Volume 22, 2022
Hubert Knoblauch, Silke Steets
“Here is Looking at You”
Relational Phenomenology and the Problem of Mutual Gaze
In this article, we propose to reconceptualize phenomenology in a relational way. Instead of taking subjective consciousness as the starting point for the constitution of meaning, we consider meaning (as well as subjects and subjectivities) as something that is produced in social relations, or more precisely, in communicative actions. In order to explore how this works we empirically study mutual gaze as a critical case. At first sight, the reciprocity that arises when two subjects look into each other’s eyes and perceive how they look and are being looked at reciprocally seems to be “pure,” i.e. free of any mediation by language, gestures or other objectivations. It turns out, however, that mutual gaze unfolds, albeit highly ambivalently and fluidly, as an “object in time”. In contrast to non‑subjectivist approaches, we argue that we need some sort of subjectivity to understand phenomena such as mutual gaze. However, we also need to understand its embeddedness in cultures as well as in social relations. This is what Relational Phenomenology means.