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Cultural Studies: Identity and Representation

"The Body, Health and Eating Disorders" 

by Susan Benson
Outline by Julia Hsieh

"The Body and Difference"
I. Imagining Body and Self in Western Culture
II. Approaches to the Body
III. Resistance and Corporeality
IV. Eating Disorders
V. Gym Culture and Body-Building
VI. Faulty Selves, Imperfect Bodies: Impairment, Disability and AIDS
I.Introduction: Imagining Body and Self in Western Culture
A.'body' and 'self' are distinguished
1.¡§the relationship between 'self' and the potentially unruly and destructive flesh is of central concern"¨(122)

2."The body is [¡K] the medium through which messages about identity are transmitted"¨(123)

B.self-control is the central issue

1.good health is something within our power to achieve with prudent control

2.to lose self-control is to risk losing control in social and physical environment

C.Aims: (124)

1.understand the link between the body and identity

2.see how identity may be enacted, negotiated and subverted through bodily practices

3.see how the body is a historically specific medium through which identity is produced and presented

4.explore the tensions and interconnections between the active self and the bounded and constrained body

II.Approaches to the Body: Representation, Inscription and Agency (128)

A.Human beings are embodied subjects, and the material body is the site in which differences of gender, sexuality, 'race', ethnicity and class are constituted and made manifest

B.Discussion toward the body

1.Mary Douglas ¡V body as a cultural text, body acts as a 'symbol of society'

2.Emily Martin ¡V body as a productive machine with various 'working parts'

3.Foucault ¡V

a.body as a direct locus of control, a docile body produced by the operations of external power upon it

b.the inscription of power relations upon the body and the making of physical bodies in culture

4.Marcel Mauss ¡V our physical bodies are social bodies for they are trained

5.Beauvoir ¡V women are more bound up with the body, more in the 'iron grasp of the species', than are men; 'the facts of biology take on the value that the existent bestows upon them' ? it's possible for us to choose and change these men-made notions

III.Resistance and Corporeality(131)

A.Bourdieu ¡V link agency and power, emphasizing that naturalization of cultural rules as bodily practices (i.e. 'culture made body') places those cultural rules 'beyond the grasp of consciousness' and thus limits our capacity to inspect or transform them

B.Mikhael Bakhtin ¡V sees the body in western culture as a 'natural' site of resistance to the controlling forces of power

C.Emily Martin ¡V argues that women's bodies are linked with reproductive processes is framed by the notion of production, from the industrial system

IV.Eating Disorders

A.Gender and Identity(135)

1.anorexia & sufferers¡¦ rejections

a.a rejection of feminine identity

b.a rejection of relationships (such as food)

2.anorexia & selfhood

a.a performance of the self, involving an active construction of embodied selfhood, and in front of others

b.refusing food is a political act, one that has both practical and symbolic implications for both self and other

3.anorexia & autonomy (136)

a.self-starvation offers a sense of self-sufficiency and autonomy

b.the anorectic seeks to construct a body without needs, a fantasy of autonomy and self-sufficiency (Orbach)

B.Religious Asceticism: 'Holy Anorexia'

1.Starvation framed by a religious discourse

2.Self-starvation represented not self-hatred but a celebration of the power of suffering flesh (Bynum)

C.Psychoanalytic Theories of Hysteria(138)

1.symptoms of hysteria ¡V

a.the conversion of unbearable mental pain and conflict into a manageable physical symptom(Freud and Breuer)

b.feminist scholars link hysteria to feminine existence in the bourgeois households of the late 19th Century

2.tyranny of slenderness: the link between contemporary representations of the female body and anorexia (Chernin) (139)

3.Empahsis on the slender body/images of thinness (141)

a.encourages the idea of the female body as a commodity

b.treats the body as a 'thing' separated from the self

c.a response to women's challenging the male-dominated society

4.Conflictual cultural values and the ideas about food and feeding (143)

V.Gym Culture and Body-Building

A.The meaning of Body-Building

1.From 'body-for-use' to a body for display ¡V the male body treated as a project

2.ideas of power and force ¡V the language of modern body-building overflows with metaphors of violent agency

3.the body as a materialization of the will (same as the anorectics's focus)

4.¡§in the excessive attention of issues of the will, the fear of softness and fat, its conflation of self-mastery with the visible transformation of the physical body.¡¨ (148)

B.Women Body-builders

1.a feminist success story?

2.another example of 'epidemics of the will'

VI.Faulty Selves, Imperfect Bodies: Impairment, Disability and AIDS

?Disability is seen "as an outcome of the situation in which whey find themselves, an 'oppression.'" (151)

A.AIDS and HIV: the Stigmatized Body(153)

1.cultural explanation

2.the moral panic

3.tensions concerning race and sexual diversity

B.The Body at War(156)

1.'self' and 'body' ¡V central to many narratives of AIDS is the idea of 'battle': 'self' against 'virus'

2.weight of signification

3.military metaphors



Benson, Susan."The Body, Health and Eating Disorders."Identity and Difference.Ed. Cathryn Woodward.London: Sage, 1997.