Literacy and the Physical Body: The Use of Text, the Embodiment of Knowledge, and the Role of Conventionalized Gesture in a Wellness and Recreation Related Environment

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Although scholarship has focused on embodied knowledge (Haas, 1996; Haas/Witte, 2001; Sauer, 1998) in the practice of literacy, scant attention has been paid to kinesthetic practices. That is, our bodies may signify and ritualize interactions between self and environment, but how human bodies interact in the discursive events is also important to understand. Through a reappropriation of Aristotle’s framework of ethos, pathos, logos, I share my research on the enactment of “wellness” as an enactment of literacy. Specifically, I will illustrate the interplay of written texts, images, touching as demonstration and practice, speaking, and then reflection, focusing in particular on conventionalized gesture in U.S. American culture and its role in the learning process in public health, and then how this form of embodied knowledge is passed on to learners, thereby sustaining a professional identity. I report on a study of an Introductory Massage workshop, held in a Wellness Center at a public university. To mediate knowledge, one booklet is handed out and hands-on demonstrations by the instructor and hands-on practices by the participants are employed. Additionally, I analyze professional publications on relaxation massage, contrasting those with online instructions on erotic massage. I gather my data through observation, interviews, survey, evaluations, and a textual analysis. I argue that gestures can never be separated from the cultural and social situations in which they are embedded in. To understand the conventions behind gestures and how they are portrayed in our language, in particular in writing, is crucial for an understanding of writing and how it establishes responsibilities to act on what we find, and develops our communal response to the complex realities of contemporary society. In a larger context, this study is beneficial for the field of rhetorical studies through its contribution to scientific exchange, technology transfer and risk management with other fields within the university and the greater public realm, for instance, physical education, or medicine.


Keywords: Language Use, Gesture, Embodied Knowledge, Multimodal, Instruction, Learning
Stream: Anthropology, Archaeology, Cultural Studies, Humanities
Presentation Type: Paper Presentation in English
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Dr. Sigrid Streit

Ph.D. Student, English Department, Kent State University
Kent, Ohio, USA

Currently (since Fall 2005), I am a Doctoral-student in Rhetoric and Composition: Literacy, Rhetoric and Social Practice at Kent State University, Kent, Ohio. I received my Master of Arts in English, Concentration: Rhetoric and Composition in December 2005 from Kent State University, Kent, Ohio and my Master of Arts in Applied Linguistics, Concentration: Business Communication, Minors: Psychology and Sociology in July 2004 from Dresden University of Technology, Dresden, Germany.
I am interested in embodied knowlege, and the role text, metaphor, and gesture play in its mediation.

Ref: I08P0299