Sociology of the Body. Forms of "Body" and its Connection to Health Issues

Essay, 2018

9 Pages, Grade: 1


Table of Contents


Theorizing Bodies
The Physical Body
The Personal Body
The Expressive Body
The Knowledgeable Body
The Political Body

The Body in Symbolic Interaction
Body as Performance: The Dramaturgical Body
Reflexivity as Embodiment: The Looking-Glass Body
Body as Province of Meaning: The Phenomenological Body
Body as Story: The Narrative Body
Body as Trace of Culture: The Socio-Semiotic Body

Sociology of Health, Illness and Sexuality




Sociology seems to have undergone a series of revolution to advance the scope of human nature, especially with regard to philosophies and human understanding of the social aspect of mankind. In general, sociology is one of the disciplines regarded to as social sciences but, it emerged after psychology, economics and anthropology had been studied extensively. However, these disciplines could not address the human’s social nature satisfactorily, especially during the revolutionary moments, in Europe in 18th and 19th centuries. Modernists trace back the emergence of sociology to the French Revolution of 1787 and, the discipline is believed to have favored by the Industrial Revolution of the 19th century, owing to the transient changes in social life (Low & Malacrida, 2008). New aspects such as capitalism, democracy and individualism defined social life as a unique feature of mankind.

Since its inception, sociology has been changing to assume diverse forms. For instance, Sociology of the Body emerged recently as one of the fundamental branches of Sociology. Historically, Sociology was viewed on cultural and societal perspectives, and the body was considered as a peripheral element in the discipline. Shilling (2003) remarks, “the body has historically been something of an ‘absent presence’ in sociology (p. 17). Moreover, Waskul and Vannini (2005) reiterate Anthony Synnott’s remarks, “we can usefully reconsider the body at the heart of sociology, rather than peripheral to the discipline, and more importantly at the heart of our social lives and our sense of self” (p. 1).

In Sociology of the body, the body is considered as an interplay of multiple manifestations, identities, hierarchies and relations and, Kelland (2006) remarks, “That interplay results in an individual’s unique way of knowing, their personal epistemology” (p. 215).

Therefore, this research paper will give a comprehensive overview on the core elements of the Sociology of the Body. It will digress into the principal tenets of the discipline and, discuss how the human body has been theorized to address different roles. It will also discuss the role of the body in symbolic interaction and the sociology of health.

Theorizing Bodies

In regard to the Sociology of the Body, the physical or rather the biological body can be represented in diverse ways, through which the roles of the body’s social element can be explained. Ordinarily, sociologists viewed the social nature of human beings with respect to the manifestations of the mind but, phenomenological approaches have led to the theorizing of the body in various ways. The body has been theorized into physical, personal, expressive, knowledgeable and political bodies.

The Physical Body

From a phenomenal perspective, the physical body is composed of the biological components such as the cells and the nerves. The interaction of the biological components of the body with the environment is believed to play a pivotal role in constructing knowledge and experience. The body recognizes the environment through senses, which enables it to gather information from the ambient environment and, generate experiences; thus, intellectual or practical knowledge is believed to be the product of the body. As such, the body serves as an instrument for the acquisition of all external knowledge (Kelland, 2006). The second role of the body is to coordinate the internal and external environments, in which it gathers information from the external environment through senses. It can synthesize information acquired through listening to speeches or visualizing of physical objects; thus, the body acts as a significant interface between the external and internal environments of an individual. Kelland (2006) states that, “It is through the acquisition of sensory information, considered in the context of previous knowledge that the learner constructs a [more] complete understanding of the world” (p. 216). Therefore, the construction of knowledge and real life experiences can be attributed to the physical body.

From another perspective, the body and the mind are believed to be intertwined, unlike in the past when an accentuated divide existed leading to the notion that the mind was responsible for all the social aspects of human beings. The aspects of knowledge acquisition, performing different actions and the status of being of the body and the mind enhance efficient interaction between individuals and the environment, and this embeds nature with a magnificent feature. Therefore, the body plays a significant role in knowledge acquisition; thus, it is instrumental in understanding the circulating discourses. The body and the mind are interactive in a manner, which manifests unification between the two because; the body is inflected into the mind and mind into the body in a unique inversion (Kelland, 2006). Concisely, bodies are useful in manipulating objects and the synthesis of ideas from the mind; thus, the physical body plays significant roles in generating senses, movement and the acquisition of new knowledge from the environment, especially in the form of experiences.

The Personal Body

On the other hand, the personal body defines personal identity and individuality because; body surface and extremities mark its boundaries, separating individuals as distinct entities (Heim 2001). It is believed that the physical boundaries of the body manifest its presence as a solid form to be acknowledged. However, it is worth noting that the boundaries of the body can be established in diverse ways. Kelland (2006) states that, “There are boundaries of the body that are established through dieting, cosmetic surgery, and posture, which ‘discipline’ the body to be seen as a limitation, rather than a space for expression” (p. 216). In regard to gender, men’s’ body serves as a means of exploration, whereas the female body is perceived as an enclosure. Therefore, the physical process can be used in establishing limits and boundaries of the personal body, although social inculcation can defines individuality, more or less the same way as the physical process.

The Expressive Body

The body is also believed to be a significant instrument for communication and interpersonal interaction. It is in the body where emotions are generated and expressed. In most cases, emotional reactions determine the interaction between individuals, which are manifested as verbal communication. Physical contact is also believed to be a reliable mode of communication between individuals; thus, self-expression occurs in different ways.

The Knowledgeable Body

Fourthly, the body serves as storage for information, in which knowledge is stored in the mind. On the other hand, the body plays a significant role in transforming knowledge into skills. Transformation of knowledge into skills is manifested by the physical activities of the body. Kelland (2006) states that, “individuals have knowledge, information and experiences that are stored within the body and the mind, and whose presence and origins may be outside their everyday awareness” (p. 218). It is believed that physical skills and tactical memory are stored in the body for tacit understanding. As a result, knowledge stored within the bodies of different individuals can only be expressed in diverse ways with regard to the uniqueness of the stored information. However, it is worth noting that physical skills can only be expressed by individuals who possess appropriate features to communicate the knowledge; thus, knowledge appears to be a significant embodiment in individuals. This aspect enables individuals to undertake various activities in their day-to-day life, especially within organizations because; the individuals’ bodies are filled with knowledge.

The Political Body

Inscription manifests the political body, in which an individual’s identity is defined with regard to culture, gender and race. As a result, political relationship among groups and individuals can be explored with regard to the body and, the involvement of technologies distinguishes bodies as maps of power and identity (Haraway, 2001). Concisely, modern sociologists believe that human perception and understanding of the environment is attributed to the body. Therefore, bodies, which do not manifest appropriate norms, are excluded in the ecosystem; thus, the body can be theorized as the political body.

The Body in Symbolic Interaction

From a phenomenal perspective, the body is can be regarded to as a subject and object because; it serves as a symbol of self and it also defines an individual. Therefore, experiences of embodiment are usually related to the body. In general, the body plays a pivotal role in symbolic interaction. It is used in performance, narration, embodiment and the interpretation of expressions. It also serves as trace of culture. Some sociologists believe that the body serves as a significant instrument, which defines personhood and society (Waskul & Vannini, 2005).

Body as Performance: The Dramaturgical Body

The dramaturgical body is believed to emphasize on human agency, especially with regard to the analytical and the conceptual framework. In most cases, social and cultural rituals produce experiences of embodiment among individuals in the society. This is so because; rituals are practised at both personal and communal levels. Waskul and Vannini (2005) state, “In our society the character one performs and one’s self are somewhat equated and this self-as-character is usually seen as something housed within the body of its possessor” (p. 6).

In the cultural dances, the body performs numerous roles in expressing different meanings. Therefore, drama is usually staged or performed with the body serving as a significant element of performance.

Reflexivity as Embodiment: The Looking-Glass Body

On the other hand, the body possesses the social self, which correlates all the senses of individuality. Therefore, it is assumed that interactions among individuals are based on reflexivity of the body. As such, the body assumes a looking-glass appearance, especially with regard to the functions of its components. For instance, the eye is believed to play a sociological function through which individuals interact. Mutual glances among individuals serve as significant means of interaction.

Moreover, the observation of bodies enables individuals to interpret the images observed from the imaginary perspective and, this aspect enables individuals to imagine their personal appearance. It also enables individuals to interpret judgment of the perceived appearance, leading to a self-feeling, which is usually expressed as mortification or pride (Waskul & Vannini, 2005). Therefore, bodies appear to be interactively embodied; thus, assuming the looking-glass appearance.


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Sociology of the Body. Forms of "Body" and its Connection to Health Issues
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Patrick Kimuyu (Author), 2018, Sociology of the Body. Forms of "Body" and its Connection to Health Issues, Munich, GRIN Verlag,


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