Maria Brincker / What happens to our agency as “smart spaces” – and AI-driven affordances – come to envelop us?

Classic phenomenologists and ecological psychologists have described and analyzed core existential categories of persons, things and environments. These core categories have been seen as essential to our perception and action choices, but also to ethics and values and questions of what it means to be human. Post-phenomenologists like Don Ihde have sought to extend these analyses to better understand our technologically meditated lives and how things also in some sense can be thought to have agency or at least participate in agentic structures. Thus, there has been some re-shuffling of how to see the divisions of the core categories of things and persons. But what about “life-worlds” and environments – what happens when the background takes on agentic properties, or when it becomes a tool to be controlled by others from afar? Peter-Paul Verbeek have called this relation an “immersion” in technology. But where does such an immersion leave our individual and social agency? This question is at the heart of a current project of mine, seeking to analyze surveillance driven algorithmic personalization, which I worked on during my months at the CFS this fall.

One aspect that I am particularly interested in is contrasting what we might call old fashioned analog and “dumb” spaces with new “smart” spaces. A smart space can either be entirely digitized interfaces, such as personalized tools and platforms online, or analog spaces transformed by connected and AI-powered IoTs. The key is that we are dealing with spaces and interfaces, which have sensors and effectors, and some kind of algorithmic decision making that can transform the space and the options of the agents behaving in them.

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Jannik M. Hansen / Experience with visual art, empathy and depth

Ever since its conceptual formation scholars have argued that empathy can help us understand and explain intense affective experiences with works of art. One renowned writer on the topic, Theodor Lipps, for instance wrote that “empathy shall make aesthetic appreciation comprehensible” (Lipps, 1900, p. 416). Approximately a hundred years later Eisenberg and Strayer (1992) presented a somewhat similar suggestion, arguing that empathy should function as a basic principle of aesthetics. To what extent empathy actually qualifies as a basic principle of aesthetics remains however unsettled. Most often it is assumed that empathetic encounters presuppose an actual other (Cuff et al., 2016), but recently a range of scholars working on topics of aesthetics has pointed to the central role of empathy for our experiences of art. Despite this proclaimed relevance of empathy for the understanding of affective-aesthetic encounters, proper descriptions of empathy are lacking in the scientific and philosophical literature. As already demonstrated by Moritz Geiger (1911a; 1911b), the lack of description often leads to theoretical confusion and disagreement. The first step towards clarity and theoretical coherence is therefore, as Geiger also writes, to start with describing the matters of fact of aesthetic experience, and provide answers to questions such as, what do we experience when experiencing a work of art empathetically? What is given during such moment? How is consciousness structured in aesthetic empathetic experience? The general aim of my research is to remedy the lack of description and provide answers to these questions and to do so on the basis of interview material subjected to descriptive phenomenological analysis. By bringing this descriptive account of aesthetic empathy into dialogue with phenomenological analysis of empathy and selfhood it is my hope to contribute to our understanding of how empathy can shape experience with works of art and how empathetically experienced art can shape affective core aspects of the spectators’ selfhood. 

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Sonia Maria Lisco / A research stay under unexpected circumstances

I arrived at the Center for Subjectivity Research at the beginning of February 2020 to develop a specific part of my PhD project, whose aim is to observe the relationship between the oriented framework of the Lifeworld and the development of a specific Form of Life. In my research at the University of Padova, I assume the lifeworld dimension to be a horizonal and oriented one, in which the constitution of a specific form of life could be seen as one of its possible determinations. The elements characterizing this specific formation are different, among them: language use, mutual perception and shared norms. However, in my project I’m focusing in particular on language acquisition, language use and mutual understanding. For this purpose, I aim at renewing the debate around a possible dialogue between Edmund Husserl and Ludwig Wittgenstein, considering primarily their late production. My goal is not to directly compare the two thinkers or to show any influence of Husserlian phenomenology on Wittgenstein’s philosophy – since we have neither biographical nor textual evidence to affirm that. Instead, what I do is to observe in which extend a combined discussion of some instances of the two philosophers could give us a deep insight on specific problems related to intersubjective practices.

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Harri Mäcklin / From Self-Forgetfulness to We-Experiences

I spent three wonderful months at the CFS, from the beginning of November 2019 till the end of January 2020. Though I would have loved to stay longer, in retrospect my timing was most fortunate: when my departure was getting close, there were only a few cases of Covid-19 around Europe, and there was no talk of a global pandemic. Fast forward a few weeks, and both Denmark and Finland closed their borders and the universities went under lockdown.

Now I view my stay in Copenhagen like the calm before a storm. I knew I was in for a hectic spring when I returned to Helsinki, where I currently work as a postdoc, so I made sure to enjoy all the peace I had in Copenhagen. Little did I know how unusual the spring would turn out to be.

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David Ekdahl / Esports and Phenomenology

Having done my MA at CFS and being familiar with the wealth of talented scholars at the center, I chose to spend the first two months of 2020 as a visiting researcher during the last year of my PhD. During my stay, the center provided me with both a wonderful social- and work environment to write and receive feedback in. I am thankful to the wide and varied array of both permanent and visiting researchers at the center I got to spend time with as well as the center administrator Mette Seistrup and student assistant Kasper Møller-Nielsen for their very positive impact on my stay.

My research, in short, integrates insights from phenomenology (chiefly Merleau-Pontian insights on embodiment) with qualitative research methodologies. Importantly, the integration of phenomenology and qualitative research is in itself a question for the researcher of respecting and implementing criteria from both domains in a way that is reverential of both.

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David Lo / An Encounter between Phenomenology and Literature

Merleau-Ponty in his working notes of The Visible and The Invisible suggests the echo between philosophy and literature: “Philosophy, precisely as ‘Being speaking within us,’ expression of the mute experience by itself, is creation” (p. 197). Philosophy as well as literature deploys creative use of language to render the invisible being visible. Both philosophers and writers rely on language but they differ in terms of their use of language in their inquires: while philosophers make enigmatic human experience and condition linguistically comprehensible, writers relish ambiguity and exhaust verbal suggestiveness. The manifestations of their thoughts are different but their shared general concern is the human relationship with the world. Phenomenologists are particularly aware that we are born into a natural and cultural world that pre-exists us; writers, although hailing individual originality, create within literary traditions and conventions. Literary criticism therefore has to keep both the general and the specific in perspective. My research specifically expounds the English Romantic poet John Keats’s proto-phenomenological ideas in his poetry and poetics such as “negative capability” and “the vale of soul-making”. Drawing upon Maurice Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology of embodiment, the project on the other hand has a generic concern about how the poet refashions poetic genres such as romance, lyric, and epic to address the problems of reality, alterity, and expression. My reading of John Keats is in a sense informed by my study of Merleau-Ponty, whose developed concepts of the aforementioned concerns help elucidate the poet’s less systematic poetical thoughts. The study in turn traces the notion of sensing in the Romantic tradition that Merleau-Ponty acknowledges in Phenomenology of Perception. Although I took philosophy as my minor, I lacked expert guidance and was not versed enough in the scholarship of phenomenology. For these reasons, I took on a challenge to present my work before phenomenologists in order to get feedback on my early research work. Thanks to the collegial atmosphere and stimulating intellectual exchange at the Centre, my research stay (2 September – 2 October 2019) proved to be extremely conducive to strengthening my philosophical framework as well as my understanding of phenomenology.

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Søren Overgaard / Can groups believe that p?

Based on their press releases, it seems Boeing believes their new, updated software can resolve the issues with the 737 Max aircraft. And the FC Barcelona soccer team seems to think they will win La Liga next year. But wait: can corporations and sports teams really believe things? Goalkeepers and CEOs can, of course. But can groups really have beliefs over and above the beliefs of the individual members of the group? Quite a few philosophers seem to think so, including some with phenomenological credentials. And many of them seem to think they can comfortably maintain those views while acknowledging that there is no such thing as a group consciousness, over and above the consciousness of individual members.

Together with my good friend and former colleague Alessandro Salice, now at UC Cork, I set out to investigate whether this combination of views is a stable resting place. Our conclusion: it is not!

In a recently published paper, we argue that a state is not a belief unless the owner of the state is disposed to access the state’s content in a corresponding conscious judgment. Thus, if there is no such thing as Barça team consciousness, then we cannot literally ascribe beliefs to the team.

It may seem a tall order to ascribe phenomenal consciousness to the Barça soccer team. Personally, I am not inclined to think there is any such thing as a group consciousness. But nothing in our paper actually challenges that view. And at any rate, whether or not there is a Barça consciousness, surely no one will dispute the existence of the Barça spirit!

Curious to find out more? You can access our paper (free of charge) here:

Thomas Netland / Phenomenology and Science

This Spring I enjoyed a four-months stay (February-May) at the Center for Subjectivity Research as a visiting PhD researcher. Having spent the first months of my PhD period (Fall 2018) mostly on teaching duties at my home university in Trondheim, Norway, the Center’s friendly and inspiring atmosphere proved the perfect environment for me to really get started on my project. Søren Overgaard and Felipe Léon’s MA course on Merleau-Ponty’s phenomenology, which I was so lucky to get to attend twice a week during my stay, helped me greatly in gaining a better understanding of a philosopher that is central to my research. I’m also grateful to the Center’s staff and my co-visitors for many stimulating conversations throughout my visit in Copenhagen.

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Hayden Kee / CfS Blog for Feb 18-28, 2019 Visit

From 18 to 28 February 2019 I enjoyed a productive and inspiring visit at the Center for Subjectivity Research, supported by research funding from the German Academic Exchange Service and a Graduate Student Support Grant from Fordham University. Spring even came early in Copenhagen this year, perhaps as partial compensation for the dreary winter I spent here in 2016.

The objective of my present research is to develop a phenomenological philosophy of language. I draw on the resources offered by the phenomenological tradition (especially Husserl, Heidegger, and Merleau-Ponty), as well as recent work in the language sciences (especially neurolinguistics and language acquisition studies).

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Anthony Vincent Fernandez / Contingency and Existence

From August to October 2018, I had an enjoyable and productive stay at the Center for Subjectivity Research at the University of Copenhagen, supported by a Research and Creative Activity Appointment from Kent State University. The Center provided an excellent environment to develop new projects, receive insightful and constructive feedback, and initiate interdisciplinary collaborations.

During my stay, I worked on a book project called Contingency and Existence: Foundations of Applied Phenomenology. The project is motivated by the challenges of applying classical phenomenology to the study of particular or contingent features of human life, such racial identity, gender difference, child development, somatic illness, disability, and psychopathology. Despite phenomenology’s original concern with experience as such, or the structures of any possible experience, today, phenomenologists are increasingly concerned with aspects of human experience that are particular to specific groups or populations. Phenomenology’s original concern with the universal has shifted—at least in part—toward a concern with particularity, difference, and contingency.

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