EASA2016: Anthropological legacies and human futures

(P134)
Doing ethnography through the body
Location U7-10 (3rd session in U6-1a)
Date and Start Time 23 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Lorenzo Ferrarini (University of Manchester) email
  • Nicola Scaldaferri (University of Milano) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

In this panel we look at forms of embodied participation by the ethnographer, such as sharing practical activities, acquiring skills or starting an apprenticeship, and suggest ways in which these can bring one of the fundamental legacies of ethnography into the future of anthropological knowledge.

Long Abstract

In this panel we look at forms of embodied participation by the ethnographer, and suggest ways in which these can bring one of the fundamental legacies of ethnography into the future of anthropological knowledge.

Anthropologists have conducted fieldwork through participation in practical activities since the early days of participant observation. The knowledge thus acquired informs our insights on the cultures we study, but often ends up as anecdotal information in the preface to a monograph or footnotes to an article. We aim to stimulate a reflection on this core aspect of the ethnographic method and explore the distinct knowledge it can generate.

Drawing inspiration from the works of Jackson, Stoller, Wacquant and others, with this panel we ask what can be gained and what can be at risk when researchers take a radically participating stance towards the realities they study, sharing practical activities, acquiring skills or joining in as apprentices. What happens when ethnographers use their body as a research tool to access the lifeworlds of other people?

We aim to engage in this way debates on epistemology, asking about the value of knowledge produced through interaction and participation; on comparativism in anthropology, touching on the problem of relating one's experience to that of other people; on phenomenological approaches, underlining the embodied nature of the ethnographic experience; and on visual and sensory anthropology, inviting a reflection on ways of representing knowledge beyond text through images and sounds.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Doing ethnography: embodiment and empathy as a method or a modality?

Author: Anne Sigfrid Grønseth (University College of Lillehammer)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the creation of knowledge in face-to-face fieldwork relations and stresses the need to recognize the embodied, imaginative and empathic aspects. I discuss how embodiment and empathy is to be understood as an approach or method, or maybe rather a way of being or modality.

Long Abstract

This paper explores the creation of knowledge in face-to-face fieldwork relations and stresses the need to recognize, beyond the verbal and factual, the embodied, tacit, imaginative, emotional and empathic aspects. Sharing experiences and engaging with the Tamil population in a small fishing village along the arctic coast of Norway, I came to recognize how knowledge fundamentally is generated in a complex web of relations between people distinctly positioned within social structures, cultural values and meanings, emotions and the imagination. These relations also continuously affect the recognition and decision of what is 'valuable knowledge' in a given context. From these perspectives, I argue how the subject always holds both a personal and social history, which cannot be fully grasped by symbols or language. I argue that the ethnographer's own embodied experiences in the field can attune the ethnographer to an empathic and tacit mode of knowledge that speaks of imparted experiences of everyday life close to how it is felt and lived by the other. While referring to field experiences, I discuss how embodiment and empathy is to be understood as an approach or method, or maybe rather a way of being, or modality.

Thinking about doing: a theory on the necessity of shared bodily experience

Author: Anna Christen (University of Basel, University of Konstanz)  email

Short Abstract

Doing ethnography through the body often means to engage in practical activities with others. This paper is an attempt to epistemologically explore the ontological possibility of a shared practice: How do we know that what we are doing together with others is what they think we are doing?

Long Abstract

Doing ethnography through the body often means to engage in practical activities with others. This shift from individual to joint intentionality (i.e. the shift from a solitary to a shared action) is an elementary, yet problematic point for what is, within anthropology, frequently pooled together as the methodology of Participant Observation. As I want to argue, it is problematic because when a practice is truly shared, all engaged parties should (a) know that it is so and (b) agree on what is done collectively - but whether or not these conditions are met is often decided by the researcher alone.

In an epistemologically informed attempt to tackle this problem, I open up the following set of questions: How does a shared action differ from a solitary intentional action? What, if any, additional explanation is required to understand what it means to do something together if we understand what it means to do something alone? With respect to Participant Observation: What are sufficient and necessary conditions for a shift from mere observation to participation and how can we make sure that these conditions are met?

Building on Michael Jackson's phenomenological investigation on the meaning of collective representations, I argue that condition (a) and (b) can only be met via actual, shared bodily experience. Accordingly, it is practice, not theory, that coins the common knowledge of an action necessary for it to be truly shared - and understood. The aim of this paper is to explain that and why this is so.

"Blind people need to teach sighted people how to listen": ethnography through the body in an anthropology of sensory perception

Author: Karis Petty (University of Sussex)  email

Short Abstract

This paper demonstrates embodied methodologies as pivotal to studies of sensory perception through ethnographic account of the perception of the environment for walkers who have impaired vision.

Long Abstract

Ethnographic investigation of the perception of people who have impaired vision reveals both the applications and limitations of an ethnography through the body in attempts to comprehend the lifeworlds of others. I present my ethnographic fieldwork that explores the perception of the environment for vision impaired walkers in the activity of recreational walking in the South Downs, Sussex, England. Through a case study methodology of walking with eight people as their sighted guide over the course of two years (2012-2014), I embarked on an ethnography through the body in which I became apprentice in their activities of perception. These were activities in which walkers were consciously engaged, including seeing, "seeing in the mind's eye", listening, feeling, and techniques of walking. I describe how I became an apprentice in learning to echolocate, using this example to recount how this method opportuned shared experiences and reference points that deepened the study. However, fully sighted myself, this was fundamentally limited as I could not experience the sensory perceptual activities to the depth of their abilities. Through this example I consider the implications, advances and limitations of ethnography through the body, whilst proposing this method as fundamental to studies of an anthropology of perception. This work is situated within an anthropology of skill, which articulated by Ingold (2000) has been followed by a generation of anthropologists studying perceptual enskillments and practices, largely through methodologies of apprenticeship (including Downey 2002, 2005; Grasseni 2007; Gunn 2007; Lund 2005; Willerslev 2007).

Disability as a resource and perspective in research

Author: Karen Mogendorff  email

Short Abstract

Disability tends to be considered a disadvantage in research. Drawing on my own experiences as a disabled anthropologist and on examples from the literature I will argue that disabled bodies may be a resource whenever one studies the socio-cultural norms underlying mundane everyday practices.

Long Abstract

Disability is generally considered a disadvantage in life and research. Drawing on my own experiences as a disabled anthropologist I will show that disability - defined as a deviation of (tacit) dominant norms - may be very helpful in uncovering tacit assumptions underlying everyday practices anthropologists study and that disability is not only a resource in understanding the lives of disabled citizens and healthcare practices. Disabled bodies may also shed light on the human condition, the built in norms in material culture and how gender and age are conceptualized and enacted in various cultures. Additionally, I will argue that non-disabled anthropologist may deploy a disability perspective in their research (analogues to gender and ethnicity). I will draw on various research projects and auto-ethnographic material for my argument.

Producing ethical knowledge through the ethnographer's gendered body

Author: Maya Maor (Haifa University )  email

Short Abstract

Based on autoethnographic and participant-observer research in martial art groups I argue that the ethnographer’s gendered body can generate ethical knowledge, shaped by professional discourses. The body can be an ethical compass, and physical contact can produce new ethical relationships.

Long Abstract

Martial arts entail preoccupation with practices associated with physical aggression and violence. Relatedly, the field is historically, numerically and ideologically associated with notions and practices of hegemonic masculinity.

Based on more than three years of intense participation in several martial arts, I argue that my gendered body served as an indispensable research tool that can produce ethical knowledge, in two major ways.

First, my body acted as a moral compass. As a female novice, I had no intellectual or socially acquired authority in the field. However, my feminine socialization (e.g. an ethics of care) allowed to challenge and uncover the mechanisms through which real violence takes place under the cover of legitimate martial arts practices. On various occasions I felt through my body the urge to refuse cooperation with what was going on in the group or interfere in order to change the dynamic.

Second, through physical contact with other bodies, I formed new and distinct ethical relationships. Over time I learned that the ongoing physical contact with other bodies in the field led to the formation of bonds of love and trust, with significant moral implications.

I conclude by discussing the unique characteristics of the ethnographer's bodily knowledge that include: 1. Informed openness to the social world; 2. Holding on simultaneously to empathy and critique; 3. Searching for structural factors.

Breton wrestling through the body

Author: Dario Nardini (Università degli Studi di Milano-Bicocca)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I analyse how a skilled and active bodily participation influenced and enriched my ethnographic research about the Gouren (Breton Wrestling), focusing on its epistemological utility in the analysis of the different meanings that similar gestures acquire in different wrestling contexts.

Long Abstract

Inspired by Loïc Wacquant's methodology, I conducted an «observant participation» of Breton Wrestling (gouren), exploiting my judo expertise to actively participate to the training and competitive activities.

In this paper I would describe how such bodily participation enriched my ethnographic experience, focusing on its epistemological utility in the analysis of the different meanings that similar gestures acquire in different wrestling contexts.

In fact, sporting practices are not only series of biomechanical actions: they are gestures which make sense («techniques du corps»). The learning of a body knowledge is not only the transmission of a set of actions and rules, but also of a system of values and dispositions. From this perspective, "traditional wrestling" could be more than a physical activity: it could express, define and transmit a particular sporting culture, as well as a localised cultural identity, giving the practitioners a way to express and to (re)produce their belonging to a regional community in the context of globalised modernity. It also represents a cultural, ritual and a regulated way to interpret the physical confrontation between men, explicitly or implicitly linked to the social representations of fundamental cultural features, like violence, strength, masculinity, body, proxemics.

By practising, I understood how Breton wrestlers shape, embody, and transmit their "Breton Wrestling culture" (the «gouren spirit»), clearly differentiate from other wrestling cultures (especially from judo, even though they are technically very similar) and evidently linked to the most emblematic features of what is supposed to be the Breton culture and "character".

Coping with tears: ethnographer's own body experiences in the Roma Pentecostal community

Authors: Ewa Nowicka (Collegium Civitas)  email
Maciej Witkowski (University of Business in Dąbrowa Górnicza)  email

Short Abstract

The paper focus on complexities of participatory ethnographic insight into small Roma Pentecostal community. Common prayers involve extreme emotional (with physiological and behavioral components) reaction of the ethnographer. Empathy results in ambiguous intimacy of relations.

Long Abstract

The paper focuses on complexities of participatory ethnographic insight into small Roma Pentecostal community of converts in a Carpathian village in Poland (about 100 new-believers). Researching the community means participating in religious practices, especially prayer meetings.

The participation leads to serious emotional engagement of ethnographer (albeit non-believer). The bodily reactions of the ethnographer allow a specific way of transgression of the social barriers which divide Roma community and the non-Roma researcher. We suppose it emerges from the basic mechanisms shared by the observed and the observer. However, this kind of bodily engagement is very hard to take under conscious control. The emotional together with physiological and behavioral components reaction of the ethnographer and emphatic participation result in highly intense relations and intimacy.

As a consequence, Roma Pentecostals expect that the observer will soon join the community of believers. Moreover, it invokes a new kind of attitude of Roma towards non-Roma individuals. Ethnographer's bodily reactions are on the one hand the tool of anthropological insight in the researched community. It indicates specific mechanisms grounded in human emotionality which bring the Roma community to conversion and aim to assess the form of religious engagement. On the other hand, it raises ethical, methodological and interpersonal problems. The complexity of the ethnographic situation will be considered.

Takoyaki party: ethnography and the senses in Japanese conviviality

Author: Duccio Gasparri (Oxford Brookes University)  email

Short Abstract

In this intervention I present a reflection upon informal conviviality in modern Japan as seen by a sensorium-informed ethnography, stressing the importance of the researcher's impressionability and inter-individuality as a means of knowledge.

Long Abstract

Focusing on modern commensality in contemporary Japan, the author explores the construction of socialized sensorial moments during the meal. Through a comparison between Adam Chau's reflections on 'sociothermic affect' and David Sutton's contribution on multisensoriality and memory, I suggest a phenomenological take on food anthropology, which considers not only eating habits but the whole multisensory continuum in which they take place. Ethnography of Japanese food and food habits has suffered for a long time an excessive ettention towards the more normative and formal aspects of Japanese food culture, neglecting everyay informal meals, as well as the individual, non-verbalized experience of researchers and interlocutors.

Attention to the researcher's sensations and affective responses still depends on individual penchants, and methodological 'technology of perception' in ethnography has yet to come. None the less, these aspects are becoming more and more central in later years.

Stressing the importance of the multisensory and intersubjective level of daily practices in order to project individual sensory experience onto the shared social dimension will shed new light on the relation between sensoriality and agency as well as the one between the ethnographer and his or her interlocutors.

Engaging the body and the senses: doing ethnography through singing

Author: Raphaela von Weichs (Université de Lausanne)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I propose to examine the practice of singing through ethnography and to practice ethnography through singing. I will examine what happens when the ethnographer uses her body and her voice as a research tool to access the lifeworld of other people.

Long Abstract

Singing is one of the fundamental skills humans learn from early age on. It is an embodied experience, albeit culturally divers. Singing practices are shaped by traditions, innovations and historical experiences with music making and cultural performances. They can be learned and practiced, but also unlearned and forgotten. In this paper I propose to examine the practice of singing through ethnography and to practice ethnography through singing. Following Pink's discussions of ethnographic apprenticeship and sensory ethnography, I will reflect on the ethnographic standard methods of observing and participating in relation to learning through instruction. Based on the emipirical study of choir music in Cameroon, I will examine what happens when the ethnographer uses her body and her voice as a research tool to access the lifeworld of other people. I will use three technics for the representation of singing : voice/narration, image/filming and sound/recording to demonstrate that each technic and approach produces different effects of understanding by the researcher and the audience.

Dancing through the dark: embodied ethnography and anthropological knowledge construction

Author: Georgiana Gore (Blaise Pascal University Clermont-Ferrand)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore how the anthropological study of dance has raised the issue of embodied ethnography in a particularly acute way as it has been traditionally accepted that participation in dancing is both a desirable and inevitable foundation for an understanding of situated dance practice.

Long Abstract

In this paper I suggest that the anthropological study of dance has raised the issue of embodied ethnography in a particularly acute way as it has been traditionally accepted that participation in dancing is both a desirable and inevitable foundation for an understanding of situated dance practice. Whether in the research of Eastern and Northern European ethnochoreologists studying the dance practices of their rural counterparts (see for example Bakka and Felföldi) or the more recent phenomenologically oriented North American research of Farnell, Ness and Sklar, all parties consider performance of movement as quintessential to the research process. In the case of the former, analyses have focussed, for example, on the structural features of the dancing with the aim of classification of dance genres and their comparison, both historical and geographic ; or they have aimed to understand the cognitive dimensions of choreographic production of traditional male solo dancing from a fixed repertoire (Martin 2004). In the case of the latter, subjective experience of moving or of participation in a dance event performed by others has been the focus of research and has raised the question of embodied ethnographic interviewing and writing (Ness 2012 ; Skinner 2010). While I share the stance that implicated movement practice is essential to ethnographic understanding (whether of dance or other activities), I argue that distanciation and reflective reformulation are necessary to the construction of anthropological knowledge, even if I also think that Vic Turner's ethnodramatics may be effective in certain contexts.

'I am sorry that we made you bleed': apprenticeship among Mande Hunters' Musicians

Author: Theodore Konkouris (Queen's University Belfast)  email

Short Abstract

Based on eighteen months apprenticeship under a master hunters’ musician in Mali, this paper considers the implications when ethnographers take a radically participating stance towards the realities they study and use their body as a research tool to access the lifeworlds of others.

Long Abstract

In Mali, West Africa, hunters form secret societies which hold regular ceremonies that can be either public events, or private and sacred. . Musical performance is central to all hunters' events. Performances are often recorded and released as cassettes, or otherwise transmitted through specialised hunters' radio shows. In song, a hunters' master musician, accompanied by his apprentices, calls hunters to dance. He challenges powerful hunters to step out of the audience and demands from them his share of the hunt. While doing so, he moves around the performance site, dancing and singing the praises of hunter-heroes.

Based on eighteen months apprenticeship under a master hunters' musician, this paper considers the implications when ethnographers take a radically participating stance towards the realities they study and use their body as a research tool to access the lifeworlds of others. . I draw upon the literature on intersubjectivity (Jackson), apprenticeship (Stoller, Wacquant), perception and body movement (Merleau-Ponty) to comment upon the value of knowledge produced through interaction and participation. I show how intersubjective encounters and close relationships between researcher and research participants can be useful tools for experiential research, underlining the embodied nature of ethnographic experience. Finally, I reflect on ways of representing knowledge beyond written text through images and sounds: more specifically, films and audio recordings of Mande hunters' music.

The Ethnographer and his bagpipes

Author: Nicola Scaldaferri (University of Milano)  email

Short Abstract

Playing a musical instrument requires skills that go beyond the body involvement; during a fieldwork, this establishes specific connections with other people, and especially with other musicians. The paper reports the author's long experience as bagpipes player and researcher.

Long Abstract

Playing a musical instrument during a field research, - suggested already by the theory of bi-musicality by Mantle Hood (1960) as a main way to access to the study of other musical cultures - has many implications: they primarily concern the body involvement of the performer/researcher, but also touch on specific musical skills that enable to establish a sort of "deep connection" (Feld - Scaldaferri 2012) with other people in the field, and especially with other musicians. Relevant contributions in this direction were already offered by Timothy Rice in his research in Bulgaria (1994), and in the recent surveys of Steven Feld in Ghana (2012), conducted with his direct involvement as a musical performer.

The paper discusses the author's experience in the field as a bagpipes player (the instrument is the Italian zampogna), applied to different cultural contexts: for a long time in his home region, in Southern Italy (Scaldaferri-Vaja 2006), especially during festivals and religious rituals; and more recently in Burkina Faso (Ferrarini - Scaldaferri 2015), as a way of building a common ground with local musicians. This type of research, it is suggested, is based on forms of embodied knowledge that transcend cultural and linguistic barriers.

Tracing the challenges of co-performance as 'hightened participation'

Author: Monica Mottin (London Metropolitan University)  email

Short Abstract

This paper explores the challenges of co-performance as a form of embodied participation. In particular, drawing on fieldwork on political and social theatre in Nepal, I conceptualise co-performance as 'hightened participation'.

Long Abstract

Ethnographic research entails deep immersion into a specific social world to the point in which the ethnographer, having taken up a role, becomes a member of a community; their actions and words almost go unnoticed. Rendered 'invisible', the ethnographer's body becomes a powerful tool to understand tacit, embodied knowledge, as well as the gaps between what people say and what they do. Co-performance, in which the ethnographer dances, sings and acts with a group, is regarded as a precious tool to unveil embodied knowledge about performance traditions and foster cultural rapport (Conquergood 1985, 2013; Turner 1975, 1988; Askew 2002; Barber 2000; Cole 2001; Afzal-Khan 2005; Seizer 2005). However, co-performance often ends by rendering visible the ethnographer's body, exposing it to the public gaze.

Grounded on comparative literature from the anthropology of performance and fieldwork carried out in Nepal on social and political theatre, this paper aims to discuss the challenges of co-performance as another form of embodied participation. I will draw on Schechner's idea of performance as 'hightened behaviour' (1995), separate from daily life, to conceptualise co-performance as 'hightened participation'. Co-performance can thus be conceived as a method through which the ethnographer plays a role within-a-role as well as a public statement of the ethnographer's membership to a theatre group. But what does co-performance add to participant observation? Why are ethnographers allowed to co-perform? When and on what terms? How does co-performance happen? What type of rapport and knowledge does co-performance generate? Does co-performance undermine the ethnographer's ability to observe?

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.