I am very pleased to be presenting my paper ‘“Blind people need to teach sighted people how to listen”: ethnography through the body in an anthropology of sensory perception’ at European Association of Social Anthropologists 14th EASA Biennial Conference, ‘Anthropological legacies and human futures’, 20-23 July 2016, Milan, Italy. This is part of the panel ‘Doing ethnography through the body’, convened by Lorenzo Ferrarini (University of Manchester) and Nicola Scaldaferri (University of Milano).
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 references 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).
The full list of panel presenters and abstracts can be read here.
Downey, G. 2005. ‘Seeing with a ”sideways glance”: visuomotor ”knowing” and the plasticity of perception’, in Harris, M. (ed.), Ways of Knowing: New Approaches in the Anthropology of Experience and Learning. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Downey, G. 2002. ‘Listening to capoeira: Phenomenology, embodiment, and the materiality of music’, in Ethnomusicology, pp. 487-509.
Grasseni, C., 2009. (Ed.), Skilled Visions: Between Apprenticeship and Standards. Oxford: Berghahn Books.
Gunn, W. 2007.’Learning within the workplaces of artists, anthropologists and architects: Making stories for drawings and writings, in Grasseni, C., (Ed.), Skilled visions: Between apprenticeship and standards. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Chapter five.
Lund, K. 2005. ‘Seeing in motion and the touching eye: walking over Scotland’s mountains’, in Etnofoor, 181, pp. 27-42.
Willerslev, R. 2007. ‘“To have the world at a distance”: reconsidering the significance of vision for social anthropology’, in Grasseni, C., (Ed.), Skilled Visions: Between Apprenticeship and Standards. Oxford: Berghahn Books. Chapter one.