Accepted paper:

BREATH WORKS: alternative respiratory practices in a critical anthropological perspective


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

Paper 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.

Paper 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.

panel P01
Exposure: interdisciplinary perspectives on breath, air and atmospheres