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That familiarity with the world born of habit: A phenomenological approach to the study of media uses in daily living

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In this article, the author doubts whether media uses in daily living, and the activities of daily living more generally, are primarily ‘interpretative’ in character – at least in the way that many qualitative audience researchers have previously imagined them to be. Implicit in the social-semiotic approach, with its references to ‘codes’ and ‘representations’, is a conception of signification as a predominantly cognitive process of meaning construction. However, media uses involve much more than this, and what is now required is a phenomenological approach that can attend to precognitive ‘familiarity with the world’ – a different kind of meaningfulness. Within the tradition of phenomenological philosophy, that basic ‘precognitive familiarity’ is explored most interestingly by Merleau-Ponty in his phenomenology of perception, given the strong focus there on ‘embodiment’. This article offers a consideration of his account of ‘the acquisition of habit’, in which he is pointing to a sort of knowledge that is practical and embodied. For Merleau- Ponty, then, perception is not ‘mental representation’. Instead, he directs our attention to matters of ‘orientation’ and ‘habitation’, which are central to the kind of phenomenological approach that is being advocated here for the study of media uses in daily living.

Keywords: Merleau-Ponty; embodiment; familiarity; habitation; orientation; phenomenology

Document Type: Research Article


Affiliations: University of Sunderland

Publication date: 2011-09-19

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