For Work / Against Work
Debates on the centrality of work

"Embodiment, emotion and empathy: A phenomenological approach to apprenticeship learning"

by Gieser, Thorsten (2008)


In The Perception of the Environment (2000), Ingold has argued that differences in cultural knowledge are more a matter of variation in embodied skills than in discursive knowledge. These skills develop through the practitioners' engagement with their environment and in situated social relationships. In order to `discover' for themselves what is taken for granted for experienced practitioners, they have to `fine-tune' their perception through observation and imitation. But how do observations and imitations of others' movements actually transfer into shifts in one's own perception? In her book Loving Nature: Towards an Ecology of Emotion (2002), Milton argued that emotion acts as a learning mechanism to filter attention. I propose that when one observes and imitates in a process of learning, one enters into an empathic relationship with a skilled practitioner. Through synchronization of intentions and movements, emotions spread over and change the practitioners' perception accordingly.

Key Passage

In the late 1970s and early 1980s anthropologists shifted their attention away fromsymbolic or interpretative anthropology towards practice-oriented approaches (Ortner,1984). Until then the body had been conceived both as a transmitter and as a ‘receiver’of cultural knowledge (Lock, 1993: 136). However, the body had been studied more asa discursive object, that is as a concept, rather than in its own right as a material presence(see Turner, 1994, for critiques and consequences). The works of Bourdieu (1977, 1992)inspired a new interest in the social nature of the material body, suggesting that bodilypractices, lodged in the habitus, mediate between the individual person and his or hersociety. In the decades that followed these first steps in the study of embodiment, thefield diversified and developed into more specific sub-fields with their own foci andapproaches, such as the body in medical systems, the politics of the body, or embodiedforms of knowledge (see Csordas, 1990, 1994; Lock, 1993; Farnell, 1999, for detailedreviews).The latter field is the most interesting for a re-evaluation of the body from a phenomenological perspective. Writers in this field have often drawn on the ideas of MerleauPonty; it will therefore be helpful to further examine his view of the body, which owesmuch to Heidegger’s concept of being-in-the-world. What is meant by this phrase isthat ‘the world is always “already there” before reflection begins’ (Merleau-Ponty, 2005:7) and therefore that we are bound in relation to the world in whatever we do, by ourwhole life (including our living body). Heidegger shows this in trying to understandwhat it is for someone to be. For that purpose he develops what he calls the a prioriconditions of being (Heidegger, 1993: 31). These conditions comprise most importantlybeing-with, being-in, being-there, and finally all together, being-in-the-world.According to Heidegger, our being is never alone but always ‘with’ other beings. Forexample when working, our activity is not self-contained but refers to other people inthe sense that our equipment (i.e. everything we use for work) may come from someoneelse and what we produce may go to someone else. We are also necessarily at a particular place of work, that is, we inhabit a particular position in the world and perceive theworld from this position (being-there). This is closely related to being-in. Adding to ourbeing-there, being-in makes clear that this position in the world always means aninvolvement with the world. It means that we are entangled in a field of relationships. (p.301)


Embodiment, Skill, Dryfus, Heidegger, Cultural Knowledge, Discursive Knowledge, Perception


On Heidegger, Apprenticeship

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