Cornish Weather and the Phenomenology of Light: On Anthropology and “Seeing”
Phenomenology as a research method involves the refl ective questioning of experiences “as we live through them” (van Manen 2014: 27). For the French philosopher Maurice Merleau-Ponty, phenomenology is furthermore a “style of thinking” about the world in terms of lived meaning (1992: viii). Since 2000 Tim Ingold has written extensively from a phenomenological perspective on the subject of light, weather, and visual perception. Drawing on elements of Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology and James Gibson’s ecological approach to perception, Ingold upends many of the implicit assumptions about knowledge and environment that remain rooted in a Western philosophical tradition. Central to Ingold’s analysis is the notion that weather is a medium of perception, and perception is tantamount to experience (2000b, 2007). Thus we do not observe weather in a positivist sense but instead inhabit weather “as the experience of light itself” (Ingold 2005: 97). Despite the methodological relevance of light, anthropologists interested in weather, climate, and culture have paid remarkably little attention to this work. Why this might be the case is not altogether apparent since, as Bille and Sørensen assert in their survey of anthropology and luminosity, “light affects everything we experience, in obvious or subtle ways” (2007: 265).