Somatics Toolkit: Research with a Twist

I am delighted to announce my participation in


a research project based at Coventry University
with funding from ESRC National Centre for Research Methods

September 2017 – February 2019


Since ethnography’s somatic or affective turn, a researcher’s physical sensations are understood to contribute to insights into people and cultures. However, there are no adequate courses that teach students how to be in their bodies and utilise their body as research instrument. This project translates insights from somatics to scholarly research, and explore the contribution and benefits that can come from such integration.

Principal Investigator: Eline Kieft
Co-Investigator: Ben Spatz
Mentor/Advisor: Simon Ellis


The main aims of this project are to explore embodiment as tool across the entire ethnographic research cycle in order to:

  • to interrogate the potential contribution of somatic techniques to ethnographic methodology and investigate the role of physicality and corporeality in interdisciplinary ethnographic research, reflecting on the body as site of knowledge; and
  • to contribute to somatic training and awareness within UK anthropology teaching and research through the development of a ‘somatics toolkit’ that enhances the quality and depth of training and supports the physical and mental wellbeing of researchers.


  • to design and deliver a toolkit that informs and supports teaching and research in anthropology through live facilitated sessions
  • to collect and analyse data on the utility of the toolkit sessions through participant questionnaires, qualitative interviews, focus group discussions and case-studies;
  • to produce an accessible tutorial for all levels and two peer- reviewed scholarly articles (one video-based);
  • to build toward a body of empirical research that provides the ground for a future project which would make the somatics toolkit available to researchers in a wider interdisciplinary context beyond anthropology.

Research questions

  • What activities and (contextual) conditions will support researchers in bringing body-based and somatic techniques into their specific research context?
  • How can improvised, conscious movement and somatic practice in a studio setting support thinking, knowing, analysing and connecting research activities?
  • What, if any, are the effects or influences on ethnographic work of engaging more deeply with somatic attention and enhanced ‘physical literacy’?

The primary lens through which data will be viewed is that of sensory anthropology, which recognises the role and meaning of sensory experiences as culturally constituted. It pays close attention to sentiments and emotions which are considered closely related to physical sensations. This approach not only includes the senses as important contributions to research, but also questions the variations of sensory references across cultures.

Autoethnography also recognises the possibilities of the literate body and, as a methodology, has the capacity to embrace paradoxes such as the personal and scholarly, the individual and social, the evocative and analytical, without making the research less rigorous or theoretical.

The hermeneutic cycle will be applied throughout the entire research project as a tool for analysis, moving between subject-object and pre-understanding and understanding to address the intricacy of data and interpretation as an ongoing process and reflect on meaning in multiple layers.

Triangulation of session data, participant questionnaires, qualitative interviews, focus group discussions and case-studies; and multi-researcher analysis of the data will ensure rigour, reliability and credibility of the outcomes. All data will be entered and coded through qualitative analysis software HyperResearch. Apart from the efficacy and utility of the toolkit, we will specifically look at how it will inform ethnographic methods.

Advisory board

Dr. Jerome Lewis, Reader in Social Anthropology at University College London, will offer the toolkit to anthropology students at UCL. Through his extensive research experience with the hunter-gatherers in Central Africa he has an excellent grasp of the needs for embodied training as preparation for fieldwork.

Prof. Vero Benei, Research Director at the French National Centre for Scientific Research, advocates embodied research at École des Hautes Études en Sciences Sociales, Paris and will input from her own extensive fieldwork in Colombia in her capacity as anthropologist as well as her experience as a dance facilitator.

Dr. Thomas Groß, Director of the Centre for Cybercrime and Computer Security (CCCS), a UK academic centre of excellence in cyber security research. Being a movement practitioner himself, he includes movement in student supervision sessions, and his expertise from an entirely different academic discipline will inform the applicability of the toolkit to other areas than ethnography and social sciences.