Within education studies there have been calls for systematic attention to how learning is situated, to the notion of context and to experiential elements of learning. In recent decades theories of situated learning and cognitive learning theories have existed in a critical relationship to each other and by the twenty first century a major debate raged between the two positions (Sfard, 1998; Säljö, 2003, Hodkinson et al 2008). At a more sophisticated level situated learning theory offers an alternative to cognitive learning theories that draw on the root metaphor of acquisition. Instead it understands thinking as embedded in social and material practices and conceptualises learning through the metaphor of participation (Lave & Wenger, 1991).
In this context there is an on-going search for new ways to understand the situatedness of learning as well as its experiential qualities. In our recent work we have addressed this need by developing a framework that builds on Lave and Wenger’s ideas of situatedness and Hodkinssons’et. al (2008) call for moving on from the recent debate between cognitive and sociocultural theorists informed by theories of place, perception and the senses. Theories of place, perception and knowledge in human geography and anthropology, offer an ideal route through which to respond to this call. They offer accounts of place that acknowledge the relationship between spatial and temporal process (Massey 2005), and the embodied nature of learning, while advancing the agenda further to suggest that the senses and the environment are central to how we learn (e.g. Ingold 2000, Pink 2009).We call this framework sensory emplaced learning (Fors, Bäckström & Pink, 2013), through which we conceptualize how learning is situated in the dynamics between body– senses – material environments.
In this paper we draw from our respective ethnographic research projects on social and cultural informal learning among young people in two very different, albeit Swedish, contexts. Through our field work with people on the one hand publishing and talking about images and texts on a particular website and on the other hand practicing skateboarding, we have come to question the idea of knowledge as acquisition. This mainly cognitive metaphor for learning and knowing applies poorly to the practices of learning and knowing that we have studied. Instead, we argue for a theoretical development around the Swedish term “känsla”, (pronounced shensla). This Swedish word encompasses feeling, sensation, affect, emotion and style and derives from the verb känna – to feel, to sense. Etymologically the word is closely related to one of the Swedish words for knowledge – “kännedom” (Wessén, 1982). Hence, the main objective of this paper is to develop the theoretical thinking that revolve around the Swedish conceptualisation of “känsla” which, we argue, could provide useful for analysing how we know, handle and make meaning of everyday life in and through our sensorial bodies emplaced in material contexts.
Methodology, Methods, Research Instruments or Sources Used The empirical material analysed in this paper emanates from two different sets of data that was produced in two different research projects with a similar methodological ethnographic approach; sensory ethnography (as developed by Pink 2009/2012). A sensory ethnography approach has the advantage of focusing the experiences of lived space, i.e. the crossroads between people’s bodies, their minds and place. In other words, it may be used to describe and analyse what we have previously labelled sensory emplacement (Fors, Bäckström & Pink, 2013; Pink, 2011). The first research project focused on informal learning processes in women skateboarding contexts mainly including unregulated skateboarding, but also contests, skate camps and a skate tour at indoor and outdoor skateparks. Addressing didactic issues of verbal and non verbal expressions of teaching and learning a sensory ethnography approach made bodily un/knowing apparent. The kinesthetic experience of explosiveness, defined as enforcement and transformation of energy, was remembered and also implicitly imagined as part of movement (Bäckström, 2014). For the purpose of this paper data from the first project predominately consist of written field notes, photographs, as well as interview and video transcripts. During the second project, we spent time with the research participants sharing the same computer screen when they used the Internet to gain an appreciation of how they embed these technologies in the routines and habits of their everyday life (Fors, 2013). We were specifically inspired by the notion of how visual experience is part of the multisensory process of moving through the digital, paying attention to “the ways the body is engaged in imagining and remembering” the localities and persons that Internet content represent and there by “move beyond the notion of ‘looking at’ images on a screen” (Pink, 2012:122). The data produced for the analysis presented in this paper consist of interview transcripts, photographs and entries/comments from the photo diaries, and video-recorded interviews during the sessions when the participants guided us through their use of these digital diaries.
Conclusions, Expected Outcomes or Findings Our analysis made clear that it is possible to deepen our understanding of how learning becomes situated in human practice through identifying alternative and multisensory categories of routes to knowing. In this research, the research participants described their learning experiences through qualities deeply embedded in embodied and emplaced practices. Through a sensory ethnographic approach we identified one specific quality that highlights both embodied and emplaced aspects of learning and may be used to move further sensory emplaced implications on theories of situated learning. We call this quality “känsla”. As mentioned above, this Swedish word includes multiple meanings where feeling, sensation, affect, emotion and style are the most important. Moreover, our analysis shows that “känsla” is a concept that is constituted of multiple aspects of knowing. It engages the senses, it unfolds in the interface between body and the material environment, it engages the body through affect, and it is situated within, and thereby characterized by, distinct social and cultural settings. It is also a concept that becomes evident in both material and digital contexts, and both embodied, emplaced and virtual practices.
References Ingold, Tim. 2000. The Perception of the Environment: Essays on Livelihood, Dwelling and Skill. London: Routledge. Lave, Jean and Wenger, Etienne. 1991. Situated Learning: Legitimate Peripheral Participation. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. Marchand, Trevor. 2007. “Crafting Knowledge: The Role of ‘Parsing and Production of Skill-Based Knowledge among Masons.” In: M. Harris (ed.), Ways of Knowing: New Approaches in the Anthropology of Knowledge and Learning. New York: Berghahn Books. Pink, Sarah. 2009. Doing Sensory Ethnography. London: Sage.
Intent of Publication This is an original paper which will be submitted to the Scandinavian Journal of Educational Research.
sensory ethnography, sensory emplaced learning, skateboarding, media and the senses
ECER 2015 (Education and Transition - Contributions from Educational Research) Conference, Budapest, Hungary, 7-11 september, 2015