Casting a line to place: embodied rituals, cultural landscapes and their potential to (re)connect

A journey into PhD research and methodology through word, sound and image

Casting a line to place © Zoe Latham

Conceptions of landscape within architecture demand extension and reinvention, reflecting our increasing understanding: that landscapes are neither fixed nor passive; of their capacity to enrich cultural imaginations of place and time; and engender rootedness and connection, belonging and identity, emplacement and embodiment. This research does not attempt to redefine landscape or to provide an answer to its ambivalence but instead encourages an exploration of how landscape manifests itself in and through a single phenomenon and shared experience; in turn it aims to sharpen our intellectual tools for understanding place-based phenomena and deep-rooted connections between the body/environment.

Examining this relational context of people’s engagement with the world, this study of ritual, place and landscape draws upon, and simultaneously expands architectural discourse and practices into a larger understanding of meaning and environmental experience. This research studies the ritualised behaviours of fly-anglers through narratological methods, mental mapping and film, interrogating notions of sense of place and place attachment and its marked corollary in architectural discourse.

I am driven towards this research as both an architectural researcher/ practitioner and angler motivated by the urge to better understand what is it about the act of fly-fishing that can be too easily categorised as ‘feeling good and close to nature’ yet is filled with fundamental aptitudes of being in the world. To the landscape-attuned or fly-culture literate angler, the relationship between the two is self-evident. For everyone else, I hope to demystify the evocation of these complimentary acts of connecting with the landscape through fly-fishing, and making new landscapes through architectural practice. The term ‘relationship’ here captures the dynamic process whereby these different worlds are interwoven in a lasting way; I am drawing upon the knowledge and experience of fly-fishing as a method for examining connectivity to place in architecture, cultivating a deep and inescapable sensibility to landscape[1]. What is significant about fly-fishing, is that anglers have a particular understanding of the river that derives from their experience – both above and below the water, ‘much of this understanding is not even conscious, but rather something they have learnt over time’[2]. I am the medium, my body is conditioned by, and responsive to the context, a process Catherine Bell calls the ‘ritualized body’[3]. Having an unconscious, tacit knowledge allows one to connect with place through “practical mastery”; this is not self-conscious knowledge of explicit rules of ritual but an implicit “cultivated disposition”[4]. Tuan argues that one of the ways space is turned into place is through kinaesthetic familiarity – the habitual ability to move through it unthinkingly. The role of this situational and tacit understanding of the body is grossly undervalued in today’s making of architecture[5].

Engaging participants with mapping on Dartmoor © Zoe Latham
Tying on © Zoe Latham

In order to gain a comprehensive understanding of how we experience and inhabit the world, the researcher began to consider notions of place by examining her own ways of being in the landscape fostered through the performance/ ritualised practice of freshwater fly-fishing on Dartmoor and her engagement in the making of architecture[6]. These reflections are developed and articulated through autoethnographic writing, film-making, mapping and the production of palimpsestuous[7] imagery. Having established a level of knowledge in the theoretical ideas of ritualization, embodiment and place attachment emerging through autoethnographic research, the researcher broadens the dialogue; formed through mixed-media narrative inquiry (incl. photographs, mapping and film) is a polyphony, including multiple, independent voices of other fly-anglers engaged in the same landscape.

The emerging narratives are initially centred on a photograph and mental map produced by the interviewee. The latter demonstrating the symbolic value people attach to place(s) they inhabit; the mental map revealing the spatial-cognitive structure they use in their everyday lives – illustrating interaction between observer and environment[8]. The stories underlying these maps expose how individuals experience certain events and confer their subjective meaning onto those experiences. What we choose to share with others and the way we give order to and make sense of things are a portal into the realm of experience.

Story-telling reveals a fraction of the complex meaning-making processes that are a part of any ritual, other aspects can be subtle and indistinguishable. Fly-anglers pay attention to everything in their immediate and wider environment but this multi-scale and unconscious way of knowing and acting within landscape is hard to expound let alone represent and examine[9]. The researcher endeavours to capture this sense of connection to place and experience through film. Film, in this body of research, is a form of participant observation, capturing the unplanned and unarticulated. The value of film here lies in its ability to record ‘nuances of process, emotion, and other subtleties of behaviour and communication that still images can only suggest’[10], although recognising ‘[a]ny audio-visual documentation of a ritual performance is a summary’[11].

Fly-film example produced in the early stages of this research

When employed simultaneously, these methods seek an emic perspective – forming a holistic narrative around a person’s experience; (re)presenting ‘places, views, and scenes …linked to feelings, ideas, and political and cultural ideologies’[12]. This multivalent process overcomes the common tendency to decontextualize and disconnect the respondents’ meaning-making efforts from the concrete setting in which they occurred and from the larger socio-cultural ground of meaning production[13].

This research, through the lens of ritualisation, builds upon ideas that we are all embodied and embedded in a physical context and that understanding the nature of this is central to our emotional relationships to places[14]. Through this greater understanding of embodied experience, the researcher aims to reconsider what place truly means – its subjective nature, our ability to generate our own places through our moving, thinking and feeling bodies, and to take them with us in a symbiotic and malleable bond, and to reinfuse architectural discourse with this anthropologic/ ethnographic sense of place.

Auto-ethnographic film stills © Zoe Latham
Connecting to the river © Zoe Latham

References

[1] Seamon, D. (1993) ‘Different worlds coming together: A phenomenology of relationship as portrayed in Doris Lessing’s diaries of Jane Somers’. Dwelling, seeing and designing: Toward a phenomenological ecology,  pp. 219-246.

[2] Nightingale, A. J. (2012) ‘The embodiment of nature: Fishing, emotion, and the politics of environmental values’,  Human-Environment Relations. Springer, pp. 135-147.

[3] Bell, C. (1992) Ritual theory, ritual practice. New York ; Oxford: New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press.

[4] Bourdieu, P. & Nice, R. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.

[5] Pallasmaa, J. (2009) The thinking hand: Existential and embodied wisdom in architecture. Wiley Chichester.

[6] Architecture throughout this research encompasses both architecture and landscape architecture. The theoretical strength of this dualism is the allowance for both practices to rediscover their common origin in creative making, in design.  Leatherbarrow, D. (2004) Topographical Stories: Studies in Landscape and Architecture. University of Pennsylvania Press.

[7] Palimpsest in the context of the researcher’s graphic remediation is inspired by contemporary associations of landscapes as temporal collages of tangible and intangible memories articulated through a range of scales Heatherington, C., Jorgensen, A. & Walker, S. (2019) ‘Understanding landscape change in a former brownfield site’. Landscape Research, 44 (1),pp. 19-34..

[8] Lynch, K. & Studies, J. C. f. U. (1960) The Image of the City. Harvard University Press.

[9] Sautner & Klinkenborg, 2007 Sautner, S. & Klinkenborg, V. (2007) Upriver and Downstream: The Best Fly-fishing and Angling Adventures from the New York Times. Harmony Books.

[10] Collier Jr, J. (1986) Visual Anthropology : photography as a research method. eds. Collier, M. and Hall, E.T., Revised and expanded ed. edn. Albuquerque: Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press.

[11] Grimes, R. L. (2013) The Craft of Ritual Studies. Oxford University Press.

[12] Shields, R. (1991) ‘Places on the margin: alternative geographies of modernity’.  . 

[13] (Mishler 1986, 26 in Bamberg 2012, 80

[14] Manzo, L. C. (2003) ‘Beyond house and haven: Toward a revisioning of emotional relationships with places’. Journal of environmental psychology, 23 (1),pp. 47-61.

Bibliography

Bell, C. (1992) Ritual theory, ritual practice. New York ; Oxford: New York ; Oxford : Oxford University Press.

Bourdieu, P. & Nice, R. (1977) Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press.

Collier Jr, J. (1986) Visual Anthropology : photography as a research method. eds. Collier, M. and Hall, E.T., Revised and expanded ed. edn. Albuquerque: Albuquerque : University of New Mexico Press.

Grimes, R. L. (2013) The Craft of Ritual Studies. Oxford University Press.

Heatherington, C., Jorgensen, A. & Walker, S. (2019) ‘Understanding landscape change in a former brownfield site’. Landscape Research, 44 (1),pp. 19-34.

Leatherbarrow, D. (2004) Topographical Stories: Studies in Landscape and Architecture. University of Pennsylvania Press.

Lynch, K. & Studies, J. C. f. U. (1960) The Image of the City. Harvard University Press.

Manzo, L. C. (2003) ‘Beyond house and haven: Toward a revisioning of emotional relationships with places’. Journal of environmental psychology, 23 (1),pp. 47-61.

Nightingale, A. J. (2012) ‘The embodiment of nature: Fishing, emotion, and the politics of environmental values’,  Human-Environment Relations. Springer, pp. 135-147.

Pallasmaa, J. (2009) The thinking hand: Existential and embodied wisdom in architecture. Wiley Chichester.

Sautner, S. & Klinkenborg, V. (2007) Upriver and Downstream: The Best Fly-fishing and Angling Adventures from the New York Times. Harmony Books.

Seamon, D. (1993) ‘Different worlds coming together: A phenomenology of relationship as portrayed in Doris Lessing’s diaries of Jane Somers’. Dwelling, seeing and designing: Toward a phenomenological ecology,  pp. 219-246.

Shields, R. (1991) ‘Places on the margin: alternative geographies of modernity’. 

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