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A position in cognitive science and the philosophy of mind that emphasizes the role that the body plays in shaping the mind. Closely related ideas include situated cognition and enactivism. Philosophically, embodiment is the subjective experience of having and using a body. For phenomenologists like Merleau-Ponty, this subjective experience is a fundamental aspect of reality.

See also:

Book icon Leder, Drew (1990) The absent body, Chicago: University of Chicago Press. The publisher's blurb for this book says:

The body plays a central role in shaping our experience of the world. Why, then, are we so frequently oblivious to our own bodies? We gaze at the world, but rarely see our own eyes. We may be unable to explain how we perform the simplest of acts. We are even less aware of our internal organs and the physiological processes that keep us alive. In this fascinating work, Drew Leder examines all the ways in which the body is absent—forgotten, alien, uncontrollable, obscured.

Journal symbol Leder, Drew (2005) 'Commentary: Moving beyond "mind" and "body.'" Philosophy, Psychiatry, & Psychology. Vol 12(2), Jun 2005, pp. 110-113
Journal symbol Leder, Drew (2004) "Imprisoned Bodies: The Life-World of the Incarcerated". Social Justice, vol. 31, no. 1-2, pp. 51-66, 2004

For more information see:

Book icon Haber, Honi Fern and Weiss, Gail (eds) (1999) Perspectives on Embodiment: The Intersections of Nature and Culture. Routledge. Includes chapters by Hubert and Stuart Dreyfus, Mark Johnson, Thomas Csordas, Martin Jay, and David Hoy.

Web site Embodiment Resources

The start of a new insight - embodiment

Authors of this page:Dawn Clarke and Graham R. Gibbs

Affiliation: University of Huddersfield

Date written: 2nd Sept. 2008

Updated. 5th July 2010





Learning outcomes

  1. Learn how revisiting the literature can help develop a more analytical approach.
  2. Understand how ideas from the literature can help you overcome early personal biases in your analysis.

Because her data analysis was not producing the results that she had hoped for Frances decided to go back and do further theoretical and research reviews. She hoped to gain a deeper understanding about how she could develop her analytical approach. She was still concerned about the potential for possible bias due to her medical background yet she wanted the research findings to be significant to the medical profession and therefore research in the field was relevant. What she achieved by combining the medical and psychological perspectives was the ablity to re-analyse the transcripts at a more analytical level.       


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained her re-analysis:

Looking at the [many] coding sections a lot of this [information] was swallowed up and I was thinking well I don’t need that it’s not about that, this isn’t about that but it is about those aspects. So all this about perceptions of the accident and the history and the recent symptoms went in that sense in that it wasn’t the pain.


What we see here is an example of how the development of a more analytical approach enabled Frances to reduce the number of codes that she had initially used because she was able to understand more clearly the type of information she required for the research. Having a large and unwieldy number of codes is a common problem for many researchers. How Frances actually reduced the numbers will be discussed in Section XX.

Frances described how further reading at that time which seemed unrelated to the project gave her an idea that eventually became a central theoretical and analytical concept in her research. This was embodiment in relation to whiplash injury.


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how she got this theoretical insight:

Something I’d been reading, and it was about psychosomatic health. And just that term for me turned things around. That it was psychosomatic health as opposed to psychosomatic illness. Looking at this and the bodies, when they were ill, it was the movement that signalled something was wrong so there was like a distortion that had taken place and I remember writing this idea down about this distortion in the body, this felt distortion in bodily movement and this psychosomatic health. And that opened up this whole thing about embodiment and about health and what that means to the extent that sent me on a very different avenue. I remember getting hold of Leder's work on the 'absent body' - a lot of it’s really hard to get your head around, I think - but there was a lot of things that were very relevant there and so that set me off on this theme about embodiment and what that means.


Frances went on to describe how she used this theory in her data analysis and how it became central to her understanding and explanation of the participants' experience of whiplash injury:


Loudspeaker iconFrances explained how embodiment became a central idea in her work:

So it’s [embodiment's] a way of the body speaking, it’s saying that something’s not quite right, something is different, something has changed and it’s because we become aware of that in two ways.  One is the participants became aware of it through the pain that they experienced and the distortion to movement which may or may not be seen and that opens up this [issue] - if you think about the medical view it’s a minor injury it’s a muscular problem, it’s a muscle strain. You know, a broken bone will show up on an x-ray. A muscles strain won't show up on an x-ray so it looks to be OK. But in terms of the body and what’s happening there is a communication that’s taking place and it’s being reflected in the patient through the pain or through the difference in the way they move, the limitations that they move. But this then actually affects what they do. So this kind of embodiment for me was like erm... I’ve never seen the world in that way before - but there was several factors - but it actually makes sense of the individual experience. This is what’s happening to me as an individual and it’s my body and the way things are and its changes.  But also it affects the relationships with others. So it not only links them into the world, it affects their everyday living and their way of being in the world which had become different to how it was before, so there is a change there which came from this chance, that came from this felt bodily distortion.


Through allowing herself the space to think away from her research, Frances, through hard work and chance, developed an idea that brought together the medical, personal and participants' ways of understanding whiplash injury; she then could present this using the theories of Leder's (1990) work for the academic audience. 


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The resources on this site by Graham R Gibbs, Dawn Clarke, Celia Taylor, Christina Silver and Ann Lewins are licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-ShareAlike 3.0 Unported License.


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