SOAS University of London

Department of Anthropology and Sociology

755 Anthropological Approaches to the Body and Embodiment

Module Code:

755 Anthropological Approaches to Bodies and Embodiment builds on the body of medical anthropology literature discussed in 754 Medical Anthropology: Global Perspectives and aims to deepen key aspects of the first half (subjectivity, bio politics, race). It can also be taken as a stand-alone module, in which case students who are unfamiliar with the discipline are encouraged to familiarise themselves with the field of social and medical anthropology. The emphasis on this module is on a) the materiality of bodies, substances, and practises, and b) on the anthropology of science and technology that explores how knowledge comes into being, how it gains traction in the world, and how it shapes existing subjectivities and creates new ways of being and relating. 

For the last thirty years the paradigm of the social sciences has been dominated by the idea of the social construction of categories, identities, facts and subjectivities. This paradigm, undergirded by Marxist and feminist critiques of the status quo, aimed to dislodge the idea of a natural order of the world. The material world thus became a surface in which human agency inscribed meaning through particular practises of knowing. Ironically, this approach, while liberating human agency, renders everything else in the world passive. More recent work on agency and matter has started to focus on the agency of substances and the often unanticipated effects that these have: blood, sperm, hormones, drugs (psychoactive or not) are no longer understood as just part of a cultural symbolic universe, but are facilitating kinship, create new forms of relatedness and community, and reshape both body and mind. At the same time new developments in medical technology such as transplantation medicine and IVF re-engage classical anthropological theories on in/alienability, commodification, embodiment, exchange and personhood. This fruitful conversation between cutting edge research and classical anthropology will inform the lectures. 


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