Phenomenology of the Body

Accompanying the interpretive turn of the last 25 years has been a growing emphasis on the body as a topic of social investigation. The work of Mauss (1935) has been rediscovered in this shift, with his conceptualization of habitus, the way social structure leaves its imprint on individuals through bodily training. Mauss maintained that bodily sensations and movements are affected by culture through acquired habits and somatic tacts. Elias's (1939/1978) work on the social development of bodily comportment and physical correctness was both a complement to and demonstration of bodily processes described by Mauss.

Today the body is a central focus of work in medical anthropology. The first step in addressing the body is to differentiate between representations of the body and the experiencing body. Turner (1992, p. 43) notes that anthropologists were traditionally concerned primarily with using the body as part of a social classificatory scheme rather than with understanding the phenomenology of the lived body, emphasizing how the body is represented and how culture is "inscribed" on the body rather than focus on the lived body. Scheper-Hughes and Lock (1987) captured a shift in the emerging emphasis on the body when they identified three bodies, or three different theoretical approaches and epistemologies: phenomenology (individual body, the lived self), structuralism and symbolism (the social body), and poststructuralism (the body politic). (For reviews of literature on the body, see Csordas, 1999; A. Frank, 1990; Lock, 1993; Lock & Scheper-Hughes, 1993; Scheper-Hughes & Lock, 1987; Turner, 1991, 1992.)

Concurrent with the interpretive turn that began some 40 years following the work of Mauss and Elias, anthropologists began turning in greater numbers to embodiment as a theoretical framework for the study of experience, and a wealth of literature has subsequently emerged on the experiencing body. A number of theoretical developments have emerged in phenomenological anthropology. Csordas (1994a, 1994b) articulated an approach grounded in Merleau-Ponty's concept of embodiment, which he designated cultural phenomenology, to refer to the synthesis of embodied experience and cultural meanings. In his extrapolation of Merleau-Ponty's concept of embodiment, Csordas emphasized its particularly anthropological application, viewing as a basic premise the necessity of understanding the body as the existential ground of culture, and that to use this model one must take "embodied experience [as] the starting point for analyzing human participation in a cultural world" (Csordas, 1993, p. 135).

Interrogating what is meant by experience has been one aspect of the development of a phenomenological approach. Although there is an extensive literature on the anthropology of experience (for example, Turner & Bruner, 1986), questions of what constitutes experience have recently been revisited by Desjarlais (1996), who questions whether "experience," as used by most social scientists, is a universal phenomenon. Tracing what experience has meant to social scientists, he concludes that it has come to convey "an aesthetic of integration, coherence, renewal, and transcendent meaning—of tying things together through time" (p. 87), and juxtaposes this characterization with the disjointed existence of mentally ill, homeless people.

Taking the embodiment construct beyond the individual into social collectivities has been an important feature of recent work in anthropology. Csordas (1993, pp. 137-139) has argued that embodiment forms the intersection between individual and collective experience, combining it with Bourdieu's understanding of the habitus as an unself-conscious orchestration of practices: "embodiment need not be restricted to the personal or dyadic micro-analysis customarily associated with phenomenology, but is relevant as well to social collectivities." This idea has also been developed by numerous ethnographers (see, for example, A. Becker, 1994, 1995; G. Becker, 1997, 2000; Csordas, 1994b, 1997; Desjarlais, 1992a; Devisch, 1993; Roseman, 1991; Scheper-Hughes, 1992; Stoller, 1995).

The use of metaphor has been an important focus of anthropological work. According to Fernandez (1974), metaphors frame and structure meaning: they have the ability to bind the past and future together and the ability to give the impression of coherence or "return to the whole" when exploration of the metaphor is fulfilled. The body is metaphor's ground: body metaphors provide a way to communicate bodily sensation, as well as social, cultural, and political meaning (G. Becker, 1997; M. Jackson, 1989). M. Jackson (1983, 1989) developed the idea of metaphor as praxis in his work on the Kuranko, and the embodied nature of metaphor has been explored by medical anthropologists (G. Becker, 1997; Csordas, 2000; Kirmayer, 1992; Low, 1994).

The linkage between embodiment and narrative has also received considerable attention in anthropology. The embodied aspects of narrative as expressed through the life story have received in-depth treatment by G. Frank (1979, 2000) and by Watson and Watson-Franke (1985). An overall approach to biography in anthropology has been rooted in phenomenology (Langness & Frank, 1981). Csordas (1994a) has drawn on Merleau-Ponty's (1962) idea that language is one way of disclosing the phenome-nological essence of embodiment, to suggest that the body be placed in a paradigmatic position complementary to the text rather than subsumed under the text metaphor; by doing so, body and textuality can be viewed as corresponding methodological fields, a suggestion also made by Stoller (1994). Similarly, M. Jackson (1996, p. 39) views narrative as a form of being as much as a way of saying, a crucial and constitutive part of the ongoing activity of the lifeworld. Kirmayer (1992) calls attention to the inescapable circularity between the order of the body and the order of the text, or narrative. Although narrative can be understood as only a partial expression of experience, it does provide one avenue for the exploration of emotion and the inchoate (G. Becker, 1997). Addressing the experience of illness and its narrative expressions has been a particular focus of phenomenological work, in particular individuals' efforts to reconcile or make sense of suffering (Ablon, 1999; G. Becker, 1997; Bluebond-Langner, 1996; Crossley & Crossley, 2001; Farmer, 1988; A. Frank, 1995; Garro, 1992; B. Good, 1977, 1994; Gordon, 1990; Gordon & Paci, 1997; Kleinman, 1988, 1992; Kleinman & Kleinman, 1994; Mattingly, 1998; Mattingly & Garro, 2000).

The literature on performance uses theories of embodiment and narrative in anthropology in its discussions, but these works emphasize the performative aspects of embodiment rather than embodiment itself. Performances are viewed as constituting action, that is, they are a tangible expression of embodiment (G. Becker, 1997; Bruner, 1986; Laderman & Roseman, 1996; Palmer & Jankowiak, 1996; Stoller, 1994). Work on performance is relevant to a larger discussion of phenomenology as it links to imagination, and several streams of research have been identified that contribute to a theory of performance (Csordas, 1996). (For examples of phenomenological work that emphasize performance see Csordas, 1997; Laderman & Roseman, 1996; Roseman, 1991; Stoller, 1989a, 1995.) Examined as a cohesive body of research, phenomenological emphases on narrative, metaphor, performance, and the bridge to social collectivities represent a rich, cohesive, and rapidly expanding assemblage of scholarship in medical anthropology.

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