Chapter 0


Scuba diving offers us a way of understanding ourselves, our relationships with technology and the world.  With scuba gear, our body incorporates technology and becomes augmented. When we descend into the depths, we leave behind the familiar contours of everyday life.  When we return to the surface, we find the familiar world illuminated in new ways.

Publication & Attribution


© 2013, Kevin Williams




Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License

http://creativec The This work can be downloaded, read, repurposed and redistributed if attribution is given to the author, Kevin Williams, and/or the respective copyright license holder of any and all embedded or linked work. Attribution for main text: Kevin Williams

For questions and comments, please contact Kevin Williams @ or or return to

Original online store store cover:

Scuba Cover lg


This is a work of multimedia. This eBook is scored, much like a film, but with different technology. The score is both embedded and available on Sound Cloud (Sound Cloud selections vary with available memory).

Listen while reading, or download for later.


This work is dedicated foremost to my parents for providing the conditions for the possibility of dreaming, doing and enjoying those things that make a life deeply lived.  My vocation and avocation are one and the same, and that sets the stage for a busy, but beautiful, life.  Thanks also to my brother “Sea” Rogers Williams, the ultimate dive buddy, marine scientist and veterinarian.

Great love and appreciation go to my wife, TC Williams, for editing (and support in general). TC is an “Englist.” She understands all the fine workings of the language.  Then I come along and re-edit the material (in other words, the mistakes here are my doing).

I had the great fortune to study diving while working on my doctorate under the direction of Jenny Nelson in communicology. The original research, a phenomenology of scuba diving, was her idea.  Algis Mickunas helped me prepare the first manuscripts (the project quickly took on a life of its own).  Elizabeth Lozano helped from the start; my compañera.

Shepherd University has been very supportive of reviving this work, not as a book, but as work of new media.  The Dean of the School of Arts and Humanities, Dow Benedict, has nurtured a fantastic program.  President Susanne Shipley, VPAA Richard Helldobler, and the Professional Development Committee, chaired by Doug Horner, have supported this work with a grant for equipment to record interviews, funding for the presentation of the original papers, and finally a sabbatical to bring the collective materials together.  My colleagues, Monica Larson, Jason McKahan, and Matt Kushin, along with others, have been supportive of my work in multimedia, as well as traditional scholarship, and of my desire to address an audience beyond communication professionals. I could not self-publish and hold my head high if the university, school, and department did not recognize and value my attempt to publish a work of new media that transcends the limits of current academic publishing.

Finally, thanks are incomplete without mention of my dive instructor, Jon Tobin.  From your former student, “Wildman,” I thank you and wish you many years of diving, or, as you say, “blowing bubbles.”


Jon Tobin and Kevin Williams





Previous Peer-Review

Williams, K. March 1992. “The Diver’s Body & Perception: Depths & Surfaces,” presented at the annual Popular Culture Convention, Louisville, KY.

Williams, K. November 1995. “Vital Communication,” presented at the XIII Meeting of the Jean Gebser Society for the Study of Culture & Consciousness, Chicago, IL.

Williams, K. November 1996. “The Performative Body & Communication,” presented at the Performance Division of the Annual Meeting of the Speech Communication Association, San Diego, CA.

Williams, K. May 1996. “Breath & the Body: A Cultural Study of Scuba Diving,” presented at the Annual Conference of the International Communication Association, Chicago, IL.

Williams, K. March 1996. “The Diver & the Deep Blue Sea: A Phenomenological Investigation of the Body & the World,” presented at “Back to the Things Themselves” Conference on Phenomenology, Carbondale, IL.

Version 1 of the ebook won a National Communicator Award for music in 2013. It was submitted for Interactive Education and Music.

0.1 Backstory: Why Bother?

This site features a phenomenology of scuba diving. The study began during my doctoral studies in communication. Prof. Jenny Nelson, Ohio University, suggested I use my concurrent study of scuba diving to practice phenomenology as it should be -direct experience with ‘something’ (i.e., an object of intentionality), or, by going ‘to the things themselves’ (Husserl).

What I found was that the body-world relationship was even more mysterious than I presupposed. The cosmos spread over me, around me, and through me. Scuba diving offers us a way of understanding ourselves, our relationships with others, and the world; integrating persons, culture and world opening an ecological field for investigation.

An ecosystem has three integral phenomena (Wilden; Lanigan):

  1. Organisms
  2. Environment
  3. World

For our purposes studying communication and scuba diving

  1. Persons (perception and expression)
  2. Culture (language, arts, humanities, sciences, etc.)
  3. World (configurations of time, space, movement)

When we enter the water, and thus scuba’s configurations of space-time-movement, we leave behind the familiar contours of everyday life.  Normal and natural, taken for granted phenomena, like breathing, moving and seeing, are made strange. When we return to the surface, we find the familiar world illuminated in new ways.

The diver is cyborg

Here, with an integrated mechanical body, I am a cyborg. I am magic, the making, that reveals the mythos of the sciences, arts, religions and popular culture, all the while depending on the rational physics, science, to keep myself alive. I am a cyborg underwater.

Looking into the depths of perception is where I begin (both as a fledgling diver and as a graduate student).  Passing through surfaces into depths, and back again, allows me to experience the mysteries of life that are right in front of me all the time, but which are rendered invisible by cultural and societal norms.  In this series of reflections, I bring perceptions of myself and others to expression; I discuss how trips into the unfamiliar underwater world to shed new light on what we often take for granted -things as fundamental as breathing, moving and seeing.

I know a good number of people who have logged many more hours scuba diving than I have.  I don’t profess any special knowledge.  I dive when I can (which is not very often).  I do profess a true love of scuba diving, and consider my dive time transformative.  I have shared in the magic, beauty and wonder so many people experience when diving.  My experience, research on the science of diving, and ethnographic anecdotes are used to bring scuba to life in communication research.  Creating this work of multimedia began when my professor and mentor of my doctoral studies in Communication, Jenny Nelson, suggested I integrate my recreation (scuba diving) with creation (writing), my vocation (my calling to become a professor), with my advocation (my quest to understand and teach human communication).  I continued this work after graduate school, presenting peer-reviewed papers at professional conferences in communication and philosophy.  Scuba diving became a bridge between my personal and professional life.

I’ve been fortunate to work with a community of scholars at Shepherd University.  Professors in the physical sciences, social sciences, and humanities have supported my work with generous grants and their gifts of time to compose this work, and even to present it as a live musical, multimedia work of scholarly theater.  However, I know that studying something like scuba diving sounds superfluous, or even unscholarly, to some colleagues.  To counter this critique, I offer an anecdote (maybe apocryphal).  It is said that eminent scientist Steven J. Gould studied a rare, but generally considered irrelevant, snail for his doctoral thesis because the animal only lived in tropical environments; he would thus “have” to travel to paradise to complete his research.  However, even in paradise, the research and scholarship need to be sound.

This is a work of communication scholarship.  However, I am writing for anybody who wants to explore the experience of scuba diving.  It doesn’t matter if you have never dived.  It doesn’t matter if you are not familiar with communication research.  This book is for the anybody who wants to dive into unfamiliar territories.



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