Proprioceptive Sociality

Sep 21, 2023, 4:30 pm6:00 pm



Event Description

The ability to see what another is seeing is the first step towards understanding what another is saying, according to most accounts of normal language development. A long tradition of western theory has built its account of the emergence of sociality on sight: language, and social life more generally, begins with the visual ability to imagine the world from another’s point of view. An equally long tradition of western theory privileges the sonic: speech fosters reflexivity to the degree we can hear ourselves talk. But there are other ways of sharing senses, which become particularly apparent among people who don’t use their minds and bodies in ways considered typical. 

In this paper, I explore some of the ways in which sensation becomes social by focusing on “proprioception,” the feeling of one’s own body in space. I consider the experience of a young English butcher, who lost his sense of proprioception, and my disabled daughter, who constantly seeks hers out, to explore how proprioception serves as a connective tissue, binding people to broader social worlds. A close look at this capacity in situations that bring it into sharp relief, puts a new spin on what George Herbert Mead called the conversation of gestures. In sensing the self as another, participants in the interactions I consider develop a sense of the other as a self. 

Danilyn Rutherford is president of the Wenner-Gren Foundation for Anthropological Research. Previously, she was associate professor of anthropology at the University of Chicago and, more recently, professor of anthropology at the University of California, Santa Cruz. She is the author of Raiding the Land of the Foreigners and Laughing at Leviathan.

In conversation with Professor Laurence Ralph, Princeton University