Conference Panels

SLEEPING AROUND THE WORLD: TOWARDS A COMPARATIVE ANTHROPOLOGY OF SLEEP

Co-convenor: Katie Glaskin (contact person), Anthropology and Sociology, University of Western Australia
Email: kglaskin@cyllene.uwa.edu.au
Co-convenor: Richard Chenhall, Centre for Health and Society, University of Melbourne
Email: r.chenhall@unimelb.edu.au

Sleeping is something all humans do, yet it is not something all humans do the same way. Much anthropological work has focussed on dreams as a dimension of sleeping experience, but less on sleep as what Mauss (1979[1934]:113), called a ‘technique of the body’ and on its social and cultural connotations. Steger and Brunt (2003:16) distinguish between cultures on the basis of their sleeping patterns: monophasic (sleeping primarily in a lengthy bloc of time at night), biphasic (having two main sleep periods, a long nocturnal sleep and a shorter afternoon one), and polyphasic, evident in so-called ‘napping cultures’ like Japan and China. It is clear that there are many dimensions of sleep practices and experiences that link with concepts of personhood, ontology, cosmology, kinship, the body, emotions, sexuality, intimacy, temporality, spatiality, ‘emplacedness’, work and leisure, socialisation, and more. How do we sleep, when and where do we sleep, and with whom? What are the experiences that we have while sleeping, or between sleep and waking? How does sleep reflect on important aspects of our societies and cultures more generally? We invite ethnographic contributions exploring any aspect of sleep that will, in combination, provide a richly textured and comparative contribution to the anthropology of sleep.

  • SESSION 1     Room: G31 LAW     Tues 5/7/2011     Time: 13.30-15.00     Room Location Map
    • Paper 1: Sleeping among the Asabano
      • Roger Lohmann, Trent University
    • Paper 2: Sleeping together: Cook Islands intimacy in sleep and night-time behaviour
      • Kalissa Alexeyeff, University of Melbourne
    • Paper 3: Sleep, sight, and a sense of safety: An ethnographic exploration of 'looking after' and 'being cared for' as Warlpiri social practice
      • Yasmine Musharbash, University of Sydney
    • Paper 4: Maori Collective Sleeping as Cultural Resistance
      • Toon van Meijl, University of Nijmegen

SESSION 1

Chair: Katie Glaskin

Paper 1: Sleeping among the Asabano

Roger Lohmann, Trent University

This paper surveys the changing culture of sleep among the Asabano of Papua New Guinea during the last half century, from pre- to postcontact times. My initial discovery of Asabano practices occurred when my solitary sleeping practices clashed with the Asabano value of sleeping with others of one's own sex or family for protection and companionship. Over time I was able to observe and participate in local practices when sleeping with others in people's houses and bush shelters, or when daytime sleepers napped in the same rooms in which I was socialising with others. I describe the flexibility in timing, location, and social grouping for naps and nightly repose, and the activities before, during, and after communal sleeping. I also portray the disposition of sleeping bodies in relationship to relatives, friends, and mates, and to artifacts including hearths, sleeping surfaces and covers, and spaces within houses. Finally, I provide informants' accounts of past sleeping traditions, including the separation of men and women in gender-specific sleeping zones, the ritual use of sleep deprivation in initiations, and the liberalizing and individualizing changes these patterns have undergone in response to Christianity and European architecture. This ethnographic example illustrates that sleep culture, like waking culture, manifests as interrelated ideals, practices, and artifacts contextualized into a sociocultural matrix that is subject to historical change.

Paper 2: Sleeping together: Cook Islands intimacy in sleep and night-time behaviour

Kalissa Alexeyeff, University of Melbourne

As part of a broad program aimed at reshaping domestic arrangements to more closely resemble Western ones, missionary and colonial efforts encouraged Cook Islanders to occupy private and individualised sleeping spaces. Despite these attempts, many Cook Islanders today still prefer to sleep in communal living rooms with other members of their family. Deviation from companionable sleeping arrangements such as sleeping alone with a bedroom door closed or sleeping while the majority of household members are awake, are viewed with disapprobation. This paper examines what styles of sleeping arrangements and the moral implications of night-time behaviour more generally, indicate about Cook Islands sociality especially notions of social, personal and embodied intimacy.

Paper 3: Sleep, sight, and a sense of safety: An ethnographic exploration of 'looking after' and 'being cared for' as Warlpiri social practice

Yasmine Musharbash, University of Sydney

The analytical aim of this paper is to link ideas about sleep as a body technique with the sense of sight and its implicit and explicit meanings at Yuendumu (N.T.). Sleep leaves those sleeping 'blind' and hence oblivious of potential or real danger. At Yuendumu, where people commonly arrange themselves in yunta (or, rows of sleepers) at night, some stay awake to watch over the others. Through a number of night-time vignettes, I examine how Warlpiri people submit to being looked after while asleep on the one hand and how, when and why some of them stay awake watching over their co-sleepers on the other hand. I analyse notions of sight (looking, seeing, watching and dreaming) and link them to the Warlpiri practice of jina-mardani, or 'looking after'.

Paper 4: Maori Collective Sleeping as Cultural Resistance

Toon van Meijl, University of Nijmegen

This paper provides an ethnographic analysis of the social, symbolic and political functions of collective sleeping in Maori ancestral meeting-houses at times of ceremonies. ‘Eat with us and sleep with us, then you will know our lifestyle’, is a Maori saying to indicate that the indigenous population of New Zealand considers collective sleeping during ceremonies as a distinctive feature of their way of life. Based on two-and-a-half years of ethnographic field research in New Zealand, Maori ceremonial centres (marae) will be described, after which a brief overview is provided of the different types of ceremonies that are held on Maori marae and their various symbolic stages, especially the final stage of collective sleeping. Collective sleeping may be considered as the culmination of Maori ceremonies, since the ritual purpose of the ceremonies is to re-confirm and reinforce relationships with the ancestors. And since in ancestral meeting-houses various dimensions of time are symbolically collapsed, they contribute to creating the necessary conditions to become (re-)united with the ancestors during sleeping-time. An historical analysis of the development of collective sleeping leads to the conclusion that it may be considered a counter-hegemonic sign of cultural autonomy.