“Lived Experience”

The most annoying linguistic fad of today is, for me, “lived experience.” I have no idea how one can have an experience that is not “lived”. If you have experienced it, that should mean you lived it, right?

Here is an example of this obnoxious usage:

Downvotes, however, are prohibited, as we share a lot of personal stuff here and downvoting will, in many cases, serve as negative policing of someone else’s lived experiences.

I am yet to encounter a single instance where this expression would not sound extremely pompous. I need to start making a collection of all the unfortunate verbal contortions people create in their efforts to sound intelligent.


7 thoughts on ““Lived Experience””

  1. The problem seems to me not that it is pompous but that it is philosophically crude. To understand what a “lived experience” is must be one of the most difficult challenges philosophy could set itself. Yet the writer takes for granted that this is already obvious to any fool. There are so many layers to experience — there is living through an experience without noticing much of it, or living through it and noticing specific, culturally conditioned details, or living it and being so lacking in critical analysis that one gets the experiential details wrong. Or one can live one’s experiences backward, rather than forward, as in the case where one is traumatized and tries to go back to relive or revise the details. One can live one’s experiences in the light of other people’s experiences, or according to an ideological framework, with a distorted understanding or where certain points seem overemphasized compared to others. Or one can live without much thought, like an animal, and still have very vivid and concrete experiences, but not be able to communicate them much.


    1. I do not for a moment suspect people at the linked website to be capable of this degree of intellectual sophistication. They are among the painfully earnest folks whose attempts at constructing logical arguments always make me feel sad for them.


  2. Hi Clarissa,

    I stumbled across this post while trying to come up with ideas for my own blog about – you guessed it – lived experience. Interesting you should should call ‘lived experience’ a recent linguistic fad; as it happens, it was used as early as 1883 by Wilhelm Dilthey (d. 1911): http://plato.stanford.edu/entries/dilthey/. In the ‘modern’ sense, which I presume is the sense you’re more bothered about, I think that the key point to make is that, yes, all experience is lived, but the point is that there is a person living those experiences and then speaking about them – and the speaking about them is the essential bit. In speaking about their own lives and encounters with marginalisation/unpleasantness, such people are able to approach discrimination and a lack of understanding/empathy in the world constructively. What it’s called is ultimately less important than what it can achieve.

    It might read pompously to you, but you might be interested in taking a look at my blog (http://experienceistobelived.wordpress.com/); it does actually approach the vocabulary of the liberation movements, and your reflections would be very welcome, especially given that this blog post inspired its name!



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