Ethnography In and With Bodies

Embodied learning and the academic life


  • Katharine McKinnon
  • Kelly Dombroski



embodied knowledge, affect, maternity, care, vulnerability


The body is a vital part of ethnographic experience and learning. This essay reflects on the complex work that the body does during ethnography, not just as an instrument for data collection, but as a means of collaboration, a site of embodied learning, and a conduit for connection and communication that is more-than-verbal. In this contribution we reflect on research engagements that have been profoundly embodied, involving deep embodied learning and communication, touch and connection in the contexts of childbirth, infant care, and midwifery. Building on experiences in China, Laos, New Zealand, and Australia, we discuss the richness and the challenges of consciously collaborating with, in, and via bodies and embodied communications. We also explore what might be learned from the embodied experience of ethnography that we can bring back into academic life: are there lessons we can learn from collaborating with bodies that can help us to thrive amongst the challenges of the neoliberal university?


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