Is It Possible to "Incorporate" a Scar? Revisiting a Basic Concept in Phenomenology

Jenny Slatman*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticleAcademicpeer-review


Although scars never disappear completely, in time most people will basically get used to them. In this paper I explore what it means to habituate to scars against the background of the phenomenological concept of incorporation. In phenomenology (Husserl, Merleau-Ponty) the body as Leib or corps v,cu (lived body) functions as a transcendental condition for world disclosure. Because of this transcendental reasoning, phenomenology prioritizes a form of embodied subjectivity that is virtually dis-embodied. Endowing meaning to one's world through getting engaged in actions and projects is most successful indeed when one's body is "absent," "transparent," or, at least, if it is not in the center of one's attention. This taken-for-granted nature can be disturbed by discomfort, disability, and disfigurement. Incorporation, so I explain, aims at maintaining or restoring the body's taken-for-grantedness. My analysis of the case of a woman who successfully habituated to her mastectomy scar demonstrates, however, that habituation to a perceptible scar can only be understood partly in terms of incorporation. Next to a decrease of explicit attention for the scar and the discomfort it produces (i.e., incorporation), the scar should also stop being a sign that refers to something else than itself. This is only possible, I argue, by taking the body's materiality seriously, rather than it being wiped out as a result of transcendental reasoning.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)347-363
JournalHuman Studies
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2016


  • Incorporation
  • Habituation
  • Mastectomy scar
  • Husserl
  • Merleau-Ponty
  • Nancy


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