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The Second Somatic Revolution


Brenda Farnell
Associate Professor Anthropology Department University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) Urbana, IL 61801, USA

Charles R. Varela
Research Associate Anthropology Department University of Illinois (Urbana-Champaign) Urbana, IL 61801, USA


This paper proposes a dynamic theory of embodiment that aims to get beyond the absent moving body in embodied social theory. The first somatic revolution, inspired by Merleau Ponty, provided theories based on the feeling and experience of the body. The theory of dynamic embodiment focuses instead on the doing itself as embodied social action, in which the embodied person is fore-grounded as a complex resource for meaning making. This represents a theoretical enrichment of the earlier turn to the body in social theory, which tended to separate the semiotic, as necessarily representational and/or linguistic, from the somatic as a wide range of corporeal processes and practices assumed to be separated from mind, language and/or conscious thought. We argue that overcoming this persistent Cartesianism requires a New Realist approach to the proper location of human agency as a causal power, one that promotes a bio-psycho-social concept of personhood. Part one of the paper presents a general framework for this perspective, while part two applies this paradigm ethnographically to illustrate how bringing semiosis and somatics together requires a robust conception of multi-sensory modalities.