Intercorporeality Intercorporeality is a notion proposed by Merleau-Ponty that enables us to illuminate social cognition in an alternative way, by focusing on the relation between one's own body and that of the other.
As is seen in these examples, intercorporeality contains a perception-action loop between self and other. Perceiving the otherʼs action prompts the same action in the self (like yawning) or its possibility (like smiling). Conversely, the selfʼs action prompts the same action, or its possibility, in the otherʼs body.
“In perceiving the other, my body and his are coupled, resulting in a sort of action which pairs them. This conduct which I am able only to see, I live somehow from a distance. I make it mine; I recover it or comprehend it. Reciprocally I know that the gestures I make myself can be the objects of anotherʼs intention.” (Merleau-Ponty, 1951/1964, The Child's Relations with Others (W. Cobb trans.), p. 118.)
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.
- Tanaka, S. (2015). Intercorporeality as a theory of social cognition. Theory & Psychology, 25, 455-472.
- 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.