Masons, Tricksters and Cartographers is about the sociology of science and the ‘unplanned and messy’ nature of knowledge and knowledge systems. Turnbull explores, in rather turgid prose, differing ways of producing knowledge across cultures. From a diversity of disparate systems, he finds figures that crop up time and again.
His prime example is The Trickster – the spirit of disorder and an enemy of boundaries. Most cultures have one: Loki in Scandinavia, the spider in Africa, the coyote in America, the Jester in Europe. Tricksters are the ones stepping over boundaries. They ask the questions, mock the answers and hold others to account for their folly. The Court Jester is safe when mocking the king.
Beneath the surface, these subversive characters are important sources of wisdom. Turnbull encourages us to remind ourselves of the role of the Jester “in order to avoid taking our knowledge for truth – thus becoming victims of our own folly”.