Researching the body

Authors: Carey Jewitt & Sara Price

The mode seminar on embodiment and digital technologies (03.04.14) drew an interesting interdisciplinary group together. The word cloud made from the three key words that each of the participants used to introduce themselves shows something of this mix.

word cloud embodiment


As one of the participants commented, embodiment draws together people from across a wide range of disciplines – at this particular event from sociology, art, performance, psychology, media and communication studies, literacy and education studies, human computer interaction, design, and architecture.

We explored what is meant by embodiment (embodied cognition), drawing on some theoretical ideas around the body being the ‘hub of all meaning making’ (Merleau Ponty, 1945), highlighting cognition as enacted (through sensori-motor/ action); embedded (through beingness in the environment and social and cultural contexts); and extended (through notions of offloading cognition/ manipulation/ transformation; and finally the idea of an ‘amalgamated mind’ (Rowland, 2010), where the mind is seen as a set of (mental) processes (rather than cognition per se) and where ‘some’ processes are inextricably amalgamated through brain, body and environment.

We explored ways of refocusing this debated term to ask ‘what is the body’. Why the body matters for digital technologies, was explored throughout the day, with a focus on the potentials of technologies reshape physical interaction, being in the environment, and bodily identities.

We explored how each of us thinks about the body in our research, as well as the methods we use, and theembodiment1 challenges we face. We wrote these onto post-it notes and then worked with these to pull out themes across our different perspectives. We sketched this and used this sketch to explore how we each imagine the connections between body, environment and technologies in different ways, as well as our different starting points and emphases (like affect, or mode) as well as disciplines.


Drawing on examples from MODE research we examined how different digital environments – mobile, tangible, whole body interaction, and simulation environments – conceptualise and draw the body into interaction in specific ways.

We then explored how the concepts of multimodality (mode, semiotic resource, modal affordance, and multimodal orchestration) can help us analyse the role of the body in digital environments. (See the MODE glossary)

The afternoon was spent exploring the theoretical, methodological, and analytical challenges of researching the body from a multimodal approach.


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