Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body

By Sue Scott; David Morgan | Go to book overview

Chapter 1

Bodies in a Social Landscape

D.H.J. Morgan and Sue Scott

When we first planned this essay we began in the conventional manner, namely noting the relative absence of work on the body within sociology. In the short period of time between this very early draft and the present version, matters have changed dramatically. The body is very much on the sociological agenda, and references to it are increasingly appearing in a variety of areas. Two main questions, therefore, present themselves for consideration:

(i) Why was there an apparent absence of sociological interest in the body until very recently?
(ii) Why has there been this recent development of interest in the subject, an interest by no means confined to sociological writings but to be found across a wide spectrum of social science disciplines?

There would seem to be little need, at this stage, to document the earlier relative lack of a sociological treatment of bodily matters, or indeed of a sociology informed by bodily considerations. We do not need a detailed analysis of the contents of text books or learned journals to make the point that overt references to the body or the sociology of the body were, certainly prior to the publication of Turner's influential book (Turner, 1984), very infrequent indeed. Whether there were covert or more submerged sociologies of the body is a more complex matter and one to which we shall be returning later in this chapter.

In attempting to account for this relative lack of interest in the body within sociology until fairly recently, several possible answers suggest themselves or have already been suggested. It may be noted, in passing, that this absence has been shared by a variety of other topics, touching on some fundamental human activities and attributes including sexuality, violence, the emotions and war. Here too, prior absences have to some extent been rectified. Interestingly, these other relatively neglected areas also have strong bodily connotations and there may be similar reasons for the relatively infrequent treatments of these issues within sociology. We may note, for example, that much sociological research is located within universities or polytechnics, institutions traditionally associated with the cultivation of the mind and with the deployment of reason. We may also note a kind of Puritan legacy which, even now, places some inhibitions on writing or lecturing about sexuality, defecation, nudity and bodily display or decay, for

-1-

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