Exploring Lived Heat, “Temperature Work,” and Embodiment: Novel Auto/Ethnographic Insights from Physical Cultures

Allen-Collinson, Jacquelyn; Vaittinen, Anu; Jennings, George and Owton, Helen (2018). Exploring Lived Heat, “Temperature Work,” and Embodiment: Novel Auto/Ethnographic Insights from Physical Cultures. Journal of Contemporary Ethnography, 47(3) pp. 283–305.

DOI: https://doi.org/10.1177/0891241616680721


Drawing on sociological and anthropological theorizations of the senses and “sensory work,” the purpose of this article is to investigate via phenomenology-based auto/ethnography, and to generate novel insights into the underresearched sense of thermoception, as the lived sense of temperature. Based on four long-term, in-depth auto/ethnographic research projects, we examine whether thermoception can be conceptualized as a distinct sense or is more appropriately categorized as a specific modality of touch. Empirically and analytically to highlight the salience of thermoception in everyday life, we draw on findings from four auto/ethnographic projects conducted by the authors as long-standing insider members of their various physical–cultural lifeworlds. The foci of the research projects span the physical cultures of distance running, mixed martial arts, traditionalist Chinese martial arts, and boxing. While situated within distinctive physical–cultural frameworks, nevertheless, the commonalities in the thermoceptive elements of our respective experiences as practitioners were striking, and thermoception emerged as highly salient across all four lifeworlds. Our analysis explores the key auto/ethnographic findings, centering on four specific areas: elemental touch, heat of the action, standing still, and tuning in. Emerging from all four studies were key findings relating to the valorization of sweat, and the importance of “temperature work” involving thermoceptive somatic learning, and physical–culturally specific bodily ways of knowing and sense-making. These in turn shape how heat and cold are actually “felt” and experienced in the mind–body.

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