SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

Transmission of Knowledge Seminar Series

Wednesdays 3:00 to 5:00 pm

Room G50, 
School of Oriental and African Studies

Admission free. No booking required.

Seminar Convenor: Dr Trevor HJ Marchand (


During the past two decades increasing numbers of anthropologists and social scientists have focussed on the related topics of sensual perception, embodiment, skill-based knowledge and performed identity. There remains a conspicuous lack of consensus, however, on what is actually meant by 'embodied knowledge'; how it should (or might) be studied, and how it should be discussed and represented in our research output. 

Sociologists and anthropologists continue to author detailed variations on Bourdieu's thesis (1977) that embodied knowledge is the corporeal manifestation of a set of socialised dispositions, or habitus, possessed (typically in an unconscious manner) by an individual, or group of people. Such accounts describe embodied knowledge as sentient, socially constructed and intelligent. 

They are unified in their attacks on Cartesian mind-body dualism, and in their aversion to 'disembodied' and purely conceptual notions of knowledge. They offer valuable and descriptive insights into the relations between human beings and their physical and social environments, and they stress the necessity of a coordinated unity between mind, body and emotion.

Contemporary social research champions Ryle's assertion that "when I do something intelligently, I am doing one thing, not two... [for] my performance has special procedure or manner, not special antecedents" (1949:32).

The vast majority of the research, however, offers little in the way of detailed description or explanation of how learning, socialisation and the 'sedimentation' of values, worldviews and practices actually occur from a perspective of embodied know-how and comportment; nor how training and participation in learning environments produce, and not merely reproduce, knowledge in corporeal, propositional and other forms.

The theory of 'learning habitus', as noted by Bloch, is psychologically vague (1998:18), and it doesn't address the ways in which knowledge is effectively communicated and fluidly produced in situ, involving coordinated (and sometimes discordant) engagements of actors in practice and communication.

The principal aim of this seminar series is to incite discussion and debate that will propel our understanding of knowledge and learning beyond Bourdieu and promote bold, new ideas about the nature of human knowledge and the ways in which it is shared, transformed and controlled.

The guiding questions include:
  • How might different forms of knowledge (i.e. motor, visual, olfactory, auditory, propositional etc.) be studied, defined and represented in ethnographic work?
  • How are various domains of knowledge coordinated within the mind-body complex, and how do they share information in a perhaps simultaneous, non-linear fashion that results in a recognisably intelligent performance?
  • How is knowledge expressed through various mediums of communication, interpreted and shared by other agents, and stabilised to some extent as so-called 'memory' or 'habits' that may be consciously or unconsciously enacted?
  • How is innovation and change derived, recognised and validated? What is the role of context (physical, social and cultural) in the transmission and performance of knowledge?
  • What impacts do political (global, local and heritage discourse) and economic regimes have on teaching, learning and practice? And how do embodied forms of knowledge become sites of conformity or resistance?
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