Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences

, Volume 8, Issue 4, pp 465–486 | Cite as

Enactive intersubjectivity: Participatory sense-making and mutual incorporation

  • Thomas FuchsEmail author
  • Hanne De Jaegher


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 



We would like to thank an anonymous reviewer, Sanneke de Haan, Ezequiel Di Paolo, Monika Dullstein, Sonja Rinofner, Beata Stawarska and the Arbeitsgruppe Phänomenologische Psychopathologie at the University of Heidelberg for their suggestions for this article. This article was supported by the EU Marie Curie Research Training Network 035975 “DISCOS—Disorders and coherence of the embodied self.”


  1. Acredolo, L., & Goodwyn, S. (1988). Symbolic gesturing in normal infants. Child Development, 59, 450–466.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Antonietti, A., Liverta-Sempio, O., & Marchetti, A. (2006). Theory of mind and language in developmental contexts. Berlin: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Baron-Cohen, S. (1995). Mindblindness: An essay on autism and theory of mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  4. Baron-Cohen, S., Leslie, A. M., & Frith, U. (1986). Mechanical, behavioural and intentional understanding of picture stories in autistic children. British Journal of Developmental Psychology, 4, 113–125.Google Scholar
  5. Bateman, A., & Fonagy, P. (2004). Psychotherapy for borderline personality disorder: Mentalization-based treatment. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Boston Change Process Study Group (BCPSG). (2007). The foundational level of psychodynamic meaning: Implicit process in relation to conflict, defense and the dynamic unconscious. International Journal of Psychoanalysis, 88, 843–860.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  7. Braun, C. (1976). Teacher expectation: Sociopsychological dynamics. Review of Educational Research, 46(2), 185–213.Google Scholar
  8. Buytendijk, F. J. J. (1956). Allgemeine Theorie der menschlichen Haltung und Bewegung Berlin Göttingen Heidelberg: Springer [Algemene theorie der menselijke houding en beweging/General theory of human posture and movement. Antwerpen: Uitgeversmij 1948].Google Scholar
  9. Condon, W. S. (1979). Neonatal entrainment and enculturation. In M. Bullowa (Ed.), Before speech (pp. 131–148). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  10. Davis, M. (Ed.). (1982). Interaction rhythms. Periodicity in communicative behavior. New York: Human Sciences Press.Google Scholar
  11. De Jaegher, H. (2009). Social understanding through direct perception? Yes, by interacting. Consciousness and Cognition, 18(2), 535–542.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. De Jaegher, H., & Di Paolo, E. (2007). Participatory sense-making: An enactive approach to social cognition. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 6, 485–507.Google Scholar
  13. De Jaegher, H., & Di Paolo, E. (2008). Making sense in participation. An enactive approach to social cognition. In F. Morganti, A. Carassa & G. Riva (Eds.), Enacting Intersubjectivity: A Cognitive and Social Perspective to the Study of Interactions. Amsterdam: IOS Press.Google Scholar
  14. De Jaegher, H., & Froese, T. (2009). On the role of social interaction in individual agency. Adaptive Behavior. In pressGoogle Scholar
  15. Decety, J., & Sommerville, J. A. (2003). Shared representations between self and other: A social cognitive neuroscience view. Trends in Cognitive Sciences, 7, 527–533.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  16. Di Paolo, E. (2005). Autopoiesis, adaptivity, teleology, agency. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 4(4), 97–125.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Di Paolo, E., Rohde, M., & De Jaegher, H. (2008). Horizons for the enactive mind: Values, social interaction, and play. In J. Stewart, O. Gapenne & E. Di Paolo (Eds.), Enaction: Towards a New Paradigm for Cognitive Science. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  18. Dokic, J., & Proust, J. (2002). Simulation and knowledge of action (vol. 45). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  19. Downing, G. (2004). Emotion, body and parent- infant interaction. In J. Nadel & D. Muir (Eds.), Emotional development: Recent research advances (pp. 429–449). Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Dreyfus, H. L. (2002). Intelligence without representation—Merleau-Ponty’s critique of mental representation. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 1, 367–383.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  21. Fogel, A. (1993). Developing through relationships: Origins of communication, self and culture. London: Harvester Wheatsheaf.Google Scholar
  22. Frith, U., & Frith, C. (2001). The biological basis of social interaction. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 10, 151–155.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Frith, C., & Frith, U. (2007). Social cognition in humans. Current Biology, 17, R724–R732.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Gallagher, S. (1997). Mutual enlightenment: Recent phenomenology and cognitive science. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 4, 195–214.Google Scholar
  25. Gallagher, S. (2001). The practice of mind: Theory, simulation or primary interaction? Journal of Consciousness Studies, 8, 83–108.Google Scholar
  26. Gallagher, S. (2007). Simulation trouble. Social Neuroscience, 2, 353–365.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Gallagher, S. (2008). Direct perception in the intersubjective context. Consciousness and Cognition, 17, 535–543.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  28. Gallagher, S., & Hutto, D. D. (2008). Understanding others through primary interaction and narrative practice. In J. Zlatev, T. Racine, C. Sinha & E. Itkonen (Eds.), The shared mind: Perspectives on intersubjectivity. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  29. Goldman, A. (2006). Simulating minds. The philosophy, psychology, and neuroscience of mindreading. Oxford: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  30. Gopnik, A., & Meltzoff, A. N. (1997). Words, thoughts, and theories. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  31. Gordon, R. M. (1996). ‘Radical’ simulationism. In P. Carruthers & P. K. Smith (Eds.), Theories of theories of mind (pp. 11–21). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  32. Grammer, K., Kruck, K. B., & Magnusson, M. S. (1998). The courtship dance: Patterns of nonverbal synchronization in opposite-sex encounters. Journal of Nonverbal Behavior, 22, 3–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  33. Granic, I. (2000). The self-organization of parent-child relations: Beyond bidirectional models. In M. D. Lewis & I. Granic (Eds.), Emotion, development, and self-organization. Dynamic systems approaches to emotional development (pp. 267–297). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  34. Gurwitsch, A. (1977/1979). Die mitmenschlichen Begegnungen in der Milieuwelt. Berlin, Walter de Gruyter. Engl. Transl. by Fred Kersten (1979) Human Encounters in the Social World. Pittsburgh: Duquesne University Press.Google Scholar
  35. Hendriks-Jansen, H. (1997). The epistemology of autism: Making a case for an embodied, dynamic and historical explanation. Cybernetics and Systems, 28, 359–415.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Hobson, R. P. (2002). The cradle of thought. London: Macmillan.Google Scholar
  37. Hutto, D. D. (2004). The limits of spectatorial folk psychology. Mind and Language, 19(5), 548–573.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Issartel, J., Marin, L., & Cadopi, M. (2007). Unintended interpersonal coordination: “Can we march to the beat of our own drum?”. Neuroscience Letters, 411, 174–179.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Jasnow, M., & Feldstein, S. (1986). Adult-like temporal characteristics of mother-infant vocal interactions. Child Development, 57, 754–761.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  40. Kendon, A. (1990). Conducting interaction: Patterns of behavior in focused encounters. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  41. Kistemaker, D. A., Faber, H., et al. (2009). Catching fly balls: A simulation study of the Chapman strategy. Human Movement Science, 28, 236–249.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  42. Leder, D. (1990). The absent body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  43. Lindblom, J., & Ziemke, T. (2008). Interacting socially through embodied action. In F. Morganti, A. Carassa & G. Riva (Eds.), Enacting intersubjectivity: A cognitive and social perspective to the study of interactions. Amsterdam: IOS Press.Google Scholar
  44. Lipps, T. (1903). Grundlegung der Ästhetik. Hamburg: Voss.Google Scholar
  45. Lyons-Ruth, K., Bruschweiler-Stern, N., Harrison, A. M., Morgan, A. C., Nahum, J. P., Sander, L., et al. (1998). Implicit relational knowing: Its role in development and psychoanalytic treatment. Infant Mental Health Journal, 19, 282–289.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Maduell, M., & Wing, A. M. (2007). The dynamics of ensemble: The case for flamenco. Psychology of Music, 35, 591–627.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Malloch, S. N. (1999). Mothers and infants and communicative musicality. Musicae Scientiae Special Issue, 1999–2000, 29–57.Google Scholar
  48. McLeod, P., & Dienes, Z. (1993). Running to catch the ball. Nature, 362, 23.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Meltzoff, A., & Brooks, R. (2001). ‘Like me’ as a building block for understanding other minds: Bodily acts, attention, and intention. In B. F. Malle, L. J. Moses & D. A. Baldwin (Eds.), Intentions and intentionality: Foundations of social cognition (pp. 171–191). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  50. Meltzoff, A., & Moore, M. K. (1977). Imitation of facial and manual gestures by human neonates. Science, 198, 75–78.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  51. Meltzoff, A., & Moore, M. K. (1989). Imitation in newborn infants: Exploring the range of gestures imitated and the underlying mechanisms. Developmental Psychology, 25, 954–962.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  52. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945/1962). Phénomenologie de la perception. Paris: Gallimard. Engl. Transl. by Colin Smith (1962) Phenomenology of perception. London: Routledge and Kegan Paul.Google Scholar
  53. Michaels, C. F., & Oudejans, R. R. D. (1992). The optics and actions of catching fly balls: Zeroing out optical acceleration. Ecological Psychology, 4, 199–222.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  54. Noë, A. (2004). Action in perception. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  55. O’Regan, J. K., & Noë, A. (2001). A sensorimotor account of vision and visual consciousness. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 24, 939–1011.Google Scholar
  56. Perner, J. (1991). Understanding the representational mind. Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  57. Premack, D., & Woodruff, G. (1978). Does the chimpanzee have a theory of mind? Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 4, 515–526.Google Scholar
  58. Ratcliffe, M. (2007). Rethinking commonsense psychology: A critique of folk psychology, theory of mind and simulation. Hampshire: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  59. Reddy, V. (1996). Omitting the second person in social understanding. Behavioral and Brain Sciences, 19, 140–141.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  60. Reddy, V. (2001). Infant clowns: The interpersonal creation of humour in infancy. Enfance, 3, 247–256.Google Scholar
  61. Reddy, V. (2008). How infants know minds. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  62. Reddy, V., & Morris, P. (2004). Participants don’t need theories. Theory and Psychology, 14, 647–665.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  63. Reddy, V., Williams, E., & Vaughan, A. (2002). Sharing humour and laughter in autism and Down’s syndrome. British Journal of Psychology, 93, 219–242.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  64. Scheler, M. (1954/1923). The nature of sympathy (P. Heath, Trans.). London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  65. Schilbach, L., Eickhoff, S. B., Mojzisch, A., & Vogeley, K. (2008). What’s in a smile? Neural correlates of facial embodiment during social interaction. Social Neuroscience, 3, 37–50.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  66. Scollon, R. (1981). In D. Tannen (Ed.), The rhythmic integration of ordinary talk. Georgetown University round talbe on languages and linguistics (pp. 335–349). Washington, DC: Georgetown University Press.Google Scholar
  67. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (1999). The primacy of movement. Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  68. Stawarska, B. (2007). Persons, pronouns, and perspectives. Linguistic and developmental contributions to dialogical phenomenology. In M. Ratcliffe & D. D. Hutto (Eds.), Folk psychology reassessed. Berlin: Springer.Google Scholar
  69. Stawarska, B. (2009). Between you and I. Dialogical phenomenology. Ohio: Ohio University Press. In pressGoogle Scholar
  70. Stern, D. N. (1985/1998). The interpersonal world of the infant: A view from psychoanalysis and developmental psychology. New York: Basic Books.Google Scholar
  71. Thompson, E. (2005). Sensorimotor subjectivity and the enactive approach to experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4, 407–427.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  72. Thompson, E. (2007). Mind in Life: Biology, Phenomenology, and the Sciences of Mind. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  73. Torrance, S. (2005). In search of the enactive: Introduction to special issue on enactive experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences, 4, 357–368.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  74. Torrance, S. (2009). Contesting the concept of consciousness. Journal of Consciousness Studies, 16(5), 111–126.Google Scholar
  75. Trevarthen, C. (1979). Communication and cooperation in early infancy: A description of primary intersubjectivity. In M. Bullowa (Ed.), Before speech (pp. 321–347). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  76. Trevarthen, C. (1993). The self born in intersubjectivity. In U. Neisser (Ed.), The perceived self: Ecological and interpersonal sources of self-knowledge (pp. 121–173). Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.Google Scholar
  77. Trevarthen, C. (1999). Musicality and the intrinsic motive pulse: Evidence from human psychobiology and infant communication. Musicae Scientiae, 155-215.Google Scholar
  78. Tronick, E. Z. (1998). Dyadically expanded states of consciousness and the process of therapeutic change. Infant Mental Health Journal, 19, 290–299.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  79. Tronick, E. Z. (2007). The neurobehavioral and social emotional development of infants and children. New York: Norton.Google Scholar
  80. Tronick, E. Z., & Cohn, J. F. (1989). Infant-mother face-to-face interaction: Age and gender differences in coordination and the occurrences of miscoordination. Child Development, 60, 85–92.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  81. Tronick, E. Z., & Weinberg, M. K. (1997). Depressed mothers and infants: Failure to form dyadic states of consciousness. In L. Murray & P. J. Cooper (Eds.), Postpartum depression and child development (pp. 54–84). New York: Guilford.Google Scholar
  82. Varela, F. J. (1991). Organism: A meshwork of selfless selves. In A. Tauber (Ed.), Organism and the origin of self (pp. 79–107). Dordrecht: Kluwer.Google Scholar
  83. Varela, F. J. (1997). Patterns of life: Intertwining identity and cognition. Brain and Cognition, 34, 72–87.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  84. Varela, F. J., Thompson, E., & Rosch, E. (1991). The embodied mind: Cognitive science and human experience (6th ed.). Cambridge: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  85. Vygotsky, L. S. (1978). Mind in society. Cambridge: Harvard University Press.Google Scholar
  86. Weizsäcker, V. V. (1940). Der Gestaltkreis. Theorie der Einheit von Wahrnehmung und Bewegung. Stuttgart: Thieme.Google Scholar
  87. Wittgenstein, L. (1967). In G. E. M. Anscombe & G. H. von Wright (Eds.), Zettel. Oxford: Blackwell.Google Scholar

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

Personalised recommendations