Body in ‘lived spaces’

Lived space (spatiality) is felt space. Lived space is a category for inquiring into the ways we experience spatial dimensions of our day-to-day existence. – van Manen (2011)

Lived space is difficult to explain as our experience of lived space is largely pre-verbal, that is, we do not ordinarily reflect on it. And yet we know, the space in which we find ourselves affects the way we feel (van Manen, 2011). For many of us, the digital shift, further accelerated by the covid-context, has meant time online largely shapes our everyday life. Irrespective of the benefits e.g. maintained contact or freed time from long commutes, the true impact of this state is yet to be fully understood.

This week some ‘downtime’ with my children at Swansea’s Glynn Vivian Art Gallery and the Oriel Science Project triggered reflections on this very issue. I ‘noticed’, through my phenomenological lens, as I surveyed the children’s active engagement in the varying artistic and scientific immersive installations, a fresh awareness of my own daily ‘taken for-grantedness’ of space. The notion incentivising me to scan for what I could learn or import from the energetic unfolding before my eyes.

Just to give some background context to my musings, I share I am engaged in co-writing a phenomenological paper on the lived experience of the Zoom Break-Out room. To date, the importance of ‘embodiment’ has been revealed, and specifically, themes of disembodiment, disorientation, and surveillance.

Although it is recognised online interactions seemingly take place in a virtual disembodied arena” (Osler & Krueger, 2021), phenomenology to date has said very little about interpersonal encounters online (Kekki, 2020), instead focusing on the embodied face-to-face kind. As a frequent participant in online discussions, as well as designer of digital learning spaces, I support the reassessment on how embodiment and spatiality potentially enter into and shape our online encounters with others (Osler & Krueger, 2021); interested in what new forms and intensities of betweenness is brought into being in these spaces.

Such thoughts floated in my mind as I moved around the art and science venues. Studying the children’s heightened physical and sensory engagement within these learning spaces, independently and as a group, stirred me to consider whether a high-tech diet in lieu of face-to-face interaction, despite its virtues, has tipped the balance towards a ‘decorporealisation’ of our lived spaces. And so I began to unpick some of my own personal dis ’ease’ with a lack of, or dilution of three-dimensional encounters of space in my own daily routines. A thought that prised my educational research and practice, bringing to the fore some personal concern for what may be lost from an existence heavily wedded to screens – in affective engagement, through to deeper sensory response.

It’s not that I cannot see how rich interactions can develop in an online context, that the devices we employ can constitute a lived space rather than simply a “communication system that embeds spatial metaphors” (Löw &Weidenhaus 2017, p656). Indeed, I call to mind many high-quality expressive, dynamic, and responsive I-Thou interactions with family and friends using instant messaging and other technological tools. Yet, in some online spaces, I can feel detached, diluted, and disengaged. And I ‘wonder’ again, as what induces one to live more meaningfully in one type of online space over another.  The physical curated spaces before us, had clearly designed ‘in’ an embodied experience of their spaces, recognising their augmenting qualities. A gallery and exhibition space that exuded more than its informational properties. I sensed a powerful lesson from the connection and complex interaction between senses and experience, and their potential cognitive and emotional impact.

It would be time-consuming to credit all the individual pieces triggering the rich outpouring of feedback from my brood – comments I interpreted and banked under themes of sustainability, compassion, and imagining. As example, the children were collectively animated by the Visual Artist Carlos Bunga’s structures and interventions created from everyday materials; resonating strongly with their own joyous use of cardboard, tape and bright coloured paint. Installations that encouraged them to be ‘part of, rather than simply view the world’ (MacKinnon, 2021), invited a fully embodied experience of space and the gallery’s architecture.

Carlos Bunga’s Reflejo is a series of cardboard cubes on the floor. It looks like so many open boxes, or an apartment block lying face up with its verandas poking out, creating obstacles and small spaces. There is a sense of wanting to leap between the ‘containers’, like a game, to test the limits of space and its divisions. The excessive organisation and limitations seem to be a challenge to the viewer, who needs to deconstruct boundaries and inhabit space. Only children seemed to live out what was felt around the room, as they jumped about through the installation ignoring the stares of gallery assistants (Borges de Camp, 2019).

At Glynn Vivian Art Gallery (August, 2021)

The boxes became a town, a city, and then individual homes. The children running between the spaces, as if down narrow streets. They hid in their selected ‘homes’ and then challenged boundaries by jumping into taken spaces. We talked about scale and temporary homes, that people make cardboard homes to keep warm on the streets…imagining what it would feel to have the tiniest or temporary space to call home. The structures having a powerful influence on imagination, empathy, and perspective-taking. These moments and the intensity of their shared mean-making, for me, contrasting sharply with some of my own experiences of online interactions.

The sensuous aspect of art is only related to the two theoretical senses of sight and hearing; smell, on the other hand, taste, and the feeling of touch is excluded from the springs of art’s enjoyment. … These senses cannot have to do with objects of art, which ought to subsist in their actual and very independence, admitting of no purely sensuous or rather physical relation. The pleasant for such senses is not the beauty of art. – G. W. F. Hegel

Over at ‘Oriel Science’ the children were treated to more high quality ‘lived spaces’ which engaged and inspired, and credibly delivered on the exhibition’s promise to offer a ‘visceral journey through a scientific theme, ignite their curiosity to explore that theme, and leave a lasting legacy in their imagination’ .

At the Oriel Science Musuem (August, 2021)

I was induced to draw on my reading of phenomenologist, Tetsurō Watsuj’s ‘aidagara‘ -which emphasises the essentiality of the spatial dimension in human existence, an interesting contrast with Heidegger’s prioritising of temporality (Higaki, 2016). ‘Aidagara ‘ or “betweenness” captures the interrelation between subjectivity, intersubjectivity, and space. In layman’s terms, the field of possibilities, in which individuals co-exist, communicate, and construct different ways of relating to and understanding one another (Krueger, 2016). This turn in my thinking, overlaying insight cultivators with lived experience of immersive play, teased me with potential for my online dilemmas. What could I apply to enhance online learning or engagement spaces…what could I extract to enhance connection, and negate the decorporealisation of online spaces?

Through this lens, I entertained more questions than concrete answers…

  • Is there more we can or should do to facilitate or enrich the ‘aidagara’ of the relationships or experiences that take place in our lived ‘online spaces’?
  • Beyond the education context even, what can we do to bring the ‘body’ back into our digitalised lives?

At least the aforementioned experience of the interactive installations suggests a more creative engagement with the environments that comprise our shared world may be called for. One that more deliberately shapes ‘the space of betweenness and how we connect with others in and through it’ (Osler & Krueger, 2021). It at least invites me to prioritise the pursuit of the improved quality of interaction ‘spaces’ between people online, be that in a learning, work, or social context.

“When we touch a surface, we experience immersion and inversion fully, and reciprocity is a quality of this touch (Lipps, 1903). There is a haptic rule of thumb: when we touch something or someone, we are, inevitably, touched in return. When we look we are not necessarily being looked at, but when we touch, by the nature of pressing our hand or any part of our body on a subject or object, we cannot escape the contact “ – Bruno (2014, p19)

Thank you to

Carlos Bunga

Glynn Vivian Art Gallery – Swansea’s City Museum

Swansea University’s Oriel Science


Berger, V. (2020) ‘Phenomenology of Online Spaces: Interpreting Late Modern Spatialities’, Hum Stud 43, 603–626 (2020).

Borges de Campos, B. (2019) ‘The Poetics Of Space: Ana Santos & Carlos Bunga At MAAT, Lisbon’, The Quietus, 16th February 2019. Available:

Bruno, G. (2014) ‘Surface: Matters of Aesthetics, Materiality, and Media’, Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Higaki, T. (2016) ‘Testurō Watsuji’s Theory of Betweenness, with a Focus on the Two-Person Community’, Canadian Journal of Communication, Vol 41 (2016), pp.455-467.

Kekki, M-K. (2020) ‘Authentic encountering of others and learning through media-based public discussion: A phenomenological analysis’, Journal of Philosophy of Education, 54, pp.507–52.

Krueger, J. (2016) ‘Subjectivity, Intersubjectivity, and the Relational Self in Buddhism and Phenomenology’, RAS Institute of Philosophy Tibetan Culture and Information Center in Moscow First International Conference “Buddhism and Phenomenology”, November 7–8, 2016 RAS Institute of Philosophy, Moscow.

Lipps. T. (1903) ‘Ästhetik. Psychologie des Schönen und der Kunst’ (vol. 1: Grundlegung der Ästhetik), Leopold Voss, Leipzig.

Löw, M., & Weidenhaus, G. (2017). Borders that relate: Conceptualizing boundaries in relational space. Current Sociology, 65(4), 553–570.

McKinnon, K. (2021) ‘Carlos Bunga: Terra Ferma’

Osler, L., Krueger, J. (2021) ‘Taking Watsuji online: betweenness and expression in online spaces’, Cont Philos Rev (2021).

Simonsen, K. (2005) ‘Bodies, sensations, space and time: the contribution from Henri Lefebvre’. Geogr. Ann., 87 B (1), pp.1–14.

Van Manen, M. (2011) ‘Spatial reflection’ (online). Available:

2 Replies to “Body in ‘lived spaces’”

  1. Thanks Felicity! NL scholars have explored the space-place dichotomy a bit, but not with as much fun as your kids there!
    “communication system that embeds spatial metaphors” –  metaphors deserve careful analysis. What lies rhetorically beyond the metaphor? Lies? Did the ‘deception’, Internet mediated simultaneous meetings, we all ran with, like an ‘organisational myth’/’organizational fiction’, (see Goodyear 2006) allow us to ‘get things done’ while we clung on for dear/normal life in a pandemic but knew something was missing? Were we more ‘productive’? If dehumanised, did it matter? In what ways?
    There’s going to be slippage… anytime we embark on ‘designed learning’, for example, clinical simulation, even using high-fidelity manikins is a wonted departure from the realities of dealing with ‘real people’. Does the slippage matter? See further quote from Goodyear from 2006:
    p95 What is so great about co-presence? What does co-presence afford?
    First, co-presence interaction is ‘ thick ’ with information, for example body language, gesture and silence. Second, copresence attests to mutual commitment; the participants have taken the trouble to create a shared time-space. The greater the trouble, the stronger the evidence of commitment. Third, as we’ve seen, copresence allows fluent timing of turn taking and other skilful linguistic moves that, among other things, allow ‘ risky’ requests to be made without losing face. Fourth, the efficiency and flexibility of ‘ loose talk’ allows rapid topic identification and shifting between topics (getting a shared sense of ‘the real business’). Copresence is good for arriving at outcomes for which there is no script (Boden & Molotch, 1994).
    What does this mean for e-learning? If learning amounted to no more than the transmission and reception of packaged information they might be few if any consequences. However, this is a pastiche of learning. In particular, the kinds of learning that are implicated in the construction of ‘ working knowledge’ necessitate trust and skilful interaction among learners and their teachers and mentors. Much can be done through the orderly co-construction of shared understandings (e.g. in online texts) but we have to have very good reasons for denying learners the chance to capitalise on the affordances of co-presence.. When they want to they will ‘ trade up’ to co-presence or other, thicker communicative means, with or without the teachers knowledge and permission (Jones, 1998).

    Goodyear, P. (2006). Technology and the articulation of vocational and academic interests: Reflections on time, space and e-learning. Studies in Continuing Education, 28(2), 83–98.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for this delicious comment Mike, a rich share of ideas – I have plenty to digest on here, so pleased that my experience was able to extract this share from you and out to others reading the blog :-).

      Liked by 1 person

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

%d bloggers like this: