mapping reflexive body techniques

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Artículo sobre las técnicas de mantenimiento del cuerpo


Body & Society Mapping Reflexive Body Techniques: On Body Modification and MaintenanceNick Crossley Body Society 2005; 11; 1 DOI: 10.1177/1357034X05049848 The online version of this article can be found at:

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Mapping Reexive Body Techniques: On Body Modication and MaintenanceNICK CROSSLEY

Much work in the sociology of the body has been devoted to an analysis of body modication and maintenance; that is, to practices such as diet, exercise, bodybuilding, tattooing, piercing, dress and cosmetic surgery (e.g. Crossley, 2004a, 2004b; DeMello, 2000; Entwistle, 2000; Featherstone, 1982, 2000; Gurney, 2000; Monaghan, 2001; Pitts, 1998, 2003; Rosenblatt, 1997; Sanders, 1988; Sassatelli, 1999a, 1999b; Smith, 2001; Sweetman, 1999; Turner, 1999). In this paper I seek to contribute to this work on two fronts. First, developing a theme already present in the literature, I explore the reexive and embodied nature of practices of modication/maintenance. It is very easy when discussing this topic to slip into a dualistic framework, opposing the body to either self or society and seeming to suggest that the former is transformed by the latter. We talk, for example, about my body, what I think of it, what I put it through and what I want it to look like. On one level this linguistic habit resonates with our experience. Our socially instituted capacity for reexivity allows us to turn back upon and objectify ourselves, effecting a distinction between what Mead (1967) referred to as the I and the me; the body as subject and the body as object. On this levelBody & Society 2005 SAGE Publications (London, Thousand Oaks and New Delhi), Vol. 11(1): 135 DOI: 10.1177/1357034X05049848

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Body and Society Vol. 11 No. 1

we both are our bodies and we have a body (Crossley, 2001). However, it is necessary to recognize this split as reexive rather than substantial in nature. It derives from our acquired capacity to assume the role of another and thereby to achieve an outside perspective on ourselves, a process which generates a sense of our being distinct from the qualities we identify with our self when assuming this other role. It does not indicate a substantial distinction between mind/self and body. It does not often even reect the emergent stratication between the body as a biochemical structure and the body as a sensuous, active agent. My body, the body I have, is a moral, aesthetic, acting and sensuous being. I worry as much about its appearance, performances and transgressions as I do about its biological structure. The best work in the sociology of the body recognizes this. It challenges dualism, insisting that I am my body and that body projects are therefore reexive projects (see esp. Crossley, 2001, 2004a; Entwistle, 2000; Monaghan, 1999; Smith, 2001; Sweetman, 1999; Wacquant, 1995, 2004). In this article I advance this idea through an exploration of what I call reexive body techniques (RBTs), a concept which builds upon Marcel Mausss (1979) concept of body techniques (see also Crossley, 1995, 2004a, 2004c) and upon my own earlier work on reexive embodiment (Crossley, 2001). The concept of RBTs, I will show, affords a powerful analytic purchase upon the embodied and reexive processes and practices involved in projects of body modication/maintenance and, indeed, upon the reexive separation of the embodied I and me. The concept of RBTs also frames my second theme: the social distribution and diffusion of practices of modication. Specically, I will demonstrate and seek to explain the fact that the overall repertoire of RBTs belonging to any group can always be differentiated into: (i) clusters which all members practise, (ii) clusters which the majority or a large minority practise and (iii) clusters which only a small minority practise. Furthermore, I will demonstrate and seek to explain the fact that within the zone of less widely practised RBTs we nd clusters which go together thematically and/or in the sense of being statistically associated. Recognizing this pattern of distribution is important because it alerts us both to the different meanings attaching to specic clusters and to their variable conditions of diffusion and appropriation; their levels of accessibility and the different balance of costs and rewards that attach to them. This is an important observation in relationship to our broader focus. General descriptions such as body modication and body maintenance can be misleading because they imply that we are dealing with a set of practices with a common identity, purpose, accessibility, etc. They fail to distinguish between the social logic of distinct sets of practices. This can lead to theoretical accounts which do likewise. Giddens (1991) theory of the body in late modernity, to take one

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Mapping Reexive Body Techniques


example, offers a single explanation of practices of body maintenance, based around the need for social agents to construct coherent self-narratives in an increasingly detraditionalized and risk-aware environment. This is arguably a good account in relationship to some practices of modication, perhaps diet and exercise (although see Crossley, 2004b). But it is far from obvious that it explains all modication practices. We are forced to ask whether other practices, including both more mundane and widespread practices, such as tooth-brushing and washing, and also more marginal practices, such as scarication and multiple piercing, can be explained in the same way. And even if they can we must question whether the difference in rates of uptake between such practices can be ignored, as it is by those who theorize body modication at a very high level of abstraction and generalization, in a largely undifferentiated fashion. The fact that some practices achieve an almost 100 percent rate of uptake in our society, whilst others are practised by less than 1 percent of the population, and others still by 30 percent, 40 percent or 50 percent is and should be question begging for sociologists of the body, as indeed should the clustering and association of specic techniques. They suggest the presence of a social dynamic we have not yet recognized or analysed. There are, of course, many focused empirical studies which explore in detail the specicities of particular practices, such as bodybuilding, piercing or cosmetic surgery (Davis, 1995; DeMello, 2000; Irwin, 2001; Klein, 1993; Klesse, 1999; Kosut, 2000; Monaghan, 1999, 2001; Myers, 1992; Pitts, 1998; Rosenblatt, 1997; Sanders, 1988; St Martin and Gavey, 1996; Sweetman, 1999; Turner, 1999; Vail, 1999). These are an important antidote to overgeneralized theories and they shed light upon individual practices. However, their specicity denies us the possibility of a broader, comparative grasp of the spectrum of practices to be found in contemporary societies. What is needed, to complement these studies, and what I hope to move towards in this article, is a broad and differentiated framework for thinking about body modication/maintenance in general; a framework that can draw a diverse range of practices together, while remaining sensitive to their particularities. The article will not take us all of the way to this goal but I hope at least to take a few important steps in that direction. A thorough analysis of patterns of differentiation, at least insofar as it includes consideration of different rates of uptake, requires that we integrate the qualitative methods and theoretical investigations common in the sociology of the body with certain more quantitative techniques, designed specically to enable exploration of distributions, associations, clustering, etc. Any of a range of such techniques might be used, from quite basic frequency distributions through to more complex statistical techniques. In this article, alongside frequency

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Body and Society Vol. 11 No. 1

distributions and cross-tabulation, I will use multi-dimensional scaling (MDS), a technique which allows us to visualize, in the form of scatterplots or perceptual maps, the statistical associations between large numbers of categorical variables (Canter, 1985; Kruskal and Wish, 1978). On an MDS plot we can see which RBTs go together, in the sense that practice of one is associated with practice of the other(s), because they form visible clusters. These statistical associations and clusters often reect thematic clustering. RBTs are statistically associated because they belong to a common lifestyle, habitus or self-narrative. Their association at the level of meaning increases the probability that agents drawn to one will be drawn to the other(s), which in turn generates a statistical association between them. Moreover, under certain conditions an MDS plot allows us, simultaneously, to map frequency distributions. One example of this is a pattern of distribution/interpretation, which I return to later, known as the radex (Canter, 1985). In a radex, variables (e.g. body techniques) which occur most frequently in a population cluster to


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