Tag Archives: embodiment


Aforementioned busy-ness (as opposed to business, but I think I could also use business there, but it might’ve been confusing for y’all) is probably going to prevent me from posting anything in depth and/or funny over the next little while (59 days til Thesis D Day* OHMYGAAH), but as I do the final bits of reading and writing up I want to share some ideas as I come to them.

Today I’m writing about phenomenology. Don’t worry if you don’t get it; I’ve been enrolled in my course since March 2008, and I think I only just really managed to understand phenomenology in September 2012… and even then, I’m probably waaayy off track.


edmund husserl on a paper plate. kind of starts to begin to explain phenomenology, only not at all. i think they purposely made it confusing, like you have to be a member of some elite club. the secret password is the ability to say ‘phenomenology’ without stumbling on your words. //source//

In short though, the idea is that we understand the world – and ourselves – through lived, embodied perception. That is, there’s no point in deploying Cartesian dualisms and suggesting that the mind and body are distinct entities (dualisms that always privilege the mind), and that the body is simply the vessel for the mind. In phenomenology, as in other social thought, the body and the mind are as one.

From an article I’m working from today:

The phenomenological body is inherently reflexive, but it is a reflexivity related to perception, to a corporeal mode of knowing… The flesh of the body becomes part of the flesh of the world, where the flesh of the world refers to the perceptibility that characterizes all worldly reality that is actualized but not created by human perception.**

Now, I know. This is dense stuff. But think of it, if you will, as saying that we do not live in the world; we are part of the world. We do not have bodies; we are bodies. Everything we know, all of our opinions and truths and values, are based upon our experiences as embodied individuals that are simultaneously in and of the physical world. There is no ability to escape the history of the embodied self, and geography at this point is critical, as the spaces we inhabit are the spaces of us. We give meaning to the spaces around us, and this creates places of those spaces.***

I’m so endlessly fascinated by the notion of the body, the mind, and the physical world as inherently intertwined. The idea that I am a part of everything around me, philosophically at least, is so enthralling. It means that everything I do – all of my experiences, all of my interactions, all of my movements through space – are linked together and contribute to the person that is Me. It’s the reason that identity is constantly in flux – new parts of the story are added and the past is reflected upon through the lens of this fresh context. All of our experiences, from the most banal to the most devastating to the most magnificent, happen because we are embodied individuals that occupy space. All of our reality is such because we have found a way to interpret it through our place in the world. Isn’t that grand?

It also speaks volumes of the experience of feeling out of place: when you are feeling hurt, unsure, rejected, or alone, there is this shell shock, this sense of feeling like your body doesn’t fit in the world at that point in time. It’s the reason why the longing that comes with separation from those that you love can physically hurt. Through the body we understand and we feel. We know how our body fits into the world, we know who we are because of the distance between our bodies and those of users, and we forge our identities based upon what our bodies bring: growth, illness, childbirth, racism, blushing, butterflies in the stomach. They’re all somatic experiences of being a person.

The relationship between bodies, identities, and geographies is such a marvellous, complex issue, I believe. It makes me aware of my insignificance in this world, but at the same time endows me with a sense of responsibility that I ought to care for the world as I would care for myself.


google images tells me this is phenomenology, which i suppose is not an inaccurate representation of how my brain feels when i think about this. //source//

*D-Day = draft day, y’all, as in the full draft.

**Kirsten Simonsen (2012). In quest of a new humanism: Embodiment, experiences, and phenomenology as critical geographyProgress in Human Geography 37(1), p.16)

***As I’ve mentioned in another post, I read the different between ‘space’ and ‘place’ as, simply, place being space made meaningful. So an empty room in a house you’ve never visited is a space, but when you enter that space, you bring with it parts of your being: memories, thoughts, physical objects, experiences. That space becomes meaningful; it becomes a place.

Body/mind, real/virtual.

Axel Bruns, talking wise in 1999

So, how solid is the flesh, and how volatile is the mind? To ask the question this way would only mean continuing a binary division that doesn’t appear to exist in reality. As we have seen, the supposedly ephemeral, bodiless existence of cyberspace is showing signs of solidification, while on the other hand the solidity of what we refer to as ‘the real world’ (in contrast to ‘the virtual’) is always only a temporal appearance: all flesh is mortal, as it were. In the end, though, perhaps the lesson is that despite all the popular fiction claiming the opposite, flesh and mind are much less divisible than they seem. We don’t just leave the body behind as we enter cyberspace, and ‘real life’ isn’t somehow automatically more ‘real’ than ‘virtual’ experience. This is evident in other fields of cyberdevelopment, too: after all, the main point of virtual reality gadgetry is to replicate physical experience — we might want to mould the flesh into new forms, but we’re hardly trying to get rid of it.

Thoughts in the morning. 

The Computer for the 21st Century

I just came across this article as I was doing some last-minute research for the chapter on mobile Internet, place, and embodied identity that I’m currently finishing up.

The Computer for the 21st Century, by Mark Weiser (1991) is probably one of the best early articles I’ve read about ubiquitous computing that actually hits the nail on the head, and doesn’t sound entirely fantastic and (in light of knowing the direction that ubiquitous, invisible computer seems to be going in) completely off the mark.

In fact, some of what they were working on at the Xerox Palo Alto Research Center in 1991 resembles closely the technologies that we’re using today:

Ubiquitous computers will also come in different sizes, each suited to a particular task. My colleagues and I have built what we call tabs, pads and boards: inch-scale machines that approximate active Post-it notes, foot-scale ones that behave something like a sheet of paper (or a book for a magazine) and yard-scale displays that are the equivalent of a blackboard or bulletin board (p. 98).

Referring to tabs as “the smallest components of embodied virtuality”, Weiser recognises that in order to be truly effective, technologies must “disappear into the background”, “interconnected in a ubiquitous network” and possessing some kind of ability to determine physical location (p. 98).

Sound familiar?

It seems that, despite forays into the world of handheld, wireless computing in the early 1980s, many projects were sidelined in favour of desktop and laptop based computing that dominated the 1990s and the first decade of the 21st century. This isn’t something that I’ve read into substantially, but perhaps it was only with the various technological stars – bandwidth, GUIs, cost, processor capability – aligning over the past few years that the potential of handheld computing has again been realised.

By pushing computers into the background, embodied virtuality will make individuals more aware of the people on the other ends of their computer links… Ubiquitous computers…reside in the human world and pose no barrier to personal interactions. If anything, the transparent connections that they offer between different locations and times may tend to bring communities closer together (p. 104).

Although there is most certainly still a place for computers in this world, the growing impact of handheld devices – particularly smartphones, but also tablets – isn’t to be ignored, and speaks back to much earlier intuitions of the place that computing technology would one day take in our societies.

This is why I keep going.

The sensory-inscribed mode of embodiment places the subject in a vital role in the writing and practice of history as that which is defined as a present recognizing itself as a formulation of the past. Here, the process of ‘re-membering’ (i.e., the constructing of community history and the battle that ensues over who is able to construct history) is very much an embodied experience. Re-membering is a construction of various pieces that, while not the Grand Narrative of history, is instead an experience of ongoing creation. This type of creation is not simply a retelling of what was, but is an embodied experience of the phenomenology of temporality. The body plays a role in at least two ways here. First, it serves as the metaphor for the self’s constructive relationship to history… Secondly, the body is integral to the construction of history because culture and bodies are indelibly linked to representation and history.

Farman, Jason (2012). Mobile Interface Theory. Routledge: New York; Abingdon, p.125

The past few days have brought more pleasant discoveries and excited moments of learning than the months leading up to this point. Perhaps it’s the fact that I know I’m so close to finishing my thesis, but all I want to do is keep reading and writing and absorbing all this information.

I have been reading about embodiment and place and locative media and mobile phones and networks and storytelling and so much more. I’m so happy that I finally want this.