Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community

Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community

Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community

Culture and the Senses: Bodily Ways of Knowing in an African Community

Synopsis

Adding her stimulating and finely framed ethnography to recent work in the anthropology of the senses, Kathryn Geurts investigates the cultural meaning system and resulting sensorium of Anlo-Ewe-speaking people in southeastern Ghana. Geurts discovered that the five-senses model has little relevance in Anlo culture, where balance is a sense, and balancing (in a physical and psychological sense as well as in literal and metaphorical ways) is an essential component of what it means to be human.

Much of perception falls into an Anlo category of "seselelame "(literally feel-feel-at-flesh-inside), in which what might be considered sensory input, including the Western sixth-sense notion of "intuition," comes from bodily feeling and the interior milieu. The kind of mind-body dichotomy that pervades Western European-Anglo American cultural traditions and philosophical thought is absent. Geurts relates how Anlo society privileges and elaborates what we would call kinesthesia, which most Americans would not even identify as a sense. After this nuanced exploration of an Anlo-Ewe theory of inner states and their way of delineating external experience, readers will never again take for granted the "naturalness" of sight, touch, taste, hearing, and smell.

Excerpt

In his work on embodiment, Csordas (1990:40) draws a distinction between his own argument about the body as the existential ground of culture and self and the point of view taken by Johnson (1987), who treats the body as the cognitive ground of culture. While my own use of embodiment follows Csordas to a great extent, I am also interested in Johnson's cognitive approach. For Johnson, “the term 'body' is used as a generic term for the embodied origins of imaginative structures of understanding” and “our embodiment is essential to who we are, to what meaning is, and to our ability to draw rational inferences and to be creative” (Johnson 1987:xv, xxxviii). Both approaches inform my own study, which simultaneously explores existential and corporeal reverberations of the sensorium outlined in the previous chapter and attends to Johnson's “rational inferences” or the “imaginative structures of understanding” that correspond to (or even stem from) this culturally constituted sensory order (cf. Lakoff and Johnson 1999). In other words, looking at symbolic life in terms of cultural logic as well as embodiment involves exploring cognitive inferences that analogically extend from (or are integrally tied to) a culturally constructed sensorium as well as exploring “embodied processes of perception” among Anlo speakers, or what Csordas describes (1990:9) as “the experience of perceiving in all its richness and indeterminacy. ”

Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology involves a rejection of the empiricist model that suggests external objects stimulate our internal organs . . .

Search by... Author
Show... All Results Primary Sources Peer-reviewed

Oops!

An unknown error has occurred. Please click the button below to reload the page. If the problem persists, please try again in a little while.