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).
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.
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
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.
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.