Echolocation among the blind: an argument for an ontogenetic turn

Greg Downey*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Proponents of the ontological turn typically advance a highly conceptual understanding of variation in ontology. In contrast, this article argues theoretically that cultural canalizations of embodied ontogenetic processes — especially the development of local neurologies — underwrite distinct lived worlds. This theoretical argument for a corporeal basis of world-making draws on the case of vision-impaired individuals who actively echolocate, or perceive space using sound. Neurological evidence shows that echolocators’ sensory practices over developmental time produce specialized brain adaptations to behaviour. Human echolocation thus demonstrates how enculturation effaces the distinction between biology and culture in a behavioural-developmental spiral with implications for our understanding of human being.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)832-849
Number of pages18
JournalJournal of the Royal Anthropological Institute
Issue number4
Early online date12 Sept 2021
Publication statusPublished - Dec 2021


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