We’re meeting four times in July on JRS’s porch to ponder phenomenology as a possible framework for understanding audience engagement.

This is Zac Gungl critiquing classical phenomenology’s rejection of materiality, situatedness, and interiority; Priscilla Ferronato doubting whether phenomenology can ever be useful for analysis or prediction; and Andy Houston proposing that site-specific engagements may be primarily haptic. In other highlights, Shana MacDonald’s theory of intersubjective performativity in cinema studies made JRS concede that performative modes other than theatre may be primarily conceptual in their ontologies.

Feminist phenomenology questioning:

  • is phenomenology concerned with the self (psyche?)
  • and the world (transcendental real)?
  • does it acknowledge mediation?
  • is “environment” (which could be material, human-made things) distinguished from the transcendental real?

Merleau-Ponty “On Phenomenology” : body and environment are co-constitutive current versions are: “inter-agential relationality”

Questions of embodiment—feminists adopted Merleau-Ponty as a means of resisting phenomenology’s construction of the self as merely a thinking being; feminist subjectivity is embodied (because woman historically was construed as body, read as a body, situated as body).

What we take away from this is that meaning exists in the interaction between subject and environment.

The Haptics of Art as Interface
“haptics” for us means all the ways art and audiences are co-respondent

Ways to take this up:

  • the interface to experience (all of the insertion points around the event that aren’t the event itself
  • everything that’s designed, that isn’t the experience)
  • touch/audience making
  • installation/object as interface (intersubjective performativity)
  • practice as interface

What we take away from this is that we are interested in the maker/interface/audience—here, interface could be a practice or an object and objects could be ordinary, mediating, or art objects.

What would it mean to explore and develop a critical interface theory?  

Latour—Actor Network Theory: A Few Clarifications

  • actor (problematic term because human and male who wishes to grab power and makes a network to extend his power) vs. actant (anything that is connected with an action) – differentiate from semiotic understanding of actor is that semiotics thinks of actor as fixed but actants are not fixed they are fluid
  • try to analyze actions as relations – actants can be objects not just humans (a door can act upon the human for example to prevent access) – a network is not a thing but a movement – measure surface not space (far or close in network rather than in space e.g. telephone), scale not relative size but relative connectivity
  • trying to make us stop thinking about agency in a hegemonic way but to distribute power and self-actualization
  • useful for metadesign, because there we can’t have concepts of space, level, dimensions
  • an entity has agency insofar as it affects other actants in a network (after Latour)


  • where do object actants get their agency?
  • are they formed in some way by a human being, imprinted with different kinds of agency including things,tools, mediating objects, art objects?
  • technologies come into being when their agency is co-opted by a human being in practice. does an object have agency in an interpretive relationship?
  • object have agency insofar as they affect other actants in a network. what is the source of agency? what kind of affect and why?
  • objects have two kinds of agency: from materiality and from uses to which human actants put the objects (uses sometimes adopt materiality—lamp, adapt – beach ball, oppose – sit on it and break it, be changed by materiality)
  • material agency is conferred on object by maker, but the agency of the film is not the agency of the maker; film’s maker is not controlled by maker, nor does the maker control natural materiality. Perhaps here is a gap in new materialism, which does not ask about the maker of the object, just about object and human?
  • does an art object enable performative intersubjectivity in a way that ordinary objects do not? is an artist a designer of objects that create the conditions for future performative subjective engagement?
  • what kinds of objects bear traces or imprints of this particular kind?
  • art objects mediate intersubjective performativity. other mediating artefacts mediate between me and the art object. what are the haptics of spectatorship in a variety of different contexts?