The Newsletter 96 Autumn 2023

Bringing Back Our Perceptual World

Jyothi Thrivikraman

Upon returning from the Craft as Method workshop and the HAB meeting, I began reading “An Immense World” by Ed Yong about the hidden realms of animal senses. The book uses the concept of Umwelt; “an Umwelt is specifically the part of those surroundings that an animal can sense and experience---its perceptual world.” 1 An Immense World: How Animal Senses Reveal the Hidden Realms Around Us (London: The Boadley Head Ltd, 2022), 5.

Reflecting upon the concept as an academic at Leiden University College (LUC) who lives and works in The Hague, Umwelt means knowledge. Understandings of where knowledge resides and whose knowledge is valued are based on a hierarchy of knowledge with universities as the pinnacle of all repositories of knowledge. This sense of knowledge being the exclusive domain of universities, ignores other types of knowledge. 

This was evident during the Craft as Method workshop. Learning about the process of acquiring clay for pottery is a lesson in lived realities of climate change and geography [Fig. 1]. Determining which glass pieces can be combined to make glass beads is a lesson in chemistry. Learning how to look for indigo plants, dry them and dye cloth are lessons in biology, botany, geography, and chemistry [Fig. 2]. However, the practitioners of these crafts do not call it such. And further, we in academia do not value this knowledge. The Craft as Method workshop was an opportunity to expand and share our Umwelts of knowledge, both as experience and perception of the world around us. 

For academics, to proactively rethink where knowledge resides is to expand the doors of the universities. For craft practitioners, it is essential to have their stories and knowledge both valued and understood regardless of their location in surprising, even most mundane, everyday spaces, outside the haloed portals of universities. It is important that we have discussions on the place of universities in society and how universities engage with their wider community(ies). 


Jyothi Thrivikraman, Leiden University College (LUC), The Hague