Controlling and Modifying the body

  • Created by: melissa
  • Created on: 06-05-15 18:51

Controlling and Modifying the body definitions

Modifying the body= the deliberate altering of the human body. 

The body is used as a source of social control =  the body can be used to control the individual. By modifying our bodies we conform  to expectations within the society to which we belong. We conform to expectations about our appearance.    We conform to expectations about our gender and status by using our bodies.    Each society has norms and values about how we should look – our appearance.  Each society has norms and values about how we should behave as men and women – our body can reflect this eg women look ‘feminine’ and men look ‘masculine’.  Status symbols for hierarchy within a society  can be worn on our bodies – eg the Kayapo wear lip-plates.   How women are expected to behave can be regulated by their bodies – such as FGM regulates sexual behaviour and reinforces hierarchy of men in Masaai culture.

Social construction= The view that the phenomena of the social and cultural world and their meanings are created in human social interaction

Taboo= A custom prohibiting or restricting a particular practice or forbidding association with a particular person, place, or thing

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Mauss' techniques of the body

Mauss ‘techniques of the body’- the ways in which the body is trained within culture. ‘In every society, everyone knows and has to know and learn what they have to do in all conditions.’ Every biological and physiological skill of which the human body is capable has to be learnt. Mauss provides many examples of culturally varying body techniques, including the following observations:c Polynesians do not swim as the British do.c The French army does not march as the Germans do.c Girls who have been raised in convents tend to walk with their fists closed.These techniques can change within one person’s lifetime. Mauss used the concept of‘habitus’ (habit or custom, acquired ability) to describe these learnt techniques of the body. All humans have to eat in order to survive, but the way they eat, whether with a fork, chopsticks or with their fingers, is a cultural construction. Mauss extends the study of society to include physiological experience and emphasizes both the point that the body is symbolically constructed and that the way in which it is used is as much a product of culture as it is of nature. The body must therefore be studied in the context of wider symbolic systems, and the way in which it is used and represented provides us with a mirror of society. Each society has its own special habits. Humans are conditioned in using the body in different ways through the process of socialization. The body is a person’s first and natural instrument, according to Mauss.

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Bourdieu- Habitus

Habitus- the lifestyle, values, dispositions and expectations of particular social groups that are acquired through the activities and experiences of everyday life.

Bourdieu elaborates on the concept of habitus by explaining its dependency on history and human memory. For instance, a certain behaviour or belief becomes part of a society’s structure when the original purpose of that behaviour or belief can no longer be recalled and becomes socialized into individuals of that culture. According to Bourdieu, the body is the most certain reflection of class taste in a way that someone’s hairstyle, clothing, diet, or even their manner of walking functions to signal social class position within the structure of society. Bourdieu places bodies within modern consumer culture, arguing that the body bears the imprint of social class based on habitus (an internalized framework or set of guidelines for social action, taste and social location). The body is a resource for, and can be converted into, economic, cultural and social capital. Bourdieu conducted fieldwork in Algeria and studied the culture of the Kabyle people. Their main habitus is based on honour, which underpins their basic schemes of thought and action. This provides them with a model of action even in new situations. The lifestyle, the values and expectations of Kabyle people that are learnt through the activities and experiences in their everyday life is reflected in their body language. Bourdieu suggests that habitus can be changed throughout the lifetime of an individual.

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Body ideals and conforming to societies norms- Wol

Naomi Wolf- Beauty myth: As women have become more succesful- used to control them and put them in their place. Bombarded with images by the media of the 'perfect' woman. Society judges women and they judge themselves against this standard= 'beauty pornogrpahy'- the media is a deception which causes women to spend too much time and money worrying about beauty. 'beauty myth' responsible for obsession with dieting and the resulting eating disorders that are doing such damage to women. 

Chris Shilling- Unfinished product: project to be worked on and accomplished. no longer accepted as something people just have and accepted as they are. People wish to alter their bodies in order to express their individuality or to achieve some desired state. Growth of cosmetic surgery, tattooing, dieting and body building. People feel able to exert control over their bodies and technology allows people to shape their bodies in line with life style choice. 

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Sexual selection + body image in Fiji- Becker

Sexual selection= a mode of natural selection in which some individuals out-reproduce others of a population because they are better at securing mates. 

Becker: Fiji: Embodiment: the body represents the physical and social world in which they live. High prevalence of obesity- despite this, many percived their weight to be ideal or underweight. overweight and obese shapes= well cared for. Associate ideal shape with physical characteristics suggesting strength or the ability to work hard- hard physical labour necessitates eating larger quantities of food. Fijian men look for women with strong calves- strong calf associated with ability to work hard. However equally vocal about extreme overweight as in the west- however believe this is bad as probably unable to work. 

Exposure to western movies and magazines inspired some Fijians wish to reduce their size.

Food has a symbolic role- central to the regulation and negotiation of social relationships in the south pacific. The body then mediates and substantiates (acts as evidence/proof) for the relationship between self and the collective. 

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Part of culture as a symbol: 'social skin' Turner

The social skin’ (Turner 1995) He suggests that decorating, covering and uncovering the human body in accordance with social ideas of everyday expectations or sacred dress, beauty or status seems to have been a concern of every human society. 

c Hair The length of hair- reproductive processes.Certain types of people in Kayapo society are allowed to wear long hair, including women who have given birth to children and adult men who have been through initiation and received their penis sheaths.cutting of the hair on the head represents a distinct social code that communicates information about the individual’s stage of development. child’s hair remains short as a sign of its biological separation from its parents.

c Body painting as ‘social skin’- paint bodies like insects- connecting with the spirits. 

c Pierced ears, ear plugs, lip plates- The most important aspect of passive understandingis the ability to ‘hear’ language. To be able to hear and understand speech is referred to in terms of having a hole in one’s ear. The piercing of the ear lobes of babies represents this. most trbies consider an enormous lip plate a traditional sign of beauty. for men, the lip pierced is a rite of passage and indicates status and prestige. senior tribal men wear discs up to 8 inches wide, the largest lip is worn by the tribes leader.

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Controlling the body: Maasai

Rite of passage: Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) Melissa Llewelyn-Davies 

To stop women having sex before marriage.

female body is an object of control, women are forced into the procedure and restricted from having their own thoughts and decisions. 

Feminists= due to the patriarchal society through controlling the procedures women should undergo. 

absolute cultural relativism- Llewelyn-Davies does not comment on the procedure as it is a rite of passage and therefore part of the maasai's way of life. 

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Modifying: Maori tattoo's: Hanson

involves the penetration of the skin with ink in order to stain it permanently with colour. The permanent modification of the human body through tattooing is culturally constructed.often covers the whole of their face and was a symbol of rank, social status, power and prestige. A rite of passage that begins during adolescence and would be continually performed to celebrate important events throughout a persons life. - Tells a story, expresses identity and is a symbol of power and status. 

have been used throughout history to mark someone as an outcast or as someone else’s property. tattooing of slaves in ancient Rome, of gangsters in Japan and China, of convicts transported to Australia in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, and of Jews in Nazi concentration camps such as Auschwitz. Prostitutes in some parts of Eastern Europe are tattooed as an indication of ownership. All of these practices denied personhood to certain groups of people. This shows how some bodies were controlled and labelled as less important and unequal to others.

effective way of communicating many things can be linked to a transition from one stage of life to another. For some cultures, tattooing is necessary to establish humans as full social beings. The Roro people of Central Province, Papua New Guinea, describe a person who is not tattooed as ‘raw’, comparing him to uncooked meat.

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Biological approach to the body


Anthropological interest in the body began in the early eighteenth century through the ‘naturalistic’ view. The main naturalist writings at that time regarded the body as the biological base from which developed the superstructure of the society. According to this perspective, human bodies are defined by their physical characteristics. The biological model looks at the body very much as a machine that can break down and so requires physical repair. This perspective is still dominant in the medical model in Western approaches to the body and is held by doctors, surgeons and health practitioners. The main assumptions of the medical model are physical phenomena, such as illness is caused by bacteria; illness can be classified; medical specialists identify illness; illness can be treated and often cured. The medical model argues that the body is a biological organism.

Criticism: This theory was criticized as being reductionist, because the body is explained as a result of some aspect of physical or genetic constitution. In other words, biological explanations completely ignored social influences and the role of society or social processes and representations in the shaping of the body

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The body as a social construct

socially constructed body is assumed to be the product of social processes, ‘constructed’ in terms of dominant social practices or cultural norms. Social constructionists consider that the way people view themselves and others is shaped not only by biology or nature but also by the social context in which they live. Foucault, argues that the way humans view the body is influenced by dominant discourses (systems of thoughts composed of ideas, attitudes, courses of action, beliefs and practices that systematically construct the subjects and the worlds of which they speak). Views of the body will vary from society to society depending on the dominant discourses used in that culture. For Foucault, the body is a direct way for certain members of the society to implement control. Institutional power such as that found in prisons, hospitals, political regimes, schools and religious disciplines shapes both the appearance and the practices relating to the individual body.

Criticism: Social constructionism is one- sided as a purely biological naturalistic approach. The body is not exclusively a social construction

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Globalisation and the body: organ trafficking and

BODY ORGAN TRAFFICKING As  a  result  of  consumerism,  media,  the  tourist industry  and  global migration,  in most  societies  people have  changed  the way  they  think  about  the  body. The vulnerability of bodies  is apparent within  the  context  of globalization,  illustrated by  a  rise  in  global  organ  trafficking  in  which  the human body is  viewed as a pure commodity. It is more likely that the poorest and the most disadvantaged people of the Global South sell their organs and other body tissues to affluent people in the First World countries. In the UK, tens of thousands of people are on the waiting list for organ transplantation. Organ  procurement  is based  on  a  voluntary  system, where  individuals  choose  to  donate  organs. There is more demand for the organs than supply in this process, and many people never receive the organ they need to survive. This  has  led  to  an  increase  in  transplant  tourism, where buyers from the UK, the USA or Europe travel to  developing  countries  in  search  of  affordable kidneys and other body parts.

VIRTUAL BODIES Boellstorff= second life, biological body is irrelevant- avatars may take any form users choose or resemble themselves as they are in real life. a single person may have multiple avatars. avatars can communicate. humans have always crafted themselves through culture. second life allows the emergence of homo-cybers, humans who can craft and re-craft new worlds of society in a virtual “third-place”. Second life- 3D virtual world where users can pretend to be whomever or whatever they want to be.

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