Making the Body: Signification and Representation
Race as a “floating signifier”
What is a signifier?
Tells you something, gives something meaning
A stereotype is an exaggerated signifier
Race as a language Bound within a set of cultural/temporal realities and can change
with time/space/context etc.
Ex: Words can have different meanings at different periods of time and some
words may not translate between languages
People are looking for realities to latch on to as truth
Race and gender are obvious examples because they can be “read” by just
looking at the body
Anatomical connection between these signifiers
Race skin color
Meanings are attempted to be justified by these “truths”
Q: How does the process of signification work?
Influence from parents an family—watching them react to signifiers teaches you
how to react to signifiers
Pop culture/media controls racial portrayals
Being in school—reading history books told from one certain perspective
“Human racial difference, while some sense obvious and… “real”, is in another sense
pure fabrication, a story written about the social relations of a particular historical time
and then mapped onto available bodies.” (FaustoSterling, p. 205)
*Visual knowing is very dominant in our culture, but doesn’t necessary represent reality
Sometimes, race (or gender) cannot really be visually seen or known
There is sometimes crossover and often disconnect between what others see you
as, who you are, how you see yourself, how you want to be seen
Ex: Grouping or assuming a culture by skin color doesn’t make sense
In Nigeria, they may all have the same color skin, but there are over 300
tribes, each with their own culture. So how can you say that there is one
“black culture”? It makes no sense.
Race vs. Ethnicity
Q: When does “American” become a heritage/ethnicity?
Maybe only when you go somewhere else? If you’re Irish
American, and you go to Ireland, you’ll say you’re American, not
Q: How are signifiers reproduced and how do they change?
What stories are told/left out? Who/what has the power to represent