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Lecture 3

ANTHROP 3HI3 Lecture 3: Anthropologies of the body

Course Code
Dr. Rebecca Plett

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Body imagery tells us about the social and cultural meanings of being human
o We see our bodies as machines
Emily Martin
Offers an example of using metaphor to describe the body - our immune system
o In this metaphor, "bodies are imperiled nations continuously at war to quall aliens invaders"
Alien invaders is anything like bacteria, viruses, cancer cells, can be our own cells,
anything that is not us, not ourselves - in this metaphor the key thing is that we have
to differentiate the self and the other
The work of the immune system is to recognize what is self and what is non-self, what
is other
o Boundaries between self and other are key: the work of the immune system is to recognize
self from non-self
Role of anthropology is to use its techniques of comparative research
o When we look cross-culturally and make comparisons, the metaphors that we use change
o They are not consistent around the world
o E.g., body as a machine/digital - only came about after industrialization; historically specific
They're contingent - they're not natural
We can think of them as constructs
Example of Emily Martin's immune system metaphor
o War metaphor with the immune system
What is the body?
The "question" of the body - how to study it, talk about it, understand what it means - is difficult
because we both have a body and are a body: we can both talk about it and live in it
o Think of a time that you were in physical pain
How much is it, how severe is it, how does it feel like - you can talk about it but you
also feel pain
o How do you relativize a pain in numbers? How do you do that?
Pain scale, pictorial pain guide (useful in giving a subjective perspective in the pain
they are feeling)
Lock and Scheper-Hughes
Anthropologists (all of us) study bodies, but because of our cultural context, certain assumptions
about bodies are made:
o Our cultural context posits that there is a reflexive "I" - an autonomous, rational,
disembodied self that's independent from the body
E.g., mind over matter (we can control what's happening to our bodies if we think
hard enough)
The realization of this self means you have become a successful person
When someone doesn't achieve this sense of "I" - often we give them mental
health diagnosis
E.g., SZ - don't have a good sense of self in this way
o The body and mind are separate things
Key thing
o The material body is universal ("everywhere the same") and so should be learned about
through natural sciences
They deal with laws of nature, consistencies and things that can be replicated
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