Earth, sky, wind, and weather

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232 Citations (Scopus)


This paper seeks to understand what it means to live 'in the open'. It begins with an account of experiments that test whether children have acquired a scientifically correct understanding of the shape of the earth, according to which people live all around on the outside of a solid sphere. This understanding cannot accommodate the phenomenon of the sky, in relation to which the earth can appear only as the ground of human habitation. James Gibson's ecological approach to perception offers a possible alternative, depicting earth and sky as complementary hemispheres. Yet for Gibson, this earth-sky can be inhabited only insofar as it is furnished with objects. To that extent, it ceases to be open. Drawing on elements of Merleau-Ponty's phenomenology, it is argued that in the open world persons and things relate not as closed forms but by virtue of their common immersion in the generative fluxes of the medium - in wind and weather. Fundamental to life is the process of respiration, by which organisms continually disrupt any boundary between earth and sky, binding substance and medium together in forging their own growth and movement. Thus to inhabit the open is not to be stranded on the outer surface of the earth but to be caught up in the transformations of the weather-world.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)s19-s38
Number of pages20
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue numberSuppl. 1
Publication statusPublished - Apr 2007


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