Culture on the ground: the world perceived through the feet

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Classical accounts of human evolution posit a progressive differentiation between the hands as instruments of rational intelligence and feet as integral to the mechanics of bipedal locomotion. Yet evolutionists were modelling pedestrian performance on the striding gait of boot-clad Europeans. The bias of head over heels in their accounts follows a long-standing tendency, in western thought and science, to elevate the plane of social and cultural life over the ground of nature. This tendency was already established among European elites in the practice of destination-oriented travel, the use of shoes and chairs, and the valorization of upright posture. It was further reinforced in urban societies through paving the streets. The groundlessness of metropolitan life remains embedded not only in western social structures but also in the disciplines of anthropology, psychology and biology. A more grounded approach to human movement, sensitive to embodied skills of footwork, opens up new terrain in the study of environmental perception, the history of technology, landscape formation and human anatomical evolution.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)315-340
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Material Culture
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2004


  • body techniques
  • boots and shoes
  • feet
  • human evolution
  • walking


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