Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy

, Volume 17, Issue 4, pp 549–557 | Cite as

Multiple dimensions of embodiment in medical practices

  • Jenny Slatman
Scientific Contribution


In this paper I explore the various meanings of embodiment from a patient’s perspective. Resorting to phenomenology of health and medicine, I take the idea of ‘lived experience’ as starting point. On the basis of an analysis of phenomenology’s call for bracketing the natural attitude and its reduction to the transcendental, I will explain, however, that in medical phenomenological literature ‘lived experience’ is commonly one-sidedly interpreted. In my paper, I clarify in what way the idea of ‘lived experience’ should be revisited and, subsequently, what this reconsideration means for phenomenological research on embodiment in health and medicine. The insight that the body is a condition of possibility for world-disclosing yet, at the same time, itself conditioned by this world forces us to not only zoom in on the body’s subject-side, but also on its object-side. I argue that in order to render account for this double body ontology, phenomenology should include empirical sociological analyses as well. I thus argue in favor of the idea of a socio-phenomenology. Drawing on material from my own research project on embodied self-experiences after breast surgery, I show how this approach can be fruitful in interpreting the impact of disfigurements on a person’s embodied agency, or a person’s ‘I can’.


Phenomenology of the body Body as subject Body as object ‘I can’ Disfigurements 



I would like to thank Annemie Halsema and Marjolein de Boer for their instructive and challenging suggestions on a previous version of this paper. Also thanks to an anonymous reviewer for providing effective comments. This research is funded by the Netherlands Organization for Scientific Research—NWO (VIDI-Grant 276-20-016).


  1. Ahmed, S. 2007. A Phenomenology of Whiteness. Feminist Theory 8(2): 149–168.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  2. Aho, J., and K. Aho. 2009. Body matters: A phenomenology of sickness, disease, and illness. Lanham: Lexington Books.Google Scholar
  3. Bullington, J. 2013. The expression of the psychosomatic body from a phenomenological perspective. Berlin and Heidelberg: Springer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  4. Carel, H. 2008. Illness: The cry of the flesh. Durham: Acumen.Google Scholar
  5. Carel, H. 2011. Phenomenology and its application in medicine. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 32(1): 33–46.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  6. Carel, H. 2012. Nursing and medicine. In The Routledge companion to phenomenology, ed. S. Luft, and S. Overgaard, 623–632. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  7. Cash, T.F., and M.L. Szymanski. 1995. The development and validation of the Body-Image Ideals Questionnaire. Journal of Personality Assessment 64(3): 466–477.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. Cole, J. 2004. Still lives: Narratives of spinal cord injury. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.Google Scholar
  9. Crompvoets, S. 2012. Prosthetic fantasies: Loss, recovery, and the marketing of wholeness after breast cancer. Social Semiotics 22(1): 107–120.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Dahlberg, K., L. Todres, and K. Galvin. 2009. Lifeworld-led healthcare is more than patient-led care: An existential view of well-being. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 12(3): 265–271.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  11. De Haan, S., and T. Fuchs. 2010. The ghost in the machine: Disembodiment in schizophrenia—two case studies. Psychopathology 43(5): 327–333.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  12. Earle, V. 2010. Phenomenology as research method or substantive metaphysics? An overview of phenomenology’s uses in nursing. Nursing Philosophy 11(4): 286–296.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  13. Fanon, F. 1952. Peau noire, masques blancs. Paris: Seuil.Google Scholar
  14. Finlay, L. 2011. Phenomenology for therapists: Researching the lived world. New York: Wiley.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  15. Fuchs, T. 2005. Corporealized and disembodied minds: A phenomenological view of the body in melancholia and schizophrenia. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 12(2): 95–107.Google Scholar
  16. Fuchs, T. 2007. The temporal structure of intentionality and its disturbance in schizophrenia. Psychopathology 40(4): 229–235.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  17. Gallagher, S., and D. Zahavi. 2012. The phenomenological mind. London: Routledge.Google Scholar
  18. Groven, K. S., Råheim, M., Engelsrud, G. 2013. Dis-appearance and dys-appearance anew: Living with excess skin and intestinal changes following weight loss surgery. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 16(3): 507–523.Google Scholar
  19. Hopwood, P., I. Fletcher, A. Lee, and S. Al Ghazal. 2001. A body image scale for use with cancer patients. European Journal of Cancer 37(2): 189–197.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  20. Husserl, E. 1900–1901. Logische Untersuchungen. II/1 (Siebte Auflage, 1993). Tübingen: Max Niemeyer Verlag.Google Scholar
  21. Husserl, E. (1952). Ideen zur einer reiner Phänomenologie und phänomenologischen Philosophie. Zweites Buch, Den Haag: Martinus Nijhoff.Google Scholar
  22. Ingerslev, L.R. 2013. My body as an object: self-distance and social experience. Phenomenology and the Cognitive Sciences 12(1): 163–178.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  23. Kitzmüller, G., T. Häggström, and K. Asplund. 2013. Living an unfamiliar body: The significance of the long-term influence of bodily changes on the perception of self after stroke. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 16(1): 19–29.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  24. Leder, D. 1990. The absent body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.Google Scholar
  25. Leder, D. 1992a. A tale of two bodies: The Cartesian corpse and the lived body. In The body in medical thought and practice, ed. D. Leder. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  26. Leder, D. 1992b. The body in medical thought and practice. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  27. Lorde, A. 1980. The cancer journals. Argyle, NY: Spinsters Ink.Google Scholar
  28. Martínková, I., and J. Parry. 2011. An introduction to the phenomenological study of sport. Sport, Ethics and Philosophy 5(3): 185–201.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  29. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1945). Phenomenology of Perception. Trans. C. Smith. 1962. London, New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  30. Mol, A. 2002. The body multiple: Ontology in medical practice. Durham and London: Duke University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  31. Moser, I. 2009. A body that Matters? The role of embodiment in the recomposition of life after a road traffic accident. Scandinavian Journal of Disability Research 11(2): 83–99.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  32. Moustakas, C. 1994. Phenomenological research methods. London: Sage.Google Scholar
  33. Oliver, M. 1990. The politics of disablement. London: Palgrave Macmillan.Google Scholar
  34. Polit, D. F. and C. T. Beck. 2008. Nursing research. Generating and assessing evidence for nursing practice. Philadelphia, Baltimore, New York, London, Buenos Aires, Hong Kong, Sydney, Tokyo: Wolters Kluwer, Lippincott Williams & Wilkins. Google Scholar
  35. Ratcliffe, M. 2008. Feelings of being: Phenomenology, psychiatry and the sense of reality. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  36. Ratcliffe, M. 2009. Existential feeling and psychopathology. Philosophy, Psychiatry, and Psychology 16(2): 179–194.Google Scholar
  37. Rumsey, N., and D. Harcourt. 2004. Body image and disfigurement: Issues and interventions. Body Image 1(1): 83–97.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  38. Sartre, J.-P. (1943). Being and nothingness: An Essay on phenomenological ontology. (trans: Barnes, H.E., 2007). London & New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  39. Scully, J.L. 2008. Disability bioethics: Moral bodies, moral difference. Lanham, Maryland: Rowman & Littlefield.Google Scholar
  40. Shannon, M.T. 2012. Face off: Searching for truth and beauty in the clinical encounter. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 15(3): 329–335.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  41. Smith, J.A., P. Flowers, and M. Larkin. 2009. Interpretative phenomenological analysis: Theory, method and research. Los Angeles, London: Sage.Google Scholar
  42. Svenaeus, F. 2011. Illness as unhomelike being-in-the-world: Heidegger and the phenomenology of medicine. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 14(3): 333–343.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  43. Toombs, S.K. 1988. Illness and the paradigm of lived body. Theoretical Medicine 9(2): 201–226.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  44. Toombs, S.K. 1990. The temporality of illness: Four levels of experience. Theoretical Medicine and Bioethics 11(3): 227–241.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  45. Toombs, S.K. 1992. The meaning of illness: A phenomenological account of the different perspectives of physician and patient. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  46. Toombs, S.K. 2001. Reflections on bodily change: The lived experience of disability. In Handbook of phenomenology and medicine, ed. S.K. Toombs. Dordrecht: Kluwer.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  47. Van Manen, M. 1990. Researching lived experience: Human science for an action sensitive pedagogy. Albany, NY: SUNY Press.Google Scholar
  48. Van Manen, M. 1998. Modalities of body experience in illness and health. Qualitative Health Research 8(1): 7–24.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  49. Waldenfels, B. 1989. Körper-Leib. In Esprit/Geist: 100 Schlüsselbegriffe für Deutsche und Franzosen, ed. J. Leenhardt, and R. Picht, 342–345. München: Piper.Google Scholar
  50. Young, I.M. 1990. Throwing like a girl and other essays in feminist philosophy and social theory. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.Google Scholar
  51. Zahavi, D. 2005. Subjectivity and selfhood: Investigating the first-person perspective. Cambridge, MA: MIT press.Google Scholar
  52. Zaner, R.M. 1981. The context of self: A phenomenological inquiry using medicine as a clue. Athens, OH: Ohio University Press.Google Scholar
  53. Zeiler, K. 2010. A phenomenological analysis of bodily self-awareness in the experience of pain and pleasure: on dys-appearance and eu-appearance. Medicine, Health Care and Philosophy 13(4): 333–342.CrossRefGoogle Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Dordrecht 2014

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Health, Ethics and SocietyMaastricht UniversityMaastrichtThe Netherlands

Personalised recommendations