Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body

By Sue Scott; David Morgan | Go to book overview

Introduction

If this volume were to have a sub-title it might appropriately be 'Directions through Diversity', a phrase which reflects the diversity of existing developments in what has come to be called 'the sociology of the body' and the diversity of the substantive topics and empirical researches covered by the essays in this volume. Such a sub-title would also indicate, as do the papers collected here, the potential of the sociology of the body for indicating directions in which sociology and social theory might move in the future. The coherence of this collection lies in its focus on the embodiment of social actors, and the relationship between this embodiment and the problems of both everyday life and of sociological theorizing.

While the substantive topics represented here range through dance, men and masculinity, marital and sexual counselling, prostitution, body-building, representations of lesbianism and the management of a child's body, clear links and common threads are to be found running through these chapters. One such theme is to do with the social construction of the body, the various ways in which the different aspects of the body are given new and varied significances, thus undermining or calling into question what might conventionally be understood as natural. Another theme is to do with the social control and regulation of the body, with the complex interplays between societal regulation and individual self-surveillance. These themes will be found, in different mixes, running through all these papers. But they are clearly two interrelated and interdependent processes. To construct some bodily feature or process, to describe it in a certain way or to lay social emphasis on some aspect of the body is, in some measure, to exercise control or constraint. This is most obvious, for example, in cases of the gendered body or the healthy body. Similarly, to regulate or to exercise control over the body or bodies is to see these bodies in a particular way and to privilege certain understandings or constructions as against others. Bureaucratic control of bodies in large organizations, for example, also implicitly states the kind of bodily representations and presentations that are appropriate.

Other, more specific, themes may also be found running through these chapters. These are to do with, for example, gender and sexuality, health and illness, nature and culture. It seemed to us that there was little point in attempting to group these papers under rather artificial or forced headings. Rather, each paper may be seen as throwing light on all or most of these themes in different

-viii-

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