Somatic theory is a theory of human social behavior based loosely on the somatic marker hypothesis of António Damásio, which proposes a mechanism by which emotional processes can guide (or bias) behavior, particularly decision-making, as well as the attachment theory of John Bowlby and the self psychology of Heinz Kohut, especially as consolidated by Allan Schore.
It draws on various philosophical models from On the Genealogy of Morals of Friedrich Nietzsche through Martin Heidegger on das Man, Maurice Merleau-Ponty on the lived body, and Ludwig Wittgenstein on social practices to Michel Foucault on discipline, as well as theories of performativity emerging out of the speech act theory of J. L. Austin, especially as developed by Judith Butler and Shoshana Felman; some somatic theorists have also tied somaticity to performance in the schools of actor training developed by Konstantin Stanislavski and Bertolt Brecht.
Barbara Sellers-Young applies Damasio’s somatic-marker hypothesis to critical thinking as an embodied performance, and provides a review of the theoretical literature in performance studies that supports something like Damasio’s approach:
- Howard Gardner’s theory of multiple intelligences, especially bodily-kinesthetic intelligence
- Thomas Hanna’s insistence that “We cannot sense without acting and we cannot act without sensing”
- Bonnie Bainbridge Cohen's movement-pedagogy
- Konstantin Stanislavski’s acting theory that “In every physical action, unless it is purely mechanical, there is concealed some inner action, some feelings. This is how the two levels of life in a part are created, the inner and the outer. They are intertwined. A common purpose brings them together and reinforces the unbreakable bond.”
Edward Slingerland applies Damasio's somatic-marker hypothesis to the cognitive linguistics of Gilles Fauconnier and Mark Turner and George Lakoff and Mark Johnson, especially Fauconnier and Turner's theory of conceptual blending and Lakoff and Johnson's embodied mind theory of metaphor. His goal in importing somatic theory into cognitive linguistics is to show that
- the primary purpose of achieving human scale is not to help us apprehend a situation, but rather to help us to know how to feel about it. Especially in political and religious discourse--situations where speakers are attempting to influence their listeners' values and decision-making processes--I would like to argue that the achievement of human scale is intended primarily to import normativity to the blend, which is accomplished through the recruitment of human-scale emotional-somatic reactions. This argument is essentially an attempt to connect of conceptual blending theorists with those of neuroscientists who argue for the importance of somatic states and emotional reactions in human value-creation and decision-making.
Douglas Robinson first began developing a somatic theory of language for a keynote presentation at the 9th American Imagery Conference in Los Angeles, October, 1985, based on Ahkter Ahsen's theory of somatic response to images as the basis for therapeutic transformations; in contradistinction to Ahsen's model, which rejected Freud's "talking cure" on the grounds that words do not awaken somatic responses, Robinson argued that there is a very powerful somatics of language. He later incorporated this notion into The Translator's Turn (1991), drawing on the (passing) somatic theories of William James, Ludwig Wittgenstein, and Kenneth Burke in order to argue that somatic response may be "idiosomatic" (somatically idiosyncratic) but typically is "ideosomatic" (somatically ideological, or shaped and guided by society), and that the ideosomatics of language explains how language remains stable enough for communication to be possible. This work preceded the Damasio group's first scientific publication on the somatic-marker hypothesis in 1991, and Robinson did not begin to incorporate Damasio's somatic-marker hypothesis into his somatic theory until later in the 1990s.
In Translation and Taboo (1996) Robinson drew on the protosomatic theories of Sigmund Freud, Jacques Lacan, and Gregory Bateson to explore the ways in which the ideosomatics of taboo structure (and partly sanction and conceal) the translation of sacred texts. His first book to draw on Damasio's somatic-marker hypothesis is Performative Linguistics (2003); there he draws on J. L. Austin's theory of speech acts, Jacques Derrida's theory of iterability, and Mikhail Bakhtin's theory of dialogism to argue that performativity as an activity of the speaking body is grounded in somaticity. He also draws on Daniel Simeoni's application of Pierre Bourdieu's theory of habitus in order to argue that his somatics of translation as developed in The Translator's Turn actually explains translation norms more fully than Gideon Toury in Descriptive Translation Studies and beyond (1995).
In 2005 Robinson began writing a series of books exploring somatic theory in different communicative contexts: modernist/formalist theories of estrangement (Robinson 2008), translation as ideological pressure (Robinson 2011), first-year writing (Robinson 2012), and the refugee experience, (de)colonization, and the intergenerational transmission of trauma (Robinson 2013).
In Robinson's articulation, somatic theory has four main planks:
- the stabilization of social constructions through somatic markers
- the interpersonal sharing of such stabilizations through the mimetic somatic transfer
- the regulatory (ideosomatic) circulation or reticulation of such somatomimeses through an entire group in the somatic exchange
- the "klugey" nature of social regulation through the somatic exchange, leading to various idiosomatic failures and refusals to be fully regulated
In addition, he has added concepts along the way: the proprioception of the body politic as a homeostatic balancing between too much familiarity and too much strangeness (Robinson 2008); tensions between loconormativity and xenonormativity, the exosomatization of places, objects, and skin color, and paleosomaticity (Robinson 2013); ecosis and icosis (unpublished work).
- See Felman, Shoshana. (1980/2003). The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan With J.L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages. Translated by Catherine Porter. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Sellers-Young, Barbara. (2002). “Breath, Perception, and Action: The Body and Critical Thinking”. Consciousness, Literature and the Arts 3.2 (August).
- Hanna, Thomas. (1995). “What is Somatics?” In Don Hanlon Johnson, ed., Bone, Breath and Gesture, 345. Berkeley: North Atlantic.
- Stanislavski, Konstantin. (1961/1989). Creating a Role, 228. Translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. London and New York: Routledge, 1989.
- Slingerland, Edward G. "Conceptual Blending, Somatic Marking, and Normativity: A Case Example from Ancient China." Cognitive Linguistics 16.3: 557-584. See also Slingerland, Edward G., Eric Blanchard and Lyn Boyd-Judson. (2007). "Collision with China: Conceptual Metaphor Analysis, Somatic Marking, and the EP3 Incident”. International Studies Quarterly 51: 53-77.
- See Fauconnier and Turner (2002), The Way We Think. New York: Basic Books.
- See Lakoff and Johnson (1999), Philosophy in the Flesh: The Embodied Mind and Its Challenge to Western Thought. New York: Basic Books.
- "Conceptual Blending," p. 558.
- Damasio, Antonio R., Daniel Tranel, and Hannah Damasio. (1991). "Somatic Markers and the Guidance of Behaviour: Theory and Preliminary Testing." In H.S. Levin, H.M. Eisenberg and A.L. Benton (eds.), Frontal lobe function and dysfunction, 217-229. New York: Oxford University Press
- Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins, 1995, pp. 56ff.
- See Further Reading for bibliographical information.
- Damasio, Antonio R. (1994). Descartes’ Error: Emotion, Reason, and the Human Brain. New York: Putnam.
- Damasio, Antonio R. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York: Harcourt.
- Damasio, Antonio R. (2003). Looking for Spinoza: Joy, Sorrow, and the Feeling Brain. New York: Harcourt.
- Felman, Shoshana. (1980/2003). The Scandal of the Speaking Body: Don Juan With J. L. Austin, or Seduction in Two Languages. Translated by Catherine Porter. Stanford: Stanford University Press.
- Hanna, Thomas. (1995). "What is Somatics?" In Don Hanlon Johnson, ed., Bone, Breath and Gesture, 341-53. Berkeley: North Atlantic.
- Robinson, Douglas. (1991). The Translator’s Turn. Baltimore and London: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Robinson, Douglas. (1996). Translation and Taboo. DeKalb: Northern Illinois University Press.
- Robinson, Douglas. (2003). Performative Linguistics: Speaking and Translating as Doing Things With Words. London and New York: Routledge.
- Robinson, Douglas. (2008). Estrangement and the Somatics of Literature: Tolstoy, Shklovsky, Brecht. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins University Press.
- Robinson, Douglas. (2011). Translation and the Problem of Sway. Amsterdam and Philadelphia: John Benjamins.
- Robinson, Douglas. (2012). First-Year Writing and the Somatic Exchange. New York: Hampton.
- Robinson, Douglas. (2013). Displacement and the Somatics of Postcolonial Culture. Columbus: Ohio State University Press, forthcoming.
- Sellers-Young, Barbara. (2002). "Breath, Perception, and Action: The Body and Critical Thinking." Consciousness, Literature and the Arts 3.2 (August).
- Sellers-Young, Barbara (1998) "Somatic Processes: Convergence of Theory and Practice," Theatre Topics 8/2 (September 1998) 173-187.
- Sellers-Young, Barbara (1999) "Technique and the Embodied Actor," Theatre Research International 24/1 (Spring 199) 89-102.
- Sellers-Young, Barbara (2008) “Consciousness, Contemplation and the Academy,” Consciousness, Literature and the Arts, 9/1 (April) 1-15.
- Sellers-Young, Barbara (2013) “Stillness in Motion – Motion in Stillness: Contemplative Practice and the Performing Arts”, Embodied Consciousness – Performance Technologies, New York: Palgrave.
- Slingerland, Edward G. (2005). "Conceptual Blending, Somatic Marking, and Normativity: A Case Example from Ancient China." Cognitive Linguistics 16.3: 557-584.
- Slingerland, Edward G., Eric Blanchard and Lyn Boyd-Judson. (2007). "Collision with China: Conceptual Metaphor Analysis, Somatic Marking, and the EP3 Incident." International Studies Quarterly 51: 53-77.
- Stanislavski, Konstantin. (1961/1989). Creating a Role. Translated by Elizabeth Reynolds Hapgood. London and New York: Routledge.