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Somatic theory

Somatic theory is a theory of human social behavior based loosely on the somatic marker hypothesis of António Damásio, which proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making, as well as the attachment theory of John Bowlby and the self psychology of Heinz Kohut, especially as consolidated by Allan Schore.

It draws on various philosophical models from On the Genealogy of Morals of Friedrich Nietzsche through Martin Heidegger on das Man, Maurice Merleau-Ponty on the lived body, and Ludwig Wittgenstein on social practices to Michel Foucault on discipline, as well as theories of performativity emerging out of the speech act theory of J. L. Austin, especially as developed by Judith Butler and Shoshana Felman; some somatic theorists have also tied somaticity to performance in the schools of actor training developed by Konstantin Stanislavski and Bertolt Brecht.

Barbara Sellers-Young applies Damasio’s somatic-marker hypothesis to critical thinking as an embodied performance, and provides a review of the theoretical literature in performance studies that supports something like Damasio’s approach:

Edward Slingerland applies Damasio's somatic-marker hypothesis to the cognitive linguistics of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, especially Fauconnier and Turner's theory of conceptual blending and Lakoff and Johnson's embodied mind theory of metaphor. His goal in importing somatic theory into cognitive linguistics is to show that

the primary purpose of achieving human scale is not to help us apprehend a situation, but rather to help us to know how to feel about it. Especially in political and religious discourse--situations where speakers are attempting to influence their listeners' values and decision-making processes--I would like to argue that the achievement of human scale is intended primarily to import normativity to the blend, which is accomplished through the recruitment of human-scale emotional-somatic reactions. This argument is essentially an attempt to connect of conceptual blending theorists with those of neuroscientists who argue for the importance of somatic states and emotional reactions in human value-creation and decision-making.
  • Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, especially bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
  • Thomas Hanna’s insistence that “We cannot sense without acting and we cannot act without sensing”
  • Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's movement-pedagogy
  • Konstantin Stanislavski’s acting theory that “In every physical action, unless it is purely mechanical, there is concealed some inner action, some feelings. This is how the two levels of life in a part are created, the inner and the outer. They are intertwined. A common purpose brings them together and reinforces the unbreakable bond.”
  • Damasio, Antonio R. (1994). Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam.
  • Damasio, Antonio R. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt.
  • Damasio, Antonio R. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. New York: Harcourt.
  • Felman, Shoshana. (1980/2003). The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan With J. L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages. Translated by Catherine Porter. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
  • Hanna, Thomas. (1995). "What is Somatics?" In Don Hanlon Johnson, ed., Bone, Breath and Gesture, 341-53. Berkeley: North Atlantic.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (1991). The Translator’s Turn. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (1996). Translation and Taboo. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2003). Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things With Words. London and New York: Routledge.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2008). Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature: Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2011). Translation and the Problem of Sway. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2012). First-Year Writing and the Somatic Exchange. New York: Hampton.
  • Robinson, Douglas. (2013). Displacement and the Somatics of Postcolonial Culture. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, forthcoming.
  • Sellers-Young, Barbara. (2002). "Breath, Perception, and Action: The Body and Critical Thinking." Consciousness, Literature and the Arts 3.2 (August).
  • Sellers-Young, Barbara (1998) "Somatic Processes: Convergence of Theory and Practice," Theatre Topics 8/2 (September 1998) 173-187.
  • Sellers-Young, Barbara (1999) "Technique and the Embodied Actor," Theatre Research International 24/1 (Spring 199) 89-102.
  • Sellers-Young, Barbara (2008) “Consciousness, Contemplation and the Academy,” Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, 9/1 (April) 1-15.
  • Sellers-Young, Barbara (2013) “Stillness in Motion – Motion in Stillness: Contemplative Practice and the Performing Arts”, Embodied Consciousness – Performance Technologies, New York: Palgrave.
  • Slingerland, Edward G. (2005). "Conceptual Blending, Somatic Marking, and Normativity: A Case Example from Ancient China." Cognitive Linguistics 16.3: 557-584.
  • Slingerland, Edward G., Eric Blanchard and Lyn Boyd-Judson. (2007). "Collision with China: Conceptual Metaphor Analysis, Somatic Marking, and the EP3 Incident." International Studies Quarterly 51: 53-77.
  • Stanislavski, Konstantin. (1961/1989). Creating a Role. Translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. London and New York: Routledge.


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