Marie Curie International
Outgoing Fellowship, 2014-2017
Memphis/University College Dublin
Research project: “Toward a Phenomenology of the Anxious Body.” With
Shaun Gallagher and Dermot Moran. FP7-PEOPLE-2013-IOF 624968
Toward a Phenomenology
of the Anxious Body
(TPAB) is a study of anxiety, which employs an interdisciplinary
methodology involving philosophy, cognitive science, and psychoanalysis.
While the concept of anxiety has assumed a central role in the history
of philosophy since the time of Kierkegaard up to Heidegger, a sustained
and rigorous study of anxiety and the bodily self remains incomplete.
The TPAB project attends to this oversight. To achieve this, the project
uses an original and novel methodology that combines a first-person
perspective with theories of psychoanalysis as well as recent empirical
present, anxiety is the most common form of mental illness in the US and
UK, affecting 18% of the population in the US and 13% in the UK.
Moreover, according to a recent WHO study, “40% of disability worldwide
is due to depression and anxiety.” In the US, anxiety disorders cost
“$42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country's $148 billion
total mental health bill.” Many of these costs are allocated to
medications to help diminish the symptoms associated with anxiety.
Despite its relevance and enduring presence, a sustained and rigorous
analysis of anxiety at both an experiential and conceptual level remains
overlooked. The TPAB project responds to this oversight.
its prevalence in both an intellectual history and in our daily life,
anxiety continues to elude us. Even within a canonical textbook such as
Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders
anxiety is considered largely in terms of a series of symptoms such as
fatigue, tension, insomnia, and heart palpitations, which then form the
basis of diagnosing what particular variant of anxiety is at stake
(panic disorder, PTSD, generalized anxiety disorder, etc.). In fact it
was only in DSM III (1980), that anxiety became a classification in its
own right, having so far being treated merely as a counterpart of
depression. Following the recent publication of DSM V (2013), the value
of this model is the topic of especially visceral debate especially
where the issue of normative foundations for human experience and the
stigmatization of mental illness are concerned (cf. Frances 2013). There
is much we can learn from an intellectual history of anxiety,
is an invariant feature of being human.
is culturally mediated by historical and social interpretations.
is construed as a disorder to be treated rather than tolerated.
these historical accounts have assigned anxiety a central place in human
behavior, then what they have nevertheless tended to overlook the first
person phenomenological experience of anxiety as it is lived, in favour
of a third-person or positivistic perspective. Thus, while psychiatry
has made significant inroads in the prevention of anxiety by explaining
how anxiety emerges, a gap exists in terms of exploring the broader
meaning of anxiety. By contrast, the mood is treated as an illness in
the same way a physical illness can be understood in naturalistic terms.
Such an approach is necessary, and without it the prevention of anxiety
would not be possible. But alongside the psychiatric model, a
phenomenological approach can be of complimentary value in terms of
revealing the broader meaning of anxiety beyond its objective
Phenomenology builds on a rich history in philosophy, especially where
the issue of embodied subjectivity is concerned. The relation between
the body and the self is central in defining the history of philosophy,
such that much of contemporary philosophy remains committed to
responding to questions raised by Descartes. Such questions include what
is the nature of the self? What is the nature of the body? How do mind
and body interact? Phenomenology provides us with a set of insights and
conceptual tools to explore these questions in great depth.
insights are developed in large from Husserl (1988), Merleau-Ponty
(2012), and Heidegger (1996). In methodological terms, phenomenology
asks that we put to one side our presuppositions by advocating a
descriptive analysis of how things appear for us, so that we can gain a
richer understanding of their value. In this way, phenomenology provides
a counterpart to the objectifying tendencies in naturalistic
methodologies, which treat anxiety in a non-specific way, as Husserl
himself states, “phenomenology demands a direct personal production of
the pertinent phenomenon” (Husserl 1975, 61). By employing a
phenomenology that calls upon the specificity of a lived experience, we
gain a much richer account of anxiety than would otherwise be available
in a naturalistic setting. Far from a localized interruption that makes
us feel momentarily uncomfortable, anxiety obligates us to ask larger
questions concerning the meaning we ascribe to the world (Heidegger
1996). Such a move means recognizing two sides to anxiety. Alongside
being an experience of suffering to be understood in psychiatric terms,
anxiety is also a phenomenon that can give us a broader understanding of
important issues pertaining to ourselves and the world itself.
understand the meaning of anxiety as it plays a role in our theoretical
and experiential account of being a bodily subject, more than one
disciplinary perspective is required. Anxiety’s complexity exceeds the
confines of any given method, and therefore implicates an
interdisciplinary methodology involving philosophy, cognitive science,
and psychoanalysis by necessity. While maintaining phenomenology as a
foundation, the justification for incorporating other approaches is to
establish a mutually edifying and complementary dialogue, which can
allow us to gain a broader perspective of anxiety than would be
available from one perspective alone. Employing this framework, the
project sets out to achieve the following aims:
To investigate the relation between anxiety and bodily subjectivity
by focusing on key issues such as bodily ownership, bodily
identification, and the materiality of the self. To ascertain to
what extent anxiety challenges existing ideas of subjectivity.
To investigate the role other people play in contributing to the
anxious person’s sense of self. Moreover, to suggest that
intersubjectivity is fundamentally an issue of intercorporeality
(i.e., that the relation between self and other is founded in the
To explore how the anxious person’s bodily experience is manifest in
their relation with spatiality. In particular, to argue that
spatiality, far from a homogenous backdrop to experience, is
co-constituted between body and world via the idea of mood.
To explore the issue of anxiety within notions of wellbeing and
normativity. To achieve this by placing phenomenology and
psychoanalysis in dialogue with one another. In doing so, to make an
original contribution to the treatment and understanding of anxiety
from both a theoretical and applied context.