Oxford Brookes Business School

Embodied Research Methods - A New Book by Thanem and Knights

Tuesday, 09 July 2019

Embodied Research Methods

The book Embodied Research Methods was published by Sage Publications on April 27th, and on May 9th the authors Torkild Thanem (Stockholm University) and David Knights (Lancaster and Oxford Brookes Universities) organized a book launch party in Stockholm.

"There are, of course, numerous books on qualitative methods," the authors admit, "but they say very little about how we use our bodies in the research process, and how we may go about investigating and expressing the bodily aspects of social life."

In the book, Torkild Thanem and David Knights engage with perspectives and methods that actively utilize the body's capacity to generate knowledge, and they show how a more embodied approach not only increases our understanding of how the body is as important as the mind in people’s lives, work and interactions but also how our minds are embodied just as our bodies are mindful. 

This argument is developed by confronting some of the most prevalent methods in qualitative research with embodied perspectives and with examples from the researchers’ own work and lives. “Take a research interview for example. In addition to being an exchange of questions and answers, this is a situation where gestures, movements and facial expressions prevail,” the authors argue. Ethnographic fieldwork is another methodological tradition that is discussed in the book. “Fieldwork not only requires physical presence, a sharp eye and a keen ear but involves us as researchers in the lives and work of the people we seek to understand. We may understand more about what it is like for research participants to live in a culture and work in an organization if we ‘throw’ ourselves into and participate in at least some of the activities that characterize their everyday lives.” 

Thanem and Knights’ narrative provides a sharp contrast with most methods books where there is a pre-occupation with being detached, distanced and disembodied in the belief that this will generate objective accounts of reality. Instead, the authors combine methods, perspectives and concepts with personal experiences, thus showing how important the body is in the social science research process - when we start thinking about a new project, when we generate and analyse empirical material, when we reflect on the work we do as researchers, and when we transform our research into written text.

The book's strong focus on the body should not be seen as an attempt to undermine the role of reason in scholarship. "On the contrary," the authors argue, "human reason is as dependent on bodily emotions as the body is dependent on reason. Without feeling, we do not care enough about the consequences of lazy thinking, unfounded claims and hasty conclusions. Our bodies only become unreasonable when they leave thinking, analysis and evidence behind.”

Although the book will be used in teaching, the authors are positive that it may offer thought-provoking reading for colleagues across the social sciences and humanities.

According to Sociology Professor Loïc Wacquant at UC Berkeley, “This book will not only provoke its readers to think differently about embodiment. It will also get them to change the way they carry out their social investigations.”