bedford’s appropriation

the social organisation of craftsmen’s innovation in Sudan
project by Prof. Dr. Kurt Beck, Chair of Anthropology, University of Bayreuth


The glistening Sifinja [meaning “Sandal”, the local name for the modified Bedford TJ], after hundreds of thousands of kilometres still a blazing beauty.

On the streets of Latin America, Asia, and Africa, richly decorated trucks are a common vista. Occassionally this has been noted, alas, the fact escaped that the trucks are not merely outwardly decorated, but are reconstructed from scratch up in extremely unorthodox fashions, and thereby are adjusted to local conditions and indigenous cultural orientations. Without any kind of aid funds, neither from the state nor from development assistance programs, a surprisingly innovative milieu of truck mechanics has developed in Sudan. Originally stemming from the agrarian society’s basic handicraft tradition the craftsmen practice their art with extraordinary creativity. Building upon exploratory fieldwork undertaken during fall 2003 (Beck 2004, 2005), the project investigates technological appropriation and the continuous re-invention of the Bedford truck, the associated practices of the workshop, and the meanwhile half-a-century old tradition of local truck building. Starting from a detailled survey of the working processes, focussing on the confluence of matter, vision, and embodied knowledge, the project aims at understanding the cultural and social organisation of technical creativity. The history of the technological appropriation of the truck is seen as a sum of small and smallest modifications, reinterpretations, improvements and rededications, framed by collective processes of learning within a community of practitioners featuring individual identities. A meticulous documentation of the truck reconstruction is supporting the whole project. For this the production of an ethnographical movie has been chosen as a means. The project ties in with Kurt Beck’s work on Sudan, on cultural appropriation, and his contributions to the anthropology of work. It can be filed into the ranks of current attempts to resuscitate the anthropology of technology. Furthermore the project promises to deliver contributions to the anthropology of cultural appropriation of global goods and technologies, and insights into the actual courses which processes of technology transfer into developing nations take. In respect to anthropological research methods the endeavour harks back to techniques of visual anthropology and introduces methodological innovations suited to instruct the verbalization of implicit, non-propositional technical knowledge.


Translation by zeph—put the blame on me, or read the German original of the running project’s abstract. Note to Kurt: Mr. Chair of Anthropology Professor Sir, I hope you don’t mind that I have translated your abstract for you and posted it here ;-)