Saturday, 19 March 2011

Ch1: Experiences of Our Own Bodies

We've talked about the ways the body and social might be coordinated, about the social model of disability and a way of seeing the how individuals do different things with their medical conditions. But what these discussions in the abstract leave out are the experiences of people's bodies.

I want to find a way of talking about corporalities that brings in the pains and pleasures and lethargies and rushes, the feelings and experiences of being in a body. The people I met felt pain and tirednesses that were big factors in the way they did things. They also had moments where their bodies were unreliable, they might lose their balance or their leg might give out.

In relation to "disabled" bodies, this point has already been made. Jenny Morris who demands, in relation to disabled women, that the "experiences of our own bodies" be taken into account, be they restrictions, pain or fear of death.

There are also authors, such as Maurice Merleau-Ponty, and based on his work, Thomas Csordas, who want to see the body as everyone's means of having a world, or of being-in-the-world. They base their theories the fact we perceive and construct the world through our senses, and carefully trace the ways we do so.

These perspectives are vital, but I want to find a middle ground. I don't want the experiences of our bodies to overwhelm our other descriptions. Bodily experiences, perhaps especially those of chumbados are often left out of or distant from much writing and abstract thinking. But I hope that bringing our experiences in in will complement other ways of thinking rather than negate them.

To that end I want to limit the ways we get carried away with talking about bodies. I like to think in terms of a distributed personhood, or the ways we are in the world are through things we make and stuff we use. A solider by himself is one thing; but the person he is is very different when you consider him as a soldier with a weapon. A more friendly example might be of the relationship between someone and a book they've written, and how an important part of them then resides separately from their body.

The ways our bodies -- and different parts of them -- are caught up in the stuff we do is very variable, and our relationships with our corporalities are different. So the place of bodily experiences will take a correspondingly shifting place in our work.


Jenny Morris combines a feminist perspective with one on disability. See, for example, a work she edited: Able Lives: Women's Experience of Paralysis (1989). Maurice Merleau-Ponty in Phenomenology of Perception sees the body as a means of having the world, and among many other things writes about how bodies are extended with things like hats or canes. Thomas Csordas uses Meleau-Ponty's work, although I find Csordas a little difficult and possibly wrong; try "Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology" in Ethos 18(1):5-47 (1990) for a start. The idea of distributed personhood and seeing objects in their social relationships comes from Alfred Gell and his Art and Agency (1998).

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