Umwelt On Kensington Avenue: Attuned Care, Social Science, and the Phenomenology of Suffering on the Streets

Raju, Niraj, Religious Studies - Graduate School of Arts and Sciences, University of Virginia
Flores, Nichole, Religious Studies, University of Virginia
Geddes, Jennifer, Religious Studies, University of Virginia

The question of suffering has long been analyzed and responded to throughout numerous academic and intellectual disciplines, yet every argument, every theory, falls short in the face of the sufferer. Suffering both demands responses-be they ethical, theoretical, sociological, or religious- and yet eludes a cogent grasp of its essence. We encounter embodied forms of suffering, can perceive the suffering of others through sight, hearing, touch, and language, but the ontological basis of suffering supersedes our understandings. Utilizing work done at the intersection of ethics, anthropology, philosophy, and linguistics, this thesis argues for a revitalized method of encountering suffering that breaks down the various limitations and formulaic boundaries of the various fields of the social sciences and seeks to understand the suffering of the Other within the Other’s world itself, within the Other’s Umwelt. Analyzing multimodal ethnographic data collected amongst homeless heroin addicts on Kensington Avenue in Philadelphia, PA, the method of “attuned care” will be developed as a phenomenologically reductive mode of understanding built upon the subjective, assembled and embodied worlds of the sufferer rather than from a narrow epistemological and academic framework. The everyday lives of homeless addicts will demonstrate not only the rich and complex dynamisms existent within the Umwelten of Kensington Avenue, but will also demonstrate “attuned care’s” applicability throughout every discipline within the social sciences. Attuned care allows for suffering to be understood and encountered in such a way as to highlight the relationality latent within Heidegger’s notion of “Being-In-The-World”. 

MA (Master of Arts)
Homelessness, Phenomenology, Embodied Interaction
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