Accepted Paper:

Sensuous anthropology: rehabilitating craftsmanship in scientific practice   


Yolanda van Ede (University of Amsterdam)

Paper short abstract:

Sensuous scholarship’s multisensory approach has come to emphasize skilled knowledge. Acknowledging the Other’s authority based on sensory perception other than sight, however, demands a return to pre-modern scientific practices, away from distance and objectivity towards scientific craftsmanship.

Paper long abstract:

Sensuous scholarship during the past twenty-five years has been arguing against an ocularcentrism that came to define western science in the modern era, which turned the Other into an object of the western gaze. By making a plea for a multisensory approach in ethnographic fieldwork, sensuous anthropology acknowledges authorities of knowledge that are not necessarily based on the sense of sight (or on vision as conceptualized in the West), but on other sensory perceptions (some of which not even occur in western discourses on the senses). The mutuality lying at the basis of a sensory methodology demands, firstly, a sensory training/skilling of the ethnographer; that is, emphasizing the participant mode in the common denotation of 'participant-observation' for ethnographic fieldwork. Secondly, it evokes dilemmas in representation that seeks not to undo this mutuality-in-practise. Consequently, sensuous anthropology has not only been redefining method and ethics, but inevitably questions the very - indeed - 'asocial' western epistemology itself. Its advocacy of skilled knowledge may award the Other expertise, 'at home' the ethnographer's acquired skills only widen the rift between scientific claims of objectivity and the subjectivity of being his own instrument of investigation, between distance and immersion. This paper will cast serious doubts on whether a 'new vocabulary of method' will ever be accepted in 'average grant applications,' unless scientific practice in general will regain some of its pre-modern, 'old-fashioned' characteristics of craftsmanship and trade.

Panel W097
New vocabularies of method: experts, ethics and the mutuality of ethnographic fieldwork