Understanding Virtual Embodiment: a Phenomenological Lens

AbstractThe paper develops a phenomenological perspective on virtual interactions, which focuses on the centrality of the human body for developing meaningful engagements and relationships in virtual settings. From such a stance, the paper problematizes the extant perspectives that are being premised either on the physicality of the human body and thereby face-to-face interactions, or on the negligence of the body and its reduction to digital text in virtual interactions. In contrast, by drawing on the work of Merleau-Ponty, this paper sets a middle ground, which emphasizes the relationship between the phenomenal (lived) body, and the objective (image) body, which also constitutes our engagements with others. The findings of the paper, based on an analysis of an in-depth, longitudinal, exclusively-mediated software development relationship, identify the importance of inter-orienting and inter-presencing practices. These practices show that virtual interactions are qualitatively distinct mode of engagement, which is more-than-linguistic and more-than-task-oriented. This perspective of virtual embodiment is valuable for addressing the research contradictions in the area of virtual interactions, and offering important insights to the recent IS discourse on performativity and ontological inseparability.

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