PRISMA Workshop: Activity – Passivity in Interactions Invitation to embody, explore and investigate an intersubjective phenomenon

Frame: Over the years, we have been exploring how to research the experience of embodied intersubjectivity. We use a phenomenological approach combined with systems theories, and a particular methodology called PRISMA. In practical-theoretical workshops, we investigate face-to-face and video-recorded interactions by systematically unfolding their aspects. Thus, in bodily experienced interactions, step by step, we unfold and discover tendencies and regularities of intersubjectivity.

Our research interest in our next workshop, in November 2018, is:

How do interactors enact activity and passivity in interaction?

We will investigate this question while engaging in a particular intersubjective task. We
assume, backed up by theoretical predictions, empirical research and practice, that the
dynamics of bodily lived interactions in terms of activity and passivity are more complex
and even muddled, rather than dualistic. That is, we suspect activity and passivity may be
hard to keep apart.
Linguistically, we seem to be able to clearly discern activity and passivity, separating them
neatly. For instance, in words such as haptic (touching = active) versus tactile (being touched = passive); observing and being observed; to govern and being governed; care giver and care receiver. In fact, language has the potential to impact on our perceptions and thinking. Thus, we accord activity and passivity to people’s roles, behaviours, and ways of participating, even if they themselves implicitly or explicitly experience things differently – more ambiguously or synchronically. Language itself in fact actually offers more than just two grammar structures – the medium (from ancient Greek): self-touch, self-observation, self- guidance. Here we are active and passive at the same time.

We can refer to the well-known phenomenological example of “touching-being touched,”
which Merleau-Ponty uses to describe the ambiguity of the lived-/living body, or the
relation between subject- and object-body. We also find intertwined relations of activity and
passivity in the intercorporeal encounter connected with the terms “pacing” and “leading”,
for instance in couple dance or in therapeutic settings.

These joint occurrences in the relations between activity and passivity are supported by
research results, for instance some showing that there are no passive agents in bodily
stimulation.2 Our own pre-studies and hands-on practice indicate a variety of active
interventions in situations where protagonists are supposed to be guided, but instead rather “co-guide”. This hints at a possible hidden ability, for instance, in a care-receiver, a client, or already a baby to precisely enact likewise – to actively take up a supposedly passive role. Compare it with couple dances, such as tango, where the role of follower is not like being carried across the dance floor, but itself a sophisticated participation.

Workshop context: Taking these discoveries into account, we want to investigate them in
more detail phenomenologically. Our theoretical and methodological approach offers a
particular perspective to deal with the diversity, complexity and ambiguity of activity and
passivity in interactions. Applying insights from participatory sense-making and interaffectivity theory, we proceed along a “prismatic” empiry. We systematically unfold
interactions regarding (1) their spatial references (from where to where?); (2) their sociality relations (self- and other-perception and what happens between the interactors); (3) and finally include the interactions’ modality (sensing, feeling, thinking).
In the workshop, we will engage in small, familiar interactive activities which we will
refract into their different experiential aspects allowing to “extract” findings on their
embedded intersubjectivity. Through this exploration we will gain awareness and insight
into what it is like to interact. A systematic co-investigation like this requires an attitude of
trusting oneself and others as both, and at the same time, subject and object of research. To ground and support this trust, we begin each session with some easy body calibration
exercises inspired by the Feldenkrais method.

We aim at detecting and describing how intertwined, contradictory, ambiguous, synchronic, etc. activity and passivity are enacted in every day interactions. We suspect that the work we propose to do together in the workshop will show us – experientially – the limitations of dualism. This may help us refine our understanding of complex intersubjective relations in a lived way. As with previous PRISMA workshops we expect returning with these insights, to inform both our theoretical and practical work.


Practical matters:
Timeframe: 23rd November 2018, 10:00 – 18:00
Number of participants: Maximum 6
Location: Universidad del País Vasco, UPV/EHU,
IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind, and Society, Department of Logic and Philosophy of
Science, Centro Carlos Santamaría, Elhuyar Plaza, 1

Dear colleagues, please let us know soon whether you are in principle interested in this
exciting interdisciplinary research workshop. We will ask you to finally confirm your
participation in October. We are looking for people curious to explore something new.
Very best wishes,

Hanne and Barbara
San Sebastian, and Munich, October 2018

Hanne De Jaegher
D.Phil., philosopher and cognitive scientist, IAS-Research Centre for Life, Mind & Society,
Department of Logic and Philosophy of Science, University of the Basque Country,
Donostia, San Sebastián Spain