SCHIPHORST, Thecla. Embodiement in Somatics and Performance. (chapter 2) In: SCHIPHORST, Thecla. The Varieties of User Experience: Bridging Methodologies from Somatics and Performance to Human Computer Interaction. Ph.D.Thesis  at the School of Computing, Communications and Electronics, Faculty of Technology, University of Plymouth, United Kingdom, 2008. Disponível em: – acesso em: 21/09/16

  • Within somatics, technical practice is centered in first-person technical enactments of experience. These are self-reflexive techniques structured to transform one’s experience of the self in the world. Somatic first-person body-based techniques form part of a larger history of practices of subjectivity and self-cultivation. First-person techniques engage what Michel Foucault termed Technologies of the Self.10 – p.50
  • This chapter characterizes the technical practice of first-person methodologies as articulated in body-based disciplines. It outlines their instrumentality in approaches to reflection-in-action: technical problem solving within a broader context of reflective embodied inquiry. p.50
  • Foucault refers to technologies of the self as a set of processes that operate on the self to effect change or transform the self in order to attain a certain state. See Foucault, M., (1988). Technologies of the Self, in Technologies of the Self, A Seminar with Michel Foucault, University of Massachusetts Press, p. 18-19. p.50
  • I argue that first-person methodologies in somatics and body-based performance are technical practices utilizing reflection-in-action that can contribute in an integral way to design for user experience in new technology. p.51
  • The study of reflection-in-action is critically important. The dilemma of rigor or relevance may be dissolved if we can develop an epistemology of  practice which places technical problem solving within a broader context of reflective inquiry, shows how reflection-in-action may be rigorous in its own right, and links the art of practice in uncertainty and uniqueness to the scientist’s art of research. We may thereby increase the legitimacy of reflection-in-action and encourage its broader, deeper and more rigorous use. p.51 – aponta para a relevância de pesquisas em dança, educação somática, e da importância do estudo da reflexão-em-ação na busca de novas epistemologias para as práticas de primeira pessoa.
  • Somatics is a term applied to a field of body-based practice and research developed largely outside of mainstream academia during the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries in Europe and America. Its western roots can be traced back to Delsarte12 while its contemporary practice is richly influenced by eastern philosophy and body practices. In 1976 Thomas Hanna, a practitioner and philosopher, named the field Somatics, identifying a collection of embodied disciplines that share an approach to first-person practice focusing on sensory awareness: the ability to act on perceived stimuli. p.52
  • Many somatics techniques are intended to be used ‘by the self on the self’ in order to refine knowledge and precision through use of the human body in action. While contemporary somatics maintains its historical goal as an ameliorative form that educates attentional skills of the every-day body by facilitating self-awareness, contemporary dance applies somatic techniques with the goal of educating a virtuosic technical body, where the dancer’s skill is applied to the body as finely tuned instrument for performance, what Victor Turner refers to as “the liberated and disciplined body”13. Somatics and contemporary dance share a historical epistemology  of practice. p.52-53
  • First-person methodologies can be characterized as embodied technical practice that is both self-reflexive and self-enacted. They attend to the self in order to act upon the self. First-person methodologies are an example of what Schön refers to as reflectionin-action, and what Foucault refers to as Technologies of the Self. As reflection-inaction, first-person methodologies involve technical problem solving within the broader context of ‘reflective embodied inquiry’. As Technologies of the Self, first-person methodologies constitute part of a larger history of practices of subjectivity and selfcultivation that include ancient western and eastern cultural forms. p.53
  • First-person methodologies share a set of common characteristics. Their goal is ameliorative: to learn through the experience of the self. They are technical practices that use a set of definable, rigorous, physical techniques that can be learned. When enacted, they produce recognizable and repeatable body-states. First-person techniques are self-reflexive and self-enacted. While third-person methodologies use observation to gain knowledge about the world, first-person methodologies use observation to gain knowledge about the self. Based in self-observation, they use the direction of attention or awareness to re-educate perception. Intention, intuition and movement play important roles in their attentional processes. Other disciplines that use first-person methods refer to them in a number of ways. Within phenomenology these techniques are referred to as epoché, reduction-suspension or phenomenological reduction, and engage techniques such as phenomenological description14 to access and record these states. Within psychology first-person techniques are known as introspection or reflection, focusing15 and cotention16. Within the contemplative traditions they are referred to as mindfulness17. A central characteristic of first-person techniques is the simple act of paying attention to the self. The common goal is learning: re-educating perception to increase discernment and freedom of choice for action. First-person methodologies access and construct knowledge in the body. p.54-55
  • Our body moves as our mind moves. The qualities of any movement are a manifestation of how mind is expressing through the body at that moment. Changes in movement qualities indicate that the mind has shifted focus in the body. Conversely, when we direct the mind or attention to different areas of the body and initiate movement from those areas, we change the quality of our movement. So we find that movement can be a way to observe the expression of mind through the body, and it can also be a way to affect changes in the body-mind relationship. 18 (Cohen, B.B. 1993, p. 1) – p.55
  • First-person methodologies hold an integral position in knowledge construction, particularly where the body or self is the site of research. p.56


  • First-person methodologies have direct transferability beyond knowledge of the self because they access and train acuity in multiple aspects of cognition including observation, discernment, synthesis, critical distance, focus and clarity. Valerie Janesick in Stretching Exercises for Qualitative Researchers suggests that observing the self increases a researchers skill, capability and mastery of the practice of observation of other phenomenon in the world. She argues that since empirical research relies on ‘direct experience and observation’, the qualitative researcher herself is the instrument used in observational research, and that this instrument requires development, practice and refinement. p.57
  • First-person approaches engender concepts that value attention to the senses, the importance of practice and the self as an instrument of perception. These are echoed in the skills developed within the body-based practices of somatics. p.57
  • First-person accounts of experience access attention as a precursor and foundation for accessing and ‘capturing’ data in the world. It is the first-person framework that develops and deepens abilities of attending, enables empathy through inter-subjectivity and, at its best, is able to suspend preconceptions through techniques of self-observation and reflexivity that support a critical discernment. p.58
  • This describes the concept of constructing first-person methodologies by appropriating third-person observational techniques that focus outwardly to the world, turning them inwardly toward the self. In this example, self-observation techniques are enacted to create a discerning and critical self-reflective distance. This notion of re-visioning the self through critical self-observation in order to revise knowledge is an example of the first-person practice of autoethnography, brought to performance studies through anthropology. Its self-reflexive approach to self-observation is also an example of reflection-in-action as described by Schön. p.59
  • From the intersections of philosophy, psychology and Buddhist mindfulness practices, Natalie Depraz, Francisco Varela and Pierre Vermersch explore first-person observational techniques in On Becoming Aware: a Pragmatics of Experiencing26. They describe the concrete activity of self-observation: how we examine what we live through, and how we become aware of our own mental life. Acknowledging that the range of our experiences is immense but that our inherent ability to observe ourselves is habitually ignored or left atrophied, they illustrate that exploring human experience amounts to developing and cultivating this basic ability through specific training. p.60
  • Observation plays a critical role in all research, so that exchanging observational methods along a social continuum has the potential to enrich research methods and the knowledge they create. p.61
  • In Greek Antiquity, the Delphic oracle know thyself was understood as a form of knowledge born from self-cultivation, self-observation and somatic practice in which the body was held ‘accountable’ for knowledge construction. p.62
  • the act of self-cultivation, the observation of inner processes transform and ameliorate the act of discernment, developing observational acuity resulting in greater objectivity through the subjective relationship with the self. p.63
  • The threshold between self-knowledge and the role of the self as a citizen in public life locates body-based somatic techniques (technologies of self-change) within the issues of disciplinary power structures. Our ability to effect change within our self is a precursor to our ability to effect change within our context. This corporeal transformative relationship between our self and our disciplinary, social and institutional role[s] is a vital political link in our ability to alter our world and our technologies through our self. p.63
  • These positions share the view that repetitive or habitual action limits human agency. These limitations are evidenced by habitual thought, feeling and physical bodily postures, combining to create a narrowing of the human faculty of perception, reducing access to knowledge of the surrounding environment and the world. Thomas Hanna, the somatics-educator, refers to this as “sensory-motor amnesia”30, a bodily state that reduces our ability to act and respond with agency in the world. p.63
  • The trajectory based in first-person experience used methods centered in self-observation: valuing knowledge enacted through experience. The trajectory based in empirical methods used third-person observation utilizing scientific methods: traditions where knowledge was claimed outside the subject, in which the body became an object of knowledge rather than the subject of experience. p.67


First-Person Methodologies

  • Are embodied technical enactments of experience that exemplify reflection-in-action
  • Are self-reflexive and self-enacted
  • Form part of a larger history of practices of subjectivity and selfcultivation.
  • Are the central epistemology of practice and are well-understood within somatics and performance
  • Contribute as an epistemology of practice within a number of contemporary disciplines such as phenomenology, biofeedback in neurophysiology, psychology, cognitive science, Western and Eastern forms of movement studies, martial arts and contemplative traditions
  • Are often used in partnership with second- and/or third- person methods in order to communicate, describe, document, validate or transmit representation of knowledge
  • Can transfer knowledge applicable in empirical methods requiring direct experience and observation. Knowledge Transfer can be directed toward the researcher as an instrument of observation and toward human participants that engage as subjects or objects of experience or study
  • As praxis they have their own internal validity, and are authenticated and corroborated through a technical community of practice. Mastery is attained when the techniques and knowledge they represent are fully embodied through experience p.70


  • The necessary interrelationship between the political and the self is acknowledged in Foucault’s explication of the technologies of the self: a category of subjective processes that operate on the self to effect change or to transform the self in some way in order to attain a certain ‘state’:

Technologies of the self … permit individuals to effect by their own means or with the help of others a certain number of operations on their own bodies and souls, thoughts, conduct, and way of being, so as to transform themselves in order to attain a certain state of happiness, purity, wisdom, perfection, … (FOUCAULT, 1988, p.18) p.74

  • The human instinct to move as a form of expression, and to understand that movement as a form of knowledge, intertwine and intersect in a continual cycle of knowing-throughdoing that is reflected in the combined practices of somatics and modern dance. p.78
  • Within the practice of somatics, the concept of allowing the body to be guided by its own nature does not in any way deny its meaning or the depth of knowledge accessible through its experience. p.80
  • the values underlying the attitudes, practices and methodologies of first-person experience. These values define the epistemologies of practice within somatics: how knowledge is accessed and constructed within the first-person techniques. Meaning emerges through the application of these values, and for somatics this meaning lies in the body. p.85
  • In somatic practice meaning is constructed through self-observation, experience and the inter-connectedness of body with mind. I have summarized and will exemplify four principle values from which the attitudes, practices and knowledge within somatics arise. These values can be summarized as the values of self, attention, experience, and interconnectedness. Each of these values creates an intentional, ethical and aesthetic stance that constructs meaning and frames knowledge production.
  • 1. The value of the self as enactor of change, knowledge and transformation.
  • 2. The value of attention, self-observation, awareness in relationship to the self.
  • 3. The value of experience as a source of knowledge, through which language gains its integrity and ethical connection to knowing.
  • 4. The value of interconnectedness, in relation to mind and body, self and world, subjective and objective, theory and practice. p.86
  • The epistemologies of practice within somatics value the self as an instrument of change, knowledge and transformation. The ‘self’ of somatics, is an embodied self, and the ability to enact self-change is at once personal and political. p.86
  • The value of attention is in its technical ability to affect change in the body through self-volition. A central characteristic of first-person methodologies is the simple act of paying attention to the self. Based in self-observation, the direction of attention or awareness re-educates perception. p.88
  • Learning to develop attention requires practice; to become an expert in the skills of attentional processes one needs to continually revisit technique. p.90
  • In the same way that motor skills are developed and fine-tuned through the neurophysiological pathways of the sensory-motor system, the practice of attention is also a physical skill. p.90
  • Depraz, Varela, Vermersch (2007) define attention as one of the ‘practical acts of consciousness’. It requires self-cultivation, and can be learned. Attention is pragmatic and a well-tested primary material within body-based disciplines. Somatics recognizes both multiple qualities as well as uses of attention. p.91
  • Attention can be focused through a specific sense. We can imagine visual, tactile, auditory, kinesthetic, or visceral attention such as our blood flowing or breath processes. Attention can expand or contract, or move in a path through the body or through space. Attention can be ‘positioned’ in a location outside the self, such as another person’s skin, breathing patterns, movement or even internal organs. The direction of attention through touch can create an intersubjective support for awakening perception. p.91
  • Learning is the opening of ourselves to the experience of life. The opening is a motor act; the experience is interaction between sensory and motor happenings. When the experience of movement is integrated into our education, our perception of ourselves and the world changes. (COHEN, 1993, p.118) p.93
  • Attitudes toward being ‘open to learning through practice’ are examples of reflection-in-action. The ‘practitioner is not dependent on the categories of  established theory and technique, but constructs a new theory of the unique case… She does not separate thinking from doing. (Schön, D.A. 1983) p.94
  • “[in attention or experience] we also become more human because, when a task is executed thoughtfully, and when we are contented with ourselves in the doing, we experience [ourselves]. By that I mean … fully centered, reacts to the environment and can think and feel. I deliberately avoid defining this … as soul, psyche, mind,  feeling, subconsciousness, or individuality. For me, the small word “I” summarizes this. And I always advise my students to replace my words with their own (those words which they use in talking to themselves) in order to avoid getting a knot in their psyche and having to philosophize for hours about what was really meant. In that same time they could be doing something useful.” (Gindler, E. 1995, p. 6.) p.95
  • Somatics values the interconnectedness of the body, its practice and the world. This concept is also referred to as unity, indivisible nature, inseparability, and unmitigated connectivity. Just as Delsarte’s contemporaries in the Ballet Academies feared that knowledge of the body would threaten expressivity, ability and communication, the concept of interconnectedness can be misunderstood as a threat to empirical knowledge and rigour. However, the experience of interconnectedness does not need to diminish knowledge; it can expand our experience of the world, inviting additional perspectives that pose challenging scientific, social, cultural and artistic questions. p.97
  • Within somatics the concept of self-cultivation is a practice toward the goal of unifying mind and body: the goal moves toward a centre, rather than an end-point. Body-based disciplines engage in ‘practices’ that develop unity, that explore the continuum of interconnectedness as experience. Within somatics, interconnectedness can be understood as a ‘state’ and a practice, as well as a concept. Interconnectedness enables multivocality and is rich with methodology. p.97
  • The study of reflection-in-action is critically important. The dilemma of rigor or relevance may be dissolved if we can develop an epistemology of practice which places technical problem solving within a broader context of reflective inquiry, shows how reflection-in-action may be rigorous in its own right, and links the art of practice in uncertainty and uniqueness to the scientist’s art of research. We may thereby increase the legitimacy of reflection-in-action and encourage its broader, deeper and more rigorous use. (Schön, D.A. 1983, p. 69.) p.97

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