Making the Body Present. Breathwork As Holistic Practice

Wednesday, 13 July 2016: 09:30
Location: Hörsaal 22 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Alexander ANTONY, University of Vienna, Austria
On the one hand, it is a sociological truism that our body in various practices of everyday life often remains a tacit operator. That is, it does not get, for instance while doing routine work, discursively thematized or even consciously experienced. On the other hand, during the last decades different forms of therapeutic and spiritual practices that, for different purposes, aim to make the body ‚present‘ experienced a considerable upturn. Therapists and clients for instance try to evoke specific bodily and emotional experiences which would enable access to our ‚authentic‘ self. These practices, based on different techniques of the body, can be understood as specific forms of relating to ourselves and the world in general. Interestingly, in spite of the increased dissemination of such practices only few sociological studies tried to get to the core of the phenomenon. That is, attention is often exclusively given to bodily representations or to discourse about the body. Seldom bodily practice itself has being addressed.

Using an autoethnographic research design as well as building on a pragmatist and actor-network theory inspired conceptual framework I want to illustrate, exemplified with the case of so-called breathwork, how different forms of bodily experiences are interactively established and evoked practically. The guiding thesis is that we experience our body not as a self-given entity in a passive way, but rather via actively participating in specific practices that can be empirically reconstructed. In the presentation three types of making our body present will be discussed: 1.) the establishment of unlikely attentions through verbal instructions; 2.) establishing presence by means of irritating bodily habitualizations; and 3.) attempts to let bodily processes quasi-autonomously ‚happen‘ in order to evoke affective experiences. At the end of the presentation I will argue for the necessity of an empirically informed action theoretical conceptualization of experience.