Journal of Human Rights and the Environment

Lived bodies, place, and phenomenology: implications for human rights and environmental justice

David Seamon *

Keywords: phenomenology, lifeworld, natural attitude, lived body, body-subject, environmental embodiment, place, place ballet, Jane Jacobs, Eric Klinenberg, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, place justice

Abstract

This article considers how a phenomenological perspective contributes to the theme of ‘human bodies in material space’. The author reviews several central phenomenological concepts, including lifeworld, natural attitude, epoché, and the phenomenological reduction. The author then draws on the phenomenological discussion of lived body, body-subject, and environmental embodiment to describe the intimate lived relationship between human bodies and the physical worlds in which they find themselves. Particularly relevant in this regard is the phenomenological concept of place, which is defined as any environmental locus that gathers human actions, experiences, and meanings spatially. The article uses the work of urban critic Jane Jacobs (The Death and Life of Great American Cities, 1961) and sociologist Eric Klinenberg (Heat Wave: A Social Autopsy of Disaster in Chicago, 2002) to illustrate how environmental embodiment and vibrant urban places are supported or stymied by material and spatial qualities like street configuration, population density, and mix of activities. The author concludes by considering what a phenomenological perspective on environmental embodiment and place might mean for human rights and environmental justice. The possibility of place justice is proposed: the use of indirect means like environmental design, public policy, and place-oriented law to protect vibrant places and to invigorate moribund environments.

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