Scarlett de Courcier

Existential psychotherapist & philosophy PhD student

PhD: Being-towards-Birth

My PhD project is funded by the Arts & Humanities Research Council (SWWDTP) and is co-supervised at the Universities of Southampton and Cardiff. 

It takes Heidegger’s idea of humans as Being-towards-Death and questions whether birth is similarly crucial to an understanding of what it means to be a person. Being born and dying are the only things that all people who are alive have in common. So what might these concepts have in common, existentially speaking? 

Fundamentally, the central question of the PhD is ‘What does it mean to be a person?’ I am looking at questions of subjectivity in pregnancy with reference to live birth, stillbirth and miscarriage; asking whether Heidegger’s concept of ‘Dasein’ is the same as ‘consciousness’; and examining what it means when we say someone has ‘been born’ or ‘died.’

Aesthetics and Selfhood

I have an interest in aesthetics: how we make ourselves look on the outside and what it says about our sense of who we are. This interest was sparked by a period of time in which I was unable to wear eyeliner, which bothered me more than I thought it would. I began to consider the differences people talk about between putting on makeup “for myself” versus “for other people.”

Like Taylor Swift points out, we dress in certain ways for all sorts of reasons:  

I realised that I only feel fully like myself if I am wearing gothic makeup. This prompted me to examine the self-from-self splits that can happen when our aesthetic does not match what we want it to look like.

For example, if I want to put on eyeliner, but I cannot, then it feels like there are two ‘mes’ at odds with each other.

What does this mean for my sense of self? How does this play out in my day-to-day life? When I am putting on makeup ‘for myself’ or ‘for someone else,’ what does this mean?

Disability and Subjectivity

The experience of being chronically ill or disabled is another phenomenon that can prompt a feeling of split subjectivity. If I want to eat a specific food but my digestive system cannot process it, it might feel like ‘my body’ and ‘my self’ are separate entities. For me, this sometimes creates a feeling of dualism: that I am, to borrow a phrase from my bio, a curious ghost in a broken machine.

I am currently working on a series of papers about how my relationship with disability has impacted my sense of self. I am exploring the ongoing negotiation that occurs within my disabled body; looking at what the transition to wheelchair use has taught me about navigating the world; examining how becoming visibly disabled has changed my relationships with others; and discussing the impact of my disability on my sense of time.

Psychology of Religion & Spirituality

Prior to my Philosophy PhD I spent time researching Psychology of Religion with a team at the University of Oxford.

The Pilgrimage Project was an interdisciplinary project spanning several years which looked at different groups of people going on pilgrimages. We spoke to groups of Catholics and Pagans on their journeys to sacred sites and talked about their motivations for going and their experiences while they were there. Along the way we also met many people who identified as non-religious or non-spiritual, so we spoke to them too.

As an existential therapist and philosophy student I am interested in how people find meaning in their lives. Religion and spirituality are common ways for people do this. In recent years there has been an increased interest in pilgrimages and in alternative spiritualities such as witchcraft and paganism. I am interested in how people take different beliefs, concepts and mythologies and weave them together to create systems of meaning that work in their own lives.

Selected Publications & Projects

  • Executive Producer, Flow (2022) Directed by Claire Cunnington & Chris Godwin. [Watch]
  • de Courcier, S. (2022) ‘Not one of those girls: An existential-phenomenological exploration of my relationship with eyeliner’ Existential Analysis 33(1):98-111 [PDF]
  • Farias, M. et al. (2019) ‘Atheists on the Santiago way: Examining motivations to go on pilgrimage’ Sociology of Religion 80(1):28-44 [PDF]
  • Oviedo, L., de Courcier, S. & Farias, M. (2014) ‘Rise of pilgrims on the Camino to Santiago: Sign of change or religious revival?’ Review of Religious Research 56:433-442 [PDF]

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