sociology of the body


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sociology of the body

an important new area of specialism within sociology which has sought to repair a previous relative neglect of the BODY, and the implications of’embodiment’.

In recent years there has been an increase in popular as well as academic interest in the body 'social’. Academic interest is related to the growing influence of FEMINISM, Foucauldian scholarship (see FOUCAULT) and postmodernism (see POSTMODERNITY AND POSTMODERNISM) – schools of thought which focus attention on the body as a social product as well as a physical entity. Popular interest in the body is indicated by the multimillion-dollar industries promoting exercise courses and weight reduction plans, the growth in popularity of self-help therapies and alternative medicine, and the emphasis on the body as an expression of individual identity. Further, the moral debates of the 1980s over contraception, ABORTION, PORNOGRAPHY, embryo experimentation and HOMOSEXUALITY, the emergence of AIDS, and more recent controversy over drug use in sport or genetic engineering, have raised issues of interest to the population as a whole as well as to sociologists. The emerging sociology of the body has contributed to an understanding of the social regulation of bodies, particularly by legal and medical institutions (Foucault, 1973; Turner, 1984,1987,1992) and particularly of those bodies perceived as ‘other’ or as ‘out of control’. The sociology of the body has also been concerned with issues of CONSUMPTION (see Featherstone, 1991) and has addressed the important issues of SUBJECTIVITY, IDENTITY and the fashioning of the SELF (GIDDENS, 1991).

Recent developments in genetic manipulation, cloning techniques, the creation of transgenic organisms and artificial life forms (among others) have led to debate about the future of the body. Donna HARAWAY has argued that the human body is being encroached upon (by other organisms and by CYBORG technologies) at the same time as it extends into other areas like CYBERSPACE. Haraway argues that we are already cyborg, using machine technologies to transcend the limitations of the physical body; future generations are thus unlikely to be ‘pure’ human. In the 21st century then, our physical bodies as well as our cultural identities have become fully reflexive.