Encyclopedia of Educational Philosophy and Theory

2017 Edition
| Editors: Michael A. Peters

Phenomenology of Movement and Place

Reference work entry
DOI: https://doi.org/10.1007/978-981-287-588-4_92


Movement essentially has its place, its material supports and environmental affordances, and its fit with locales, habitats, and regions. This is clearly the case in hydrological terms with precipitation patterns, runoffs, and confluences of flows, currents, waves, and tides defining navigable waterways and in geological terms with distinctive landscapes affecting climatic conditions and animal habitations and migrations. Such large-scale correspondences between movement geometries and place typologies are reflected in incremental scales of biological, social, cultural, and historical life. Yet human movement seems curiously and anomalously abstracted from these scales of life by the natural sciences in terms of the putative functioning of a physiological, anatomical, and biomechanical entity. The social sciences may bring to mind the spaces and places that contextualize human movement, giving its functionality many varied forms. But something about the essential life value of movement remains obscured when motility, reduced to bodily functionality, is correlated with sociocultural, historico-political forms of life. The vitality of movement and the liveliness of places no longer seem integrally connected.

Phenomenology provides a reminder that, in the apodictic certainty of lived, living, and to-be-lived experiences, movement and place are co-constitutive, mutually and reciprocally connected, and actively experienced aspects of unitary life phenomena. Intentionality, as the fundamental precept of phenomenological theorizing, is an interaction effect of place-based movements. It is the effective, affective register of being-in-the-world, being flesh of the world, and experiencing simultaneously the immanent and ecstatic moments of moving within, and seemingly at times without, the world. If movements have their places then so, too, can places be recognized as more than sets of activity affordances, more even than networks and meshworks of interactivity. Movement capacity is the kinetic, kinesthetic, aesthetic, and energetic resonance with landscapes, waterscapes, airscapes, and firescapes along with all manner of built and constructed environments. Motility and mobility are, in phenomenological parlance, the noetic (experiencing) and noematic (experienced) correlates of an inherently animated, participatory consciousness.

As least three registers of movement and place appear in the phenomenological tradition. Each of these registers, of corporeality, humanimality, and virtuality, provides topical vantage points from which to think through the particular relations of movement and place. Each of these registers also has educational importance for how we might understand curricular constructions, pedagogical relations, and instructional practices in schools. Corporeality, contrary to its connotations of corporal punishment, is indicative of a post-Cartesian movement education and, in fact, suggestive of somatic practices and processes of educating physically. Humanimality is a concentrated focal point for ecological education and a corrective to school curricula and pedagogies of anthropocentric humanism and anthropomorphic speciesism. Virtuality indicates an educational response to the challenges of living in an “interactive age” in which life has been taken up in technologically mediated facsimiles and where what is called for may not necessarily be more of the same technological mediations of life. These three ways of casting the phenomenological intentionality of movement and place thus suggest educational applications and inventions of learning to live well and with others in diverse realms and regions of the world.


The place correlates of human agency inform an “I can” that far exceeds the cognitive grasp of movement activation, execution, and termination. The “body-as-lived” is the trope generally invoked in the phenomenological tradition to anchor this expanded sense of agency. Yet focusing on the body, albeit as sensing, feeling, intuiting “flesh,” inevitably localizes movement within self-containment. Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s (1968) best efforts to define this primary intentionality may well fall short of the mobilization of the places that a fully operative intentionality would reveal.

The body as pre-thetic, preconscious motility as advanced by Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and cast by neo-Husserlians in keeping with lifeworld interests, provides the core phenomenological rendition. Yet movement is associated unproblematically, for the most part, with bodily capacities that are exercised in places that are, to some appreciable extent, interchangeable. Critical and feminist philosophers such as Luce Irigaray, Hélène Cixous, Julia Kristeva, Elizabeth Grosz, and Iris Marion-Young rightly point out the perspectival limitations of these studies of corporeality and the privileging of particular motile bodies. They indicate a more fluid, permeable corporeality that acknowledges the sociopolitical spatializings of otherwise marginalized bodies. In this regard, they extend a line of critique prompted by Marcel Maus’ study of culturally determined comportments, Alfred Schutz’s sociological proposal of multiple lifeworlds, Pierre Bourdieu’s culturally enframing habitus, and Michel Foucault’s genealogies of subject positioning.

The corporeal turn, which is to say, the turn to more variegated modes of embodiment, still with an emphasis on the “primacy of movement,” has been pursued vigorously by Maxine Sheets-Johnstone (2011). She draws extensively upon the work of psychoanalyst Daniel Stern in describing the vitality affects and kinetic-kinesthetic-affective dynamics of movement. Yet motility as corporeality, if no longer tied to particular bodies, still seems cast against spatial backgrounds, or else inserted into them, rather than being formative of place awareness if not the very sense of place itself.

Movement has its place, but in being corporealized and somewhat psychologically cast, it is ultimately placeless. By the same token, a troubling humanism remains in phenomenological scholarship that treats place, whether as habitat, environment, or lifeworld, still as the backdrop to movement. Place remains spatial, coordinated topographically with predominantly human interests.

This topology of thought is reflected in educational questions about what is worth knowing about the world and how that knowledge is best taught. Bodies of knowledge are defined in relative movement abstraction to become passed on through judicious placement in school curricula. The arts, crafts, trades, and sports are cast accordingly as the practical subjects of an otherwise cognitively oriented, liberal curriculum. Yet corporeality serves as a reminder that bodies of knowledge are also moving bodies and that “lived curricula” are the enactments of knowledge-in-action, interaction, and in responsiveness to the changing circumstances of life. Physical education provides a case in point of a school subject based in the latter twentieth century on Cartesian precepts of extended matter molded through bodily exercises and technical skill development and guided by what Gilbert Ryle called “the ghost in the machine.” This curriculum superseded movement education as a more expansive and space-attuned sense of bodily capabilities that now, in the twenty-first century, reappears somewhat under the guise of “physical literacy.” Somatic education with its sources in the nineteenth century provides inspiration for extending even farther the curricular incorporation of kinetic, kinesthetic, and affective sensibilities. A “somaesthetic” agenda, as Richard Shusterman (2008) defined it, provides a broad curricular framework for connecting the corporeal register of movement and place with the ways of means of educating children and youth physically right across the school curriculum.

But what of the places not represented in the curriculum and inaccessible within its movement strictures? Environmental studies and ecological education afford movement beyond classroom walls; however, the fuller educational significance of these curricular shapes may yet be discerned in the scholarship of eco-phenomenology beyond themes of place-based pedagogy.


The animal body is characterized by its distinctive motility; however, it is the conjunction of movement and place that characterizes the evolution of such variety of animal life forms. Increasing complexity and what we human animals put on ascending scales of intelligent capacity are functions of self-movement within a range of geographical and cultural spaces. Whereas crustaceans have their environmental niches, cetaceans roam the oceans. Whereas marsupials move distinctively in burrows, trees, grasslands, and bush, human mammals move freely on most landforms and, with technological support, through waterscapes, airscapes, and even firescapes.

An evolutionary line of movement analysis is thereby opened up in considering increasing biological and morphological complexities as a result of place adaptability. Yet so, too, is a phenomenological direction of inquiry indicated in taking into fuller consideration the animate consciousness of moving in, through, around, on, over, under, between, away from, and toward places of daily immersion in the world.

The revival of nature studies and onto-ethological scholarship from Jacob von Uexküll’s (2010) “a foray into the worlds of animals and humans” (Von Uexküll 2010) to the subsequent phenomenological treatments of animality by Martin Heidegger, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and, more recently, Jacques Derrida and Giorgio Agamben bring animate consciousness to considerations of the “intertwining” of humanimality in “the flesh of the world” wherein “the relation of the human and animal is not a hierarchical relation, but lateral, an overcoming that does not abolish kinship” (Merleau-Ponty 2003, p. 268). Our common animality sets movement in place and within networks and webworks, and as coterminous with landscapes, seascapes, firescapes, and airscapes of ambulation and flight. “Becoming animal” is a trope in the scholarship of Giles Deleuze and Felix Guattari and a practice of the self with others in David Abram’s eco-phenomenological writings (Abram 2010).

The educational significance of this “animal turn” is not simply its expansive ecological sensibility. The long-standing human science interest in matters of pedagogical relationality can now register with matters of “vital contact” (Smith 2014) and “transpecific conviviality” (Acampora 2006). What was seen as being out there, whether expansively environmental or narrowly humanimal, can be recognized, heard, and felt as interactional effects and desired, intuited, and divined as connective affects and vitalities of kinship. The nominal reference of pedagogical relationality, namely, the child, allows transposition to many kindred others. Ecological and environmental programs in schools will continue to be the places where humanimality is explored; however, it remains to be seen how the mainstream school curriculum can incorporate this deepened relational register of movement and place.


All of which can still be tethered readily to considerations of environments and habitats, and various disciplinary renderings of places and their animations. But that tethering puts emphasis on environment, world, space and place as affordances, networks and webworks of motility more so than on motions, emotions, and the generation of the diverse forms and multiple structures of animate existence, which is to say, on the constitutive features of life and of the auto-affectivity to which “life phenomenology” from Martin Heidegger to Michel Henry draws attention.

What might be discerned phenomenologically that is not so wedded to the coupling of anthropocentric functionality and spatially constrained forms? What might be described (even designed, managed, and developed) from the affectivities of dwelling in different locales with various other kinds of animate beings?

Michel Henry’s postulate of the “auto-affectivity” of life as the generative force of feelings, forms, and functions and as the essence of life’s manifestations is the consistent thread to his writings. While animality and animal life do not figure in Henry’s accounts of immanent auto-affection, there remains a strong sense that such themes cannot be too far removed from a radical phenomenology of transcendence within immanence, without necessarily falling into the difficulties of addressing animality via the “ek-stases” of biological, ethological, and related logics of lifeworld appearances. Indeed, with the “animal turn” in philosophy after Heidegger’s “world poor” rendition, and following the inspiration of Uexküllian-inspired onto-ethology, Henry’s oeuvre suggests that intentionality is inherently affective. Our relations with one another and with those of a different kind are premised on kinetic-kinesthetic-affective attunements and immersion in a common unfolding of life.

A life ethic, which is to say an ethic of interanimality, may well be best realized in the translation of auto-affection to the dynamics of sensing, responding to, and corresponding with other-than-human animals. This translation (along with transposition, mimetic resonances, and even Deleuzian notions of becoming-animal) is, from a Henryian assertion of affectivity over effectivity, a move to a register of virtuality that does not abstract from life, but actually reveals its full force. “Seeing the invisible” is how Michel Henry described it (Henry 2009). Life phenomenology aims surely at an immateriality (in contrast to the current crass materialisms) to which our everyday senses can vaguely correlate. We can bracket out the identity assertions of Husserlian phenomenology (i.e., that which pursues noetic-noematic intentionality), the nostalgia of lifeworld phenomenology (i.e., past tense, “lived” experience), the worldliness of existential phenomenology (i.e., Heideggerian being-in-the-world and Merleau-Pontyan flesh of the world), and even the hyletic materiality of radical phenomenology and still feel life as an auto-affectivity and animating force. Movement and place can thus become the expressive terms of a turn toward life as that which moves deeply, affects profoundly, and carries the words we say to invoke it.

The movement of life philosophy shifts human consciousness to corporeality, the imperatives of human responsivity to humanimality, and grounds humane interactional qualities of sympathy, empathy, compassion, and care in the virtual kinetic-kinesthetic-aesthetic dynamics of life-wide attunement. More practically speaking, there emerges a praxis which contests the “barbarisms” (Henry 2012) of life-denying representations and the contrived relations by which we distinguish ourselves from other-than-human animals as well as those of our own kind. The school curriculum can be reanimated, repopulated, decolonized, and revitalized to become a deeply lived space.

Michel Henry’s corpus of writings provides telling phenomenological account of what is essentially at stake in practices that, on the ek-static surface, appear to be quite removed from the interrogation of the auto-affectivity of life. The gradients between suffering and joy may well be more representationally known to human beings; however, for neither human beings nor for other-than-human beings can there really be any escape from the pathos of life. We can only act in and through affectivity and, through a series of becomings, realize a pathic, motile connectedness to humans and other animal beings in all kinds of places.

This affective turn, following the corporeal and animal turns, provides insight into optimal learning environments. Such optimization is not necessarily reflected in current enthusiasms for flipped classrooms, twenty-first century communication and social media, and online learning. While face-to-face exchanges seem indicated by the corporeal turn, and body-to-body interactions by the animal turn, virtuality as auto-affectivity remains a learning design challenge to connect the fullest possibilities of life expression with the places we know as schools and which may increasingly be places where “experiential learning” can best flourish.

Yet still the places of engaging meaningfully with others for the sake of vital, life-giving, life-showing, life-affirming interactions may seem like externalized forms that inform movement potentiality rather than as Deleuzian flows, vectors, and valencies of animated, humanimal life. Virtual movements, unlike the representational forms digitized for virtual worlds, should be regarded as the auto-affective, auto-impressive, and self-moving expressions of life that Michel Henry claims for the inner landscape revealed by “material phenomenology.” Such movements are of a pedagogical affectivity yet to be realized more fully but never totally within the shifting configurations of “optimal” learning spaces.

Future Registers

The phenomenological tradition from Edmund Husserl to Michel Henry shows the shifting renditions of movement and place to reveal the expressive and worldly potentialities of life’s immanent auto-affectivity. Corporeality, animality, and virtuality are phenomenological markers of the realization of what Henry referred to as “the “inner necessity” or what Henri Bergson called the élan vital, which is to say the inherent forces and efforts of movement that are most palpably discernible in places of creative life expression.

The three motile, phenomenological registers of corporeality, humanimality, and virtuality can be regarded as terms of a dialectic in which attention turns initially and literally to human corporeality. But the human saturation of the phenomena of the world inevitably occasions thinking about an animal nature. The ecological turn to the wider movements of eco-philosophy in turn gains strength in critical relation to technologically virtualized places. Yet renewed questions of virtuality, developed through a radical, material phenomenology, draw attention back to human movement but now with consideration of the profound kinetic, kinesthetic, somaesthetic dynamics of life affirmation. What continuation of this dialectic might we now discern on the phenomenological horizon?

Phenomenology challenges us with the pressing questions of life, of living with others of a human and other-than-human kind, of the quality of our relations with others, and of speaking, writing, acting, and teaching in authentic, life-affirming ways. Across the academic disciplines and fields of study where the human sciences have taken root, a most pressing task is to reawaken a phenomenological attitude and mobilize the methodological resources of the human sciences in service of the movements, affects, and languages of life. How might phenomenology continue to have us recognize a primacy to movement and bring us in touch with the motions and gestures of the multiple lifeworlds of daily living? Alternatively, what are the appearances of nature, environment, ecology, technology, and virtual worlds that privilege certain animations? What are the affects and effects of an enhanced phenomenological sensitivity? What senses, feelings, emotions, and moods of self-affirmation and responsiveness to others sustain us in our daily lives? To what extent might the descriptive, invocative, provocative language of phenomenology infuse the human sciences and engender a language for speaking directly and movingly of life?

Educational theorizing from matters of teachable content to those of teaching relationships to those of learning environments provide instances of how the phenomenological dialectic of movement and place has been applied to considerations of curriculum, pedagogy, and instruction. Yet a thorough phenomenology of education goes beyond instances of application and, in turn, may well provide the very material conditions for addressing questions such as those posed above and thus for contributing substantially to the ongoing phenomenological movement.


  1. Abram, D. (2010). Becoming animal: An earthly cosmology. New York: Pantheon Books.Google Scholar
  2. Acampora, R. A. (2006). Corporal compassion: Animal ethics and philosophy of the body. Pittsburgh, PA: University of Pittsburgh Press.Google Scholar
  3. Henry, M. (2009). Seeing the invisible: On Kandinsky (trans: Davidson, S.). New York: Continuum Books.Google Scholar
  4. Henry, M. (2012). Barbarism (trans: Davidson, S.). New York: Continuum Books.Google Scholar
  5. Merleau-Ponty, M. (1968). The visible and the invisible (trans: Lingis, A.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  6. Merleau-Ponty, M. (2003). Nature: Course notes from the College de France (trans: Vallier, R.). Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press.Google Scholar
  7. Sheets-Johnstone, M. (2011). The primacy of movement (2nd expanded ed.). Amsterdam: John Benjamins.Google Scholar
  8. Shusterman, R. (2008). Body consciousness: A philosophy of mindfulness and somaesthetics. New York: Cambridge University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  9. Smith, S. J. (2014). A pedagogy of vital contact. Journal of Dance and Somatic Practices, 6(2), 233–246.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  10. Von Uexküll, J. (2010). A foray into the worlds of animals and humans (trans: O’Neil, J. D.). Minneapolis, MN: University of Minnesota Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Science+Business Media Singapore 2017

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Faculty of Health Sciences and Faculty of EducationSimon Fraser UniversityBurnabyCanada