Thinking about doing: a theory on the necessity of shared bodily experience
(University of Basel, University of Konstanz)
Paper 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?
Paper 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.
Doing ethnography through the body