Archives for posts with tag: identity

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.

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An introduction to Biocca’s theory of ‘the phenomenal body’ and questions about its usefulness in emerging digital environments. 

In digital environments that involve an on-screen avatar, there appear to be two bodies to consider: the corporeal body through which we control the digital environment, and the digital body that appears to act upon the digital environment. Biocca (1997) has conceptualised the duality of the body across digital and non-digital environments as a constant tension or struggle to influence the phenomenal body, which can be thought of as our embodied presence in the world.

Berit

When we interact with digital environments, the phenomenal body arises as a result of experiences in both digital and non-digital domains via both the digital and the corporeal body. At times we may become so engrossed in a digital environments that our corporeal bodies are forgotten or rather, they become less important to the phenomenal body. Alternatively, if the digital body is unconvincing as a set of semiotic resources (e.g. as a result of lack of customizability), the phenomenal body will be more related to corporeal experience and less related to digital manifestations of the body.

What about in digital environments where there is no avatar? In tangible interfaces, the corporeal body influences both the physical and the digital world. The corporeal body controls (and is seen to be in control of) physical and digital representations. So in cases like this, is the corporeal body also the digital body, or has the distinction become an unnecessary or unhelpful one to make?

Biocca, F. (1997, August). The cyborg’s dilemma: Embodiment in virtual environments. Retrieved online 07.06.2013: http://jcmc.indiana.edu/vol3/issue2/biocca2.html

By Mona Sakr

Monaghan (2005; cited in Malcrida & Low, 2008)

Monaghan explores the possibility that spoiled body identities can be saved via online communities.

Identities are often spoiled through perceptions of the body. One common example is the de-valuing of identities associated with ‘fat’ bodies. But how are these bodies presented and performed in online spaces in order to save the identities with which they are associated? Forums and communities build up to celebrate these bodies. The virtual constructions of ‘fat’ bodies are fundamentally different to their constructions in the offline world.

‘the internet allows fleshy bodies to become more durable and valued cyborgs’ (p. 60)

‘the internet provides space for alternative definitions of… embodiment’ (p. 61).

Monaghan, L. F. (2005) Big Handsome Men, Bears and Others: Virtual Constructions of ‘Fat Male Embodiment’. In C. Malacrida & J. Low (Eds.) Sociology of the Body: A Reader (pp. 57 – 65). Ontario: Oxford University Press. 

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

In my last post, I talked about the link between bodies and ‘self’ and I suggested three ways of thinking about this relationship:

PERFORMANCE (bodies perform the ‘self’)

MOMENTS (bodily moments make up the ‘self’)

MEDIATION (experience is mediated by the body)

boat race 1

Watching the boat race this weekend, they seemed like a good way of making sense of the part that bodies played in this spectacle, and a starting point for further questions about the body…

PERFORMANCE: In sports, we use every trick we have to create the conditions for our success. Part of this is using our bodies to perform to others. We use our bodies to perform competence, to perform victory. Before the boat race began, the competitors inhabited their bodies in particular ways. They sat up straight, they looked straight ahead, they embodied the role of fierce and focused competitor. In moments of physical exhaustion, the performance crumbled… At the finish line, the individual in ‘stroke’ position in the Oxford boat, collapsed backwards and was dribbling. It took him a few minutes to regain composure and embody the role of victor. When can we perform and when can we not? What role do the moments of non-performance play in the making of ‘self’?

MOMENTS: I can’t say for sure, but I would guess that the individuals taking part in the boat race will remember it for a long time to come. What will they remember? Will they remember the physical exhaustion and exhilaration? They might well talk about these aspects of the experience, but is it possible to remember bodily experience? Try remembering what it’s like to feel cold when you’re hot, or what it’s like to feel nervous when you’re relaxed. What is the relationship between body and memory?

MEDIATION: Not everyone can participate in the boat race. Not everyone has a body that fits the bill. Only the men’s boat race is televised. Bodies allow us to own certain experiences and not others, so can they be conceptualised as currency?

By Mona Sakr

The 3rd edition of Chris Shilling’s ‘The Body and Social Theory’ was published in September 2012. The book provides an overview of the body as an organising principle in sociology. 

The body and social theory 2

Shilling suggests that bodies are being taken more seriously than ever by sociologists. While the founding fathers of sociology may have only talked about the body implicitly, a robust sociology of the body is emerging as a result of various social changes. Feminism, consumerism and an aging population have all drawn our attention to the body. We’ve started to think about our bodies as active entities rather than passive containers. They are essential in our identity, since how can we perform if not through the body?

Shilling makes a link between body and ‘self’. Who are we if not our bodies? But how exactly are our bodies implicated in the construction of self? I think about this relationship in three ways (but I’m sure there are others):

PERFORMANCE: We might use the body to perform to others. Getting a tattoo is a way of using the body to construct a public self, but also to re-assert self in our own eyes.

MOMENTS: The body plays an essential role in the fundamental moments of our lives. Periods of illness, the physical components of distress and joy, bodily embarrassment – these aspects of existence may be what we think about when we think about ‘self’.

MEDIATION: The life we lead depends on the body we have. My experiences of the world are mediated by my body; as a result, my ‘self’ is also mediated by the world.