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Call for contributions: Special Issue to be submitted to Anthropological Theory: Sociality and Bodily Ways of Knowing – Ex Negativo

The special issue will be guest-edited by Anna Christen and Rita Kesselring


Sociality and Bodily Ways of Knowing – Ex Negativo: Limits of Collective Intentionality and (Im)Possibilities of Un-Knowing

Sociality and Bodily Ways of Knowing

The social world exists because of shared practices. At least since Marcel Mauss’ Les Techniques du Corps (1934), anthropologists and other social scientists have worked under the premise that shared bodily practice yields shared knowledge. Practice, then, creates a partially shared view of the world.

In this special issue, we ask whether shared bodily practice always leads to shared knowledge and we examine the connection between shared bodily practice and the transmission of knowledge in more detail. How exactly does collective intentionality arise in practice, and what happens if it does not? What role does bodily knowledge play in making something a shared experience, and how can we be certain that our individual intentions reflect those of a collective?

Although anthropological and philosophical theories, methods and methodologies concerning the issue have been repeatedly scrutinized, challenged and refined in various ways, their phenomenological presuppositions, delineated in the questions above, are frequently taken for granted. Their premises, conditions and functions often remain unquestioned. Hence, this special issue seeks to shed light on the premise – often assumed but rarely interrogated – that shared practice is the key to a deeper understanding of a specific social action. We invite proposals that explore how this understanding of a social fact comes into being when we engage in social activity with others.

We seek contributions from a broad range of philosophical perspectives, anthropological insights and interdisciplinary work on shared agency, and welcome papers that epistemologically and empirically explore how collective intentionality is produced within shared practice.

Special Issue

We explore the conditions for the possibility of bodily practice leading to shared knowledge ex negativo, and propose two lines of inquiry: the limits of collective intentionality and the (im)possibility of un-knowing.

1) Limits of collective intentionality based on different bodily knowledge

One way to contest specific conceptual framings of participation and shared, bodily knowledge is to investigate cases of failure: Whenever things go wrong – our tango partner falls into a waltz, or our travel companion doesn’t share our admiration of a landscape – we become self-conscious about our assumptions of certain shared intentions and might, thus, rethink our presumptions and conclude that what we thought was a shared perspective was in fact something else. This is especially relevant for anthropologists whose basic methodological assumption is indeed that understanding parts of other people’s perspective of the world is possible in spite of different stocks of knowledge. In this issue, we thus aim to explore shared intentionality and its limits at the point of breakdown. We suggest that there is a way of understanding the conception and the production of collective intentionality through analysing occurrences of failure. Can sedimented bodily knowledge prevent certain forms of sociality and shared intentionality? And, if so, in what ways are we separated by the bodily knowledge we hold?

2) (Im)possibilities of un-knowing

On a different level of negation, we ask the question whether it is possible for a human being to un-know something, that is to successfully reverse the process of practical knowledge gain. If we assume that certain experiences sediment in our bodies – be it the manifestation of a specific swimming technique or a general manner of comporting ourselves after an injury – how can people forget, un-learn specific skills, adopt a new being-in-the-world or, as we call it, un-know? What conceptions of bodily knowledge and memory help us to explain (or challenge) such possibilities? Which forms of knowledge can possibly be un-known – and which cannot? Should we understand such an experience as individual or collective? Can the option of un-knowing be a necessary condition for the emergence of collective intentionality and shared agency? We suggest that an enquiry into the possibility and constraints of un-learning will lead to an understanding of how bodily knowledge and sociality relate. In turn, the question of what role bodily knowledge plays in making something a shared experience can shed new light on the limits of bodily knowledge, and of bodily un-knowing.

What these two ex negativo perspectives have in common is their focus on situations where shared intentionality does not only emerge based on the bodily knowledge we have. By studying the interconnections between the absence of shared intentionality and the (im)possibilities of un-knowing, we offer a new approach towards the question of how body, mind and sociality interrelate. Taking into account different perspectives of ex negativo cases of failed sharedness will inform the overall question of how to conceptualize shared bodily knowledge “through the back door.”

Philosophical and anthropological thought

Philosophy of action represents a promising area to explore for a solid theoretical foundation on which anthropological methodologies can rest and build upon. We want, however, to emphasize the reverse thought as well: Despite apparent conflicts between philosophical theory and ethnographic practice, we encourage contributions highlighting not only in what ways anthropological methodology could profit from philosophical action theory – we also ask how qualitative, ethnographic research can inform philosophical inquiry. For example, what can an ethnographic observation do that a thought experiment cannot? How can we situate experience and bodily knowledge in theoretical discourse?

This special issue explores different paths to a plural subject theory with the explanatory power to illuminate how common practical knowledge can be built in ethnographic fieldwork, in everyday life, in religious, political or economic social settings. The overall objective is to investigate the conditions under which collective intentionality can emerge in habitual or special shared actions and how the shift from mere observation to participation can be put into predication.

Papers should be grounded in original empirical or theoretical research, and can explore any topic related to 1) the possibility of failed shared actions and 2)  the (im)possibility of un-knowing, including but not limited to: intersubjectivity and tacit knowledge; collective intentionality and group agency; memory and evidence of shared knowledge; Research methods, ethics, epistemologies, and knowledge hierarchies; text, language and bodily ways of knowing; gender performance.

Submission guidelines:

Please submit the following to Anna Christen (anna.christen@uni-konstanz.de) or Rita Kesselring (rita.kesselring@unibas.ch) by July 2, 2018:

  1. Paper title
  2. Author bio (200 words)
  3. Extended abstract (<800 words) with
  • clear reference to the call for contributions
  • inclusion of Anthropological Theory’s submission guidelines, point 1 (What do we publish?)

If your paper proposal is selected for further consideration for inclusion in the special issue, we will ask for the full paper (<600 and >10’000 words) by January 31, 2019

Draft timeline:

The editors of AT have expressed their interest in the topic of the special issue but the final decision will only be taken after review of individual papers. The preliminary planning until final submission is as follows:

  • Guest editors go through the papers and suggest revisions for each to make it a tight special issue.
  • Revisions made as suggested by guest editors and submission to AT: April 2019
  • Review process with AT (individual review of papers): May 2019 to October 2020
  • Revisions of papers (if accepted with minor/major revision) due December 2020
  • Submission of revised papers to AT for second round of review or production: January 2021
  • Publication of special issue in Anthropological Theory: 2021
Possibility of a workshop:

In order to ensure coherence and unity of this special issue, we consider organising a workshop for all contributors. Depending on the submitted paper proposals, their touching points and specific foci – but also the availability of funding – we thus might propose a meeting before the full papers are due. We will be in touch with further information once this decision is made.