustainability usually relies on standardised and normative categories, such as ‘social’ and ‘nature’, and on linear notions of time. This study explores a more complex perspective on the delicate borderlands between the ‘un-sustainable’ and the ‘sustainable’. A particular material and a particular place stand at the centre of attention: woollen Merino fibre on the South American grasslands. Being alert to activities around woollen fibre implies efforts to understand how the fibre forms part of larger wholes as it generates collective relations and communities. This focus foregrounds aspects of people’s careful balancing between sustainable and un-sustainable conditions. By drawing on fieldwork among sheep farmers, laboratory technicians, manufacturers, textile traders, artisans, artists and art collectors, the study shows that the idiosyncrasies of how people classify Merino wool include different kinds of interferences, here referred to as processes of displacements, dissonances, dissociations, and distortions. The classifications and their interferences also include the handling of coexisting and contradictory temporalities: rhythms, paces, cycles and intervals. These are vital and imperative yet often overlooked parts of holding together artefacts and worlds. The study demonstrates that the South American grasslands’ multispecies collectives and the wool, their qualities or how they sustain, can be better understood after attention has been paid to people’s practices of classification. To classify is not only to sort and order what is already there but a way to both make sense of and to generate worlds. Fibre formations thus refers to both the transformations that the wool undergoes, and the impact it has upon lives in its surroundings. By letting Merino fibre be the stable point – the site – and the smallest common denominator of each description, the study shows how variations of categorization morph and add to normative categories and to linear notions of time. Woollen fibre is found to be part of several larger wholes and, in a sense, to be larger than itself. This, in turn, contributes to recent reflections on the capacity of anthropological research and is intended as a tentative move towards an anthropology of un-sustainability.
Translated title of the contributionFiberformationer : Ull som antropologisk plats
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Social Anthropology
  • Lindberg, Christer, Supervisor
  • Wästerfors, David, Supervisor
Award date2017 May 2
Place of PublicationLund
ISBN (Print)978-91-7753-202-6
ISBN (electronic) 978-91-7753-203-3
Publication statusPublished - 2017

Bibliographical note

Defence details
Date: 2017-05-02
Time: 10:00
Place: Eden auditorium, Paradisgatan 5H, Lund
External reviewer(s)
Name: Penelope Harvey
Title: Professor
Affiliation: University of Manchester

Subject classification (UKÄ)

  • Social Anthropology

Free keywords

  • Anthropology
  • Southern Cone
  • South American grasslands
  • fieldwork
  • Merino wool
  • formations
  • classifications
  • work of art
  • relationality
  • material-semiotics


Dive into the research topics of 'Fibre Formations: Wool as an anthropological site'. Together they form a unique fingerprint.

Cite this