Expert tool use: a phenomenological analysis of processes of incorporation in the case of elite rope skipping

Kathrine Liedtke Thorndahl, Susanne Ravn

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According to some phenomenologists, a tool can be experienced as incorporated when, as a result of habitual use or deliberate practice, someone is able to manipulate it without conscious effort. In this article, we specifically focus on the experience of expertise tool use in elite sport. Based on a case study of elite rope skipping, we argue that the phenomenological concept of incorporation does not suffice to adequately describe how expert tool users feel when interacting with their tools. By analyzing a combination of insights gained from participant observation of 11 elite rope skippers and autoethnographic material from one former elite skipper, we take some initial steps toward the development of a more nuanced understanding of the concept of incorporation; one that is able to accommodate the experiences of expert tool users. In sum, our analyses indicate that the possibility for experiencing a tool as incorporated depends on the existence of an extraordinary kind of relationship between the tool and the expert tool user. This relation, that can persist even when successful manipulation of the tool fails, is not only cultivated through deliberate practice of physical skills, but also through the collective sense-making process going on within a particular community of practice. Therefore, expert tool users may experience a more profound kind of incorporation that can persist even when normal motor incorporation fails.

Original languageEnglish
JournalSport, Ethics and Philosophy
Issue number3
Pages (from-to)310-324
Publication statusPublished - 2016


  • Tool use
  • expertise
  • factual variation
  • incorporation
  • phenomenology


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