Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Out of Practice: Foreign Travel as the Productive Disruption of Embodied Knowledge Schemes

Academic journal article Indo - Pacific Journal of Phenomenology

Out of Practice: Foreign Travel as the Productive Disruption of Embodied Knowledge Schemes

Article excerpt

All social life is essentially practical. All mysteries which lead theory to mysticism find their rational solution in human practice and in the comprehension of this practice.

Karl Marx, Theses on Feuerbach (1845)


Drawing on ethnographic research on tourism and pilgrimage in the Himalayan region, this paper explores the bodily and affective dimensions of foreign travel experience. I begin by qualifying travel as a boundary crossing in which encultured body subjects depart from their familiar "home world" environment and arrive in an unfamiliar "alien world". Estranged from the relative predictability, norms, habits and routines of the home world, such boundary crossings disrupt the embodied knowledge schemes travellers bring into foreign milieus. What ensues is an embodied inter-cultural dialogue taking place first on practical, pre-reflexive and affective levels before cognitive and discursive sense-making occurs. Being challenged by situations of difference, I argue, largely accounts for the shifts in "perspective" and selftranscendence that travellers reported actively having sought and experienced in Nepal and India. After exploring the experience of arrival, I consider how everyday travel scenarios challenge the practical sense and bodily techniques travellers acquire and bring from a home world. Utilising the phenomenological notion of breakdown, and specifically Husserl's notion of "light breaks", I interpret such challenges and disruptions as a form of embodied learning, the accumulation of which expands somatic knowledge and generates an embodied cosmopolitanism. At the same time, and despite globalisation and postmodern critiques of place, travel affirms the existence of a habitus as the product of specific sociocultural environments.

Travel as Interplay between Home and Alien Worlds

A phenomenology which accounts for the practical structures of ordinary experience holds the key to answering questions about extra-ordinary experience, such as finding oneself dis-placed in a foreign environment. The challenges encountered during foreign travel emanate from a traveller being in the social position of a stranger or outsider by virtue of having crossed a threshold separating what Husserl calls the "home world" and the "alien world" (Husserl, 1913/2012). The home world is described by Husserl as a "sphere of ownness" [Eigenheitssphäre], a familiar, taken for granted cultural order where things appear as "normal" and without question. As a "geohistorical horizon", the home world, as Steinbock (1995, p. 222) notes, "is not only the world we experience, but the world from which we experience". Characterized by a certain steadiness and relative predictability, the home world reproduces its stability through the shared and repeated practices, traditions, customs and habits of a community (Schütz, 1944, 1932/1995). An alien world is constituted in relation to a home world, with the two separated by boundaries or "limit zones" that emerge from ordering processes. Such boundaries or borders are not closed, but permeable and constantly in question (Waldenfels, 2006/2011, p. 8), especially in the global age. While increased mobility, cultural flows, interconnectivity and other globalisation processes (Appadurai, 1996, 2010; Bauman, 2000; Castells, 2000; Urry, 2007, 2014) indeed reconfigure boundaries, they do not render the world a vast, undifferentiated non-place.

Rather than being taken as static structures or objective categories, the phenomenological notion of home and alien worlds serves a heuristic function for making sense of relations between the familiar and the unfamiliar. As Simmel (1997) has demonstrated, strangeness can be conceptualized spatially, on a spectrum of distance and proximity, similar to the way that hermeneutics approaches interpretation from a "polarity of familiarity and strangeness" (Gadamer, 1960/2004, p. 262). While such perceptions may be subjective or socially constructed, the sense of familiarity is always formed in relation to specific places. …

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