By Mona Sakr
The 3rd edition of Chris Shilling’s ‘The Body and Social Theory’ was published in September 2012. The book provides an overview of the body as an organising principle in sociology.
Shilling suggests that bodies are being taken more seriously than ever by sociologists. While the founding fathers of sociology may have only talked about the body implicitly, a robust sociology of the body is emerging as a result of various social changes. Feminism, consumerism and an aging population have all drawn our attention to the body. We’ve started to think about our bodies as active entities rather than passive containers. They are essential in our identity, since how can we perform if not through the body?
Shilling makes a link between body and ‘self’. Who are we if not our bodies? But how exactly are our bodies implicated in the construction of self? I think about this relationship in three ways (but I’m sure there are others):
PERFORMANCE: We might use the body to perform to others. Getting a tattoo is a way of using the body to construct a public self, but also to re-assert self in our own eyes.
MOMENTS: The body plays an essential role in the fundamental moments of our lives. Periods of illness, the physical components of distress and joy, bodily embarrassment – these aspects of existence may be what we think about when we think about ‘self’.
MEDIATION: The life we lead depends on the body we have. My experiences of the world are mediated by my body; as a result, my ‘self’ is also mediated by the world.
By Mona Sakr
Yesterday, MODE hosted a training day on embodiment in digital environments. The day was brimming with ideas, approaches and contexts. They all stemmed however, from the central concept that the body plays an essential role in human experience – so essential that theoretical divides between mind and body are difficult, if not impossible, to make.
Digital environments highlight the need to prioritise the body and help to explain why embodiment as a framework has become increasingly popular over the last twenty years. But these environments also call into question the very idea of the body (ie. what we mean by ‘body’) and its role in learning and experience. They enable us to grapple in new ways with old ideas about embodiment, and at the same time they demand that we ask new questions about embodiment as a concept and theory.
New and old questions about embodiment were explored through a wide range of research contexts as represented by the day’s speakers and in the mini-workshops:
- Caroline Pelletier questioned what it means to represent the body realistically in the context of surgical simulation, and the different genres of representation that can be invoked in such environments.
- Carey Jewitt and Sara Price looked at the positioning of the body in children’s scientific inquiry using tangible technologies. Using multimodal analysis, they demonstrated the importance of the body for setting the rhythm and pace of social interaction and learning.
- Anton Franks and Andrew Burns introduced the concepts of frame, affect, action, role and voice in analysing the computer games that young people construct.
- Niall Winters introduced the possibility that individuals’ tactical spatial practices are changed through their use of mobile technologies. Participants in the seminar had hands-on experience of how this might happen by exploring the area surrounding the London Knowledge Lab while using apps that encourage users to engage with space differently.