Reply To: Mon 14 Apr: The Perception of the Environment

Author Replies # Posted on April 14, 2014 at 15:19

Nik Petek – Reflections on seminar 2014-04-14

I was introduced to Tim Ingold’s work very early on in my studies in archaeology and anthropology. In the UK, teaching archaeological theory, his work on ‘The temporality of the landscape’ and on ‘Weaving the basket’ is considered in most cases course reading, as it exemplifies how the landscape is in fact perceived and lived in, or how no shape is pre-determined in the mind. This was not the first time, then, that I’ve read Ingold, or these particular articles. I’ve had to read them a handful of times, and I ended up consistently agreeing with him on every point he makes. His points are further substantiated through his other essays in ‘The perception of the environment’ as he puts other examples forward on how people ‘dwell’ in the landscape and are entangled with other beings, be they animate or inanimate (according to the “western” perception).

We all dwell in the landscape. No one is disassociated from it, no one floats above it, and you cannot escape it. The landscape is everywhere around you, constantly, and it changes with every step you take; your perception changes and your relation to it too. It is true that academics study the landscape and its components as things that can be divided into parts that have clear boundaries, and have no effect on each other. You are also able to impose these divisions on the landscape. However, this division is only possible in our minds. Ingold clearly shows throughout his book how everything is connected, and how we, when we walk through the landscape cannot be above the landscape as our actions impact the grass we step on and the noises the landscape contains. The reason for completely agreeing with Ingold comes from personal experience. The first time I read ‘The temporality of the landscape’ I went out to the meadows just outside my student hall and walked around. All the while I was thinking about what Ingold said and I could not disagree.

Moreover, much of his reasoning comes from phenomenology. Phenomenology made it clear to me how humans relate to the world and how they construct the world around them. We are always in a certain relation to our world and it is through these relations that we get to know the world and create experiences, which then form part of our cosmology. Heidegger gives a simple, yet brilliant, example of how we only know what a hammer is through the way we use the hammer and the qualities it exemplifies. Through the way we use it, and through its qualities, we also get to know what other objects are appropriate to be used in the same way.

Ingold also wants to make his work relevant to archaeologists. From a theoretical perspective he succeeds, as it can and does give us a framework within which we can construct an idea of how people moved through the landscape, related to it, and shaped it. Applying it practically is a different story, unfortunately. Because the theory of his work is framed in phenomenology, and phenomenology is so subjective (each subject constructs his own world through his own relations with it), any interpretation of the archaeological record with this framework will not be objective. Due to the archaeologist not being a subject of the time period and landscape he is studying, he cannot objectively form a description of the area and its people. Archaeologists have tried it before and it resulted in ‘A phenomenology of the landscape’ by C. Tilley. This book shows the results of the extreme use of phenomenology in archaeology and (in my personal opinion) this is all that it is useful for. The question then still remains, how archaeologists can use Ingold’s work. For now, the best thing is to keep his work in mind when doing research and writing on landscape.