‘Anthropology of landscape, walking and the senses’ fieldtrip in the South Downs

This mid-April fieldtrip lived up to the ‘April Showers’ associations with constant, sodden down pours and thick curtains of mist that hid the world around us. With fourteen second year anthropology students we embarked on a two day, fourteen-mile fieldtrip across the landscapes of the South Downs National Park. Weaving our way from Falmer to Woodingdean, Castle Hill National Nature Reserve to Rodmell, winding our way along the River Ouse to eventually set foot in Lewes.

This fieldtrip was an opportunity to anthropologically explore conceptions of ‘landscape’; experientially reconsider anthropological approaches to ‘the senses’; and embody the activity of walking, which has become subject of many anthropologists as both a method and subject of study (including Ingold 2010, Lee-Vergunst and Ingold 2008, Lund 2005).

A central theme permeating this journey was the relationship between humans and the landscape, and specifically how particular ways of engaging with the landscape opportunes and characterises this relationality. We explored this through various experiential and experimental activities designed to focus participants’ attention on particular qualities of perception. This included walking without sight, attentive listening, choreographed walking postures, and phenomenological investigations of weather (drawing on the work of Ingold 2008, 2007, 2005). Questions of the boundedness of the body and the felt relationality of ‘the body’ and ‘the landscape’ emerged through this, revealing the experiential reconfigurations of the sense of embodied self and the landscape in different activities.

Students were invited to take the role of ethnographers. Drawing on a sensory ethnography outlined by Pink (2010) and ethnographic walking methodologies (including Anderson 2004 and Edensor 2010), we considered the embodied participation of the ethnographer and the forms of knowledge that this produces. Inviting experiments in the representation of experience beyond text, through images, sounds and drawing methods, we investigated methodological approaches phenomenologically. This opportuned reflection on the issues of representation inherent in studies of sensory perception and the landscape, invigorating debate of these concepts through our methodological practice.

Students are assessed through a 1500 word blog. Read submissions published online from previous years here and here. For more information about fieldtrip methodologies and content, do get in touch via the contact page. This fieldtrip was designed and facilitated by Dr Jon Mitchell and myself for the University of Sussex School of Global Studies .


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Key readings 

Anderson, J., 2004. ‘Talking whilst walking: A geographical archaeology of knowledge’, in The Royal Geographical Institute of British Geographers, Vol. 36, No. 3, pp. 254-261.

Arnarson, A,. (ed). 2012. Landscapes Beyond Land. New York: Berghahn.

Edensor, T., 2010. ‘Walking in rhythms: place, regulation, style and the flow of experience’, in Visual Studies, Vol. 25, No. 1, pp. 69-79.

Ingold, T., 2010, ‘Footprints through the weather-world: walking, breathing, knowing’, in Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, S121-S139.

Ingold, T. 2008. ‘Bindings against boundaries: entanglements of life in an open world’, in Environment and planning A, Vol. 40, No. 8.

Ingold, T. 2007. ‘Earth, Sky, Wind and Weather’, in Journal of the Royal Anthroplogical Institute, S19-38.

Ingold, T. 2005. ‘The eye of the storm: visual perception and the weather’, in Visual Studies, 20:22, pp.97-104.

Lee-Vergunst, J. and Ingold, T. 2008. Ways of Walking: Ethnography and Practice on Foot. Hampshire, UK: Ashgate Publishing Limited.

Lund, K. 2005. ‘Seeing in motion and the touching eye: walking over Scotland’s mountains’, in Etnofoor 181, pp. 27-42.

Matless, D. 1998. Landscape and Englishness. London: Reaktion Books.

Pink, S. 2010. Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage.