Gero-Punk Practice: Styles of Embodiment Fieldwork

Rationale:  An opportunity to be present in the present to what and whom is present; to exercise your contemplative and interpretive capacities; to expand your experience and awareness of your own and others’ embodiment; to enhance your appreciation of the multitude of styles of human embodiment throughout the life course, especially in later life. 

Process: Spend some time hanging about a public location (e.g., library, bookstore, café or park) where you can safely and inconspicuously dwell for awhile in the midst of a variety of kinds of human beings.  You will be doing observational and interpretive work only – no interaction or interviewing — so situate yourself where you can observe others in a non-intrusive fashion.  Be sure to have materials for taking notes about your observations; a notebook and pen is best. This is deep, rich, vivid work you will be doing, so before you begin intentionally observing the other humans (and other non-human creatures?) around you, take some time to write about your location and your initial feelings and thoughts. 

After you’ve made your preparations, you are ready for the main part of this exercise—perceptual shifting.

First, imagine that the bodies you see around you are primarily animals, organic entities that have biological purpose. Look at specific body parts as having particular kinds of functions.  What kinds of feelings and thoughts come to you? (Try not to engage in analysis yet – try to stay present to your feeling and thoughts without getting hooked by them and starting to analyze them. However, if you do find yourself shifting into an analytical mode, merely observe to yourself that you are doing so and return to your own embodied experience.)

Second, imagine that the bodies you see are primarily material representations of energy, and that the energy is the totality of each individual – each person is profoundly his or her body, and not only (perhaps more than) his or her body. What kinds of feelings and thoughts come to you now? (Again, resist the temptation to analyze what you are feeling and thinking, and why!)

Now— “Look to the side.” Relax, breathe, and let all of the different energies swirl around you.  How does this feel—when you stop analyzing and allow your feelings to flow uninterrupted?  How does your body feel right now – Where do you end and others begin? Where do others end and you begin?

Some other questions to contemplate:

  • What are the various styles of bodies you see?
  • What kinds of bodies do you find yourself feeling attracted to? Averse to?
  • What kinds of assumptions do you find yourself making about different styles of embodiment? To what extent are your assumptions connected to the perceived ages of the particular bodies you have observed?
  • If you were being observed, how might your style of embodiment be experienced and described by the observer?
  • What is the experience like for you of observing but not interacting and conversing with others?
  • How much about others do you feel you can know by virtue of observing their styles\\ of embodiment?

About Jenny Sasser, Ph.D.

I am a freelance educational gerontologist, writer, community activist and facilitator. I am former Chair of the Department of Human Sciences and Director of Gerontology at Marylhurst University. I joined the faculty as an adjunct member of the Master of Arts in Interdisciplinary Studies program in 1997 and since that time, I've been involved in designing many on-campus and web-based courses and programs for adult learners, including in Gerontology. As an undergraduate I attended Willamette University, graduating Cum Laude in Psychology and Music; my interdisciplinary graduate studies at University of Oregon and Oregon State University focused on the Human Sciences, with specialization areas in adult development and aging, women’s studies, and critical social theory and alternative research methodologies. My dissertation became part of a book published in 1996 and co-authored with Dr. Janet Lee--Blood Stories: Menarche and the Politics of the Female Body in Contemporary US Society. Over the past twenty (or more!) years I have been involved in inquiry in the areas of creativity in later life; older women's embodiment; sexuality and aging; critical Gerontological theory; transformational adult learning practices; and inter-generational friendships and cross-generational collaborative inquiry. I am co-author, with Dr. Harry R. Moody of Aging: Concepts and Controversies (now in its 10th edition!) and first author, also with Moody, of the recently published Gerontology: The Basics, as well as author/co-author of several book chapters, articles and essays. I am on the Portland Community College Gerontology Program faculty.
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