Archives for category: glossary

By Mona Sakr

Getting to grips with the philosophical approach of phenomenology

When you work with/in embodiment, you come across so many concepts that feel almost impossible to get a true grip on. Beautiful ideas, like phenomenology, roam free and can be intimidating as a result. In my role at MODE, I am currently contributing towards a glossary of terms that are used in embodiment research. It’s a fantastic way of working out what’s really important when you’re first engaging with a new concept or approach. After writing the first draft of the glossary entry for ‘Phenomenology’, I decided to test myself. Without looking at a single book, paper or webpage, what could I say that I knew about phenomenology? The result was the following:

10 things I know about phenomenology

  1. Phenomenology is the study of lived experience.
  2. The founder of phenomenology was the German philosopher Husserl, who lived and wrote at the turn of the twentieth century.
  3. Heidegger, Husserl’s student, was fundamental in developing the field of existential phenomenology.
  4. In 1927, Heidegger wrote Being and Time, a central text in phenomenology.
  5. In Being and Time Heidegger made the distinction between tools that are ‘present-at-hand’ and ‘ready-to-hand’. Tools that are ‘ready-to-hand’ can be used without thinking, without awareness. Although familiarity usually leads to tools becoming ‘ready-to-hand’, our awareness of them may be drawn back to them if they suddenly stop working (Heidegger uses the example of the pen that breaks while you are writing).
  6. In 1945, Merleau-Ponty wrote a book called Phenomenology of Perception. It is another central text in phenomenology.
  7. In Phenomenology of Perception, Merleau-Ponty presents the body as the hub of all meaning-making. Physical touch represents a ‘chiasm’ (a crossing-over) between subjectivity and objectivity. Bodies are both capable of touching and are tangible.
  8. Dreyfus (1992) built on Heidegger’s ideas towards technology use in his critiques of artificial intelligence. He has argued that AI algorithms and devices only make sense through the implicit and tacit knowledge that a user brings to them. Studying interactions with technology are therefore as much about studying the user as they are about studying the object.
  9. How do you collect data as a phenomenologist? Phenomenologists typically access lived experience through interviews and participant reflections (either written or oral). An interview approach called Interpretive Phenomenological Analysis (IPA) is one example of a methodological framework that uses phenomenology as its starting point.
  10. Phenomenological enquiries are likely to foreground the lived experience through four ‘lifeworld existentials’ (Veletsianos and Miller, 2008): body, time, space, relations with others.

At the end of this exercise, the questions I’m left asking are:

What are the glaring gaps in my breakdown of phenomenology?

Is this a positive exercise or does it lead to the reduction of ideas?

What concepts/approaches in embodiment would I struggle to do this exercise for?

By Mona Sakr

A discussion of the term ‘intercorporeality’ and its relevance to embodiment in digital environments.

 The term ‘intercorporeality’ simultaneously foregrounds the social nature of the body and the bodily nature of social relationships. As a concept, it emphasizes the role of social interactions in the construction and behaviours of the body: ‘the experience of being embodied is never a private affair, but is always mediated by our continual interactions with other human and nonhuman bodies’ (Weiss, 1999, p. 5). At the same time, it suggests that our existence in relation to others – our intersubjectivity – is something tangible and bodily (Csordas, 2008).

 Intercorporeality is a relevant concept for understanding embodied experiences in digital environments because as Kim (2001) suggests, digital environments open up new opportunities for intercorporeal practices. Through bodies, we can share and extend our ‘bodily experiences’ (Merleau-Ponty, 1962).

Consider the following examples:

  • Through a webcam, I can see into locations that go beyond those that immediately surround me in physical space,
  • Through social media, I can extend my grip on others and touch the lives of others though they are not physically close to me (see Springgay, 2005),
  • Through my phone, I can audio record others’ voices and hear again the past and the interactions it comprised.

The words ‘see’, ‘touch’ and ‘hear’ demonstrate the extent to which social interactions are bodily. The examples above suggest that digital environments can impact on the body’s perceptions and sensations and this will, in turn, affect the way we interact with others – our intercorporeal practices.

Csordas, T. J. (2008) Intersubjectivity and intercorporeality. Subjectivity, 22(1), 110-121.

Kim, J. (2001) Phenomenology of digital-being. Human studies, 24(1-2), 87-111.

Merleau-Ponty, M. (1962) Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul.

Springgay, S. (2005) Thinking through bodies: Bodied encounters and the process of meaning making in an e-mail generated art project. Studies in Art Education, 47 (1), 34-50.

Weiss, G. (1999) Body images: Embodiment as intercorporeality. New York: Routledge.

An exploration of the term ‘affect’ and what it offers to embodiment research.

I am exploring the term ‘affect’ and what it might offer to my understanding of embodied experience. In this post, I consider how affect is talked about in research and think about the best way to use the concept in my own research on embodiment and digital environments.

Hudlicka (2003) presents affect as an essential aspect of embodied interaction with digital environments. Hudlicka uses the term ‘affect’ interchangeably with ‘emotion’. Thus, the need for computers to detect user affect is equivalent to their recognition of user emotion (whether the user is happy, sad, angry etc.). Similarly, Johnson and Wiles (2003) talk about the ‘positive affect’ associated with playing computer games and equate this with happiness, engagement or ‘flow’ (Csikszentmihalyi, 1992).

But Shouse (2005) argues that the terms ‘affect’, ‘emotion’ and ‘feeling’ must be understood and presented as distinct from one another. He suggests that while feeling and emotion are subject to recognition and labeling on the part of those who experience them, affect is a more simple individual response: ‘a prepersonal intensity corresponding to the passage from one experiential state of the body to another’. Affect is a one-dimensional spike in the intensity of experience.

If we use this definition, what distinguishes affect from arousal? Is Shouse simply arguing for the importance of measuring the physiological arousal of users? My understanding is that affect is more than arousal because it implies the existence of an external cause. An individual might experience an increase in arousal as a result of a fleeting image that passes through their mind, but affect is a consequence of being affected by another body, by something external. So, focusing on affect involves looking at not just the affective response but also at the stimulus that has caused it: the music that has moved us, or the image that has led to a pre-conscious experiential shift.

In the context of my research on embodiment and digital environments, I am interested in affect because pre-conscious responses to the external world are a vital part of user experience. But looking at the work of Shouse has convinced me that the pre-conscious nature of affect means that it cannot be measured by asking users to label their feelings or by recording visible emotions that I observe. On the other hand, measures of physiological arousal can offer some insight into affect but do not tell the whole story. To ‘get at’ affect requires looking at indicators of the intensity of experience (including physiological arousal, facial expression, vocalisations and other bodily cues) and linking these to the environment that surrounds the user.


Csikszentmihalyi, M. (1992) Flow: The Psychology of Happiness. London: Random House.

Hudlicka, E. (2003) To feel or not to feel: The role of affect in human–computer interaction. International Journal of Human-Computer Studies, 59(1), 1-32.

Jonhson, D. M. & Wiles, J. (2003) Effective Affective User Interface Design in Games. Ergonomics, 46 (13/14), 1332 – 1345.

Shouse, E. (2005) Feeling, emotion, affect. M/C Journal, 8 (6), 26. Accessed online 24.08.2013: