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Somatic Modes of Attention Author(s): Thomas J. Csordas Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May, ), pp. Published by: Wiley on behalf of. Somatic Modes of Attention Author(s): Thomas J. Csordas Reviewed work(s): Source: Cultural Anthropology, Vol. 8, No. 2 (May, ), pp. Somatic Modes of Attention Thomas J. Csordas DepartmentofAnthropology Case WesternReserve University. Embodimentas a paradigmor methodological.

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In this article, Thomas Csordas contributes to the development of embodiment as a methodological field. Csordas explores the implications of this dialectic for the ambiguity of analytic concepts and for the concept of indeterminacy.

Thomas Csordas is an anthropologist whose principal interests are in medical and psychological anthropology, comparative religion, anthropological theory, cultural phenomenology and embodiment, globalization and social change, language and culture. He has conducted ethnographic research with Charismatic Catholics, Navajo Indians, and adolescents in the American Southwest on topics including therapeutic process in religious healing, ritual language and creativity, sensory imagery, self transformation, techniques of the body, causal reasoning about illness, and the experience of psychiatric inpatients.

Language, Charisma, and Creativity: The Ritual Life of csordae Religious Movement. University of California Press, A Cultural Phenomenology of Charismatic Healing. The Case of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. Embodiment, Alterity, and the Theory of Religion. Conditions for Creativity in Ritual Language. Please provide a description attentjon what affect means to you. Is it distinct from “emotion”?

It has traditionally been the case in anthropology that affect and emotion are synonyms. As far as my reading goes, I think this is the case in much off the literature on the anthropology of emotion. If one were to say that affect refers more to feeling and sensibility while emotion refers more to the meaning and positive or negative valence of a situation, it would seem only to set one on the path to separating this domain of experience into spheres associated with body and mind — a path, if I may say so, toward a slippery slope of dualism.

It’s interesting first of all that the question is posed in terms of language that is not reducible to spoken words, whereas from a stance toward affect as a function of embodiment one would prefer to emphasize spoken ov that are not reducible to language as a formal Saussurian system. If language is understood first of all as an expression of, in Merleau-Ponty’s term, our “sonorous being,” then it’s already invested with affect.


Language as a formal system can be abstracted form spoken language by linguistics from language as spoken, just as emotional meaning can be abstracted form spoken language by psychoanalysis. How is the notion of affect helpful or relevant to your work? Would you categorize your work as “affect studies”?

My impression is that affect studies originates outside anthropology and with little interaction with the anthropology of emotion. My concern is that the “affect” of affect studies may be understood primarily as a product or consequence of social forces rather than as a phenomenon of intentionality and existence. If, for example, affect is defined primarily as intensity see Massumi it appears as inherently impersonal, a function of automatons rather than people.

Csrdas attention to affect change the field for potential political action?

Is it related to older concepts like “ideology” or “structures of feeling”? The first step toward understanding the political relevance of affect is to recognize that it is not just a locus of subjectivity but a feature of intersubjectivity. What methodological advice do you have for anthropologists in the field who are researching affect?

How might they soamtic fieldwork? What specific techniques might they find useful? The most basic thing to attend to is tone of voice see Jenkins on expressed emotion. Third is your own gut feelings ranging from anxiety to modess — ethnography itself includes a somatic mode of attention.

Fourth, remember the words of William Blake: Excess of sorrow laughs. Excess of joy weeps… Exuberance is Beauty. What has inspired your work, and in what ways might it contribute to a more thorough understanding of affect?

My work has been inspired by the urge to understand the conditions of possibility for transformation, change, and healing in human existence, and by the recognition of imagination as the most fundamental human capacity. Even though I don’t make much explicit atttention of affect as a concept, I have to conclude that these concerns are what led the curators of this collection to include my article, and I’m gratified to have my article recognized in this way.

Somatic Modes of Attention — Cultural Anthropology

From your perspective, what is the relationship between affect, as you understand it, and embodiment? How does the concept of affect contribute to embodiment as a methodological field? Recently I attended a lecture in cognitive science on how people orient themselves in xttention physical landscape.

A brilliant piece of work, but when in the post-lecture domatic session the speaker was somatif how affect might play into his analysis, he acted as if he was unfamiliar with the term, and in trying to formulate a response resorted to the word “affection. In my own current way of thinking, affect fits into embodiment as a methodological field as one among ten components of corporeality. Has your conceptualization of embodiment shifted since you wrote the article?


At that time I defined embodiment as an indeterminate methodological field, but without elaborating in any detail how that field is constituted. Recently I’ve felt an obligation to do so, and the first step somtic this direction is my piece “Embodiment: I define three dimensions of the field, including structures of agency in the relation between our bodies and the world, sexual difference, and components of corporeality.

In the book I’m working on I go somatlc to identify the threshold between embodiment as a csoedas field and two overlapping methodological fields, namely animality and materiality. The other shift in my thinking since then has been from using ethnographic material on religious experience to formulate an understanding of embodiment toward using embodiment to formulate a cultural phenomenological understanding of religious experience. That line of thinking is developed in my article “Asymptote of the Ineffable: What does “indeterminacy” mean in this article, and what does the concept have to do with anthropological analysis?

Why did Csordas choose to explore an embodiment framework through healing? Could he have analyzed other ethnographic settings to make his argument? How might your conclusions differ?

Somatic Modes of Attention

How does Csordas draw on his own fieldwork experiences to illustrate the ambiguity of analytic concepts? What potential pitfalls do you see in an embodiment framework? Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge University Press, Paths Toward a Clearing: Radical Empiricism and Ethnographic Inquiry.

Indiana University Press, Parables for the Virtual: Duke University Press, Presses Universitares de France, The Primacy of Perception. Northwestern University Press, Abstract In this article, Thomas Csordas contributes to the development of embodiment as a methodological field. About the Author Dr.

Author’s Selected Works Books: Why is there an place for a paradigm of embodiment in anthropological theory? How does the the concept of “somatic modes of attention” fill this opening? What other sorts of ethnographic evidence does Csordas use, and why? Getty, The Telegraph, ” Untitled. Further Readings Bourdieu, Pierre. The Body and Society. Post a Comment Please log in or register to comment.