Short note on PRISMA: A research approach to Intersubjectivity linking embodied practice and theory.

Daniel Clénin and Barbara Pieper, PRISMA Projects Munich-Berne

PRISMA process: When taking part in the prismatic approach, scientists use and train their embodied potential for their research processes in a systematic, comprehensible and transparent way. Within the same process scientists discover how they become aware of themselves in doing research and how they perceive and understand themselves as scientists.

Self- and other perception: The prismatic approach takes into account an omnipresent principle of life: the reciprocal meaningful orientation of people to each other. In this process perception of self and perception of the other in the sense of putting oneself in the other’s shoes necessarily and simultaneously take place and refer to each other. Nevertheless, surprisingly little attention is paid to self-perception in scientific contexts. If it is recognized, its expression and significance are underestimated.

Our research perspective complements this conventional view on the objects of investigation. In PRISMA processes participants experience the interrelatedness of self- and other perception in their investigation, noticing and discerning these very specific modes of perceiving. Directing perception towards oneself during an interaction is a different process than taking the other person into account, or putting oneself in his/her place. With PRISMA processes researchers and/or practitioners learn to sense, recognize, discern and make methodical use of self- and other perception in their research, profession (and everyday life!). The PRISMA approach builds on both practical bodily experience and a theoretical framework.

Embodied concept and methodology: We introduce an operational approach where the researchers understand themselves as embodied agents and bring their bodily experience (as the basis of knowledge) to bear on the research process. In the structure of our investigation the dynamics of posing questions and taking action develop in such a way that the people involved in this process combine different ways of knowing and exploring their interrelationships: bodily experience, notation of what is observed, reflection, dialogue about the object and process of research, recapitulation, and comparison of the elaborated data. These changes of perspective lead to the emergence of more profound or new knowledge about what is being investigated. This approach demands a particular embodied concept, research-design and methodology. Thus, well-established standards such as classification, reflection, comprehensibility, documentation of approach and procedure, and intersubjective validation need not be given up.

Biographical roots: Our practical-theoretical research perspective has developed over the past twelve years on the basis of three strands: subject-oriented sociology, the Feldenkrais Method and the arts. Two of these sources appear in each of our individual biographies. We both maintain a private practice as Feldenkrais practitioners; Barbara Pieper is also a social scientist and Daniel Clénin has a background in theatre and mime. In our Feldenkrais activities we interrelate theory and practice, which allows us to try out the applicability of theoretical questions and statements, and, conversely, to incorporate experiences and discoveries arising out of bodily experience into theoretical development.

Embodied practice background: Dr. Moshé Feldenkrais, physicist, judoka (black belt) and founder of the Feldenkrais Method, made scientific concepts to be practically experienced through movement. He wanted to enable people to use themselves to act by doing things the way they wanted and had always wished to do. This embodied practice is suited for impacting back on science. With our prismatic approach we are breaking new ground for scientific procedures, bringing together theory and practice, mind and body, objectivity and subjectivity.

The start: We originated the prismatic approach in 2000 within a project of the “International Feldenkrais Federation Academy” devoted to development of quality and competence in professional practice of the Feldenkrais Method. Our approach was based on practitioners’ own experience while doing Feldenkrais. The aim was to “bring out” their (often rather implicit) knowledge and at the same time to reach some general criteria on professional Feldenkrais capabilities.

Workshops: In our PRISMA Workshops with scientists and/or practitioners participants explore – related to their object of investigation – how they unfold their perception of a particular interactive event, for instance a Feldenkrais hands-on lesson (client and practitioner); a hairdresser’s session in a Turkish barber’s shop; a face-to-face interaction of two children diagnosed with autism; or reviewing an analysis of amoebae’s sensorimotor expression in space. For that purpose we employ several embodied “references of perception” of self and other(s) and an abbreviated notation system developed over years. What has escaped perception so far will become aware and will be expressed in words for further practical and theoretical investigations.

PRISMA metaphor: We call our research perspective “prismatic” in terms of intention, concept and procedure. A prism refracts light and generates a multitude of colours. This allows diverse perspectives on the perception of light without disintegration into its constituent elements, which destroys its unity. If this refraction is later neutralised, new and more profound knowledge of the light’s nature is gained.

PRISMA process at a glance

  • Congruency between method and topic is part of the approach: PRISMA proceeds intersubjectively to investigate intersubjectivity and PRISMA uses embodiment as a research tool to investigate embodiment.
  • Training of scientists‘/practitioners‘own embodied capabilities is included in the process.
  • Trusting the method is part of the process. The procedure is designed in such a way that an outcome will be generated, although it is not predictable which one.
  • PRISMA provides an embodied methodology for primary and secondary analysis by systematically using self- and other-perception in a sophisticated manner.
  • Undiscovered and somehow surprising knowledge on the research object is detected, explored and documented, generating new hypotheses on the object.
  • Data are generated and documented step by step – a process that allows insight into trends and a generalized outcome on the object.
  • PRISMA can be applied to many different kinds of issues (“objects”).

Current scientific projects & conferences

  • Clénin, D., Pieper, B., De Jaegher, H., Fuchs, T.: A Prismatic Approach to Embodied Intersubjectivity: The experience of interacting. PRISMA-Project in collaboration with EU Marie Curie Action: “Initial Training Networks” (FP7-PEOPLE-2010-ITN), Towards an Embodied Science of InterSubjectivity (TESIS) Heidelberg University/Germany and University of San Sebastian/Spain (since 2009). Paper in progress 2012Within this project: PRISMA Workshop May 15 & 16, 2012 at TESIS Summer School, San Sebastián, Spain,
  • Continuation of conference „Körperwissen – leibliche Erkenntnis: auch im Forschungsprozess?!“ Embodied knowledge: in scientific processes as well?!”, 20. & 21. October 2011 in Bernried/Starnberger See, Germany. Fritz Böhle, Augsburg University, Daniel Clénin, PRISMA Berne, Barbara Pieper, PRISMA Munich, Charlotte Uzarewicz, KSFH Munich; in process by Fritz Boehle, Daniel Clénin and Barbara Pieper (since 2010)
  • The prismatic approach applied to research on amoebae by Daniel Clénin & Barbara Pieper, PRISMA projects Munich-Berne, and Martin Grunwald, Leipzig University (since 2011).

Latest publication 

Pieper, B., Clénin, D. (2010): »Embodied Perception of Self and Others in Social Action. A Research Perspective Combining Theory and Practice« Fritz Boehle & Margit Weihrich (Eds) The Embodiment of Social Action. Social Order beyond Norms and Institutions, p. 261−296, transcript-Verlag, Bielefeld First published in German.

Biographies and contact

Daniel Clénin: Private practice Feldenkrais Method since 1987 in Berne (Switzerland), lecturer at the University of Arts, Berne (HKB), background as actor and mime; 1998 to 2006 Member of the Board of the Directors of the International Feldenkrais Federation (IFF), chairing for two years; involved with the development of the IFF Academy since its origin.
Key activities: Somatic literacy and research, development of “Embodiment” processes related to diverse professional fields, including formation and further-education of artists.

Barbara Pieper, Dr. rer. pol., social scientist, past long term staff at Munich University (teaching, research and science management); Feldenkrais Practitioner since 1989; maintains a private practice at Graefelfing near Munich; co-editor of `feldenkrais zeit. Journal for Somatic Learning´ (1998 – 2008). Member of the International Feldenkrais Federation (IFF) Board of Directors (2002 to 2006) and involved (till 2008) in co-developing and co-leading the IFF Academy since its beginning (in 2000).
Key activities: Somatic literacy in practice and theory; creating and investigating processes of embodied experiences, including embodiment of scientists while doing research, and in relation to embodied intersubjectivity in science and in diverse professional practices.

Munich-Berne, March 2012