On the Learning, Transmission, and Embodiment of Swimming’s Haptic Grammar

Thomas F. Carter, Sean Heath

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This paper develops the concept of ‘haptic grammar’ to encourage greater scholarly focus on the sensory aspects of bodily motion used to generate movement, knowledge of one’s body in an environment, and thus being-in-the-world. It ethnographically examines how swimmers learn specific motions - ‘the catch,’ sculling, hand entry - to illustrate broader questions of how we learn to move our bodies. Focusing on these specific motions emphasizes the importance of shared sensory knowledge and perception for learning enskilled bodily movement. More than simply knowing what to move when and how, learning how to sense how one moves one’s body parts is a crucial social process that swimmers become more skilful at via interlocutions amongst themselves and with their coaches regarding specific motions of specific body parts. This article illustrates how such socialized knowledge requires a shared haptic grammar to become more skilful at moving through the water and thus become ‘swimmers.’
Original languageEnglish
JournalBody and Society
Publication statusAccepted/In press - 18 Mar 2024

Bibliographical note

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  • body techniques
  • haptic grammar
  • sensory perception
  • mimesis
  • swimming


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