BODIES OF POWER:
November 4-5, 2021
Florida Atlantic University | Boca Raton
Political regimes wield their power on and through our bodies.
However, bodies also provide instruments for individuals and
groups to find emancipation through creative somaesthetic
action. Explore the complex issues of bodies and power with an
international and multidisciplinary group of expert researchers.
For more information, please visit
About the Journal
The Journal of Somaesthetics is a peer-reviewed, online, academic research journal devoted to research that advances the interdisciplinary field of somaesthetics, understood as the critical study and meliorative cultivation of the experience and performance of the living body (or soma) as a site of sensory appreciation (aesthesis) and creative self-stylization
The Journal of Somaesthetics figures in the Danish BFI (Bibliometric Research Indicator) list as a level one journal. The Journal of Somaesthetics is Elsevier Scopus indexed.
The Journal of Somaesthetics is funded by:
BODIES OF POWER:
“What is the difference of somaesthetics and phenomenology?” This is the question a teacher of body philosophy encounters when s/he presents somaesthetics, the less known of these two approaches to the philosophy of the body.
The answer might look simple. Phenomenology, when focused on the body, has been the main academic tradition of philosophical body-consciousness. Phenomenologists have mainly aspired to stay academic and theoretical with an epistemological objective and the approach has not originally been established for practical use. Somaesthetics, a much later concept, has been right from the beginning fueled by an aspiration to lead theory and bodily practices into a dialogue – where both could enhance their (for the body often just tacit) knowledge with the help of the other. And if phenomenology, although later actively adapted in e.g. Japan and South Korea, is very (broadly speaking) Central European by its nature, somaesthetics, with roots in the pragmatist philosophy that developed in the United States, has right from its very beginnings, in the early 2000s, encouraged dialogue between different philosophical traditions, both ‘Western’ and ‘non-Western’.
However, the issue becomes complicated when looking at the communities working on and with the approaches. Some phenomenologists today are actually dancers, karateka and/or yogi, others apply phenomenology to e.g. robotics and interface and interaction design, and so actually put phenomenology into practice in a way somaesthetics has made programmatic for itself. Contrary, many who write about somaesthetics are actually classical academic philosophers in the sense that their main bodily practice is to sit behind a desk and drink (too much) coffee.
Both traditions take pride in their roots, phenomenology in the philosophical springs of the Brentano-Husserl connection (without forgetting the threads of reflections that have made e.g. René Descartes a central figure in the corpus), and somaesthetics in Dewey’s philosophy of experience and his moderately experimental attitude (without forgetting the way already Peirce and James built approaches to the body). Practically, many who are into phenomenology have not actually much looked at its very beginnings (although the interest in Husserl is somehow rising in importance again), and they start from Merleau-Ponty or Heidegger. The same way, for example Dewey’s original life work is for many somaestheticians known only through the work of later thinkers of pragmatism, most notably of course Richard Shusterman, the initiator of the discussion of somaesthetics.
What could a comparative and/or critical and/or synthetizing inquiry into the relationship of these two approaches bring forth? What are the key differences (historical sources, practical writing, applications) – and could somaesthetics and phenomenology profit from having more philosophical dialogue? What about their very origins? Pragmatism could historically be seen as an offspring of earlier continental philosophy that was imported to the new world through European diaspora. Dewey also went to China for a period and applied some of his Eastern learnings to his philosophy of art and phenomenology had already in Husserl an Asian (Japanese) connection that became stronger with Heidegger (who, besides his dialogues with Japanese thinkers, started to translate Tao Te Ching). Has Asian thinking shaped the emergence of both philosophies in a way that unites them in some respect already quite early – and to what extent? The same could be asked about the continental European philosophies that were imported to Harvard, the birthplace of pragmatism, but served also as a background to the evolution of phenomenology. Peirce attacked Cartesians that dominated Harvard’s philosophical atmosphere, but Husserl engaged in reinterpreting Descartes. Still the source is the same.
One of the original main sources for the birth and early development of phenomenology, the work (i.e. teaching and research) of psychologist and philosopher Franz Brentano, featured intense reflection on the unity of consciousness (see, e.g. Brentano 1995, see, e.g. 57). This same awe about the way we are able to keep focus and to feel mentally centralized, despite all fragmentation, despite being bombarded with random impulses, thoughts and multi-faceted stimulation – in other words, these ‘problems of oneness and unity occupied [Edmund] Husserl throughout all the phases of his philosophical development’ (Sawicki 2001). Husserl, like Sigmund Freud (another theorist of the mind), was Brentano’s student, and the philosopher who appropriated Brentano’s term ‘phenomenology’, which was originally reserved for descriptive psychology. Husserl used it for his new take on scientific thinking by adapting Brentano’s view that being is intentional – and, e.g., challenging his students and readers to take up a new craft of philosophy by systematically dropping perceptional prejudices through reduction (see e.g. Husserl 1990), i.e. through taking away all uncertainties from our accounts of what we sense (which could of course also be read as also one new way to gain more focus for perception and experience).
According to Daniel Dennett, unity of consciousness is needed for survival. Unity of consciousness is, though, still over-emphasized, according to Dennett, as we are not as much in control of our consciousness as we might think, and nor are we even able to grasp it strongly enough to claim possession of it (see e.g. Dennett 1991). It might be that Dennett’s comment to the phenomenologists is true, and that (to make a banal point) those who were able to focus better were more often able to pass their genes to the next generation, but, still, the way ‘things’ sometimes just ‘come together’ into focus, in a way that also feels remarkable, has perhaps been a key experience that has fueled the active, systematic introspection of both Brentano and Husserl. A pragmatist reader might also easily think that it shares some key components with Dewey’s idea of an experience.
The way we are able, with all our fragmented impulses, thoughts and multi-faceted stimulation, to sometimes intensify and build focused experience, feeling not just mentally centralized but also somatically centralized, is a main tenet in Dewey’s aspiration to theorize moments when all our fragmentated memories, impulses, and mental and sensuous stimuli come together in an experience (Dewey 1980). He simply left the narrow intellect behind, and went for a broader unity, but also drags in the organic rhythms of the body – and accentuates memories, (aesthetic) skills and the active construction of the experience. One cannot of course equate consciousness and experience, but both threads of thinking share the same interest in mental focus.
Both phenomenology and pragmatism have mainly worked without empirical data, and they have focused on philosophical descriptions (and introspection), argumentation and speculation (which I have nothing against). If (the significantly later) Dewey described activities as different as cleaning the house and gazing at paintings to make his point, while never particularly detailing the organic rhythms of the body that he mentioned several times, and not being interested in working out taxonomies of holistic experience, Brentano worked only, and restrictively, in the sphere of the mind. The body, though, gained increasingly focus in the work of the line of phenomenologists that starts from Edmund Husserl.
What is Somaesthetics?
Somaesthetics is an interdisciplinary research product devoted to the critical study and meliorative cultivation of the experience and use of the living body (or soma) as a site of sensory appreciation (aesthesis) and creative self-stylization. An ameliorative discipline of both theory and practice, somaesthetics seeks to enrich not only our discursive knowledge of the body but also our lived somatic experience and performance; it aims to improve the meaning, understanding, efficacy, and beauty of our movements and of the environments to which our actions contribute and from which they also derive their energies and significance. To pursue these aims, somaesthetics is concerned with a wide diversity of knowledge forms, discourses, social practices and institutions, cultural traditions and values, and bodily disciplines that structure (or could improve) such somatic understanding and cultivation, and it is therefore an interdisciplinary project, in which theory and practice are closely connected and reciprocally nourish each other. It is not limited to one theoretical field, academic or professional vocabulary, cultural ideology, or particular set of bodily disciplines. Rather it aims to provide an overarching theoretical structure and a set of basic and versatile conceptual tools to enable a more fruitful interaction and integration of the very diverse forms of somatic knowledge currently being practiced and pursued. There is an impressive, even overwhelming abundance of discourse about the body in many disciplines of contemporary theory and commercial enterprise. But such somatic discourse typically lacks two important features. First, a structuring overview or architectonic that could integrate their very different discourses into a more productively coherent or interrelated field. It would be useful to have a broad framework (which does not mean a unified, highly consistent system) that could connect, for example, the discourse of biopolitics to the therapies of bioenergetics, the neuroscience of hand gestures to their aesthetic meaning in Nõ theater. The second feature lacking in most academic discourse on embodiment is a clear pragmatic orientation — something that the individual can clearly employ or apply to his or her life in terms of disciplines of improved somatic practice. Somaesthetics offers a way to address both these deficiencies.
The journal therefore welcomes contributions exploring the field of somaesthetics through one -or more- of the many disciplines that already inform this field: philosophy, aesthetics, arts and design research, technology studies, somatic, health, and social sciences, history, physiology, psychology and pedagogy.
The Journal of Somaesthetics will be published twice a year, and each issue will be principally structured on a particular theme or topic. Supported by a distinguished multidisciplinary and international editorial board of advisors,
The Journal of Somaesthetics is edited by Prof. Falk Heinrich (Denmark), Prof. Richard Shusterman (USA), Else-Marie Bukdhahl (Denmark), Prof. Stefan Valdemar Snævarr (Norway), Professor Dag Svanaes (Norway), Senior Lecturer Max Ryynänen (Finland), Prof. Arto Haapala (Finland), Anne Tarvainen (Finland), Prof. Mie Buhl (Denmark), Associate Prof. Cumhur Erkut (Denmark), Associate Professor Sofia Dahl (Denmark, Sweden), Professor Kristina Höök (Sweden), Professor Palle Dahlstedt (Sweden), Associate Professor Yanping Gao (China), Professor Mathias Girel (France), Professor Leszek Koczanowicz (Poland).