- Paperback: 480 pages
- Publisher: Routledge; 1 edition (May 19, 2011)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0415617472
- ISBN-13: 978-0415617475
- Product Dimensions: 6.8 x 1.1 x 9.7 inches
- Shipping Weight: 2.1 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
- Average Customer Review: 6 customer reviews
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #455,919 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
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The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill 1st Edition
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‘Tim Ingold's rigorous and imaginative approach to modes of perception as practices involving entire organisms in relations with others is unmatched in contemporary anthropology. This work, drawing on scholarship from across the arts and sciences, addresses foundational questions within and well beyond anthropology’s four fields. His new preface outlining some of the ways he has since developed these ideas is inspirational.’
- Gillian Feeley-Harnik, University of Michigan, USA
'The Perception of the Environment is a formidable work in terms of its intellectual breadth ... its sheer volume ... and methodical consistency and clarity.' - The Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
' ... this is an extremely significant book and quite possibly lives up to its promise "to revolutionize the way we think". The book's power lies in its ability to push readers to places previously unimagined ... it is imperative that this book be read by as many people from as broad an audience as possible.' - Anthropological Forum
About the Author
Tim Ingold is Professor of Social Anthropology at the University of Aberdeen, UK.
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When I was a grad student in anthropology, we used to joke about how anthro is the "master discipline," because it's the only one that combines incredible time depth (up to ca. 6 million years ago), biological science, genetics, philosophy, language studies, and studies (with fieldwork!) of contemporary societies. It bridges humanities, social sciences, and natural sciences. There is, simply, no other field that gives as wide OR deep a view of what it means to be a human being. I admit there was more than a little arrogance there (ah, youth), but from its practitioners' perspective, anthropology the only discipline that looks at people in context.
And yet. The nature of academia limits what is possible for anthropology as a discipline and anthropologists as people and as intellectuals. An academic is expected to publish in specific ways and places, and to deliver talks at conferences, and in both situations one can expect to be viciously critiqued. In order to maintain the appearance of objectivity and expertise in such an adversarial system, an anthropologist inevitably has to hold a part of him/herself back, always remaining an analytical outsider to their own research. A Ph.D. in English is allowed to love Shakespeare and write novels or poetry; a Ph.D. in anthropology dare not confess a human susceptibility to beauty (because what is beauty and how is that negotiated via the construction of agency in the context of prestige economies, amiright?), let alone explore aesthetics professionally. The irony, for a discipline that holds cultural relativity as its prime directive, is that this leads to a secret attitude of academic (and almost always Western) superiority. Trying for objectivity doesn't make the subjective go away, it just drives it underground. We try to escape this, but it always lurks there, and the best fix that has been achieved is to simply admit to it and even try to analyze it reflexively. As much as we study others' epistemologies, we never succeed in transforming our own--only in navel-gazing thought exercises.
But Ingold has actually managed to get beyond that. Few anthropologists have had the intestinal fortitude to actually look at the phenomena of consciousness and the mind and how they unfold in relationship to...well, everything (Gregory Bateson being the other that pops to mind--though there are others who *claim* to do it, with results that are at best meh). Where others are shackled by the internal politics of the academy and even ethnocentrism (gasp!), it's as if Ingold doesn't even care! He does what he wants! (You don't pay his rent!) The result is an entirely new, transpersonal, transcultural perspective but one which is still relevant to the individual. Granted, Ingold writes in an academic style, which may make it seem like his work is only of interest to academics, but in the best moments what he says can make you rethink what you "know" about everything, no matter what walk of life you are in. This book should be recognized not just as anthropology but as philosophy. I believe Rilke and Goethe would have found much to like and agree with. I mean who else but Ingold would write about how your feet perceive the world? Who else could inspire me to use exclamation points like a fangirl?! No one!!!
In the general introduction (each of the three main parts of the book also have separate introductions), Ingold provides a synopsis of the book's overall direction and purpose. He first tells how, as an undergraduate at Cambridge, he came to choose anthropology as a field of study, despite his early aptitude for, and interest in, the natural sciences. In anthropology, he had hoped to find a field that could bridge the widening gap between the humanities and the natural sciences. Instead, Ingold discovered that anthropology itself had been "fractured along the very lines of fission that I thought it existed to overcome." There is social or cultural anthropology, and there is biological or physical anthropology, "whose respective practitioners have less to say to one another than they do to colleagues in other disciplines on the same side of the academic fence." He attributes the split to the dichotomy between the perceived 'two worlds' of humanity and nature -- a dichotomy that he says lies at the heart of Western thought, and ramifies through all subordinate domains of study.
Ingold's initial approach to mending this rift was what he calls his "complementarity" thesis, which he advanced in two books, Evolution and Social Life, and The Appropriation of Nature, both published in 1986. "But," he adds, "I had continued to be troubled by the inherent dualism of this approach, with its implied dichotomies between person and organism, society and nature." Ingold then describes a defining moment in 1988 when, on his way to catch a bus in Manchester, it suddenly occurred to him that 'person' and 'organism' could be one and the same thing, i.e. that the person _is_ the organism. "Instead of trying to reconstruct the complete human being from two separate but complementary components, respectively biophysical and sociocultural, held together with a film of psychological cement, it struck me that we should be trying to find a way of talking about human life that eliminates the need to slice it up into these different layers." Ingold goes on to say, "Everything I have written since has been driven by this agenda."
In wondering why it took him so long to come to this realization, Ingold thinks it was chiefly the prevailing conception of the organism in mainstream biological theory. "According to this conception, every organism is a discrete, bounded entity, a 'living thing', one of a population of such things, and relating to other organisms in its environment along lines of external contact that leave its basic, internally specified nature unaffected." Ingold goes on to say, "I had assumed that my task was not to challenge accepted biological wisdom but to reconcile it with what contemporary anthropology has to teach us about the constitution of human beings as persons."
Thus, Ingold realized an important implication of the insight he had in 1988: the need for a "radically alternative biology." He soon discovered the 'developmentalist' critique of neo-Darwinian biology (as articulated by Susan Oyama and others). The combination of 'relational' thinking in anthropology, 'developmental systems' thinking in biology, and 'ecological' thinking in psychology (following on James Gibson's pioneering work), yields a synthesis that Ingold believes is more powerful than any of the current alternatives, all of which invoke some form of the complementarity thesis.
The twenty-three chapters in the book are grouped into three parts: Livelihood, Dwelling, and Skill. Ingold says, "Surveying the book in its entirety, I see it somewhat in the shape of a mountain, with a steady climb through the first part, a brief plateau at the start of the second followed by an ascent to the summit in Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen [two of the four chapters written especially for this volume]. Having reached that far, the third part affords a relatively easy descent." I concur with this assessment. I think that Chapters Thirteen and Fourteen are indeed the heart of the book, although they are not as difficult to read as Ingold's mountain climbing analogy might suggest. Indeed, Ingold is to be congratulated on his ability to write clearly about difficult topics without lapsing into thickets of specialist jargon. He is eminently readable at all times.
Other chapters that stood out for me included: Four, Six (another chapter that is original to this volume), Seven, Eleven (I especially liked the part that used the painting, The Harvesters, for illustration), Twelve, Eighteen, Nineteen, and Twenty-one. If pressed, I would probably rank the three parts of the book, in order of merit: Dwelling, Livelihood, and Skill. Only in the last (Skill) part of the book did I feel there was an occasional drop in terms of quality (e.g. the occasional lapse into repetition). But this is the sheerest form of nitpicking, i.e. I feel the need to work hard to say something -- anything -- negative about a book that I believe to be a masterpiece.
Highly recommend " taking this class".