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FFF Seminar: Dag Svanæs

Designing for Somaesthetic Reflection and Transformation

Time: Fri 2022-05-20

Participating: Dag Svanæs (Norwegian University of Science and Technology - NTNU)

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Speaker: Dag Svanæs

Title: Designing for Somaesthetic Reflection and Transformation


Somaesthetics is an interdisciplinary field of inquiry initiated by the American pragmatist philosopher Richard Shusterman, aimed at promoting and integrating theoretical, empirical and practical disciplines related to bodily perception, performance and presentation. To avoid the Cartesian mind-body dualism, Shusterman uses soma to denote the body from both a 1st and a 3rd person perspective. Through various bodily practices such as taijiquan, yoga and Feldenkrais, soma has the capacity to reflect on itself and become more self-aware. In addition, soma is not stable over time, but changes and is transformed as a result of internal and external processes. The talk will start with examples of embodied reflective and transformative experiences, and how such experiences can be designed for. The examples include astronauts´ “overview” experience of seeing the planet from space, explorations of artificial human limbs (flapping ears and a wagging tail), and an art installation that synchronizes with the breathing of the spectator. This is followed by a discussion of how designing for reflection and transformation differs from designing for utility and pleasurable experiences. The talk ends with a critical view on the value of reflective and transformative activities, as one can argue that self-awareness and transformation does not always bring happiness.

The talk is based on a forthcoming book chapter that Svanæs wrote with Shusterman during his sabbatical in 2019/2020 at Florida Atlantic University.


Dag Svanæs is professor in human–computer interaction at Norwegian University of Science and Technology (NTNU) in Trondheim, Norway. He heads the NTNU User Experience Lab and holds a professor position at the IT-University of Copenhagen in Denmark. He did his PhD on the phenomenology of Merleau-Ponty and its relevance to a theory of interactivity. His research interests include design tools, tangible interaction, participatory design, usability methods, medical informatics, and the philosophical foundations of interaction. His current research is focused on the role of the body in design.