Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 465–486

Enactive intersubjectivity: Participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation



Current theories of social cognition are mainly based on a representationalist view. Moreover, they focus on a rather sophisticated and limited aspect of understanding others, i.e. on how we predict and explain others’ behaviours through representing their mental states. Research into the ‘social brain’ has also favoured a third-person paradigm of social cognition as a passive observation of others’ behaviour, attributing it to an inferential, simulative or projective process in the individual brain. In this paper, we present a concept of social understanding as an ongoing, dynamical process of participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation. This process may be described (1) from a dynamical agentive systems point of view as an interaction and coordination of two embodied agents; (2) from a phenomenological approach as a mutual incorporation, i.e. a process in which the lived bodies of both participants extend and form a common intercorporality. Intersubjectivity, it is argued, is not a solitary task of deciphering or simulating the movements of others but means entering a process of embodied interaction and generating common meaning through it. This approach will be further illustrated by an analysis of primary dyadic interaction in early childhood.


Coordination Enaction Infancy Intercorporality Intersubjectivity Participatory sense-making Phenomenology Social interaction 

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media B.V. 2009

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of General PsychiatryUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  2. 2.Centre for Computational Neuroscience and RoboticsUniversity of SussexBrightonUK
  3. 3.Phenomenological Psychopathology and Psychotherapy, Psychiatric DepartmentUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany
  4. 4.Psychiatric DepartmentUniversity of HeidelbergHeidelbergGermany

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