For Jef: Body and Space references

We were talking about embodied action in space and the following references came to mind that may be of interest aside from de Certeau. I have not thought much about where they all fit together in terms of background theory, moivation or affiliation but that could be a nice project to engage in at some time.


Gurwitsch, A. (1979) Human Encounters in the Social World. Trans. by Fred Kersten. (Duquesne U. Press, Pittsburgh)

Habermas, J. (1987) The Theory of Communicative Action, vol II_. Trans. by Thomas McCarthy. (Beacon Press, Boston)

Heidegger, M. (1962) Being and Time Trans by John Macquarrie & Edward Robinson. (Harper & Row, New York)

Husserl, E. (1913). Ideas, Part I (The Hauge)

[Snippets from

Gurwitsch’s account of social interaction utilizes three seminal concepts of phenomenology: 1) Husserl’s concept of the “natural attitude”, 2) Heidegger’s concept of “das Zeug” or “equipment”, and 3) Scheler’s concept of the “milieu.” Gurwitsch builds on these concepts to theorize an account of social interaction which locates intersubjectivity in the “natural attitude” towards a group towards shared “equipment” existing in a common context or “milieu”.

Gurwitsch shares Husserl’s program of turning philosophy towards the examination of non-philosophical phenomena; specifically, the “natural attitude” of the everyday. Like most of Husserl’s subsequent critics, however Gurwitsch criticizes Husserl’s continued commitment to the modernist project of the “phenomenology of consciousness” inaugurated by Descartes; this is shown by Husserl’s approach to the relationship between Subject and Object as an encounter between a Transcendent Ego and an objective, unchanging object. Indeed, Gurwitsch sees Descartes’ radical epistemology as the cause of Western philosophy’s break with the ‘natural attitude” in the first place, a break which has led to create the “problem of intersubjectivity”, or the philosophical doubt in the reality of other sensible beings.

Gurwitsch hopes to recreate a model of a primordial, intersubjective social understanding through including in his concept of the “natural attitude” Heidegger’s concept of “das Zeug” and Scheler’s concept of the “milieu”. By “das Zeug”, Heidegger refers to the sense that objects only reveal themselves to us through their use, through their “readiness-to-hand”. Thus a pen is not simply a pen, it is “writing equipment”. A piece of paper is not simply a piece of paper but is “equipment-to-be-written-on”. The table on which the paper is written on is “equipment-on-which-to-rest-things” and so on. The fact that each object ultimately leads in its use to another piece of equipment explains why there is no such thing as “an equipment,” why “das Zeug” is always plural. We are always dealing with a “equipment totality” (Zeugganzheit). Gurwitsch places this “equipment-totality” in a particular “milieu” which “Scheler defines . . . as the totality of what is mentally lived by a living being as effecting that living . . . in contrast to what objectively operates upon that living being.”

Gurwitsch’s identification of the milieu with the “equipment totality” contained therein allows him to define the placement of any persons together in that milieu as a collective comportment towards a shared equipment totality by a particular group. The intersubjective manner in which the group relates to their common milieu with its constitutive equipment totality defines the type of group involved. In “partnership”, a group comes together to use the equipment totality for a common purpose; once the goal is achieved, the group (and presumably its shared milieu) is abandoned. In the relationship of “fusion”, a group attempts to transcend the milieu through devotion to a charismatic leader; this acetic rejection of the equipment totality is however, doomed to failure. By taking common responsibility for shared equipment and by building a shared history and tradition around that equipment, however, a group sense of “membership” is formed; this is the most stable and productive of Gurwitsch’s defined social groups.

Through assuming Gurwitsch’s model of “membership”, we can approach a model for presenting a VR environment with an optimal level of verisimilitude. By designing interactive objects which link their functions to each other in a way that models Heidegger’ s concept of “equipment totality”, a milieu is thereby created which can express the “mental life” of the users of that environment, allowing a “natural attitude” to take place whereby users can “gear into” the milieu in a way that approaches Heidegger’s notion of “Being-in-the-World” with all the attendant interconnectiveness implied. By encountering others as enmeshed within the “equipment totality” of the milieu, an intersubjective reinforcement of the reality can then take place.

Although a model such as Gurwitsch’s “membership” helps suggest the kind of verisimilitude a virtual environment should strive for, its implementation is far from being an easy goal. For an example of the factors which could prevent such a verisimilitude from forming, let us return to Heidegger’s discussion of the “equipment-totality”.

In our encounter with the interconnectedness of the “ready-to-hand”, it is presupposed that the equipment-totality is functioning properly so that each object relates to the other objects in the way that they should. However, Heidegger lists three ways things can go wrong. First, if an object is broken, it becomes “conspicuous”. By losing its usefulness and thus losing its ability to lead us on to the next task which is always implied, the object blocks our progress with its conspicuous presence. Second, if an important object is missing, the lack of the object creates “the mode of obtrusiveness”, meaning that the absence of the desired object obtrudes on the readiness-to-hand of the other objects in the equipment totality, which cannot-be-gotten to without the object which is missing. Finally, if the desired object one wants to use is blocked trough the imposition of another undesired object with an attendant undesired task, one encounters the “obstinacy” of the ready-to-hand, which blocks, instead of hinders the desired action. According to Heidegger, such frustrations in fact force us to confront Being. “When an assignment has been disturbed . . . then the assignment becomes explicit . . . our circumspection comes up against emptiness, and we now see for the first time what the missing article was ready-to-hand with, and what it was ready to hand for. The environment announces itself afresh. In the case of CMC, however, the announcement of Being involves an understanding of the VE itself as not reality but as “equipment-to-virtualize-reality.” The result is a break in the “natural attitude” towards the VE and a dispelling of the VR illusion.

[End of snippet]


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