String Figures as Mathematics?

An Anthropological Approach to String Figure-making in Oral Tradition Societies

  • Eric Vandendriessche

Part of the Studies in History and Philosophy of Science book series (AUST, volume 36)

Table of contents

  1. Front Matter
    Pages i-xix
  2. Eric Vandendriessche
    Pages 1-9
  3. How to Study String Figure-Making

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 11-11
    2. Eric Vandendriessche
      Pages 13-25
    3. Eric Vandendriessche
      Pages 27-68
  4. Mathematics and String Figures

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 69-69
    2. Eric Vandendriessche
      Pages 111-148
  5. Analysing String Figure Algorithms

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 149-149
    2. Eric Vandendriessche
      Pages 151-184
    3. Eric Vandendriessche
      Pages 185-220
  6. String Figures in the Field

    1. Front Matter
      Pages 221-221
    2. Eric Vandendriessche
      Pages 353-368
  7. Back Matter
    Pages 369-392

About this book


This book addresses the mathematical rationality contained in the making of string figures. It does so by using interdisciplinary methods borrowed from anthropology, mathematics, history and philosophy of mathematics. The practice of string figure-making has long been carried out in many societies, and particularly in those of oral tradition. It consists in applying a succession of operations to a string (knotted into a loop), mostly using the fingers and sometimes the feet, the wrists or the mouth. This succession of operations is intended to generate a final figure. The book explores different modes of conceptualization of the practice of string figure-making and analyses various source material through these conceptual tools: it looks at research by mathematicians, as well as ethnographical publications, and personal fieldwork findings in the Chaco, Paraguay, and in the Trobriand Islands, Papua New Guinea, which all give evidence of the rationality that underlies this activity. It concludes that the creation of string figures may be seen as the result of intellectual processes, involving the elaboration of algorithms, and concepts such as operation, sub-procedure, iteration, and transformation.


Analysing String Figure Algorithms Analysing String Figure Procedures Conceptualization of String Figure-Making Cultural and Cognitive Aspects of String Figure-Making Double-sided Lozenge String Figures Mathematical Activity of Creating String Figures Mathematics and String Figures Modes of Conceptualization of String Figure Names of String Figures String Figure-Making Thomas Storer and the Concept of Heart-Sequence

Authors and affiliations

  • Eric Vandendriessche
    • 1
  1. 1.Sciences-Philosophie-Histoire, UMR 7219, CNRSUniversité Paris Diderot, Sorbonne Paris CitéParisFrance

Bibliographic information

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