This panel considers the theoretical and methodological conundrums ethnographers face when using the self as a research site, especially the tension between being immersed in a mindful bodily practice and reflecting analytically on the experience—"being in the moment" and "being in their heads."
Researchers interested in the sensory awareness, bodily competence, and mindfulness honed by regular participation in practices such as dance, martial arts, yoga, and meditation often take up what Sarah Pink calls a sensory apprenticeship. They undertake to learn the specialized skills and modes of attunement of their interlocutors using their own bodies, opening themselves to sensorial, embodied, and affective ways of knowing that otherwise elude visual observation. However, these practices encourage and even require that practitioners be wholly "present," to maintain an undivided attention to the activity at hand. Consequently, ethnographers must grapple with the theoretical and methodological conundrums between "being in the moment" and "being in their heads." While most apparent in anthropological research on the senses and embodiment, this question of divided attention is relevant even for those ethnographers whose research does not deal explicitly with the body. This panel considers this particular challenge of using the self as a research site. Far from seeking to bridge the gap between immersive experience and ethnography, we ask instead if the gap might serve as a generative space, one that expands general anthropological understandings and explores perennial methodological concerns. How do ethnographers negotiate such tensions? That is, what tactics might they use to balance the need to be "present" and the work of observation? How can the gaps that arise alert us to new or unexpected research opportunities? How might this moving in and out of the mindful body be reflected in ethnographic writing?