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Cultural Studies: Identity and Representation

"The Body and Difference" 

Julia Pei-Hsuan Hsieh
by Christ Shilling
"The Body, Health and Eating Disorders"
I. Introduction;
II. Modern Bodies, Uncertain Bodies
III. The Natural Body?
IV. Sociology, Dualism and the Body
V Embodying Sociology
Vi. The Body and Physical Capital
VII Civilizing the Body
VIII Concluding Comments


A.Key Concepts and Argument
1.Question: whether identity is fixed in the body?(65)

2.Embodiment: a term with various of sociological meanings (65)

3."[T]he human body is important [ˇK] because it shapes our identities and structures our interventions in, and classifications of, the world."(65)

4."[W]e need to pursue a third position on the body and embodiment which avoids both the dissolving of he material body associated with extreme social constructionism, and a return to biological essentialism."(66)

B.Focus and Aims

1.Focus: "body as a key site for identity construction, and [ˇK] the oppositions and differences inscribed in classificatory systems can materially shape our bodies [ˇK]."(66)

2.Aims: (66)

a.Examine: the 'rise of the body' as an integral part of modern identities;

b.Challenge: 'common-sense' views of the body as a natural, biological entity;

c.Offer: a critical overview on social constructionist approaches toward the body and difference;

d.Suggestion: an understanding of embodiment for overcoming the dualisms.

II.Modern Bodies, Uncertain Bodies

? Body Projects ˇV a tendency in the West for body being taken as a project that "should be worked at and accomplished as part of an individual's self-identity." (69)

Individualized engagement with the body ˇV disguise? 
a.the construction healthy bodies

b.plastic surgery


A means of expression of individuality or a reflection of male designs
III.The Natural Body? (73)
A.Naturalistic approach ˇV inequalities are not socially constructed, contingent and reversible, but are given by the determining power of the biological body.

B.Sex differences ˇV the foundations of sociobiology

1.a view refer to absolute oppositions of 'male' and 'female';

2.sexual characteristics can also be influenced by environmental factors such as nutrition and stress;

3.biology of incommensurability ˇV 18th Century Enlightenment egalitarianism

IV. Sociology, Dualism and the Body
? Overcoming the divide? (78)
A. Social constructionist approaches ˇV united in:
1.Explaining the significance of the body by social factors
2.Rejecting the idea that biology can provide an explanation for social relations of domination and subordination


1.Foucault (79)ˇVa fundamental tension in terms of the approach to the body

a.the body: a stable entity throughout the history as a product of constructing discourses; also a transhistorical and cross-cultural unified phenomenon? the body is always ready to be constructed by discourse.

b.Despite the time or the place, the body is equally available as a site which receives meaning from, and is constituted by, external forces.

c.The body virtually disappears as a material phenomenon

d.The body is present as a topic of discussion, but absent as a material object of analysis; once it is contained within modern disciplinary systems, it is the mind which takes over as the location for discursive power.? Thus, the body tends to become an inert mass controlled by discourses centered on the mind

2.Goffman (79-80)ˇXwith an emphasis on how the body enables people to intervene in daily life and to negotiate how they present themselves

a.body idiom (non-verbal language): not only guides peopleˇ¦s perceptions of bodily appearances and performances, but provides a sense of the social constraints.

b.3 features of Goffmanˇ¦s approach to the body:

i.a material, communicating entity which can usually be controlled

ii.itˇ¦s not produced by social forces, the meanings attributed to it are determined by shared vocabularies of bodily idiom

iii.mediates the relationship between people's self-identity and their social identity

c.Problems: a gap between individuals (or the management of individuals) and the society/social norms

V.Embodying Sociology

A.The Socio-natural Body(82)

1.the bodyˇ¦s social consequences can be analyzed without reference to its 'material' properties

2.biological and cultural perspectives cannot be easily separated, nor can they be located exclusively in the social or natural worlds

3.the body is most profitably conceptualized as an unfinished biological and social phenomenon

4.Studies on gendered body(Bob Connell) and emotional bodies(Peter Freund and Arlie Hochschild): emphasize how the construction of social difference shape the body as well as make it a basis.

B.Gendering the body(83)ˇXbase on Robert Connell's work


a.how social practices and categories give a new meaning to bodies

b.like categorization may define people's bodies as different, other practices actually serve to transform bodies by altering them physically

c.processes of negation[1] and transformation interact

2.Gendered practices and images of the body exert an influence which does not remain at eh level of consciousness or discourse.

C.The emotional body(85)ˇXbase on Peter Freund's and Arlie Hochschild's works


a.The body's 'interiors'

b.The importance and difference (constructed by social norms) of 'emotional modes of well-being' to our self-identity

c.social status V.S. emotional episodesˇXstatus shields & emotion work

2.Social categories?(produce) differences between people

D.Mind the body

1.experiential realismˇXbased on the assumption that experience and knowledge is structured by the human body in a significant way which is prior to and independent of discourse.

2.The concepts and classificatory schemes are based in a very important way upon our multiple experiences of embodiment.

VI.The Body and Physical Capital ˇV Bourdieu's theory of social reproduction

A.The Production of physical capital

1.Commodification: the body has become a form of physical capital

2.Bodies bear the imprint of social difference because of 3 factors:

a.An individualˇ¦s social location

b.The formation of their habitus

c.The development of their tastes

B.The conversion of physical capital(90)

1.The dominant classes in society tend to have more valuable opportunities to convert physical capital.

2.Physical capital can be converted into cultural capital.

C.The changing value of physical capital (91)

1.Symbolic value attached to specific bodily forms can change.

2.social field ˇV a set of dynamic organizing principles, maintained by social groups; each field ahs a relative autonomy from other fields

3.the central value of physical capital: the ability of dominant groups to define their bodies and lifestyles as the embodiment of class.

4.Physical capital cannot be directly transmitted or inherited

D.Bodies in Stasis?(92)

?Historical change occurs as a result of the unremitting struggle for resources in which social classes engage.

VII.Civilizing the Body

A.The Historical Development of Bodies(94)

1.From Middle Ages to Renaissance

2.From frequent physical battles to emotional control of Court societies

3.As the body becomes subject to expanding taboos, it is transformed into a location for and an expression of behavioral codes

B.Bodies, the Search for Distinction, and Social Interdependence(96)

1.Changing manners and customs attribute to medical justifications.

2.The search for distinction among individuals help to internalize behavioral codes.

3.interdependence between people follows the progressive increase in the social division of labour.

C.Civilized Bodies(98)

1.Socialization ˇV natural functions and the transformation of bodies hiding away into a location for and expression of, codes of behaviour

2.Rationalization ˇV the civilized body possessing self-controls, manifesting in 'morals' or 'rational thought'

3.Individualization ˇV 'self in the case'; individuals' tending to conceptualize themselves as separate from others

D.The Breakdown of Civilized Bodies(99)

?Violence used regularly as a means of expression because of the boundaries between people after the development of civilized bodies reaches different levels.

E.Historicizing Bodies(100) ˇV (criticism to Eliasˇ¦s work)

1.individuals selectively apply standards depending upon the shifting contexts they inhabit

2.the notion of civilized bodies fails to do justice to the forms of bodily abandon, celebration and resistance

3.gender differences may be observed in the opportunities which exist for a controlled decontrolling of emotions in contemporary society

VIII.Concluding Comments

?A comprehensive understanding of the body needs to provide:

1.attempts to bridge the nature/ culture divide ˇV leading to renewed and unwarranted attempts to legitimize social inequalities on the basis of their biological foundations

2.analyzing to the body as a basis for the construction of social differences

3.seeing the body in multidimensional terms

4.placing the mind in the thinking body -- an appreciation to the bodily basis of thought and imagination can strengthen our understanding of the limits of thought

5.treating the body as an inherently historical phenomenon

Work Cited

Shilling, Chris."The Body and Difference."Identity and Difference.Ed. Cathryn Woodward.London: Sage, 1997.


[1] According to Shilling, major social inequalities are based on social criteria without permanent foundation in the body, biology also serves as an ideological justification(83), and this is what Connell means by the term 'negation.'