In an attempt to rethink the often-neglected analytical dimensions of corporeality and embodiment, this PARSE Journal approaches the body in multiple ways: as an object and target of direct, inter-personal attack; as source and site of violence; and as a powerful field of projection and desire on which aggression and intrusion are negotiated in symbolic and imaginary realms. This issue is invested in the physical and performative dimension of violence and accounts for the body as a sociopolitical construct and mediation, while insisting on a strongly context-sensitive engagement. Speaking of violence evokes several dimensions: it conceptualises intentional and motivated actions on a body’s corporeal integrity and power dynamics acted out on bodies on a structural, systemic level. Rather than framing embodiment as an event or as something extraordinary, this issue gives attention to how violence translates into long-term and mundane patterns and conditions—when experiences of violence for example lead to continuous exhaustion and sleeplessness.

The notion of embodiment has been subject of a wide range of perspectives in dance and performance studies, the social sciences, psychology, medicine, as well as conflict, border and war studies, among other areas of research. They all consider how meaning and knowledge are created from physical and social interaction and their mutual dependence and the interplay of different orders of movement: in learned behaviour, situation-specific reactions or aesthetic experiences.[1] The idea of embodiment inherently carries a dynamic of controversy within it. Embodiment has on the one hand been argued to be a tool for individual and collective empowerment to counter indoctrination, voice resistance and outline utopian visions, equipping those affected by violence with the ability to cope with experiences of exclusion and atrocity. Multiple examples from civil mobilisation, solidarity-based action and protest offer performative strategies of de/synchronising bodies on a corporeal, affective or symbolic level by widely circulating gestures of resistance in real and virtual space, using the body as a weapon or as a shield, or by creating affects through bodily action.[2]

On the other hand, embodiment has fallen prey to essentialist and universalist ideas and purposes, in which the body has been approached as a transparent window that supposedly provides unmediated access to reality. In such scenarios, the argument for corporeally embedded experience is misused to naturalise and legitimise violence by depicting some as “more” authentic, autonomous, healthy, functional, able or natural than others.[3] In line with this, body-based artistic practices have been instrumentalised in uncritically aligning individual bodies with overarching social or political projects and ideologies. Examples include collective, often mandatory, routines of training and gathering that serve to discipline bodies, aimed at generating a shared sense of identity and affect through movement.[4]

The texts that are gathered from the fourth biennial PARSE Research Conference all engage with the controversial position that embodiment establishes links between real and imagined bodies. Authors Eleonora Fabião and Jay Pather, alejandro t. acierto, Christina Varvia, Mona Schieren and Elke Gaugele, Dorell Ben, and Fiona Davies and Bob Whalley critically examine how experiences of violence are recollected, handed down and archived in bodies from different cultural, geopolitical and historical perspectives. Relying on an expanded understanding of the body—not limited to its materiality nor demarcated by the skin—they acknowledge its symbolic and imaginary dimensions, including digital, medial and technological extensions and the capacity to serve as evidence and data in investigatory processes.

What is more, embodiment is a process that spans different temporalities, media and spatial orders as it not only concerns bodies that experience violence themselves, but also their witnesses and viewers, documentarists and archivists. This also takes into consideration how experiences of violence are anticipated, rehearsed, staged, reworked and performed alongside other meaningful categories such as gender, coloniality or nationalism.[5] This issue’s authors account for extended and suspended forms of violence on the body, addressing discursive, organisational, infrastructural and bureaucratic forms of violence, which appear in durability and persistence, immaterial and residual effects and often intimate reverberations, continuous lingering and enduring qualities, impact and unavoidability. The notion of scale emerges when discussing the potential and the limits of the contemporary arts in working with ideas and experiences of repair, of resilience and un-learning colonial, environmental or racial trauma.[6] Together, these studies are part of a broader re-thinking of the role and agency of non-state actors, such as artists or activist, in the maintenance, legitimisation or transformation of overt or structural forms of violence.

The Economy of the Wound: Ethical Dilemmas

The notion of embodiment argues that bodies always exist in relation, in response to other human and non-human ones, which suggests that in the experience of violence they are exposed and bound to each other and their environments in a physical sense— through touch, skin, smell, breath—as well as symbolically—in intentional as well as unintentional ways. What is projected here, is a body not imagined as a closed or bound entity, but a body in movement, capable of accommodating conflict and transformation. The aesthetical and political implications of this process have been widely explored in the arts and scholarship in other fields.[7] Its ethical dimensions, however, have only recently gained renewed attention in body- and experience-based approaches to values and norms.[8] In summary, these models offer examples of ethical thinking grounded in the body’s initial openness and vulnerability to other bodies and to the world.[9] Ethical thinking is grounded in the exposure and interaction of bodies, demanding an understanding of ethics that is always situated and applied. As artists, scholars, curators and cultural workers, these concerns push us to leave safe grounds, prior judgements and abstract, universalist frameworks and call for a continuous reflection on our own imbrication and responsibility in the unequal agency bodies have in the experience of violence.

The experience of a physical wound exemplifies the relational and reciprocal qualities that characterise the idea of embodiment: marking an attack or intrusion on a body in a literal sense, a wound simultaneously generates a moment of re-orientation and a process of learning—of acquiring tools and strategies, of moving and living differently in a changed reality. On a broader scale, being wounded suggests a dynamic understanding of the experience of violence in which the body appears as object, agent and witness. Medical anthropologist Omar Dewachi speaks about “wounds that travel” as a way to describe how suffering and violence are archived and carried in bodies and their imaginaries for generations—when thinking of collective, historical, cultural or inter-generational trauma.[10] Discussing experiences of displacement and forced migration, he describes how violence finds expression on a physical level, but also in long-term mental experiences of tension, stress or anxiety that are often much harder to describe, even though they have the potential to become patterns in people’s daily lives.

The collective dimension of individually lived experience highlighted here challenges figures of distinction that still determine discussions on violence on a legal and political level as well as in what might be referred to as “common sense”—distinctions between aggressors and victims, civilian and military bodies, safe and risky bodies, pure and impure ones. These dichotomous figurations are often grounded in an idea of bodily integrity that imagines it as an entity characterised by completeness and wholeness, failing to take into account the travelling movements of processes of violence that are not abrupt and eventful but gradual and diffused—disconnected from their source, often only detectable much later, the result of “slow violence” as Robert Nixon frames it.[11] In addition, these binary distinctions risk supporting the naturalisation of violence against some bodies by constructing them as somehow different, as unruly or undisciplined bodies that represent a threat to state or extra-state orders.

The need for a more systemic understanding of violence sketched out here is exemplified when thinking of different registers and systems of recognition set up in international human rights law, as well as on community levels, to capture and measure the worth and value of a body in the experience of violence.[12] These include, for example, financial or other forms of compensations for dead, diseased or wounded bodies in the aftermath of war or conflict, and the symbolic recognition of a body’s suffering and protective needs that directly impacts to what extent material and immaterial resources for reconstruction and healing are distributed and accessible. From an ethical perspective, the intersecting economies of violence that these dynamics represent often lack transparency and consistency as they dismiss bodies into a competitive framework that is often profoundly unequal.[13]

Aesthetics play an active role in this process in terms of how experiences of violence are represented in (mediatised) images, movements or words, which impacts to some degree on how suffering and credibility are evaluated and compassion and support are acknowledged on a legal, political and social level. This raises questions that concern us all: how to host an experience of violence outside of its very context? How to open up spaces that counter generic and often stereotypical representations and allow for bodies that have experienced violence to appear in their own right, on their own terms of conversation, rather than being boxed into rigid, generic, streamlined aesthetic and curatorial framings? How to conceive of practices of accountability and responsibility in witnessing atrocity and violence that go beyond simplistic and binary models of guilt and blame? How to situate notions of pleasure and beauty that may accompany the spectatorship of violence?

The Capacity to Have a Body

In this issue, the authors draw on body-based creative and theoretical research to approach the topic of violence and its embodiment. They ask how dance and bodily movement as well as a body’s archival capabilities and data it holds empower or undermine claims for resistance and, potentially, justice and reconciliation. They reflect on practices of inscribing and marking individual and collective bodies to understand how body-based strategies gain micropolitical meaning and contribute to raising awareness and the un-learning and transformation of violence. They investigate how evidence can be found in bones, in fluids, saliva or fascial textures. They challenge discourses around the body that structurally implement and legitimise violence towards some and trace the afterlife and reiteration of violence through movement and circulation. They reflect on body-based ways of disseminating knowledge that subvert the erasure of some experiences of violence and incite political counter-imagination and action.

What is at stake in many of the case studies and methodological approaches stemming from different disciplines and fields of application, is the very capacity to have a body, to be able to sustain and come back to the body in the experience of violence, and re-integrate into the world, communities, one’s life. The authors here examine how certain bodies are withheld and forcefully dispossessed of their basic capacities to maintain themselves, or exiled into legally and socially produced states of vulnerability. They show how some bodies are systematically unsettled through continuous violence and aggression–social, environmental, economic–while the capacity to stabilise is offered in excess to others. Their work leaves us with the question what art can do in light of the experience of violence—as a practice and a dispositive that may make us more attuned and sensitive, providing a potential to generate counter-images, -movements and -experiences to dominant conceptualisations of violence, while sometimes also being environments in which violence is normalised and hierarchies are embodied in the distribution of visibility and agency.

In a recent dialogue, Vanessa E. Thompson and Daniel Loick discussed what it is that makes us develop deep affective and mental structures of subjectivity that enable us to re-code the suffering of others in such a way that we can keep our distance: why and how can we accept this?[14] Approaching the problem of violence from the perspective of the body cannot resolve this quandary, rather the authors here respond to the need for better interpretive frameworks that are not based on legal notions of evidence but that set out to grasp what is withheld, silenced and concealed in accounting for the complex realities we live in. The idea of embodiment reminds us of that we are all related in the experience of violence. What it calls for is not an uncritical practice of empathy that risks equalising bodies and their protective needs and claims, instead arguing for the need for continuous and collective efforts to develop sympathy for bodies upon which violence is enacted.


Working with the team of PARSE and the authors of this volume on the issue of the embodiment of violence has been an immense pleasure and privilege. I would like to thank the convenors of the strand— Jyoti Mistry, Cecilia Lagerström and Rose Brander— for inviting me into this conversation and for accompanying me with their expertise in the process of working towards this issue. My gratitude goes to Gerrie van Noord, whose proofreading and copy-editing work on the texts and contributions has been invaluable, as well as to Tristan Bridge for working on the design of the contributions and making them available online. Mostly, I would like to thank all authors who shared their work in this issue—Eleonora Fabião and Jay Pather, alejandro t. acierto, Christina Varvia, Mona Schieren and Elke Gaugele, Dorell Ben, and Fiona Davies and Bob Whalley. Thank you for your trust and commitment to this project and for opening up your practices and research in what has become a collective process of exchange and learning.


  1. From a phenomenological perspective, the concept of intercorporeality is worth mentioning here as it equally draws on the interconnectedness and relationality of bodies, foregrounding the social nature of the body and the bodily nature of social relationships. See Merleau-Ponty, Maurice. Phenomenology of Perception. London: Routledge & Kegan Paul. 1962; Fuchs, Thomas. “Intercorporeality and Interaffectivity”. In Intercorporeality: Emerging Socialities in Interaction. Oxford: Oxford University Press. 2017. pp. 3–23. ↑
  2. For indicative positions on the role and use of embodiment in sociopolitical processes, see McSorley, Kevin (ed.). War and the Body. Militarisation, Practice and Experience. London: Routledge. 2013; Perugini, Nicola and Gordon, Neve. Human Shields: A History of People in the line of Fire. Berkeley, CA: University of California Press. 2020; Bargu, Banu. Starve and Immolate: The Politics of Human Weapon. New York, NY: Columbia University Press. 2014; Dorlin, Elsa. Self-Defense: A Philosophy of Violence. London/New York, NY: Verso. 2022. ↑
  3. The conception of the body grounded in ideas of ableism, wholeness and intactness has been challenged by practical and theoretical approaches from the field of dance and performance studies, in particular disability studies as well as queer and crip theory. ↑
  4. For research on the role of embodiment in implementing national or other social and political ideologies by dance and movement cultures, see. Burt, Ramsay. Alien Bodies: Representations of Modernity, ‘Race’ and Nation in Early Modern Dance. London/New York, NY: Routledge. 1998; Rousier, Claire (ed.). Être ensemble. Figures de la Communauté en Danse Depuis le XXème siècle. Paris: Centre National de la Danse. 2003; Giersdorf, Jens. The Body of the People. East German Dance since 1945. Madison, WI: University of Wisconsin Press. 2013; Kotef, Hagar. Movement and the Ordering of Freedom: On Liberal Governance of Mobility. Duram, NC: Duke University Press. 2015; Cvejić, Bojana and Vujanović, Ana. Public Sphere by Performance. Berlin: bbooks. 2015; Morris, Gay and Giersdorf, Jens (eds.). Choreographies of 21st Century Wars. New York, NY: Oxford University Press. 2016. ↑
  5. Ertem, Gurur and Noeth, Sandra (eds.). Bodies of Evidence: Ethics, Aesthetics and Politics of Movement. Vienna: Passagen. 2018. pp 15–22. ↑
  6. See Lapp, Axel (ed.). Kader Attia. The Repair: From Occident to Extra-Occidental Cultures. Berlin: The Green Box. 2014. ↑
  7. See Staeheli, Urs. “Infrastrukturen des Kollektiven: alte Medien—neue Kollektive?,“ Zeitschrift für Medien- und Kulturforschung. 2012. pp. 99–116; Van Eikels, Kai. Die Kunst des Kollektiven [The Art of the Collective]. Leiden/Boston: Brill Fink. 2013; Butler, Judith. Notes toward a performative Theory of Assembly. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2015. ↑
  8. See Braidotti, Rosi. “Affirmation verus Vulnerability: On Contemporary Ethical Debates”. Symposium: Canadian Journal of Continental Philosophy. No. 1. 2006. pp. 235–54; Cools, Guy and Gielen, Pascal (eds.). The Ethics of Art: Ecological Turns in Performing Arts. Amsterdam: Valiz. 2014; Beausoleil, Emily. “Responsibility as Responsiveness: Enacting a Dispositional Ethics of Encounter.” Political Theory. No. 3. 2016. pp. 291–318; Bresnahan, Aili, Katan-Schmid, Einav and Houston, Sara. “Dance as embodied ethics”. In The Routledge Companion to Performance Philosophy. London/New York, NY: Routledge. 2020; Beausoleil, Emily and Parkinson, Chrysa. “Exposing Bodies.” Online dialogue. Available at (accessed 2022-11-15). ↑
  9. See Böhler, Arno and Granzer, Susanne Valerie. “Bodily Grounds for Ethics: Wounded Bodies”. In Bodies of Evidence. pp. 191–­214. ↑
  10. Dewachi, Omar. “When Wounds Travel”. MAT Medicine Anthropology Theory. No. 3. 2015. pp. 61–82. ↑
  11. Nixon, Rob. Slow Violence and the Environmentalism of the Poor. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press. 2011. See also, on the notion of detactibility, Schuppli, Susan. Material Witness: Media, Forensis, Evidence. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 2020; Weizman, Eyal. Forensic Architecture: Violence at the Threshold of Detectability. Cambridge, MA: The MIT Press. 2019. ↑
  12. See Dickey, Laressa and Freudenschuss, Magdalena. Re-assembling Emotional Labor: On the Politics of Care. Berlin: Europrint. 2019. ↑
  13. See the following artistic research projects: Topal, Hakan. Still Life. 2012–16; Hameed, Ayesha. A Rough History (of the destruction of fingerprints). 2017; Majdalanie, Lina. Appendice. 2017; Noeth, Sandra and Künstlerhaus Mousonturm. Bodies, un-protected. 2021–22. ↑
  14. Loick, Daniel and Thompson, Vanessa E. On Violence #4: Abolitionism. Online dialogue. Available at (accessed 2022-11-19). ↑