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MacDougall, David (2015): Social Aesthetics and Embodied Cinema. Studien aus dem Münchner Institut für Ethnologie – Working papers in social and cultural anthropology; Vol. 18. München




During anthropological fieldwork at the Doon School in northern India, my research interests shifted from studying diversity within the school to what I termed its social aesthetics—that is, the distinctive configuration of sensory, social, and material elements that produce a particular experiential environment. Social aesthetics, I came to think, might have as profound an influence on community life as such forces as ideology, economics, and politics. The challenge of how to film this at the school led to several strategies, including focusing on specific themes and physical objects and on the experiences of new students. In exploring the latter, I took advantage of film's capacity to evoke in the viewer a range of sensations beyond sight and sound. This raises the question of whether film can also evoke a film subject's sense of his or her own body—what Charles Sherrington called proprioception. My own experiences of film-viewing, supported by recent discoveries in neuroscience, suggest that it can, both through the film viewer's vicarious identification with those filmed and through the camera's close-range vision within what Aloïs Riegl called "tactile space".