Embodiment as First Affordance: Tinkering, Tuning, Tracking

Ben Spatz


This article begins from a discussion of philosophical realism and the turn towards close analysis of skilled material practices that characterizes many recent critical interventions. I examine the roots of this turn and suggest that skilled practice is a privileged site for the enactment and testing of realist ontologies. However, I question the extent to which realist thinkers have emphasized practices in which materials outside the human body are central over those in which embodiment itself is the primary medium of practice. Thinkers of realist ontology, I argue, have neglected embodiment as the primary site of an engagement with the fine-grained detail of the world. In contrast, I propose that realist ontologies developed through reference to technological engagements not only apply equally well to embodied practices but actually find their original and primary manifestation there. The body itself is the ‘first affordance’ and the site at which questions of realism and objectivity are first encountered and resolved in practice. I illustrate this point by considering how three modes of material engagement — tinkering, tuning, and tracking — manifest in embodied practices ranging from dance and sport to those of everyday life. I conclude by emphasizing the continuing political importance of embodiment as first affordance and its crucial place as a ‘fragile junction’ between ecology and technology.


embodiment; skilled practice; new materialism; critical realism; ontology; affordance

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1. Ben Spatz. 2018. "The video way of thinking." South African Theatre Journal 31 (1). https://doi.org/10.1080/10137548.2017.1414629


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DOI: https://doi.org/10.21476/PP.2017.2261

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