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


This paper explores foreign travel as an affective experience, embodied practice and form of learning. Drawing on ethnographic fieldwork on tourism and pilgrimage in the Himalayan region, the phenomenological notions of "home world" and "alien world" are employed to discuss how perceptions of strangeness and everyday practices are shaped by enculturation and socialisation processes. It is shown that travellers bring the habitus and doxa acquired in the home world to foreign situations, where these embodied knowledge schemes and abilities for skilful coping can break down. In a home world, cultural patterns offer actors "trustworthy recipes for interpreting the social world" (Schütz, 1944, pp. 501-502) that allow everyday experience to go largely unnoticed and unquestioned. In alien worlds, however, travellers - as strangers - encounter differences and disturbances that disrupt experience and cause things normally overlooked to become "lit up". Using Husserlian and Heideggerian notions of "light breaks" and Dewey's theory of challenge, the author argues that foreign travel generates a form of embodied learning. This occurs first on the level of the pre-reflexive body that is affected and solicited by the new and unfamiliar demands of an alien world. Ultimately, through continuous adjustment of habits and practices in foreign environments, an embodied cosmopolitanism is generated via accumulated travel experience. This calls attention to the role of the lived body in travel experience, as well as the role of place and environment in shaping human practices, perceptions and modes of dwelling.

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. …

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