Cregan, K. 2006. The Sociology of the Body.

Cregan, Kate. 2006. The Sociology of the Body. Thousand Oaks, CA: Sage.

Sociology often focuses on minds or social relations of bodies (individuals), but rarely bodies themselves. Bodies are always “there” in sociology, but are rarely accounted for (Schilling 1993). “Embodiment – the physical and mental experience of existence – is the condition of possibility for our relating to other people and to the world” (5) – as outcomes and previous circumstances of social formations….

“Embodiment is lived across all forms of community as a deeply-embedded social-relational category. It is an ontological category constituted as both the context and the outcome of patterns of social practice and meaning… […] The reconstitution of embodiment has political consequences intimately connected to the abstraction of time and space. As the dominant ways in which we live have become more abstract, our bodies have become more open to processes of rationalization, objectification, commodification, and political-cultural management” (James 2006, here 4 bold mine).

  • Hearkens to Haraways’s cyborg and technology of bodies – radical disembodiment

Ways to consider the body:

  • As object – shaped to external norms/systems – (the bounded and regulated body)- socialization, controlled, and monitored by institutions
  • As abject – social ambivalence, exceeds bodily boundaries- sanctification, revile of the body as

something more/less than its object

  • “the product of spiritual and/or psychological systems to make and unmake the corporeal world” (11) – reshaping perception, attracting and revulsion
  • As subject – individual bodily experience in social worlds

Erasmus (1530) – beginning of importance of social gaze, how clothing, gesture, body dress, deportment shows signs of inner life and thus reflects society/social life – courtesy and status was offered to “civility” – the ability to obscure or erase the realities of bodily function, “privatizing” them – changing social boundaries about what people are to share, discuss, etc., and what is medicalized.

Innocence, and how we define childhood (versus adolescence and adulthood) is related to sexuality – how we define certain behaviors as having implications or not. However, actions put onto bodies are also gendered – how we treat different bodies based on gender is based upon social prescriptions, despite the actual fortitude of the individual body.


Archaeology (“collection of objects as traces from which events and lives of a period are reconstituted”) vs. genealogy (“tracing of links between people or events across time, up to the present moment”) [45] – Foucault moved from archaeology to genealogy throughout his work. Prominent themes: gaze, panopticon, discourse, authority – but, here, most importantly, epistemes/epistemic shifts. Discourse: “sum of an area of knowledge in a given historical period that constitutes a world-view” (46), changes in discourse attributed to change in epistemes – from collective power and control, as they are enacted onto the body.

^authority to medicalize the body moving from the realm of medicine to economics? Commodification of the body as enhanced medicalization as authority to “dissect” becomes more diffuse?

The History of Sexuality, Volume 1: repressive hypothesis – sex as not to be spoken of, but also to be spoken of in great detail. Medicalization, religious fascination with defining, categorizing sex acts, regulation required great conversation over sexuality, sex acts. So, in an attempt to regulate and restrict sexualities, we had to expose and recognize sexualities, offering self-control and restriction as ways to fit within larger institutions, which had the power to punish and further control behaviors and identities.

^however, Foucault’s analyses almost solely focuses on Western thought and applications, does not account for power differences based upon intersections of social location.

READ: J. Finkelstein’s The Fashioned Self (1991).


Materialities of everyday life, implications of social control of body.

Habitus (“social, cultural and physical environment that we as social beings inhabit, through which we know ourselves and others identify us” [66]), social connections, attainments, etc.

  • The dialectic of internalization of externality; externalization of internality – translated, incorporation and objectification (a la Bourdieu 1977).
  • Habitus as the source/limit of structure, agency and action; people work to simultaneously impact/be impacted by habitus through ritual interactions
  • “As an acquired system of generative schemes objectively adjusted to the particular conditions in which it is constituted, the habitus engenders all the thoughts, all the perceptions, and all the actions consistent with those conditions, and no others…. the habitus is an endless capacity to engender products – thoughts, perceptions, expressions, actions – whose limits are set by the historically and socially situated conditions of its production, the conditioned and conditional freedom it secures is as remote from a creation of unpredictable novelty as it is from a simple mechanical reproduction of the initial conditionings” (1977, 95 here 84).

Bodily hexis aka embodiment: “the political expression of all the factors that make up one’s habitus – and embodied or embedded in our physical being” (67) – sports, foods, bodily build one does/not have due to class orientation (involvement in field – social and cultural capital available within a culture – individuals abide by different fields of practice within given/same environments).

Theory of social practice – executions of rituals that work to maintain/build cultural capital within a particular field


“Every successfully socialized agent thus possesses, in their incorporated state, the instruments of an ordering of the world, a system of classifying schemes which organizes all practices, and of which the linguistic schemes… are only one aspect… [T]his principle is nothing other than the socially informed body, with its tastes and distastes, its compulsions and repulsions, with, in a word, all its senses (Bourdieu [1977] 123-4, here 73).


Cultural capital: “the material possession of the aspects of culture that a society-as-a-whole values, and which in a ‘modern’ society different levels of society value unequally” (74) – education, knowledge, tastes, etc.

“Taste as class culture turned into nature, that is, embodied, helps to shape the class body… It does this first in the seemingly most natural features of the body, the dimensions (volume, height, weight) and shapes (round or square, stiff or supple, straight or curved) of its visible forms, which express in countless ways a whole relation to the body, i.e., a way of treating it, caring for it, feeding it, maintaining it, which reveals the deepest dispositions of the habitus (1979, 190 here 80).

Mary Douglas

Bodies as key to rituals and ritual symbolism, abject items. Abjection as semiotic (linguistic) but also embodied phenomenon. Defilement as subjective, but also critical in establishing boundaries required for expunging filth, making a body “clean” again- often through ritualistic means. Douglas views body and body’s symbolism as reflection/representation of societal whole.

“The body is a model which can stand for any bounded system. Its boundaries can represent any boundaries which are threatened or precarious. The body is a complex structure. The functions of its different parts and their relation afford a source of symbols for other complex structures” (Douglas 1966, 116 here 100).

Bodies as sites of liminality, boundary, marginality. Crossing boundaries as transgressive.

“Any culture is a series of related structures which comprise social forms, values, cosmology, the whole of knowledge and through which all experience is mediated. Certain cultural themes are expressed by rites of bodily manipulation… The rituals enact the form of social relation and in giving these relations visible expression they enable people to know their own society. The rituals work up on the body politic through the symbolic medium of the physical body” (Douglas 1966, 129 here 101).


Judith Butler

Bodily abstraction as a means to promote the deconstruction of sex and gender distinctions. Rejects homogenization of women based upon sex, recognizes difference based on race, class, sexual orientation – refuses political and social construction of unification based upon biological sex (Butler 1990). Reinforcing biological distinction promotes heterosexist assumption; biological difference infers gendering that is dimorphistic and co-dependent, which is not the case, in Butler’s eye. Gender and sex becomes performative:

“Is ‘the body’ or ‘the sexed body’ the firm foundation on which gender and systems of compulsory sexuality operate? Or is ‘the body’ itself shaped by political forces with strategic interest in keeping that body bounded and constituted by the marker of sex? The sex/gender distinction and the category of sex itself appear to presuppose a generalization of ‘the body’ that preexists the acquisition of its sexed significance. This ‘body’ often appears to be a passive medium that is signified by an inscription froma cultural source figured as ‘external’ to that body” (Butler 1990, 164 here 118).

Body as a being that represents/extends to the political/social realm where transgression of the body becomes infringement on social norms. Gender as impossible to completely embody, but instead is something that remains partially externalized.

Donna Haraway

Technologization of bodies through medical interventions – cyborgs, cybernetic organisms. Language becomes the code for the “software” of embodied cyborgs, who have been altered by communication and bio-technologies. The cyborg body is not decontextualized, instead it is inextricable from the social boundaries it is offered – which may serve as both good and evil. Cyborg femininity as a way to translate across difference, boundary – regenerating, rather than reproducing. Bodies as made, constructed – as denaturalized as signs, but as representative of them, too. Gender and race as co-constructed, in ways to support and differentiate from white Western masculinity.

“The cyborg body represents the postmodern experience of embodied abstraction whereby the materially embodied subject is, on the one hand, romantically fused with technological apparatuses , and on the other hand, distanced and devalued by the reinterpretation of the body through bio-technological means” (165)

Susan Bordo

The body, like other objects within social worlds, acts as a site of construction. Body as a metaphor for culture, but also as a site of practical, real social control. Women are not conned into bodily and gender restrictions – instead, they acknowledge gendered/embodied repressions as tactics for “winning” in unequal gender system.


Bourdieu, P. 1972. [1977] Outline of a Theory of Practice. Tr. Richard Nice. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.

Bourdieu, P. 1984. 1979. Distinction: A Social Critique of the Judgement of Taste. Tr. Richard Nice. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press.

Butler, J. 1990. Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity. New York: Routledge.

Douglas, M. 1966. Purity and Danger: An Analysis of the Concept of Pollution and Taboo. London: Routledge.

Erasmus, (1530) — cite?

Finkelstein, J. 1991. The Fashioned Self. London: Polity.

James, 2006 — cite?

Schilling, Chris. 1993. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage.


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