ASA Conference 2004, Durham - Locating the field


Culture from the ground: walking, movement and placemaking

Jo Lee and Tim Ingold, Department of Anthropology, University of Aberdeen

This paper introduces a study of walking as a means of understanding how places are constructed through bodily movement. It engages with the concepts of mobility and locality in anthropology in a very specific sense: not so much to follow the travels of ‘a culture’ between pre-existing ‘places’, but in seeing how the mobility of people within particular environments allows for the creation of meaning. By walking, we argue, people are able to connect times and places through the grounded experience of their material environment. We focus firstly on walking as an element of personal biography, a temporal practice that is continually re-learned as the physical body changes and new environments are encountered. Differences between learning in infancy, adulthood and old age, and adjustments in relation to time of day, seasonality and the company of the walker are opened for investigation. Secondly, we focus on how the role of the senses, wayfinding and the material culture of walking are central to the phenomenological understanding of place and bodily experience. In commenting on these temporal and spatial aspects of walking, we work towards a theory of human movement as a social process, explicable neither purely in terms of the physiology of locomotion nor the symbolisation of the body. Rather, we examine how social action and interaction can be embedded in the experience of tactile and kinaesthetic contact with the ground by way of the feet. The kinds of mobility and locality that are evident in such research are not fixed, and instead are constantly emerging and changing with the activities of people in environments.

Walking and viewing: narratives of belonging in Southern Spain

Katrin Lund, Queens University Belfast

de Certeau (1984: 97) tells us how the story ´begins on ground level, with footsteps´. The aim of this paper is to follow people´s footsteps in and around Bubión, a village located in the Alpujarra region in Southern Spain, to follow narratives of belonging in different contexts. In other words, to see how the bodily practice of walking weaves locality together; how the footsteps intersect with, and pass through the pathways of the past, bringing them into the present on a journey into the future. And since the journeys never end the stories are never fully told. They are under a constant creation and how they appear depends on the context of the walk, not only in context of the walk´s direction, but also in relation to how you walk. Thus my argument follows Mauss´ (1979 [1934]) suggestion that hinted at cultural variations of styles of walking both within and between societies. The rhythm, the speed, the pauses, the postures provide the framework of the walk and the stories that it tells which weaves together locality. It is in this context that the past becomes visible and weaves itself into present pathways. “What can be seen designates what is no longer there” (de Certeau, 1984: 108) and what can be seen manifests ones ´roots´ in locality.

In this context I shall examine different types of walks carried out by individuals and groups, in every day as well as in ritual context. The aim is to show how residents of a place that has undergone drastic economic changes during the past 30 years view the locality they belong to as one that is subject of stability and continuity through how they weave it together by walking.

‘A field of white paper, varied only by the occasional blot of the pen’: featureless landscapes and disordered subjectivities in 19th century accounts of wilderness travel

Dr. John A. Harries, Centre for Canadian Studies, University of Edinburgh

This proposed paper will be about stories of wilderness travel written by 19th century visitors to Newfoundland, Canada. In general, we will consider the ways in which the landscape was inscribed by “enlightened” travellers who visited the island and wrote of their visits in order to inform the British public of “what they will see, and taste, and hear within the rocky barriers … of black inhospitable Newfoundland.” (McCrea 1869, 8) Specifically, we will consider the problem of subjectivity and the question of how the experience of walking through the wilderness relates to the imagining the civilised subject within imperialist cultures of travel.

Scholarly writings about colonial knowledge and spatiality have emphasised the ordering effects of vision and inscription. The aim of the project of enlightened travel is to transform an unknown and inchoate landscape into a field of features described in structured association with one another. In this project of writing, subjectivities, including that of the author, emerge and find their place upon the “square and spatialised” moral, social and physical topography of colonial knowledge.

Yet within 19th century accounts of wilderness adventure the orderly and ordering enterprise of travel was often imperilled by the disordering effects of displacement and transition. Specifically, there are two recurrent motifs in stories of travels to “black inhospitable Newfoundland” which seem to render problematic the project of authoring unknown territories. The first motif is a loss of bearings. Narratives of travel through the wilds of Newfoundland are replete with episodes in which the author cannot see or cannot discern landmarks upon a featureless landscape. The second motif is the shiftiness of identity, including the identity of the author. In the wilderness appearances are unstable, people seem to be something they are not and the distinction between self and other, civilised and savage is blurred or reversed.

It is the question of how we may accommodate these motifs of blindness, confusion and misidentification within our understanding of imperialist narratives of enlightened travel that will give shape to our exploration of the authoring of the wilderness and the civilised subject. In particular, we will critically engage with a tendency within recent scholarship to read these episodes as evidence of the emancipation of the author’s experience from meta-narratives of colonial knowledge. In so doing we will develop the argument that the loss of bearings and selfhood is a crucial component of a modernist mode of subjectification in which the wilderness becomes known through the experience of the traveller.