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A guest lecture for an undergraduate course on Identity and Difference in the Department of Anthropology at Macquarie University.

Paul Mason

on 7 October 2014

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Transcript of Embodiment

involves the ontogenetic confluence of intersubjectively experienced dynamic construals irremediably determined in time and space by socially embedded, historically instituted, culturally orchestrated, environmentally situated, embodied brains.

embodiment actively engages the embodied brain
Pencak Silat

embodiment actively engages the brain
Pak Oseng
Pencak Silat

embodiment is environmentally situated, intersubjectively experienced, historically instituted, culturally orchestrated and socially embedded
What is this music for?
embodiment is environmentally situated, intersubjectively experienced, historically instituted and
culturally orchestrated
Tim Ingold has argued, “skills are literally embodied, in the sense that their development entails specific modifications in neurology, musculature, and even in basic features of anatomy” (2000: 375).
As Greg Downey puts it, “skill is not simply the ‘embodiment’ of ‘knowledge’, but rather physical, neurological, perceptual, and behavioural change of the individual subject so that he or she can accomplish tasks that, prior to enskilment, were impossible” (2010: 35).
Embodiment is an ontogenetic process
Contact Improvisation

embodiment is environmentally situated, intersubjectively experienced and
historically instituted

embodiment is environmentally situated and
intersubjectively experienced

embodiment is environmentally situated

embodiment is
environmentally situated
Csordas, T. (1999). The body’s career in anthropology. In H. Moore (Ed.), Anthropological theorytoday (pp. 172–205). Cambridge: Polity Press.
embodiment takes the socialized organism as an empirical object and ‘an opportunity for a rethinking of culture and the self’ (Csordas 1999, 180).
Even the act of thinking is deeply embodied, as numerous philosophers, cognitive linguists, and neuroscientists have shown (e.g., Ryle 1940; Lakoff and Johnson 1999; Damasio 1999).
Calvo-Merino, B., Glaser, D.E., Grezes, J., Passingham, R.E., Haggard, P. (2005) Action Observation and Acquired Motor Skills: An fMRI Study with Expert Dancers, Cerebral Cortex, 15(8) 1243-1249.
Csordas, T. (1999). The body’s career in anthropology. In H. Moore (Ed.), Anthropological theory today (pp. 172–205). Cambridge: Polity Press.
Blacking, J. (1977) Towards an Anthropology of the Body, In John Blacking (ed) The Anthropology of the Body. Academic Press, London, 1-28.
 Csordas, T.J. (2002) Body/Meaning/Healing. Palgrave, New York.
Downey, G. (2002) Listening to Capoeira: Phenomenology, Embodiment, and the Materiality of Music. Ethnomusicology, 46(3), 487-509.
Downey, G. (2005) Learning Capoeira: Lessons in Cunning from an Afro- Brazilian Art. Oxford University Press, New York.
Farnell, B. (1999) Moving Bodies, Acting Selves. Annual Review of Anthropology, 28, 341-373.
Foster, R. (1976) Knowing in my Bones. Adam and Charles Black, London.
Fraleigh, S. (1991) A Vulnerable Glance: Seeing Dance through Phenomenology. Dance Research Journal, 23(1), 11-16.
Hanna, Judith-Lynne. (1979) To Dance is Human: A Theory of Nonverbal Communication. The University of Chicago Press. 
Ingold, T. (2000) The Perception of the Environment: Essays in Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. Routledge, London.
Jackson, M. (1989) Paths Toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry. Indiana University Press, Bloomington and Indianapolis.
Mason, P.H. (2013) Intracultural and Intercultural Dynamics of Capoeira, Global Ethnographic, 1, 1-8.
Mason, P.H. (2009) Brain, Dance and Culture, Brolga, 30, 27-34.
Mason, P.H. (2009) Brain, Dance and Culture II, Brolga, 31, 19-26.
Mason, P.H. (2010) Degeneracy at multiple levels of complexity, Biological Theory, 5(3):277-288.
when culture becomes anatomy
Capoeira from Brazil
Pencak Silat

embodiment is environmentally situated, intersubjectively experienced, historically instituted, culturally orchestrated and socially embedded
Pak Darman
Pencak Silat

embodiment is environmentally situated, intersubjectively experienced, historically instituted, culturally orchestrated and
socially embedded

when culture becomes anatomy

Tattooing on the face of Te Pehi Kupe, drawn by himself. "Every line, both on his face and on other parts of his body, was firmly registered on his memory." (Horatio Gordon Robley 1840-1930)
Image from:
In his phenomenological study of capoeira, Greg Downey (2002) notes that music does not sound the same to everyone. He demonstrates that social and cultural influences play an important role in the sensual apprehension of music. Downey vividly describes how “culture shapes the way one hears” (p. 490). Cultural experience in capoeira means that practitioners perceive music “with a trained and responsive body, through habits copied from others and socially reinforced, and by means of their own musical skills, arduously acquired and actively engaged in listening” (Ibid.). Capoeira music is seldom heard outside of training or play. In response to hearing the rhythms of the berimbau, “practitioners feel the swaying movements diligently sedimented in corporeal memory through arduous training either as an outward movement or an inward quickening, a readiness to move” (p. 500). Live music is the preferred option and “recordings of capoeira music are generally listened to actively as pedagogical materials rather than received passively as external sound objects” (Downey 2002: 498). Unlike Sundanese artists and Javanese dancers, capoeira practitioners are both musicians and movement artists. The rhythms played by capoeira performers on the lead instrument, the berimbau, initiate performance, regulate the interaction of performers, and cue specific events. In a discussion of embodiment and music, choreomusicologist Stephanie Jordan asserts that the business of dancing to music has implications for a dancer‘s understanding of the music (2011: 58). Conversely, musical accompaniment to dance may have implications for the perception of movement.
Expressions of Difference
The “body as canvas” is a poignant metaphor deployed by anthropologists to emphasise how human experience is inscribed onto the body. More than just a canvas, the body is also a site of human expression and agency. Markers of cultural distinction can be written on the body and also expressed through the body.

Imagine being homeless. What do you see?
Image from:

Imagine you are in a wheelchair. What do you see?

Driving across cultures
Were you brought up in an environment where you had to think about the noise you make during micturition?
Eating across cultures
Micturition across cultures
Processed foods allow us to think of the mouth as merely an orifice
Unprocessed foods require us to use the mouth as a tool
Using blinkers in front vs. using horn from behind.
Headchecks in Australia vs. No headchecks in Indonesia
Pitted Dates
Fish in Vietnam
Image from: http://elitedaily.com/news/world/controversial-anti-homeless-spikes-prevent-homeless-sleeping-doorways/624292/ a
Experience of disease and war
War and Disease
Shiite Muharram Ceremonies

Rituals of Pain
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