Infant imitation and the self - a response to Welsh
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Talia Welsh (2006) argues that Shaun Gallagher and Andrew Meltzoff’s (1996) application of neonatal imitation research is insufficient grounds for their claim that neonates are born with a primitive body image and thus an innate self-awareness. Drawing upon an understanding of the self that is founded upon a ‘‘theory of mind,’’ Welsh challenges the notion that neonates have the capacity for self-awareness and charges the supposition with an essentialism which threatens to disrupt more social constructionist understandings of the self. In this paper, I initially defend Gallagher and Meltzoff’s (1996) application of infant imitation to understandings of neonatal selfawareness by explaining how body image schemas can be understood as nonrepresentational embodied cognitive phenomena that challenge ‘‘theory of mind’’ theory. I then further develop the claim that neonates are born self-aware with reference to my own work in fetal development. I conclude that Welsh’s political concerns are unfounded by showing how the conclusion that a neonate is self-aware does not signal a return to an essentialist understanding of self-awareness, but rather introduces into philosophical and psychological discourse possible alternate understandings of an embodied sense of self that are embedded within intersubjective contexts.