I held an immersive outdoors workshop for SOAS University of London anthropology department, as part of SASA (SOAS Anthropology Student Association). The idea of the workshop was to prepare pre-fieldwork anthropology students for multi-sensory ethnographic research.
We began by speaking briefly about sensory anthropology, nature-culture ontological dualisms and the push of multi-species anthropology to move beyond this. Participants then spent around 30 minutes following the guide in silence, before we rejoined to discuss our experiences for around 20 minutes.
The written guide aimed to explore ethnographies whereby alternative relations to the natural world and the senses have been explored, with the goal of helping participants feel more equip to conduct anthropological research in a way which engages all the senses and does not reproduce nature/culture ontological dualisms. There were five suggested actions for students to follow, which engaged their senses (touch, taste, smell, feel, sight) . Each sensory ‘invitation’ was woven into explorations of ethnographies focusing on a similar sensory experience or inter-species interaction.
The pedagogic premise of the workshop is that this kind of pre-field sensory training should be done through the senses, as there are a whole range of experiences or inter-species relations which can not be easily, or at all, represented in the classroom through the medium of thought and human language.
If you would like to hear more about this workshop, or potentially want me to run one for your anthropology department, please get in touch: firstname.lastname@example.org
Reflections on the workshop from participants
Reflections on and a photo of the workshop by Zixuan Song, an MA student in SOAS’ anthropology department (shared with her consent):
“The last task of the activity was to find mushrooms, and my first association was Anna Tsing’s The Mushroom at the End of the World. Although I searched for them for a long time without finding them, I saw so many creatures that I didn’t think would ever appear in the forest. The leaves on the ground were more than just a “pile or cover”, they were the ecological chain itself.
When looking up at the trees, I noticed that there were green trees, dry trees and trees that were about to sprout. In the forest, I prefer to believe that the concept of seasons is for people, time and temperature are perceived in a different way here, and that in the forest there may not be four seasons, but all seasons”
Films by Yueh-Chou Ho, learn about his anthropological research here. These clips were taken on route to the silent part of the workshop, where we followed a sensory guide for half an hour (photographed below).
Drawings from Lucian Wu, a BA student of Social Sciences at Kings College University. Lucian reflected:
‘Thanks for today’s walk, it was really peaceful and needed. Here are some sketches I rushed through whilst trying to take in the nature…I think drawing non-human life feels quite social, cause it’s like a labor of love just as much as drawing faces and animals is’