ASA2016: Footprints and futures: the time of anthropology

(P01)
Exposure: interdisciplinary perspectives on breath, air and atmospheres
Location Science Site/Maths CM107
Date and Start Time 05 July, 2016 at 09:00
Sessions 3

Convenors

  • Rebecca Oxley (Durham University) email
  • Andrew Russell (Durham University) email

Mail All Convenors

Short Abstract

Providing a space for emergent thinking or re-thinking, and new methodological approaches, this panel highlights the value of anthropology and related disciplines in exploring the cultural, historical and phenomenological significance of breath, air, and atmospheres.

Long Abstract

Breath is more than an automatic physiological process; it can be a subjective experience, a performative technique, a practice, and mode of being-in-the-world. To breathe is to make contact, to be exposed to the world and myriad forces within it. Breathing can be perceived as a process of interaction, engaging with the air, environment, technologies, knowledges, and atmospheres. It can be metaphorical or empirical. It has a rhythm, a pace, an affective quality, and brings space into evidence. Drawing upon Durham and Bristol Universities' interdisciplinary, Wellcome Trust-funded Life of Breath project (http://lifeofbreath.org/), and opening up aligned areas of interest, this panel explores themes seldom considered in anthropological and cross-cultural research: breath, air and atmospheres. Specifically, this panel follows the cultural, historical, and phenomenological significance of such phenomena - often unseen, left unelaborated or taken for granted. This panel provides a space for emergent thinking or re-thinking, and new methodological approaches, that highlight the value of anthropology and other disciplines for comprehending the meaning of breath, air, and atmospheres within the contexts they are understood and experienced. It seeks papers that, like breath itself, complicate dualisms such as inside/outside, absence/presence and appearance/disappearance, and by doing so aims to make the invisible, visible.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.

Papers

Making breath visible

Author: Jane Macnaughton (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

Breath is invisible and yet ever present and vital for living beings. It is most often made visible through the experience of breathlessness which may be perceived as normal or pathological. This paper will explore these distinctions and the potential for clinical technologies to manifest them.

Long Abstract

As the cultural historian Steven Connor said of air, we can also say of breath: 'how [is] the air to be brought before one when it is of necessity and at all times about?' This is the challenge for researchers interested in breath - that it is all pervasive and yet invisible. The concept of invisibility when used in relation to breath operates in concrete and metaphorical ways and can extend ideas about breath and breathlessness across disciplines, in clinical spaces and in life experience. This paper will investigate the meanings of invisibility in relation to breath across these spaces, and how it might be that breath is brought into view. Through breath the body is in constant engagement with the invisible in the external environment and I will explore how breath might be brought into awareness through the experience of breathlessness, 'normal' and 'pathological'. What part might cultural context, memory and emotion play in making a distinction between those two kinds of breathlessness? In the clinical context, cognition and affect are increasingly recognised as important determinants of that experience, but the usual method of bringing breathlessness to visibility - through spirometry - does not reflect those influences. I will suggest that although recent neuroscientific research is attempting to delineate the complex interplay of physical, emotional and cognitive determinants of breathlessness, this approach struggles to take account of the experience and contexts that may bring this research into visibility and relevance.

Breath and rhythm in the experience of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease

Author: Rebecca Oxley (Durham University)  email

Short Abstract

By questioning theories of somatic awareness and 'biographical disruption', this paper considers the value of an Anthropology of Rhythm to explore the lived experiences of those with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD).

Long Abstract

Breath has rhythm. Patterns of breathing can signal states of being: contemplation, exertion, respiratory health, or pathological lung disease. Yet the rhythm of breath is evident beyond the immediacy of its inhalation and exhalation; the rate, motion and ease of breath can affect emotion, sensation and experience, just as the context of breathing can shape respiratory velocity. If 'breath' is lived as a wheeze, cough or as breathlessness in the context of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), what is the influence of these experiences on the everyday rhythm of people's lives? The stories of COPD sufferers indicate that life is associated with pacing, the careful management of identities and selves so as to minimise exposure to stigma and forces that might exacerbate symptoms. COPD is understood as a life sentence, stagnation, a shrinking of ones sense of being-in-the-world, and a change to the vital energy which fuels quality of life. By questioning theories of somatic awareness and 'biographical disruption', this paper considers the value of an Anthropology of Rhythm to explore the lived experiences of those with COPD, bringing further visibility to an arguably invisible disease.

The phenomenological concept of respiratory essence of human existence

Author: Petri Berndtson (University of Jyväskylä)  email

Short Abstract

In my presentation I will rethink phenomenologically the fundamental philosophical question of anthropology “what is a human being?” within the atmosphere of breathing. This phenomenological perspective gives us perhaps a chance to redefine the essence of human existence in respiratory terms.

Long Abstract

In my presentation I will rethink the following fundamental philosophical questions of anthropology "what is a human being?" and "what is humanity?" within the atmosphere of breathing. These philosophical questions concerning the essence or the nature of human being or of humanity have often been answered with such defining terms as "soul", "spirit" or "self". The human nature, for example, in Greek was named as "psyche" or "pneuma", in Latin as "anima" or "spiritus" and in Sanskrit as "atman". What is highly interesting, and at the same time almost universally forgotten, is that each and every one of these notions that we traditionally translate as "soul", "spirit" or "self" originally meant "breath".

In my presentation I take these etymologico-respiratory origins of human nature into a serious consideration as I try to rethink them with the help of phenomenological philosophy. I will use especially as my aid Maurice Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology of the lived body. Even if Merleau-Ponty's thinking is most famously connected with the phenomenological descriptions of the perceptual life of the body as the primary way of being-in-the-world it also offers us mostly uncharted text fragments concerning the respiratory body. These Merleau-Pontian fragments on breathing, in my opinion, can give us a surprising chance to redefine the essence of human existence in respiratory terms and thus open future possibilities to think in a new way in carnal terms what the ancient cultures might have meant when they intertwined soul, spirit and self with the breath.

Reaching higher and looping forward: exploring prāṇāyāma as a skilled being in the world

Author: Krzysztof Bierski (Freie Univ. Berlin)  email

Short Abstract

Advanced practitioners of prāṇāyāma explore different possibilities for being alive by bringing attention to their breath. While they often refer to ‘reaching higher’, I draw on phenomenological perspectives on movement to suggest that prāṇāyāma also entails looping action with perception.

Long Abstract

Alongside āsana and meditation, prāṇāyāma, that is, guiding life force energy (prāṇā) through breath work is one of the core techniques, or limbs, of classical aṣṭānga yoga. Recently, biomedical researchers have concluded that yogic breathing can be helpful in alleviating symptoms of numerous cardiovascular and psychiatric conditions, improving pulmonary functions and reducing nicotine craving as an example. Whilst both biomedical research and yoga teachers tend to focus on correct breathing, Kaminoff (2006) explains that breath depends on past experiences, current circumstances and individual aims and is therefore contextual. This suggestion resonates with the accounts of students who pursue the intense prāṇāyāma training in a well-established secular yoga institute in central India. They describe their practice as a contemplative being in the world and report 'reaching higher levels of experience'. Drawing on Ingold's outlook on dwelling and movement (2000, 2011), I suggest that prāṇāyāma could also be interpreted as a way of looping forward in and as part of the environment. Looping, in this case, entails conscious steering and sequencing of the breath in a drive to unite action (breathing) and perception (emotional response). As yoga has been associated with religious dogma in order to meet nationalistic agenda in India, and to dissuade potential practitioners in the Occident, I discuss prāṇāyāma as a skill of being alive. I do so by exploring how yogis develop their sādhana (personal practice), overcome obstacles and account for the transformations they experience. By focusing on prāṇāyāma as a form of life aptitude this paper considers how breath awareness could become a public health concern.

BREATH WORKS: alternative respiratory practices in a critical anthropological perspective

Authors: Anne Line Dalsgård (Aarhus University)  email
Aja Smith (University of Southern Denmark)  email
Amalie Juelsgaard  email
Kasper Pape Helligsøe  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on fieldwork on Butoh dance, ultrarunning, and horse-assisted leadership training and acknowledging that breathing patterns are an integral part of cultural reproduction, we discuss how wilful change of breathing can convey a sense of release from habituated ways of identification.

Long Abstract

Contemporary life is increasingly dominated by what in the social sciences has been termed technologies of the self, such as mindfulness, positive psychology and body therapies. Breathing is often a constituent practice in such technologies. In this paper we argue that wilful change of breath-ing indeed can convey a sense of release from habituated patterns of emotional identification. We draw on data from long-term fieldwork in three empirical settings - Butoh dance, ultrarunning, and horse-assisted leadership training - to show how a certain kind of breath work may pro-voke a changed sense of self. E.g. in horse-assisted leadership training, managers consciously work with their breathing in order to alter their in-ner states of being, which can make them become (what they themselves experience as) more authentic beings and leaders, the kind of being capa-ble of leading a horse. However, we also stress how this changed sense of self is not always and never easily achieved. Our argument builds on two fundamental insights, established in existing research, but not yet com-bined, namely 1) that breathing is a crucial constituent of emotion, and 2) that emotion by way of identification is an integral part of social and cultural reproduction.

Breathing with materials: an aerial perspective on 'thinking-through-making' artefacts.

Author: Valeria Lembo (Università Ca' Foscari Venezia)  email

Short Abstract

This paper proposes an aerial perspective that incorporates breathing in the processeses of knowing, making, and moving in the world. Such perspective brings atmosphere and breath at the front of material culture studies and broader anthropological debates.

Long Abstract

Flowing out of a group project of anthropology-with-performance called Walking Threads, this paper elaborates on the potential of experimenting outdoors with materials (e.g. a yarn of thread) for posing anthropological questions about the relation between breath, knowledge, weather and artefacts. Walking with the other participants by holding the thread, led me to observe how air currents affected both the thread's movements and ours with it. Air was not only shaking and pulling the thread, but also 'nourishing' the breathing processes involved in our actions and gestures. Returning home and working with threads through embroidery, I pondered about those ephemeral webs tracing the air circulation patterns within and without our bodies. Memories from the walk further directed my attention to breathing processes coupling my looping gestures whilst embroidering. Hence the WalkingThreads experiment has offered new understandings of threads and embroidery, and raised questions about the relation between artefacts, weather, gesture and breath: What if we look at artefacts as breath made palpable? What if we consider the aesthetic atmosphere(s) that artefacts can create as a transformation of the atmospheric currents from which this breath comes?

Following Tim Ingold's discussion on atmosphere as both affective and metereological and drawing on my practice of 'Atem, Tonus, Ton', a breathing technique for singers, I introduce an aerial perspective that considers breathing as integral in the processes of 'thinking-through-making' and moving in the weather-world. Such perspective brings air, breath and atmosphere into the material culture studies and broader anthropological debates.

Breath-Body-Self

Author: Sara Matchett (University of Cape Town)  email

Short Abstract

This paper interrogates the relationship between breath, emotion and image in an attempt to make theatre and performance that is inspired by a biography of the body. The potential of breath as impulse as well as thread that connects imagination, memory, body and expression is investigated.

Long Abstract

This paper interrogates the relationship between breath and emotion, and breath and image, in an attempt to make theatre and performance that is inspired by a biography of the body. It investigates the body as a site for generating images for the purpose of performance-making. It is a methodological study that draws from various traditions, methods and somatic practices, such as yoga, Fitzmaurice Voicework®, the Sanskrit system of rasa, body mapping and free writing. It explores the relationship between body, breath and feeling and how this impacts on the imagination in processes of generating images for performance-making. It further investigates whether breath can be experienced as an embodied element that is sensed somatically by performers, and in so doing act as a catalyst for activating memories, stories, and experiences held in the body of the performer. It draws on my experience as a lecturer of theatre in the Department of Drama at the University of Cape Town as well as on my experience as a maker of performance with The Mothertongue Project, a women's arts collective I co-founded in South Africa in 2000. In summary, this paper explores the relationship between a particular kind of performance-making process for a particular kind of work within a particular kind of context. It seeks to provide women with the tools and space to speak back to the social context they inhabit. The potential of breath as impulse as well as thread that connects imagination, memory, body, and expression, is investigated.

A living archaeology of song: tracing vibrational qualities of breath on its pathways through the singer

Author: Caroline Gatt (University of Aberdeen)  email

Short Abstract

In this paper I explore the way the experimental theatre makers I work with develop a practice that, resonating with Feld’s acoustemology, is a “reflexive feedback between sounding and listening” to breath in song.

Long Abstract

Breathing is a process that exemplifies the porous relationship between persons and world. In this sense breath is a "forgotten material mediation" (Irigaray 1999). For Ingold (2010) air is also a medium, without which life itself could not flow. Thinking about breathing in these terms evokes its vital and I will argue constitutive qualities.

For the experimental theatre makers I work with breath is a life path to be followed and listened to in oneself while singing. The path that breath takes through one's cavities, memories, muscles and hopes is the story of one's very make up.

According to Grotowski, a twentieth century theatre maker, each singing tradition has its own vibrational qualities which depend on how breath resonates differently in the body. My theatre colleagues engage with Grotowski's work also through a particular skill of paying attention to breath during singing. In this active listening the singer searches their own interior landscapes and the relationship between self and world and others singing with you, of course while responding to this with one's own singing. Here is a practice where listening to breath in song is always an explicit listening to relational histories of listening (Feld 2015).

In this paper I explore the way these experimental theatre makers develop a practice that resonating with Feld's acoustemology is a "reflexive feedback between sounding and listening" to breath. Theirs is a journey by means of song where the vibration of breath in persons is understood to leave constitutional traces.

The anxiety of 'blowing': on belief, knowledge, and precarity in Beninois brass instrument practice

Author: Lyndsey Marie Hoh (University of Oxford)  email

Short Abstract

This paper considers the significance of breath and ‘blowing’ in Beninois brass instrument practice, and engages with musicians’ anxiety around a perceived lack of musical and medical knowledge and their bodily relationships with materials.

Long Abstract

Within amateur musical circles in Benin, one is told that if a male blows too hard into a brass instrument his testicles might swell up, fall off, or even 'run away'. Concerned parents warn their children against 'blowing' brass instruments, telling stories of genital hernias and infertility, and many maintain that male brass players must take preventative measures and attach their testicles with string. Accompanying this unease about blowing out, and the potentially dangerous effects of the expulsion of air through instruments, is a complement concern for breathing in, and the possible ingestion of microorganisms or poison through the mouth.

This paper takes seriously my interlocutors' concern with the consequence of playing brass instruments on their bodies, and aims to understand the shapes and sources of their anxiety around blowing. Conceptualizing breath as constituting both a corporeal and metaphorical connection between a musician's body and their instrument, I connect beliefs about respiratory systems, wind power, and sonic force to pedagogical practices. I then relate these musical and bodily understandings to social beliefs around witchcraft, fertility, and sanitation, and notions of consumption and masculinity. An examination of musicians' rationale for their beliefs reveals uncertainty about the mechanical function and power of brass instruments—a foreign manufactured and still somewhat 'unknown' material object—and insecurity over the appropriate source of knowledge and authority on musical subjects. This paper contributes to anthropological work on bodies, materiality, and health, as well as literature on social precarity in contemporary West Africa.

The Devon County Mental Hospital (DCMH): 'good air' incarnate

Author: Nicole Baur (University of Exeter)  email

Short Abstract

Drawing on authentic documents complemented by memories and personal narratives, this paper explores the Devon County Mental Hospital (DCMH) as a visual representation of 19th century concerns regarding the effects of breathing ‘good/bad’ air on mental well-being.

Long Abstract

Ever since the Hippocratic 'Airs, Waters and Places', medical writings have paid tribute to concerns about nosopoetic and therapeutic qualities of the atmosphere and air we breathe. With a few notable exceptions, before the 19th century, the focal point of such concerns was physical well-being. However, these concerns would soon enter a new level.

Psychiatrists in the UK began to acquire dominant, if not monopolistic, positions in treating mental ill-health from the mid-19th century - within the walls of their institutions. Outside, they continued to operate at the medical and social periphery. Entering the debates about connections between breathing 'good/bad' air and mental illness must therefore have been an exciting opportunity to advance their social standing as well as reputation amongst fellow medical experts.

The former DCMH near Exeter is a visual representation of these efforts, which manifested themselves in the location and design of the Hospital building and its grounds as well as treatment provided within. Drawing on surviving documents of the DCMH (architectural drawings, administrative papers and a large corpus of authentic patient files), complemented by memories and personal narratives of former patients and staff, this paper explores the above concerns and debates. Findings will offer new insights into contemporary discussions on the effects of the dualism of breathing 'good/bad' air on mental well-being.

Articulating exposure: visualising air pollution and 'health' in epidemiological data practices

Author: Emma Garnett (London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine)  email

Short Abstract

Exposure indicates and measures the encounter between a ‘breather’ and the air around them. Drawing on research with an interdisciplinary public health project, I trace the ways in which exposure was configured and made visible in the performative techniques of epidemiological data practices.

Long Abstract

Exposure was the term used by scientists on the Weather Health and Air Pollution (WHAP) project to indicate and measure the encounter between a 'breather' and the air around them. This link needs to be made in order for a health claim to be made about air pollution. Exposure implies a situated moment, yet I found in epidemiological data practices it was not located in a singular, breathing body, but was multiplied to population bodies in order to construct a measure of risk. I make explicit the scientific work involved in problematising breath at the population level by tracing the ways in which exposure (the result of breathing) was configured and made visible in the performative techniques of data making. Considering breath through researchers' attempts to materialise exposure as data visualisations complicated what counts as the inside (breathed in air) and outside (ambient air) of bodies. Indeed, the multiplying of bodies to populations were problematic for researchers, so that measures of exposure were considered a partial measure of 'real' breathing in the world. I suggest that approaches in Anthropology and STS which draw on post-humanist theories of materiality may be a way to re-think exposure in productive ways, by complicating boundaries, and extending exposure encounters to include 'other bodies'. I show that studying data practices make visible different kinds of relations of air - multiplying what counts as an air encounter/exposure - and are opportunities to open up ways of engaging with the air we share in more creative ways.

Towards a political ecology of air and breathing? A Polish encounter

Author: Irma Allen (KTH, Royal Institute of Technology)  email

Short Abstract

This paper will explore how a political ecology of air and breathing can call forth new human-non-human collectivities and claims in the postsocialist Polish context.

Long Abstract

In 2015, Stephen Graham called for greater attention to be paid to the political ecology of air - particularly urban air. As Peter Soleterdijk (2009: 32) notes, air constitutes an implicit condition of existence. And yet, Graham (2015) argues, social theory has paid little attention to it, despite the fact that air pollution is the world's biggest public health crisis. Coal-based energy often creates the worst mortality. In Poland, Krakow has one of the worst air qualities in the world due to coal-induced smog. How do concerns and conflicts over air quality shape the city and its imagined future? How are uneven geographies of air produced and consumed? What about the act of breathing itself? Breathing can be thought of as the basic human-nature encounter - the metabolic act in which the materiality of human and more-than-human intermingle and transmute one another. How can the act of breathing be understood as an ontological 'challenge' to 'economic hegemony' (Pope 2013) in this context? Who or what can be understood to breathe? And what does breathing undo in terms of a human-nature dichotomy enshrined within an imported modernity for Poland? This paper will explore how a political ecology of air and breathing can call forth new human-non-human collectivities and claims in the postsocialist Polish context.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.