Accepted paper:

Moving the body forward, bringing the mind back in? A methodological future


Kitty Wheater (University of Oxford)

Paper short abstract:

The turn to embodiment and the senses has revitalised anthropological horizons, but might it replicate the epistemological problems of its predecessor? If embodied anthropology is to continue to light up new territories, ongoing dialogue with discursive theory and method will be necessary.

Paper long abstract:

The turn to embodiment and the senses has been a welcome theoretical reorientation in anthropology. But should its displacement of language be a triumphant assertion of the primacy of body over mind in theory and method; or should we endeavour to bring mind and body into fertile equality? I argue that language about bodies, and language about language, are sources of knowledge about a culture that are just as vital as the embodied experience of both bodies (self and other) and language. I argue that ways of knowing in anthropological method need not be a zero-sum game, whereby one is either sensorial or discursive in orientation. Instead, we might conceptualise more 'complete' anthropological knowledge as the emergent property of both specialisms, in dialectic. By way of illustration, this paper draws on ESRC-funded fieldwork with mindfulness-based intervention (MBI) practitioners in the UK. MBIs are psychological programmes used in clinical and non-clinical settings to prevent recurrent depression and reduce stress. Their own methods include both meticulous language and embodied meditation practices, on the grounds that discourse is incompletely transformative without 'the body'. I demonstrate that to understand both their knowledge, and its politics, an embodied, sensory methodology in the field was imperative; simultaneously, it was incomplete without conversation. In practice, few anthropologists would dispute the necessity of the latter; yet in methodological narrative, too, a future direction for those working on embodiment and sensory anthropology must be to seize the initiative of the subjective turn, and turn again on our own terms.

panel P08
Sensational knowledge: emotional and sensory encounters as ways of knowing