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The body: a phenomenological psychological perspective
The body: a phenomenological psychological perspective

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1 Embodiment

Behind your thoughts and feelings, my brother, stands a mighty commander, an unknown sage – he is called Self. He lives in your body, he is your body.

(Nietzsche, 1961 [1883], p. 62)

At first glance you might be curious about why we're including a course on bodies, or rather embodiment – the process or state of living in a body – in relation to social psychology. The body has generally been treated as a biological object in psychology, crucially important with regard to brain physiology or human development but not something that has been considered a key topic in social psychology. However, when you recognise that it is through the body that we relate to other people and the world about us, then perhaps it does make sense. Our body is the vehicle for communicating with others and for carrying out our everyday lives. It is impossible to separate our bodies from who we are and what we do in the social world. At all levels – individual, relational and cultural – we can see that something as apparently ‘personal’ and ‘natural’ as the body is also intensely ‘social’.

In Section 2 of this course we will consider connections between an individual's body, personal identity and social world. Here we intend to pick up on the dualisms between mind and body. In particular, we will show how the body has been thought of as an object separate from the mind, and how this dualism has led to a similar separation, until relatively recently at least, in psychology. In this section, you will once again find yourself encouraged to challenge approaches that present the world in terms of simplistic binaries (mind–body, individual–social, agency–structure). Section 3 turns the spotlight on the phenomenological perspective. Many of the examples in this course concern health and illness. This is for two reasons: first, because a very great deal of psychological and sociological work on the body has – perhaps unsurprisingly – focused on this topic; and second, because health and illness have formed the site of a considerable corpus of literature that is critical of the ways in which the body has been constructed/positioned as the passive recipient of legal and medical interventions (but more on this below). Throughout the course we encourage you to move beyond seeing the body simply as a biological object in which the mind resides and, instead, challenge you to think of the ways in which this mind-body dualism may be overcome such that we might recognise the importance of bodies in our lived experience of the world.

After watching the following video clips, which will provide an introduction to the phenomenological perspective, work through the rest of the course to look at how this comes to be applied to a substantive topic: embodiment. This course therefore provides students with an accessible introduction to phenomenological psychology and its application to understanding embodiment.

Watch the following video ‘The Phenomenological Perspective Part 1’.

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Now watch ‘The Phenomenological Perspective Part 2’.

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The Phenomenological Perspective Part 2
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