Relational Perception and ‘the feel’ for Tools in the Wooden Boat Workshop


  • Tom Martin Warren Wilson College



This paper presents insights into the lived experience of maritime carpentry practices, based on six months of sensory-ethnographic fieldwork as a wooden boat builder’s apprentice. In particular, the author explores the widely-reported experience of tools ‘withdrawing’ from consciousness as craftspeople master their use. Without contradicting these interpretations – many of which are constructed by way of reference to ideas from Merleau-Ponty – the author suggests further theoretical resources to examine the perceptual experience of work after tools cease to be the main focus of the craftsperson’s attention. Heidegger’s idea of ‘circumspection’ is presented as a way to illuminate the relational nature of the subsequent mode of perception, in which the work as a whole fills the consciousness, rather than the individual instruments through which the work is achieved.