Archives for posts with tag: subjectivity

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.

Advertisements

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.

By Mona Sakr

‘Just as others have argued that it is through our ways of seeing the world that we become viewing subjects (see Crang, 1997), it is through our bodies that we become doing subjects.’ (p. 261)

Jaworski, A. & Thurlow, C. (2011) Gesture and movement in tourist spaces. In C. Jewitt (Ed.) The Routledge Handbook of Multimodal Analysis. Abingdon: Routledge, pp. 253 – 263.

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.