Department ofCommunication


Ways of Knowing

Laura Ellingson's new book examines a holistic approach to research.

Communication Professor Laura Ellingson’s latest book addresses the premise that researchers conduct their work as whole people with minds, bodies, and spirits.

Embodiment in Qualitative Research, published by Routledge Press this year, draws on recent research in neuroscience, social science, and philosophy that rejects the possibility of a mind/body split. We do not think only with our brains and then act with our bodies, but instead engage in embodied ways of knowing. Our guts, hearts, and hands often know things that may not be able to be expressed through language and rational thought.

Neuroscience also demonstrates that our five senses are not parallel but complexly interwoven and function as part of other sensory capacities, such as the proprioceptive system which governs movement.

This contrasts with traditional views of research that emphasizes the cognitive sphere, as if two rational brains exchanged information with each other without any meaningful involvement of language, culture, identities, or even nonverbal forms of communication.

Ellingson, who also teaches in the Women's & Gender Studies Department, was drawn to the topic of embodiment by her intense awareness of her own body as she was conducting research in clinics and hospitals.

“I'm a cancer survivor who has undergone periodic reconstructive surgeries on my leg, so I was usually gathering data while in pain, limping, seeking out opportunities to sit or at least lean against a wall, and often wearing a leg brace, using a cane, or otherwise marking myself as a patient,” she said. “The most important aspect of embodiment is that having been through so much medical care in my own body, I felt tremendous compassion for patients, their loved ones, and the health care providers, too.”

The book reflects Ellingson’s work with students in her Feminist Methods course and other classes.

“Although we tend to think of our selves as internal identities housed within bodies,” she explained, “I teach students that it is more accurate and generative to understand our selves as integrated throughout our bodies rather than positioning the self as the higher order owner of the body as property. 

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