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What is the difference between somaesthetics and phenomenology? This is a question often encountered by a teacher of body philosophy 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 remain academic and theoretical with an epistemological objective, and the approach has not been established for practical use. Somaesthetics, a much more recent concept, has from the outset been 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 Japan and South Korea for example, is very (Western) Central European by nature, somaesthetics, with its roots in American pragmatist philosophy (mainly John Dewey), has from its origins 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, while others apply phenomenology to robotics and interface and interaction design for example, and so actually put phenomenology into practice in a way somaesthetics has made programmatic for itself. Contrarily, 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 René Descartes for example a central figure in the corpus), and somaesthetics in Dewey’s philosophy of experience and his experimental attitude (without forgetting the way Peirce and James had previously built approaches to the body). Practically, many of those interested in phenomenology have not actually looked closely at its very beginnings (although the interest in Husserl is somehow increasing in importance again), and instead they start from Merleau-Ponty. In the same way, 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 between 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 actual origins? Pragmatism could historically be seen as an offspring of earlier German philosophy that was imported to the new world through European diaspora. Dewey went to China for a period and applied some of his Eastern learnings to his philosophy of art (Shusterman has also had a strong connection to China and Japan), 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 with a Chinese student). Has Asian thinking shaped the emergence of both philosophies of the body in a way that unites them from their beginnings? The same could be asked about the German and French philosophies that were imported to Harvard, the birthplace of pragmatism, but that also served as a background to the evolution of phenomenology. Peirce attacked the Cartesians that dominated Harvard’s philosophical atmosphere, but Husserl engaged in rereading Descartes. Still, the source is the same. Early German philosophies of experience echo in the very beginnings of both traditions.

The Journal of Somaesthetics welcomes articles on the nature of these two schools of thinking, their history, applications, and possible futures for the issue ‘Somaesthetics and Phenomenology.’ The main focus of the work does not have to be on scholarly comparisons, but we hope that the theme of the two approaches is somehow present in the text. Do not hesitate to report on hands-on experiments – and please do not hesitate to ask any questions regarding the issue (contact Editor-in-Chief Max Ryynänen at max.ryynanen@aalto.fi).

 

Schedule

 

15.12.2020: Deadline for the articles, which will be sent for peer review

15.2.2021: Peer reviews returned to the authors

15.4.2021: Deadline for the finished articles

15.5.2021: Publishing

 

 

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. https://somaesthetics.aau.dk/index.php/JOS/about

  • Somaesthetics and Beauty

    01-10-2019

    In this issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics, we invite contributions from various fields exploring experiences of beauty vis-à-vis aestheticized phenomena in everyday life, design, art, urbanity and elsewhere. The lack of borders within the aesthetic field rebounds on a corresponding unlimitedness in our ability to perceive. Correspondingly, the question is whether the beautiful has become too broad and thus too superficial a concept or does the sentiment of beauty help us to differentiate our perceptions? Mapping the conceptual potentials of beauty points not only to a revaluation of modern and contemporary art and artistic ways of challenging traditional beauty, but it simultaneously emphasizes the need for focusing on the sensible, perceptive and bodily experience. The major question remains how, despite trivialization, beauty may still (or again) refer to an aesthetic experience that is manifesting itself in the sensing body, both as originating from the body, and as appearing in a meaningful, embodied experience.

    We invite scholars and practitioners interested in the notion of beauty and beautiful experiences. We do not want to limit contributions to specific fields or methods of inquiry, but encourage scholars and practitioners from various relevant fields (aesthetics, arts, health studies, sports, natural sciences, theology) to submit an article, essay or a documentation of a practical inquiry related to beauty.

    Submission deadline:  January 15, 2020

     

    Read more about Somaesthetics and Beauty
  • CfP Somaesthetics and Sound (issue 5.2)

    01-03-2019

    Somaesthetics and Sound

    The intertwining of sound and the body is fascinating and multifarious. Until fairly recently, sound has mainly been studied as an acoustic or auditive phenomenon. In turn, the body has been commonly approached as a physiological entity. Lately, however, the embodied and experiential aspect of sound has increasingly gained ground in research and pedagogies as well as in the arts.

    In this issue of the Journal of Somaesthetics, we invite contributions from various fields exploring sound as manifesting itself in the body, as originating from the body, or as a meaningful, embodied experience. The focus is on the body-aesthetic, or somaesthetic dimensions of sound. Aesthetic experience here is not limited to the arts alone.

    Deadline

    June 30, 2019

    Contact

    Anne Tarvainen: tarvainen.anne@gmail.com

    Päivi Järviö: paivi.jarvio@uniarts.fi

     

    Read more about CfP Somaesthetics and Sound (issue 5.2)
  • Call for Papers: Bodies of Belief / Bodies of Care

    17-10-2016

    Bodies of Belief:

    Human bodies are shaped not only by their genetic endowment but also by the belief systems of the cultures in which they develop and function. Such belief systems vary from unarticulated background assumptions to ritualized practices and explicit doctrines or even to formulated laws enacted and enforced by social institutions. Likewise, belief’s somatic shaping ranges widely from the stylization of external appearance (including clothing and ornamentation) to the structuring of bodily actions and comportment (including essential practices like eating) and even to inner modes of affect (which are felt somatically). The beliefs that the human soma embodies and expresses are not confined to established social norms; they also include items of faith and commitment that are individualistic, nonconformist, or even antagonistic to the cultural mainstream. More than a mere instrument of compliance or worship, the soma is also a site and weapon of protest.

    Bodies of Care:

    Bodies are obviously the targets of one’s daily care in terms of personal hygiene, grooming, exercise, and proper nourishment. They are also objects of care in the sense of worry or concern, since we all suffer illness and death through our bodies. However, the sentient, purposive, active body or soma is also a subjectivity that examines and cares for the body as object, whether it be one’s own body or the bodies of others who one wants to help or comfort. We all need such curative help or comfort at some point in our lives; and some people devote their professional and personal lives to giving such care. Bodies need and give care in many ways and for many reasons: to overcome illness and disability, to address and alleviate dependence, to learn new skills and remedy bad habits, to inspire greater confidence for personal flourishing and greater social betterment. 

    Abstracts of 250 words, and a current CV, should be sent electronically as attachments  to Richard Shusterman at bodymindculture@fau.edu.

    Read more about Call for Papers: Bodies of Belief / Bodies of Care