‘Contact Zones’ of Knowledge Communication: Touching and Sensing Bodies in Youth Training and Dementia Diagnosis
Leibniz Institute for Research on Society and Space, Germany
Phenomenological, anthropological and cultural-historical studies (i.e. Merleau-Ponty 1966, Classen 2012, Howes 2018) provide deep insights into the meaning of senses and especially of touch. Sociology (of the body) struggles to examine the social relevance of tactile and haptic modes of accessing reality. Even Simmel’s extremely fruitful 'sociology of the senses' focused primarily on seeing, hearing or smelling. However, considering specific social contexts and the (professional) knowledge about and of the body, touching other bodies is a central component of various communicative practices.
The contribution approaches the communicative production of these social “contact zones” from an interactionist perspective, using videographic data (Tuma et al. 2013) on knowledge communication in youth sports training (Singh 2019) and on dementia diagnosis situations. It will be asked how sociality is structured by the coordinated interplay of communicative actions (Knoblauch 2013) of touching, feeling and seeing? I will comparatively discuss how touching is situated, framed and realised and how embodied knowledge is mediated and objectified as a result. Finally, the possibilities and limits of a video-based research of sensory practices will be reflected.
While sports training aims at the communicative production of an embodied “special knowledge”, dementia diagnoses are concerned with the availability of everyday (embodied) knowledge and the examination of a cognitive and dementia changed status. The tactile “crossing” of body boundaries is essential in both cases. Although the tactile micro-practices of doctors and trainers may resemble each other, the communicative actions go hand in hand with culturally specific ways of understanding embodied constructions of meaning.
Diagrams of Bodily Inscription: Relational Spaces in the Sociological Description of Sport
1UCL, United Kingdom; 2University of Leicester, United Kingdom
With illustrations from the sport of fencing, this paper introduces a method for describing the partially non-discursive and tacit constitution of skill. Social Activity Method (Dowling, 2009) - an approach that involves the development of relational spaces - is presented as enabling a principled description of modes of social action within sporting activity. The paper follows Dowling’s (2014: 304) suggestion that the body be considered sociologically as a process of “developing inscription” emergent in the alliances that grant and receive its participation. This process of inscription can then be diagrammed in a rigorous way by making the social-semiotic principles of their construction explicit. The method is able to produce a finely textured account of sporting skill.
Fencing is a useful case study because it involves a great deal of play between the discursive and the non-discursive - disputes about ‘what happened’ in action are frequent. Empirical data is provided from television coverage of the 2012 Olympic Games, attempts by textbooks to convey the skills of the sport, and the presenting author’s experience as a fencing coach. A series of diagrams of inscription are presented: maps of the modes composing threat, sporting tempo and distance, balance, and the possibilities of experiment (including feints).
These enable a detailed account of some major shifts in skill necessitated by rule changes introduced under pressure from the IOC and the media. The paper therefore argues that an account of bodily inscription also has the potential to open up a sociology of sport more generally.
A Sociological Analysis of The Temporality of parkrun
University of Roehampton, United Kingdom
parkrun is a free, weekly, 5km timed running event taking place every Saturday morning 9am sharp across the UK and other countries. Over the past decade, parkrun events have attracted millions of participants, and the number of event locations has grown exponentially. The events and the organisers have gained huge media attention, including articles in the national newspapers, documentaries, TV news.
Existing studies have looked into why parkrun is so successful and how it engages with groups who are less likely to be active (e.g., Stevinson et al. 2015, Fullagar 2016, Whiltshire 2018). While existing research suggests key factors shaping the longevity of parkrun, more research is needed in order to understand the social meanings of collective sport activities (such as parkrun) in a neoliberal society.
The aim of this study is to use the sociological concept of ‘time’ and ‘temporality’ to understand the organisation of parkrun events and individual motivations. Based on my participant observation at various parkruns across the UK, I will discuss how time, a critical element in everything we do, plays a pivotal part in driving parkrun activities. Not only because all the events are time recorded, but also because of control and ownership and organisation of time. Analysing the participation and organisation of parkruns through the lenses of ‘time’ can provide not only deeper insights into individuals motivations, but also a richer description of what happens prior to, during, and after each parkrun. In other words, it helps us to gain a better understanding of the organisation of, the development of infrastructures of, the participation in parkruns.
The Methodological Gap: How to Apprehend Body and Embodiment in Sociology
Université Libre de Bruxelles, Belgium
For several decades now, most sociological studies focusing on the body have been asserting the lacunas in the existing literature whereas confiding in the increasing interest for the topic to solve the issue. Different conceptualizations of the body will be presented here as well as and their contribution to qualitative methods in a sociology of body and embodiment.
The sociology of the body often keeps focused on the symbolical dimension of the body, as surface laden with social inscriptions (Le Breton 2015). However, calling on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology (1945) has been an insightful lead in order to theorize the body as a social product but also as a subject that produces society, deeply enrooted in the individual and collective experience (Csordas 1990; Crossley 1995; Paterson and Hughes 1999; Ram and Houston 2015). Yet, most of those researches fail to describe a tangible sociological methodology, and remain evasive instead. The same critique applies to feminist theory, despite the insistence - also influenced by phenomenology - on the lived body and the specificity of the female experience (Grosz 1992, Dolezal 2010, Parkins 2000). Focusing on embodiment, several studies succeed in introducing astute processes to provide a privileged access to otherwise indescribable sensory experiences, whether involving the researcher as their own subject (Allen-Collinson 2011, Spatz 2017), whether using hybrid techniques and multiple substrates for interviews (Coe and Strachan 2002, Akinleye 2016).
This review reveals that, if body and embodiment seems to remain an unreachable matter, methodology is often its blind spot. Nevertheless, some results indicate the need for actively addressing this issue, and that the development of innovative methods is not only feasible but also to be encouraged.