General Anthropology Division
Oral Presentation Session
This paper examines the perceptual dimensions of the qualities of water and is based on ethnographic fieldwork amongst competitive youth swimmers in the South East of England. It argues that youth swimmers’ perceptions of the qualities of water, in the pools where they train and compete, are sensuous productions of embodied knowledges and enskilled movements developed and refined through their swimming practice. Veronica Strang has described some of the qualities of water as “elusiveness and transmutability, continual change and movement” (2004, 51). The proprioceptive skills youth swimmers develop, this “haptic acumen” (Allen-Collinson and Hockey 2010, 341), or what I term their “feel for the water,” as they are growing and physically changing, mirrors the continual shifting changes and movement of water. The subtle differences in the ‘hardness,’ ‘softness,’ warmth, or cold of water all factor into how youths experience their embodied selves and cultivate proprioceptive skills through regular immersion and regimented training. Do limbs ‘slip’ through the water without purchase? How does buoyancy and kinaesthesia factor into spatial awareness of the body in the water column? This paper asks in what ways, then, does the material engagement with water and the enkilled movements required to swim inform young swimmer’s sensuous experiences, and sense of self, through the practice of their sport?