In this online seminar Federica Manfredi reflects on various ethical dilemmas relating to practice-based research on body suspensions.
Body suspensions are a challenging fieldwork of investigation because, according to research partners, “words are not enough” to express such intense experiences.
A body suspension consists in the elevation of a protagonists inserting hooks in the skin as temporary piercings; hooks are connected to an above scaffolding with ropes and pulling the main one, the suspendee leaves the floor for a variable amount of time. Body suspensions are realized in contemporary Europe during festivals and private events by a trans-spatial community of practitioners, that often privilege privacy and online invisibility to prevent stigmatization. Suspension experiences are delegitimized by non-suspendees because of the voluntary pain: it is elected as evidence of mental deviancy, even by a pathologizing bibliography, delegitimating the voices of practitioners.
The anthropological research “Learning to Fly” investigated meanings associated to suspensions by regular practitioners through a tailor-designed experimental methodology to overpass logo-centric logics. In a creative laboratory, participants co-created symbolic objects with metaphorical meanings to express one or more aspects of their hook-experiences. Handcrafts became referents of oral narrative during interviews, being able to express more than what the suspendee (or the ethnographer) pre-established to investigate, and exploring more than what words were allowed to share before. Ethical concerns emerged in several moments of the ethnography, especially concerning the desire to circulate the handcrafts to support the spread of a restored image of body suspension. Illustrating exhibition contexts and the consequences of the handcraft circulation, this presentation aims to discuss the militant use of the ethnography, the limits of the outsider positioning of the ethnographer, and the use of research’s results by epistemic partners.