You are on page 1of 17

Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social

Justice: Inclusive Science and Beyond


This paper explores the implications of embodied ways of knowing for

research, teaching, and activism. The concept of embodied knowledges/
pedagogies draws attention to bodies as agents of knowledge produc-
tion. I first outline a theoretical framework that connects embodied
knowledges to lived experiences, performance, and bodily intelligence.
This theoretical framework has emerged from the collaboration among
four groups and institutions: Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT hereafter),
environmental justice researchers/advocates, the College of St. Catherine
(CSC hereafter), and the 2008 Inclusive Science Conference (ISC hereaf-
ter). By evaluating this collaborative project, I develop three pedagogical
models that foreground embodied knowledges. Qualitative evidence
suggests that embodied pedagogies foster a sense of community and
challenge Eurocentric and male-centered systems of knowledge produc-
tion predicated upon the body/mind binary. In the civic arena, activists
use embodied pedagogies to provide emotional access to science-based
information, and to mobilize for social change. I invite artists, activists,
and educators to consider the potential of embodied knowledges to forge
creative alliances, and to radically transform our work, our institutions,
and knowledge production in general.

Keywords: embodied knowledges / feminist pedagogy / performance

This was FANTASTIC! I learned so much . . . it’s overwhelming! About my

relationship with my body, about the potential of kinesthetic learning I never
knew existed, about the local and global environmental situations, about my
perception of my relationship with the world, about how I carry myself, and
about the interaction of power dynamics within all these things!
—Anonymous workshop participant, 2008

This “fantastic” experience was a workshop titled “Embodied Ways of

Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice” at the 2008 Inclusive Science
Conference. In co-designing this workshop and writing this paper, I call
attention to the potential roles of embodied knowledges in science educa-
tion and social change.1 This work must be set in the context of an ongo-
ing collaboration that synergizes artistic performance, research, teaching,
and activism. The collaborators are a group of women of color working
across many differences: Nationality, ethnicity, class, age, and sexuality.
However, we share the conviction that embodied knowledges—central to
our academic, artistic, and activist work—not only render science more

©2009 NWSA Journal, Vol. 21 No. 2 (Summer)

Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 105

accessible to women and underprivileged communities, but also help cul-

tivate citizenry for action and change. Furthermore, through integrating
embodied ways of knowing into our work, we have honed our critique of
the Eurocentric and male-dominated system of knowledge production in
the Western academy.2
In this paper, I first outline a theoretical framework for considering the
importance of embodied knowledges/pedagogies. This framework has
emerged from and informs my work with four groups and institutions:
Ananya Dance Theatre (ADT), environmental justice researchers and
activists, the College of St. Catherine (CSC), and the 2008 Inclusive Sci-
ence Conference (ISC). I then contextualize this multilateral collaboration
with dialogues between the artistic director of ADT and environmental
justice researchers and advocates. Embedded in their dialogues is a model
for other artists and researchers interested in such creative alliances.
Finally, by evaluating this collaborative project, I will develop integrative
models of embodied pedagogies that can be applied to science education.

Theories: Embodied Ways of Knowing

I use the terms “embodied ways of knowing,” “embodied knowledges,”

and “embodied pedagogies” interchangeably to signal an epistemological
and pedagogical shift that draws attention to bodies as agents of knowl-
edge production. Western intellectual traditions—the Enlightenment in
particular—explicitly privilege the mind over the body, thus suppressing
bodily knowledges (Grosz 1994). Since the 1980s, thinkers from many
disciplines have engaged with the idea of embodiment as part of the post-
modern critique of universal knowledge (Alcoff and Potter 1993; Grosz
1993, 1994). In writing this paper, I am indebted to Elizabeth Grosz’s (1993,
1994) feminist theory that investigates the body’s complex relationship
with subjectivity. My effort to theorize is also grounded in the collabora-
tive pedagogical project at hand, which has led me to explore the con-
ceptual linkages between embodied ways of knowing, lived experiences,
performance, and bodily intelligence.
Feminist theories of the body and its relationship to knowledges and
consciousness have made crucial contributions to postmodern critiques
of science. Influenced by Thomas Kuhn’s (1979) argument that science is
shaped by the prevailing values and norms in specific social and historical
contexts, feminist theorists have challenged and reworked the notion of
objectivity by exposing the subjective perspectives of white male scien-
tists and by including multiple perspectives of women and communities
of color (Alcoff and Potter 1993; Haraway 1988; Harding 1991). In my view,
the critique of objectivity is particularly powerful when bodies and bodily
knowledges are brought into relief. According to Grosz (1993, 1994), if we
106 Hui Niu Wilcox

recognize that 1) all knowers have sexually and racially specific bodies
(inscribed as such by societies and cultures), and 2) spatially and culturally
situated bodies limit and shape knowers’ perspectives and experiences,
then we can challenge the claim that there is such a thing as universal
knowledge. Grosz (1994) contends that the Eurocentric, patriarchal power
in Western knowledge production is maintained via the willful disembodi-
ment of white male scientists (known for their brilliant, objective minds),
and via the equation of women and those in other marginalized groups
to bodies (deemed as passive objects incapable of knowing or reason).
The key to dismantling such a system is to develop alternative models
of knowledge production that challenge the interconnected dualisms and
hierarchies (mind/body, male/female, white/other), and that recognize the
body’s capacity to know. The body is not just another thing or object to be
controlled and studied. It is in and through our bodies that we experience
the world and develop consciousness (Grosz 1994).
The notion of knowing bodies has profound implications for pedagogy.
The prominent paradigm of critical pedagogy correctly attributes the
power struggles in educational realms to their social, historical contexts.
Curiously, this paradigm has by and large ignored the body’s roles in these
struggles (Giroux et al. 1995). The highly theoretical writings by critical
pedagogues bespeak a disembodied approach to knowledge, which could
explain critical pedagogy’s strained relationship with feminist pedagogy
(Gore 1993) as well as the difficulty in accessing these theories on the part
of educators teaching from the trenches (Gimenez 1998, 116).
When one takes the view from the trenches, what do embodied knowl-
edges look like? How do we claim or even recognize bodily knowledges?
While realizing that embodied knowledges manifest in numerous ways,
I limit my discussion to three interconnected concepts through which
embodied knowledges can be foregrounded: Lived experiences, cultural
performance, and bodily intelligence.

Lived Experiences: Lessons and Critique

Grosz (1994) reminds us that lived experiences are always embodied. It
is through our racialized and sexualized bodies that we interact with the
world and become subjects. Guided by the motto “The personal is politi-
cal,” feminist educators have integrated lived experiences into classrooms
as well as consciousness raising practices. Sue Rosser (1986, 1990), for
example, emphasizes the importance of lived experiences and community
building in the effort to include women and minority students in science
education. When educators bring in speakers, invite students to reflect on
their own experiences, or engage students in community-based learning,
they practice embodied pedagogies that mobilize lived experiences. But
the prevalent approaches of pedagogical innovation fall short of realizing
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 107

the transformative potential of embodied knowledges, perhaps for two

reasons. First, in the method of incorporating “real-life experiences,” we
seem to foster a false dichotomy between experiences outside of the class-
room and learning experiences in the classroom. By naming the former as
“real-life” and overlooking the bodily experiences in the classroom, we
inadvertently reinforce the “headiness” of academic learning, thus the
mind/body hierarchy. Although we grant mutual access to lived experi-
ences and academic learning, we fail to recognize their mutual constitu-
tion: Students’ experiences in the classroom are very much part of their
embodied reality.
Second, most feminist educators have yet to see what they do in the
classroom through the lens of embodiment. Thus, we are far from real-
izing embodied pedagogies’ full potential: The creative energy generated
by real bodies interacting in real time and space, and the challenges such
interaction could pose to the disembodied model of science and knowl-
edge that perpetuates white male privilege. Most educators, including
many of us who identify as feminists, consider somatically engaging our
students outside of our responsibility. And so we let our students sit in
the classroom, hoping that the state of their bodies does not reflect the
state of their minds. Even when we have the privilege of working with
highly engaged students, we lose many opportunities for not engaging
their multiple intelligences and for not actively cultivating trust through
embodied interaction (Gardner [1983] 2004). By conveniently decoupling
students’ minds and bodies in a Descartian manner even in a lively discus-
sion—it is the thoughts that count; the bodies that think and utter these
thoughts are irrelevant—we reproduce the very system of power that we
claim to critique.

Performance: Creativity, Critique, and Citizenship

To avoid the entrapment of the mind/body hierarchy, we need to explicitly
name and pursue embodied pedagogies whereby the body is at the front
and center of knowledge production. Performance, an area where bodily
knowledges cannot be dismissed, must be taken seriously in this pursuit.
Broad definitions of performance are very closely related to lived experi-
ences. Both sociologist Erving Goffman (1971) and anthropologist Victor
Turner (1986) use performance metaphors to analyze everyday social
interaction. Here I employ a more stringent concept of “cultural perfor-
mance,” characterized by aesthetic intentions and conventions (Madison
2005). Cultural performances such as dance, music, and theater constitute
an important social field where embodied knowledges are not only cre-
ated but also validated. These knowledges, however, enjoy no such power
and authority granted to scientific knowledge in modern societies. While
noting the marginal status of embodied knowledges, Conquergood (2002)
108 Hui Niu Wilcox

also articulates performance’s critical potentials in “braiding together

disparate and stratified ways of knowing”:
We can think of performance (1) as a work of imagination, as an object of study;
(2) as a pragmatics of inquiry (both as model and method), as an optic and opera-
tion of research; (3) as a tactics of intervention, an alternative space of struggle.
(Conquergood 2002, 152; emphasis in original)

Performance, capable of cultivating creativity, critique, and citizenship,

has much potential for feminist pedagogies. Popular educators and theater
practitioners have applied embodied performance similar to Theatre of
the Oppressed in literacy education as well as social movement mobiliza-
tion since the 1970s (Boal [1979] 1985). Unfortunately, most educators in
the academic mainstream remain either oblivious of, or resistant to such
radical practices.

Bodily Intelligence: Connections and Challenges

By contrast, mainstream educators, especially of K–12 education, seem
more receptive to psychological theory of multiple intelligences, including
bodily intelligence (Gardner [1983] 2004); many have adopted this theory
to develop curricula and classroom activities (New City School 1999).
This contrast reveals the knowledge hierarchy in the educational system:
Theories generated by social scientists are valued more than embodied
lessons gleaned by popular educators. Even more unsettling, however, is
the general indifference of higher education to both popular education
practice and Gardner’s ([1983] 2004) theory, with regard to the role of
embodiment in learning.
While largely unacknowledged, bodily intelligence is inherently impli-
cated in education. Gardner ([1983] 2004) defines bodily intelligence as
“the ability to use one’s body in highly differentiated and skilled ways,
for expressive as well as goal-directed purposes.” He identifies “control of
one’s bodily motions and capacity to handle objects skilfully” to be “the
cores of bodily intelligence” (206). As such, bodily intelligence is a prereq-
uisite for participating in any classroom interaction (assuming our pres-
ence means the presence of our bodies), and all hands-on activities such
as science labs and computer operation. In challenging the obsession with
linguistic and logic intelligence in the mainstream educational system,
Gardner converges with feminist theorists and performance studies schol-
ars. Gardner ([1983] 2004) also points out that although all humans are
endowed with bodily intelligence, dancers and theatrical performers are
more adept in this regard because they spend more time cultivating bodily
techniques. Introducing performance into the classroom could allow us to
mobilize and develop students’ (and educators’) bodily intelligence, and to
transform the disembodied academic culture.
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 109

Lived experiences, performance, and bodily intelligence are three inter-

connected concepts that help us consider and practice embodied ways of
knowing in education. Learning from these intersecting ideas pertaining
to embodied knowledges, we are poised to not only make science class-
rooms more inclusive, but also to transform the power dynamics of the
academy (Rosser 1986, 1990). My thinking about embodied knowledge
has emerged, in a bottom-up fashion, from pedagogical experiments. By
showcasing and evaluating the collaboration between ADT, environmen-
tal justice researchers and activists, CSC, and 2008 ISC, I will demonstrate
the implications of embodied pedagogies for scientists and researchers/
educators in other disciplines.

Practices: Art for Justice, Science for Change

Ananya Dance Theatre is a Minneapolis-based women-of-color dance

company that creates and performs full-length dance theater works. ADT’s
work is grounded in analyses of social justice issues and inspired by the
lives and work of women in marginalized communities across the world.
Ananya Chatterjea, ADT’s artistic director, articulates the vision of the
company as such:
ADT works at the intersection of artistic excellence and social justice. For us,
this is a natural and vital connection because of our focus on communities and
women of color. We believe that women’s stories, particularly those of trauma
and resistance, are seldom noted in history. . . . For us then, our bodies become
a site where knowledge is actively produced. (ADT Study Guide 2008)

Shalini Gupta, a former ADT dancer, researches climate change and

advocates for equitable models of sustainable development. Environmen-
tal justice advocacy has led Gupta to work closely with Cecilia Martinez.
A political scientist by discipline, Martinez leads community-based proj-
ects that address environmental injustice especially in indigenous com-
munities. Gupta and Martinez exemplify researchers committed not only
to scientific rigor but also to equitable access to science. In recognizing
the value of embodied knowledges to empower and mobilize communities
for social change, Gupta and Martinez have found kindred spirits in the
women artists of ADT.
In the following section, Chatterjea, Gupta, and Martinez offer their
thoughts on performance’s role in pedagogy and social justice, and about
their collaborative processes. They had written separately for a study guide
for ADT’s audiences; by juxtaposing their narratives, I hope to convey a
sense of dialogue. The ongoing collaboration based on these dialogues laid
the foundation for the Inclusive Science Workshop, and for ADT’s resi-
dency at CSC and the pedagogical models I describe and evaluate. Their
110 Hui Niu Wilcox

narratives also illuminate the exciting possibilities which emerge when

science meets art and activism.

Chatterjea: Performance is a powerful arena to highlight issues of critical

importance. . . . [S]haring space and dancing together as a diverse group of
women of color, we have had to engage with each other deeply, invest in
learning about each other’s histories and cultural backgrounds, discover
our resonances and differences, and commit to this shared artistic and
political forum. . . . For us, such performance is an opportunity to . . . share
with our audiences our deeply held dreams and desires.
In 2006 . . . we began conversations with Shalini Gupta, who had per-
formed with us in the past, to see how we could build alliances between
the different worlds in which we worked—performance for us, and envi-
ronmental justice for her. Out of those conversations grew a commitment
to the work being done at the grassroots levels by women and global com-
munities of color to urge sustainable solutions to the environmental crisis.
Since then, working with Shalini Gupta and Cecilia Martinez, researchers
and advocates, we have learned in-depth about particular environmental
hazards in our communities and outside, proposed solutions, and created
relationships with organizers at the forefront of these struggles.

Gupta and Martinez: Global capitalism, through economic and techno-

logical expansion, has produced more and more things and created more
and more wants. . . . We now are discovering that, alongside our economic
and technological accomplishments, we are also leaving a growing accu-
mulation of residue on the human community and on the environmental
Once we thought of the earth and her bounty as a bottomless reservoir
for our waste, confident in the notion that regardless of our actions either
nature or technology would provide the solution. Now we are being made
painfully aware that this confidence was misplaced, and that while we
thrive in a world of abundance, there are communities and places that
bear the burden for our luxury. . . . We now know that we accumulate
chemicals . . . which damage our bodies and those of our children, and
those of children yet to be born.

Chatterjea: Our 2007 project, Pipaashaa, Extreme Thirst, explored issues

of toxic industrial spills and the damage and “body burden” caused by
them. Our research included the dumping of toxic waste in Cote d’Ivoire
and the ensuing protests in Abidjan, as well as the soil contamination in
Minneapolis’s “Arsenic Triangle” and the continued efforts of organizers
for this unaddressed issue. Working through images of acid rain and fall-
ing ash, which burned into the skin of dancers, interrupting their work,
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 111

we explored metaphoric expression of the trauma caused by such pollu-

tion. We created images of madness and unnatural relationships to sug-
gest the physical manifestations of these toxins in women’s bodies. . . .
These sections suggested what our collaborators described as “a loss of
self-determination at a very fundamental, internal, microbial level” that
comes with toxic contamination.
Pipaashaa made us quickly realize that we could not commit to explor-
ing issues of environmental justice through one project alone: We needed
a sustained examination. This has led to the three-year commitment and
to the creation of a trilogy exploring different aspects of the environmental
justice movement. . . . We also committed to researching both the trauma
and desperate suffering . . . and the resistance offered by individuals and
communities to globalizing industry. Some of the most equitable solutions
were, in fact, created by women from indigenous communities working
at grassroots levels.

Gupta and Martinez: Our work with ADT is a collaboration of mind, body,
spirit, and soul. Through our research we inform the dancers of the poli-
cies and actions that impact indigenous women. . . . [T]he dancers echo
back to us the imagery of our words. Together, we nurture our research,
activism, and art and challenge ourselves to become more diligent in our
social justice work.

Pedagogies: Rethinking and Integrating

Embodied Ways of Knowing

ADT’s in-depth and long-term collaboration with Shalini Gupta and Ceci-
lia Martinez illustrates the invigorating potential of integrating art and
science, research and activism, theory and practice. Although performance
itself produces embodied knowledges and is thus a mode of pedagogy,
ADT and collaborators realize that performance’s pedagogical implications
could go much further beyond the performance space. To help even more
people understand environmental justice issues and to draw them into the
environmental justice movement, ADT has taken embodied ways of learn-
ing into communities and classrooms. The collaboration between ADT
and CSC began in 2005 when CSC faculty, staff, and students attended
ADT’s performance. It culminated in a year-long ADT residency at CSC
in 2008, including talks, workshops, discussions, and performances. CSC
also benefited from the expertise of Gupta and Martinez, ADT’s collabo-
rators. A highlight of the residency was ADT’s participation in the 2008
ISC, including a full-length performance and a workshop on embodied
ways of knowing.
112 Hui Niu Wilcox

This multifaceted collaboration allowed me to develop and evaluate

models of embodied pedagogies that engage lived experiences, perfor-
mance, and bodily intelligence. To evaluate these models, I collected
eighty-six exit surveys in response to various events of ADT’s residency
at CSC, twelve exit surveys from the ISC workshop, and forty student
essays on the performance of Pipaashaa. These qualitative writings offer
insights about the potential of embodied knowing from the perspectives
of educators and students.

Model I: Embodied Workshops

Workshops combining research and bodily movement are integral to
ADT’s creative process; they ensure that our artistic excellence is driven
by concrete justice issues, and that our performance is grounded in not
only our own personal histories, but also collective histories of multiple
communities. As stated by Ananya Chatterjea, “Environmental Justice
Workshops have been followed by dancers responding to the information
they have just encountered, through words and movement. These impro-
visational responses are often the first step in generating movement and
creating an emotional arc for the piece” (ADT Study Guide 2008).
Prior to the Inclusive Science Workshop, ADT and collaborators had
had one experience of working with nondancers; it was with approxi-
mately fifty teachers at CSC. Following the same model we had used
with our dancers, we were quite impressed with how participants took
the risk and plunged into the creative mode of dancing and improvising.
On the other hand, we were also confronted with some faculty members’
discomfort about dancing and moving. At least one of our CSC colleagues
was so petrified at the prospect of dancing that she opted not to attend
the workshop.
While noting the damage the academy and society in general have inflicted
upon our relationships to our bodies, we empathized with the participants’
apprehension, and toned down the movement expectations for the Inclusive
Science Workshop. We had a small group of twelve highly engaged partici-
pants. The following model, based on this workshop, has been successfully
replicated for CSC’s Teaching and Learning Network and Minnesota State
Colleges and University 2009 Women’s Studies Conference.
1. Introduction, rationale, and definition of embodied pedagogies.
2. Ice-breaking conversation and/or trust-building exercises. For the
Inclusive Science Workshop, we had an ideal situation where confer-
ence participants attended an ADT performance the night before. At
the workshop, we had a Q & A session regarding the performance and
ADT’s creative processes. This session not only generated interest-
ing questions but also allowed for trust building. Cultivating trust
is essential for embodied pedagogies. Please see Rohd (1998) for a
repertoire of simple trust-building exercises.
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 113

3. Research presentation. At the Inclusive Science Workshop, Cecilia

Martinez presented her research regarding climate change and its dif-
ferential impacts on communities with unequal access to resources.
Practitioners adopting this model should provide empirical informa-
tion and/or theoretical frameworks specific to their work in which
embodied exercises can be grounded.
4. Embodied exercises. We borrowed a sculpting exercise from Theatre
for Community, Conflict and Dialogue (Rohd 1998). The basic idea
is to use our bodies as human clay and build sculptures that connect
to the issues at hand. In this exercise, it is crucial that everyone
participate. It is also important that the facilitators reiterate that
there is no wrong image. The exercise is about finding our personal,
embodied connection to knowledge. It is not about offering literal
representations of the issue. The exercise can be roughly divided into
four phases.
Phase I: Brainstorming and/or Q & A about the research presentation.
Phase II: Gathering single words that come to mind regarding the
issues presented.
Phase III: Partner sculpting. The facilitators demonstrate how sculpt-
ing works (see, Rohd 1998, 62–65 for details). They then call out a
word from the list generated by the group; in response to this word,
participants sculpt in pairs. This phase can be repeated a couple of
times with different words so that each participant gets to exercise
the power of sculpting.
Phase IV: Group sculpting. Using multiple bodies, a designated sculp-
tor builds a more complex human sculpture in connection to words
and issues.
5. Debrief and evaluation.
Evaluation: This encounter with embodied ways of knowing inspired
the participants at ISC to think about teaching in different ways. They
reported that the workshop introduced to them “a completely unique per-
spective to thinking about global issues,” “the value of making interdis-
ciplinary connections,” and “the value of embodiment.” The participants
were excited about “the endless possibilities that students can achieve by
simply getting to know each other,” and about “the sculpting technique
to help students conceptualize science concepts (such as ‘reaction’ or

Model II: Artist Residencies on Campus

The workshop model is a microcosm of ADT’s residency at CSC. This
residency, culminating in ADT’s performances of Pipaashaa on campus,
encompassed pedagogical workshops and talks designed to help students
and faculty explore the relationship between embodied knowledges, liberal
arts education, and social justice. Crucial to both the workshop model and
114 Hui Niu Wilcox

the residency model is the close collaboration between artists, activists,

researchers, and educators. Underlying both models is also the principle that
effective and transformative education takes place when learners engage
their multiple intelligences and when they actively cultivate trust. The
residency model emphasizes the idea that performance is an effective mode
of embodied pedagogy, especially when it is grounded in lived experiences.
Below is a partial list of events during ADT’s residency at CSC.

Embodied Ways of Knowing, Liberal Arts Education, and Social Justice

ADT Residency at CSC (Selected events)
April 19, 2008, Talk: Art, Justice, and Community, Ananya Chatterjea
May 25, 2008, CSC faculty workshop: From Stage to Classroom, Shalini
Gupta and ADT
June 18, 2008, Inclusive Science Workshop: Embodied Ways of Know-
ing, Science, and Social Change, Cecilia Martinez, Hui Wilcox, and
other ADT members
October 14, 2008, Talk: Global Warming and Social Justice: Local and
Global Environmental Challenges in the 21st Century, Shalini Gupta
and Cecilia Martinez
October 30, 2008, Student workshop: Embodiment and Pipaashaa,
November 4, 2008, Faculty workshop: Helping students engage with
Pipaashaa, Hui Wilcox
November 6 and 7, 2008, ADT’s performance Pipaashaa, Extreme
Thirst with post-show discussions
November 9, 2008, Community gathering and celebration
November 10, Student learn-in about Pipaashaa, CSC students
November 17, 2008, Women’s Studies faculty and student discussion
of Pipaashaa, joined by ADT members
November 18, 2008, Community Work and Learning faculty devel-
opment workshop: Community Work and Learning Embodied, Hui
November 11 and 19, 2008, class visits at CSC by ADT members
September–December 2008, Women’s Studies course: Sociology and
Politics of Performance, taught by Hui Wilcox
January 27, 2009, CSC faculty workshop: Embodied Pedagogies and
Community Building in the Classroom, Hui Wilcox
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 115

Evaluation: I will primarily evaluate the impact of ADT’s performance

in this section, since the nonperformance events during the residency
were either workshops similar to what was evaluated in Model I, or talks
and discussions that revolved around the performance. Performance’s
pedagogical and political implications have not been carefully studied.
It is one thing for artists and activists to hope or believe that embodied
performance makes a difference; it is yet another to know exactly what
difference it makes. Qualitative evaluation of this particular project shows
that the residency revolving around embodied performance helped stu-
dents and faculty better understand the intricate connections between
research, teaching, embodiment, and social justice. This particular student
notes the power of embodied performance in calling attention to urgent
social issues:
“I don’t know why I was affected by the performance like this [she was crying
throughout the performance of Pipaashaa] because I knew that environmental
injustice was going on and that it affected people of color who are low-income
the most. I guess that seeing it in front of my face brought it back to reality for
me. I have never seen this kind of devastation up close. I always felt bad when I
read or saw stories like these on television, but now that ADT has brought the
injustice alive on stage I feel like I should be doing something to help resolve
the growing problems that face the environment and the people.” (Student
reflection 2008)

Many other students wrote that they were deeply touched by the beauty
and power of ADT’s performance, which inspired them to learn more
about environmental justice issues and to get involved in the movement.
Although we cannot predict the extent to which they follow up with this
inspiration, the seeds for change have been sown.
The residency model enjoys the benefit of scope. A total of 350 people
attended the various talks and workshops listed above. In addition, the
two nights of performances alone were witnessed by over 1,000 people,
including students, faculty, and staff at CSC, community members who
support ADT, and general patronage of the auditorium. The power of
this witnessing cannot be underestimated (Madison 2005). Some of the
audience at CSC (particularly students from marginalized, low-income
communities) had never attended a formal dance concert before. Many
more were surprised that dance could be used to disseminate science-
based research and to mobilize for social change. This new experience
changed their perceptions of art and research, and their relationship to the
environmental justice movement.
The residency model is labor intensive, and cannot be implemented
without institutional commitment and resources. On the other hand, this
model could boast institutional impact. The process of fundraising and
grant-seeking, albeit tedious and frustrating at times, generated numer-
ous interdisciplinary conversations. During the residency, embodied ways
116 Hui Niu Wilcox

of learning were the focus of many dialogues on campus. Quite a few

colleagues who attended the various workshops have since incorporated
embodied exercises in their teaching and student affairs work. The School
of Health at CSC has invited me to assist in their faculty and curricular
development through the lens of embodied pedagogies. ADT’s residency
at CSC has laid the foundation for both individual and institutional

Model III: Embodied Ways of Knowing in Classrooms and Beyond

After ADT’s performance of Pipaashaa at CSC, CSC’s Women’s Studies
program hosted a dinner conversation including faculty and students from
several nearby colleges. The most urgent question during the conversa-
tion seemed to be: How can someone who is not a dancer or performer
teach in ways that are embodied? We discussed how embodiment can be
broadly understood to include not just embodied performance but also
lived experiences and bodily intelligence. Embodied pedagogies encompass
all efforts to help students comprehend and apply academic knowledges in
experiential ways. Service learning, internship, field work, clinic sessions,
and lab work are all examples of embodied learning.
This conceptual shift could put some educators at ease. But my inten-
tion here is not to create a comfort zone. Instead, I challenge educators not
only to look at their existing practices through the prism of embodiment,
but also to consider incorporating unfamiliar forms of embodied pedago-
gies such as performance.3 A learning space that acknowledges students
as bodily beings can become dynamic, invigorating, joyful, and even heal-
ing. This was the case with an experimental Women’s Studies course,
Sociology and Politics of Performance, at CSC. This course explored the
connections between embodied performance, cultural meanings, social
structure, and justice. Students engaged in embodied exercises in all class
meetings and turned their ethnographic projects into interactive perfor-
mances. They were challenged to examine their everyday social interac-
tion with more critical awareness of their own racialized and sexualized
bodies. In evaluating this course, students spoke passionately about their
leap from academic theories of race and white privilege to an embodied
understanding of how white Americans unconsciously perform privilege
and whiteness.
Such transformative education is possible in science classrooms, too.
In fact, due to the hands-on approach of most science disciplines, science
educators boast a natural affinity with embodied learning, particularly
through engaging the kind of bodily intelligence that implies the ability
to “handle objects skillfully” (Gardner [1983] 2004, 206). Comparing our
experience at the Inclusive Science Workshop, and our conversation with
Women’s Studies faculty of CSC and other colleges, where all but one
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 117

participant were humanities and social science faculty, we found that

the scientists had many more ideas about embodied pedagogies once the
concept was introduced and explained. In response to the question “What
roles does embodiment play in your teaching?” our science colleagues
highlighted “lots of experiential learning,” “service learning,” “using art
pieces (poetry, music, visual art) in lectures as metaphors for topics/con-
cepts in lectures,” “cooperative learning,” “lab-based experimental learn-
ing,” and “manipulating equipment.” Newly exposed to explicit articula-
tions of embodied ways of knowing, these science educators quickly came
to see their own teaching practice as already embodied. They also grasped
embodiment’s transformative potentials, not just to illustrate concepts in
lively ways, but also to cultivate communities that “break down barriers”
and hierarchies in the academy.
Although my data regarding this residency does not allow me to system-
atically evaluate the extent to which embodied pedagogies work to include
women learners and learners of color in science classrooms and education
in general, I concur with Rosser (1986, 1990) that when educators value
lived experiences and consciously cultivate trust and community, women
and students of color are more likely to feel included and be engaged in
the classroom. Implemented in ways that are inclusive of and sensitive to
all students’ multiple intelligences, embodied pedagogies could take the
commitment to community building and integrative learning to higher
levels. In classes where I regularly incorporate embodied exercises, stu-
dents frequently comment on the unexpected bonding that takes place in
the classroom. Students who do not participate in verbal discussions are
sometimes the most engaged participants in embodied exercises. Rosser
(1990) suggests that interdisciplinary courses such as Biology and Psychol-
ogy of Women often result in psychology students becoming interested
in biology or vice versa. Similarly, embodied performances that deal with
science-related and justice-related topics open up interdisciplinary spaces
where students can explore the intriguing connections between science,
art, and activism.
Embodied pedagogies could indeed help us imagine alternative ways of
being a scientist, an educator, and an activist. One participant of the Inclu-
sive Science Workshop mused on the challenges this workshop posed for
him: “So many! To pick one: in a completely unique way I’ve never even
approached before, it challenged my conceptions of how I take up space
and interact with the world.” Our thoughtful participant contemplated
the existential question of being in the world. This is a testimony to the
transformative power of embodied pedagogies.
118 Hui Niu Wilcox


If we take embodied knowledges seriously, it is not enough to simply add

new tricks to our teaching, research, or activism oeuvre; we must reex-
amine our old tricks as well as our institutions. This rethinking could
take us on uncharted journeys toward critiques and transformation of
the work that we do and love, be it science, education, or activism. In
other words, our ultimate goal is not to add embodiment and stir; it is to
invite conversations concerning embodied knowledges and their radical
implications. For such conversations to take place, we must first commit
to embodied practices.
This paper has recounted and reflected upon the collaboration among
1) Ananya Dance Theatre who works at the intersection of artistic excel-
lence and social justice; 2) researchers whose work straddles science,
policy research, and grassroots activism; and 3) academic communities
with stakes in integrating theory and practice, particularly in the context
of the Inclusive Science Conference and the College of St. Catherine. All
parties share a vision of transformation—of art, communities, policies,
science research/education, and the world in which we live. Their suc-
cessful collaboration demonstrates that it is possible to make art that
engages politics and science, practice science with artistry and political
savvy, and advocate for social justice with science and art. Even more
importantly, through integrating and rethinking embodied ways of know-
ing, we can empower ourselves and our students to critique Eurocen-
tric, male-dominated modes of knowledge production and, ultimately, to
envision alternatives.


I would like to thank Ananya Chatterjea, Shalini Gupta, Cecilia Martinez,

Cindy Norton, Debbie Wygal, Elliot Wilcox, Amy Hamlin, Mark Blegen
and Pang Moua, and the two anonymous reviewers, for their encourage-
ment, guidance, editorial assistance, and insightful critique.

Hiu Niu Wilcox is an assistant professor of Sociology, Women’s Studies,

and Critical Studies of Race and Ethnicity at St. Catherine University.
Her work has focused on social and pedagogical implications of embodi-
ment and performance in various contexts: ethnic construction, educa-
tion, and social movement. She is currently researching the cultural and
educational experiences of Hmong Americans in Minnesota. She can be
reached at
Embodied Ways of Knowing, Pedagogies, and Social Justice 119

1. I use the plural “knowledges” intentionally to acknowledge multiple ways
of knowing.

2. Bodily production of knowledge has been integral to my academic inquiries.

A feminist sociologist, I study the role of dance in constructing gender, eth-
nicity, and race in the context of transnational migration. It is my work with
ADT as an activist and dancer in recent years, however, that has nourished
my inquiry about performance’s place in social movements, knowledge pro-
duction and pedagogy.

3. In my own experiment with embodied pedagogies, I have relied on resources

such as Theatre for Community, Conflict and Dialogue, an accessible book
packed with exercises that help students focus, build trust, and creatively
approach materials (Rohd 1998).

Alcoff, Linda, and Elizabeth Potter. 1993. Feminist Epistemologies. New York:
Ananya Dance Theatre. 2008. Study Guide. Unpublished.
Boal, Augusto. [1979] 1985. Theatre of the Oppressed. Trans. Charles A. and Maria-
Oidilia Leal McBride. New York: Theatre Communications Group.
Conquergood, Dwight. 2002. “Performance Studies: Interventions and Radical
Research.” The Drama Review 46: 145–56.
Gardner, Howard. [1983] 2004. Frames of Mind: The Theory of Multiple Intelli-
gences. New York: Basic Books.
Gimenez, Martha. 1998. “The Radical Pedagogy Mystique: A View from the
Trenches.” Teaching Sociology 26: 116–20.
Giroux, Henry, Colin Lankshear, Peter McLaren, and Michael Peters. 1995. Coun-
ternarratives: Cultural Studies and Critical Pedagogies in Postmodern Spaces.
New York: Routledge.
Goffman, Erving. 1971. The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life. Harmonds­
worth, Middlesex: Pelican Books.
Gore, Jennifer. 1993. The Struggle for Pedagogies: Critical and Feminist Discourses
as Regimes of Truth. New York: Routledge.
Grosz, Elizabeth. 1993. “Bodies and Knowledges: Feminism and the Crisis of
Reason.” In Feminist Epistemologies, ed. Linda Alcoff and Elizabeth Potter,
187–215. New York: Routledge.
———. 1994. Volatile Bodies: Toward A Corporeal Feminism. Bloomington:
Indiana University Press.
Haraway, Donna. 1988. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism
and the Privilege of the Partial Perspective.” Feminist Studies 14: 575–99.
120 Hui Niu Wilcox

Harding, Sandra. 1991. Whose Science? Whose Knowledge? Thinking from

Women’s Lives. Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press.
Kuhn, Thomas. 1979. The Structure of Scientific Revolutions. Chicago, IL:
University of Chicago Press.
Madison, D. Soyini. 2005. Critical Ethnography: Method, Ethics, and Perfor-
mance. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.
New City School. 1999. Celebrating Multiple Intelligences: Teaching for Success.
7th ed. St. Louis, MO: New City School.
Rohd, Michael. 1998. Theatre for Community, Conflict and Dialogue: A Hope is
Vital Training Manual. Portsmouth, NH: Heinemann.
Rosser, Sue V. 1986. Teaching Science and Health from a Feminist Perspective: A
Practical Guide. New York: Pergamon Press.
———. 1990. Female-Friendly Science: Applying Women’s Studies Methods and
Theories to Attract Students. New York: Pergamon Press.
Turner, Victor. 1986. Anthropology of Performance. New York: Performing Arts
Journal Publications.