Archives for posts with tag: embodiment

By Anna Xambó, Carey Jewitt, and Sara Price

Scanning a shoe at the Fashion Digital Studio, London College of Fashion (UAL).

Scanning a shoe at the Fashion Digital Studio, London College of Fashion (UAL).

MIDAS involves collaborators from different disciplines and backgrounds connected to Digital Arts and/or Social Sciences.  It addresses a pressing problem for contemporary research: how to synthesise approaches from the Arts and Social Sciences to develop innovative methods of research on digital technology and embodiment. It addresses this problem in the context of digital technology and the issues the digital raises for interacting with the body and the different methodological demands this places on disciplines where the body is a primary object of study, particularly in the Arts and the Social Sciences. The key objectives of MIDAS are to:

1) Describe the concepts, practices and processes used to research embodiment in digitally assisted arts (performance, fashion, design), and social sciences (medical simulation, technologies for education, online games);

2) Identify points of methodological connection and synergy across this multidisciplinary terrain;

3) Experiment how to integrate and exploit the methodological synergies and approaches to evaluate their applicability to embodiment research across the Digital Arts and Social Sciences;

4) Design training and capacity-building resources to support methodological innovation across the boundaries of the Digital Arts and Social Sciences.

MIDAS is currently investigating methods used to research notions of embodiment in different disciplinary contexts, through an exploration of six ethnographic case studies. Each site is a hub of methodological innovation, engaging in research on the body/physical interaction, and advanced digital technologies (e.g. body scanners; motion capture; or virtual environments). We are particularly interested in understanding what and how: methods are used at an institutional and individual level; body/physical interaction and digital technology are used; and methods are used for methodological innovation.

Through ethnographic observation, we try to get a sense of the methods and practices used in each site. This is complemented by informal conversations, and literature review packages suggested by each site. We are focusing on understanding how the different sites look into embodiment. As each site thinks differently about embodiment, we listen to the way they talk and observe their practices focusing on body, technology, and methods in order to get a sense of the assumptions and principles used in each site when thinking about the body. We use field-notes, photographs, and video recordings to document these ideas and routine methodological practices. This data will be analyzed to understand the different ‘methods world’ of each site. We plan to conduct a series of workshops in 2014 with the attendance of experts to explore themes, perspectives, experiences, and contribute to the development of future methods.

The MIDAS blog aims at providing a shared space for researchers and practitioners connected to the project to express their voices about research methods on digital technology and embodiment, and also finding out methodological synergies between Digital Arts and Social Sciences via documenting, reflecting, and sharing practices, processes, and ideas about digital technology and embodiment.

Project website: http://MIDAS.ioe.ac.uk

You can follow us on Twitter: @MIDAS_LKL

I found jotting down 10 things I know about phenomenology a helpful exercise for consolidating and summarizing knowledge of a central approach in embodiment research. Over the last few weeks, I have repeatedly come across the term ‘Somaesthetics’ in relation to embodiment and have done some preliminary reading on the term. In an effort to make sense of the fledgling understanding I’ve gained, I decided to try the ’10 things I know’ approach again. Without looking at books, notes or papers, I scribbled down the following:

1. Somaesthetics is an emerging discipline primarily proposed by Richard Shusterman, who argues for it to sit within Philosophy, and more specifically the philosophical sub-discipline of Aesthetics.

2. Somaesthetics as a discipline foregrounds the role of bodily experience in aesthetic appreciation. Shusterman argues that it will offer a more substantial and systematic framework for research on the body.

3. Somaesthetics comprises three branches: Analytic somaesthetics; Pragmatic somaesthetics; Practical somaesthetics

Somaesthetics Diagram

4. Analytic somaesthetics comprises interpretive studies of bodily practice. These occur on a theoretical level and would include research linking the body and bodily practices with the organization of society and the individual psyche. Shusterman argues that the work of Foucault, Bourdieu and Merleau-Ponty would all constitute analytic somaesthetics.

5. Pragmatic somaesthetics comprises bodies of thought that suggest ways of training or harnessing bodily experience. Practices such as Tai Chi and the Alexander Technique are accompanied by ideas and theories of the body and these would belong to this branch of pragmatic somaesthetics.

6. Practical somaesthetics consists of the practice itself – the Tai Chi, or the yoga, or the Alexander Technique. It is not entirely clear which bodily practices Shusterman chooses to accept within practical somaesthetics. He seems to place less value on athletics or football, and much more on solitary practices that reference bodily understanding more explicitly.

7. In foregrounding the body in aesthetic experience, Shusterman argues that a distinction needs to be drawn between representational foregrounding and experiential foregrounding. In the former, the body is seen and treated as an external object. In the latter, the body is a fundamental part or vehicle of lived experience.

8. Critiques of somaesthetics include the linking of the discipline to normative approaches to the body. Somaesthetics places a value on the physical cultivation of the body and this is reminiscent of doctrines that treat the body as an object to be molded into a form that conforms to the social ideal.

9. Shusterman’s response to this critique rests on the distinction he makes between representational and experiential foregrounding of the body. Thus, he argues that cultivating the body as it is experienced (rather than as it is represented) does not relate to social norms, but rather to the improvement of individual perception and action.

10. Shusterman advocates that there is a role for somaesthetics in education since it enables us to ‘feel better’ in both senses of the phrase. Cultivating bodily practices heightens our sensations and perceptions of the world around us; they also encourage us to be more in control and more caring of the self.

The combination of theoretical and practical approaches to the body certainly makes the discipline of somaesthetics an interesting prospect, but I am left with questions about the possibility and worth of trying to merge these perspectives. Shusterman’s framework makes such a sharp and convincing distinction between analytic, pragmatic and practical somaesthetics, that it isn’t clear how it draws these together at all. How are Foucault’s theories of the body related to the theory or practice of yoga? How can somaesthetics help us to access this relationship? Is this a relationship that should exist given how different the objectives related to each project are? Certainly, I believe that theorists of the body can learn much from bodily practices and practitioners who work with the body, but what is the benefit of binding them together in a single discipline?

Shusterman, R. (2008) Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Shusterman, R. (2006) Thinking through the body, educating for the humanities: A plea for somaesthetics. The journal of aesthetic education, 40(1), 1-21.

Victoria Grace Walden

Embodiment, digital technology and site visits

New twentieth century technologies of representation and narration… have increasingly collapsed the temporal distance between present, past, and future that structured our previously conceived notion of the temporal dimensions of what we call history (as the latter is differentiated from experience). That is, event and its representation, immediacy and its mediation, have moved increasingly towards simultaneity.

(Sobchack, 1996:4-5)

Having had the pleasure of being involved in one of the Holocaust Education Trust’s recent Lessons from Auschwitz projects, this quote made me think about how the project’s young participants engage with memory and history during their visit to the Nazi concentration-death camp.

The project involves 16-18 year old students from the UK attending an orientation seminar in London, a day trip to Oświęcim and Auschwitz-Birkenau, followed by a second reflective seminar in London. The students then return to their school and translate their experience into some form of educational or commemorative outcome.

As part of the orientation seminar, students are encouraged to discuss a quote from Janina Struk’s Photographing the Holocaust (2003). Struck suggests that “a camera puts a distance between the person taking the photographs and an otherwise distressing experience.”

In On Photography, Susan Sontag states, “Most tourists feel compelled to put the camera between themselves and whatever is remarkable that they encounter. Unsure of other responses, they take a picture” (quotes take from the Holocaust Education Trust handout).

Both of these stances are critical of taking photographs and suggest they diminish our experience of place, offering instead a safe barrier between us and the traumatic aura of the site we encounter. Previously I have agreed with this position. When I first started taking photographs of atrocity sites for my research, I felt awkward -as if I was intruding on someone else’s history; as if I was being disrespectful.

However, the students I spoke to were rather vehement about the importance of taking photographs. One said “it proves you were there”, another “they are memories”. Does taking photographs or video footage augment or diminish our embodied experience?

Auschwitz gates

To return to the Sobchack quote, modern technology has the capability to collapse the temporal dimensions of history. It can diminish the sense of a narrative where the past is behind us, the present is what is being experienced and the future something yet to come. The individual frames of photograph or film can bring to our attention the significance of the experienced event and raise questions about the notion of history as ‘story’. Each click of the camera or press of the record button signifies an embodied moment or event detached from a wider narrative – a moment of action dictated by the body and one where choices are made by the photographer. What is it from this moment that they wish to capture? What, in the perceptual horizon in front of them, is their intentionality drawn to? What are they specifically conscious of at this moment? How does their choice of framing and positioning emphasise their corporeal experience of the site? Sobchack reminds us that consciousness is always consciousness of something and the camera can often be a tool that augments our experience of a place by allowing us to capture the specific objects of our intentionality at any given moment and return to it repeatedly. Sometimes, upon re-viewing the image we can see shapes or objects we didn’t notice with the naked eye.

The action of the click collapses the temporal dimensions of time because it highlights its subjective nature. Time is not necessarily experienced as a mythical, objective narrative that joins individual moments together. Instead, here the photographer has a relationship with the past, present and future simultaneously. This is not to say they live the time we refer to as the past, the now and a futuristic moment at once, but rather that in the moment when they click the button on their camera they instantly collapse their embodied relationship with these three temporal dimensions. That is to say, their pressing of the button identifies that they are making a conscious choice not only to look at the traces of the past in front of them, but to reflect on this past in the present moment, by taking an image that will continue to commemorate both this present and the past being reflected on, in the future.

The representation and remembering of history thus becomes an event which will eventually be sutured into the participant’s story of the Holocaust (for it is in our nature as human beings to make stories of everything even if we do not experience life as such). In the embodied action of the click of the camera they say: “Here I was, looking at the traces of what happened here. I ask you to also see. Look and remember.”

But there is always the problem of iconoclasm. At an site such as Auschwitz, which has come to stand as a symbol of the Holocaust and a symbol of evil in the public consciousness, do we take photographs of things which affect us personally or take photographs of those objects which we recognise as iconic?  Are we in danger of repeating the same images and reducing the Holocaust to a set of trope photographs which could be misinterpreted as the sum of the entire event?

References

Sobchack, Vivian (1996) The Persistence of History: Cinema, Television and the Modern Event, London, UK: Routledge.

Sontag, Susan (1979) On Photography, London, UK & New York, USA: Penguin.

Struck, Janina (2004) Photographing the Holocaust: Interpretations of the Evidence, London, UK & New York, USA: I.B. Tauris.

By Mona Sakr

An overview Loke and Robertson’s ‘Making Strange’ methodology and a discussion of its relevance to embodiment

In Loke and Robertson’s (2008) ‘making strange’ methodology, the way we perceive and feel the moving body is actively unsettled in order to find new perspectives on the body and bodily interaction. The practice of ‘making strange’ builds on the work of dancer Maxine Sheets-Johnstone who explored the phenomenological consequences when individuals disrupted their familiar or habitual movements. In ‘making strange’, our assumptions and habitual understandings about the body are unsettled through explicit inquiries into movement. Loke and Robertson argue that de-familiarising the movements of the body can open up new spaces in the design of artefacts and technologies. It can help us to invent or devise new types of movement; it enables an investigation into the experience of movement; and it encourages us to find new methods for re-enacting or recording movement.

 So how does ‘making strange’ work? Loke and Robertson suggest a range of techniques that can facilitate innovative thinking about the body and movement:

  • Scoring – a simple score might consist of three movements e.g. walking, standing and crouching, but by improvising in terms of the speed, duration, order, focus, or use of space, these movements can be radically altered.
  • Falling – unorthodox movements, like falling, can help us to re-feel and re-negotiate our relationship with the moving body.
  • Somatics – certain practices, like Qi Gong, can help us to become more aware of our felt sensations and to prioritise these over the external perception of movement.
  • Finding Pathways – what part of the body do you lead with when you move, and what would happen if this were changed? Try walking left shoulder-first, or leading with your elbow when you lift your arm.
  • Imagery – the language we use to talk about the body and movement can help us to enact movements differently. Think of the ‘light as a feather, stiff as a board’ game that you may have played when you were younger. Chanting these words as a group while lifting one of your peers changes the experience.

For dancers, these techniques are a way of accessing, inventing and designing new forms of movement. For researchers of the body though, we also need methods for capturing responses to these movement techniques. And as designers, we need to link these responses to, or ‘write’ them into, systems that depend on movement.

Some ideas for recording responses might include:

  • Video to capture the movement
  • Transcriptions of the movement through visual plots e.g. plotting the motion of particular points on the body
  • Photography to capture the moments that define the essential points of the movement e.g. when we raise our hands, the essence of the movement is in the fingers raised towards the sky
  • In situ comments on the phenomenological consequences of the movement
  • Oral or written reflective commentaries

‘Making strange’ is an exciting starting point in the design of embodied interaction. Beyond the techniques it suggests though, we need robust methods for capturing the outcomes of practising these techniques, along with guidelines for implementing them in the design of systems that depend on whole-body interaction. For me, the next step in understanding the ‘making strange’ methodology will be to try the techniques suggested by Loke and Robertson and to capture my responses in the ways I’ve suggested.  Will the outcomes be useful in thinking about and designing for whole-body interaction?

Loke, L. & Robertson, T. (2008) Inventing and devising movement in the design of movement-based interactive systems. OZCHI’08 (81-88).

By Mona Sakr

Exploring the usefulness of the ‘body-thing dialogue’ metaphor for understanding embodied interaction in digital environments

In 2006, Larssen, Robertson & Edwards presented the paper ‘How it feels, not just how it looks: When bodies interact with technology’ at the Australian Computer-Human Interaction conference (OZCHI). In this paper, they suggest that  the embodied nature of interactions with technology can be accessed by thinking about each interaction as a body-thing dialogue. The body-thing dialogue is the bodily interaction that occurs between an individual and an artifact. The body-thing dialogue happens through the mode of movement and makes possible the potential for action that forms the basis of the interaction. Through this metaphor, Larssen et al. hoped to shift the focus towards the bodily nature of interactions with technologies – the extent to which these experiences are physically felt.

I would argue that the body-thing dialogue is a useful metaphor in some ways and a misleading one in other ways.

It is useful because it draws attention to the distinct and temporal nature of each embodied interaction:

  • Every dialogue we engage in is different. Similarly, in human-computer interaction each interaction with technology unfolds in a specific way and in a particular context. Flow diagrams based on a non-existent ‘typical’ user do not help us to access the nature of embodied interaction.
  • Every dialogue unfolds over time and can radically change from moment to moment. Similarly, each embodied interaction takes place over time and is historical – each aspect of the interaction happens in relation to the aspects that have preceded it.

But the metaphor of the body-thing dialogue is also a misleading way to think about embodied interactions in digital environments:

  • Movement is a different mode to speech, with different opportunities and constraints. Is it right to apply the notion of ‘dialogue’ in the context of movement?
  • Can we apply the term ‘dialogue’ to make sense of the way movements unfold between ‘a body’ and ‘a thing’? Certainly, the movements of the body and the movements of an object are not equivalents in the way that the speech of two human participants is.
  • Larssen et al. suggest that the body-thing dialogue is a useful way of looking at ‘how we use our proprioceptive sense and motor skills when incorporating a tool in our bodily space so that it becomes an extension of our bodies’ (p. 2). The notion of dialogue takes us away, however, from the concept of incorporation. In a dialogue, there is self and other – the object responds to us, rather than becoming an extension of us.

So what alternative metaphors or conceptual tools enable us to think about embodied interaction in digital environments? I have yet to come across a theory that helps to frame interactions with artefacts so that the focus is on the body and felt experience, but does not trip into the pitfalls outlined above. We need to conceptualise interactions as physical couplings without using metaphors that draw on other modes of communication.

Larssen, A. T., Robertson, T., & Edwards, J. (2006, November). How it feels, not just how it looks: when bodies interact with technology. In Proceedings of the 18th Australia conference on Computer-Human Interaction: Design: Activities, Artefacts and Environments (pp. 329-332). ACM.

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.

References 

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: http://www.journal.media-culture.org.au/0512/03-shouse.php

An overview of upcoming conferences and other research events which may be of interest to those researching embodiment and affect. 

by Victoria Grace Walden

 1) Being non/human discussion group in London, UK

An inter-disciplinary discussion group for postgraduate students and early career researchers. Possible topics could include, but are not limited to:

• The human as a distinct entity

• The posthuman

• The animal / ‘animot’

• Nature and Ecomaterialism

• ‘Thing Theory’, ‘Object Oriented Ontology’ – what does it mean to be an ‘object’ or ‘thing’?

• Metamorphoses, hybrids, monsters

• The nonhuman as an incorporeal being

• Automata, simulations, technology

 The initial call for papers has now passed, but for more information contact: being.non.human@gmail.com             

 

2) Trauma: Theory and Practice Conference, Prague, Czech Republic

Saturday 22nd March – Tuesday 25th March 2014

Themes include:

  • Public and Political Trauma
  • Personal and Individual Trauma
  • Diagnosing and Treating Trauma
  • Theorising Trauma
  • Representing Trauma

 300 word abstracts due by Friday 11th October 2013

Full draft papers due by Friday 17th January 2014

 For more information visit: http://www.inter-disciplinary.net/at-the-interface/evil/trauma/call-for-papers/

 

 3) 2014 Humanities Symposium, Affect and Inquiry at University of Iowa, USA

March 27th– 29th 2014

Call for papers about topics including:

  • The roles of technology and science in shaping the sensory dimension of inquiry
  • The affects of production, interaction, experience, and spectatorship in film, art and literature
  • Historiography, performance, sport, photography, psychology, sociology, and medicine
  • Anti-racist, queer, feminist, socio-economic, and postcolonial critiques of reason
  • Engage scholarship in local communities; engaged and experimental pedagogies
  • Interdisciplinary collaboration across methods, personalities and fields
  • Critiques of affect studies and the challenges of studying “precognition”

 Abstracts should be submitted to affectandinquiry@uiowa.edu by September 15th 2013

For more information visit: http://obermann.uiowa.edu/2013-2014-affect-and-inquiry/call-papers

 

4) Society for Phenomenology and Media, Furtwangen and Freiburg, Germany

March 12th– 15th 2014

Call for Papers which are organised around a specific media, for example: film, the Internet, mobile communication, medieval manuscripts, print media, stage drama, television, visual art, dance etc.

The Society for Phenomenology and Media encourages interdisciplinary approaches and theoretical diversity. Papers need not be limited to phenomenological approaches. Past papers have come from diverse theoretical perspectives, including critical theory, cultural studies, hermeneutics, Marxism, New Historicism, post-colonial theory, pragmatism, semiotics, speech-act theory, and others.

 Abstracts should be submitted by October 20th 2013

Papers accepted and presented are published in Glimpse, the annual publication of SPM.

For more information visit: http://societyphenmedia.wix.com/socphenmedia#!info

 

Highlights and thoughts regarding embodiment, affect, film and media from this year’s conference

by Victoria Grace Walden

Conference director Phillip Drummond hospitably accommodated more than 150 speakers, including key note presenters professors Laura Mulvey and Toby Miller alongside Dr. Cathy Ross, Jeremy Black and film and television writer Joe Ahearne at this year’s Film and Media conference. Below I share just some of the highlights which refer to issues of affect and embodiment.

Dr. Cathy Ross’s (Museum of London) opening keynote on Thursday explored how the city museum incorporates new technology into its museum spaces. She discussed the museum’s augmented reality phone app which allows users to see “this spot in history” at certain places in the capital. Then explained how digital imagery and film were used in a variety of exhibitions, discussing the mixed reactions of visitors in some areas such as the slavery gallery and the Blitz.

Dr. Ross touched on how our perception and desires of museum spaces are changing. Visitors expect interaction and emotional experiences in museums and the more traditional “knowledge” online. This made me reflect: what is knowledge? Do we always have to consider it as a cognitive asset? Can becoming submerged in interactive experiences that provoke emotions and sensations not offer a corporeal form of “knowledge”? Are we moving into an age which we might define by this “new knowledge”?

Also, how do/ can we engage with affect and the historical in museum spaces though media? What are the limitations? What are the ethical implications? Are there any topics where the digital and moving image could be deemed inappropriate?

I’ll be focusing on some of these issues in a future blog after visiting some of London’s museum sites this summer.

Mason Kamana Allred (University of California Berkeley, USA)  spoke at the “Spectacles of History 1” panel about Ernst Lubitsch’s Madam Dubarry (1919) questioning whether cinema could offer a new form of history to traditional, epistemological and scientific representations of the past. He linked the work of Frank Ankersmit on sublime historical experience to the phenomenological ideas of Vivian Sobchack in order to explore a prelinguistic, subjective history that perhaps can be felt at the cinema.

Three other papers which particularly grabbed my attention and jointly encouraged me to think about my relationship with the screen were Dr Douglas Keesey’s (California Polytechnic State University, USA)  discussion of the illusion of choice and morality regarding death in the Final Destination franchise; Elena Wooley’s (King’s College, London)  paper on disaster movies and the use of surrogates) for suffering in films of the genre in order to translate terror into entertainment (such as spectacularly collapsing buildings rather than close-ups of human victims); and Dr Sian Mitchell’s (SAE, Australia) exploration of her experience of a delayed (or continuous) affect after watching Lars Von Trier’s Melancholia (2010).

These three papers raised questions about how I relate to bodies on screen. In the Final Destination films I discover, like the characters, I cannot cheat death. As such, the diegeses of the films extend beyond the frame as my understanding of real life is affected by the actions on screen. In films such as 2012 (Emmerich, 2009), I see only the protagonists up-close therefore connecting with the survivors. I never see the human extent of the catastrophe, yet the entire world seems to collapse around me. I leave the auditorium with an ecstatic sense of immortality – I have cheated death, I have survived the end of the world. In contrast, as the credits close on Melancholia I feel I have been cheated of death. As the beautiful closing light sucks the colour from the film and Wagner’s music crescendos neither reach their conclusion before the fade to black. The audio-visual image seems transcendental, but never allows me to fully submerge in its glory. As Dr Alex Ling (University of West Sydney, Australia) noted that’s because Von Trier is continuously reminding us that his films are only movies. This is Otherness, this is fantasy, this is not my experience to claim.

film and media conference film studies phillip drummond toby miller

 Phillip Drummond and Toby Miller at the closing key note

Image: Victoria Grace Walden

 

 

By Mona Sakr

How important is the body in a world of email communication and blogging? It seems that individuals can have influence on others without ever referencing their body. Or do emails and blogs reference a different kind of body? Does digital communication depend on imagined bodies? When I read a blog, do I necessarily imagine a body for the blogger? If so, what shape do these imaginings take?

I try this out…

I visit Keri Smith’s blog. Keri Smith is an illustrator and writer who makes quirky and beautiful books (e.g. ‘How to be an explorer of the world’). The most recent post on her blog is a photographed image of used teabags, followed by a quote from Georges Perec. Before I read the quote or reflect on the image, I imagine the actions that were necessary for the information in front of me to be gathered. Some one needed to have taken that photograph. Given that Keri Smith is an artist, I imagine that she took the photograph and she set up the scene to be photographed. I imagine also that she read this particular quote in the context of more general reading, and that her choice of this quote was marked by an embodied activity – looking up from the novel perhaps to consider what has just been read, or folding over the edge of the page to mark the place where the quote appears.

Image

In short, my appreciation of the blogpost is coupled with the reconstruction of activity that I assume made it possible. The activities were presumably carried out by a body. While I do not imagine a particular body with certain physical features, I think in terms of actions and capabilities – what the body must have been capable of doing and what it did. I make sense of the blog and the individual who writes it through this imagining of the body. I like the actions that (I assume) made the blog possible, and I therefore like the blog and blogger.

What place is there for imagined bodies in theories of social media and digital communication?

By Mona Sakr

Yesterday, MODE hosted a training day on embodiment in digital environments. The day was brimming with ideas, approaches and contexts. They all stemmed however, from the central concept that the body plays an essential role in human experience – so essential that theoretical divides between mind and body are difficult, if not impossible, to make.

Digital environments highlight the need to prioritise the body and help to explain why embodiment as a framework has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. But these environments also call into question the very idea of the body (ie. what we mean by ‘body’) and its role in learning and experience. They enable us to grapple in new ways with old ideas about embodiment, and at the same time they demand that we ask new questions about embodiment as a concept and theory.

New and old questions about embodiment were explored through a wide range of research contexts as represented by the day’s speakers and in the mini-workshops:

  • Caroline Pelletier questioned what it means to represent the body realistically in the context of surgical simulation, and the different genres of representation that can be invoked in such environments.
  • Carey Jewitt and Sara Price looked at the positioning of the body in children’s scientific inquiry using tangible technologies. Using multimodal analysis, they demonstrated the importance of the body for setting the rhythm and pace of social interaction and learning.
  • Anton Franks and Andrew Burns introduced the concepts of frame, affect, action, role and voice in analysing the computer games that young people construct.
  • Niall Winters introduced the possibility that individuals’ tactical spatial practices are changed through their use of mobile technologies. Participants in the seminar had hands-on experience of how this might happen by exploring the area surrounding the London Knowledge Lab while using apps that encourage users to engage with space differently.