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Bodies and Public Space: Introduction and Contents
An introduction to "Bodies and Public Space" with links to course readings and materials.
How do our embodied experiences change depending on where we are and the social norms governing particular spaces? How do historical legacies and accompanying power dynamics that attach themselves to certain marked bodies determine not just how we view and experience ourselves, but also how others come to view and understand who we are in the world? This section of Bodies will engage with these questions alongside of how discourses of race, class, gender, sexuality, nationality, ability, among other embodied positionings, come to affect our worldview and our views of others. We will read Between the World and Me by Ta-Nehisi Coates and The Complete Persepolis by Marjane Satrapi in addition to engaging with contemporary pop culture representations, spoken word, and current events.
The full course syllabus can be found on our Canvas shell, along with course assignments and a few additional course readings. Below you will find the reading schedule with hyperlinks to the readings available through our online reader!
BODIES IN THE WORLD
Week One: Theories of Embodiment
T 8/29 Introductions. Review Syllabus
“Why the Body?” (Bodies)
In class: Breathing Exercise
TH 8/31 “Embodiment,” and “Intersectionality” (Bodies)
Elizabeth Grosz, "Refiguring Bodies" (Bodies)
In class: What are your social locations?
Week Two: Cultural Norms, Stigmas, and Bodily Difference DISCUSSION POST #1
T 9/5 “Cultural Norm,” and “Stigma” (Bodies)
Silja J. A. Talvi, “Marked for Life: Tattoos and Redefinition of Self” (Canvas)
Carolyn Mackler, “Memoirs of a (Sorta) Ex-Shaver” (Canvas)
In class: How have our own bodies been stigmatized?
TH 9/7 “Bodily Difference” (Bodies)
“Why are Glasses Perceived Differently Than Hearing Aids?” (Bodies)
Erin J. Aubry, “The Butt: Its Politics, Its Profanity, Its Power” (Canvas)
In class: “Fighting the Stigma of Disability”
SMALL GROUP FACILITATION #1
Week Three: Disciplining the Body DISCUSSION POST #2 DUE
T 9/12 Michel Foucault, “Panopticism” (Bodies)
Katy Waldman, “The Tyranny of the Smile” (Bodies)
Olga Khazan, “Why Americans Smile So Much” (Bodies)
In class: Screen “Bitchy Resting Face”
In class: Review Body Project Assignment, Brainstorm Session
TH 9/14 Michel Foucault, “Docile Bodies” (Bodies)
Jennifer Berger, “Initmate Enemies” (Canvas)
Lisa Jervis, “My Jewish Nose” (Bodies)
In class: Preliminary Topic Choice
BODIES AND SPACE IN THE U.S. CONTEXT
Week Four: Bodies, Privilege, and Public Space DISCUSSION POST #3 DUE
T 9/19 Zenovia Toloudi, "Are We in the Midst of a Public Space Crisis?"
Rachel Kolb, “The Deaf Body in Public Space” (Bodies)
Julie Guthman, “‘If They Only Know’: Colorblindness and Universalism in
California Alternative Food Institutions” (Bodies)
TH 9/21 T. J. West, "Are You Gay? Public Space, the Closet, and the Exercise of Privilege" (Bodies)
Field Trip! Bring your notebook, a utensil, your observation, and walking shoes!
Week Five: The Racialized Body in Public Space DISCUSSION POST #4 DUE
T 9/26 Michael Omi and Howard Winant, “Racial Formations” (Bodies)
Brent Staples, “Black Men in Public Space” (Bodies)
TH 9/28 Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (pp. 1-71)
Fred Kent, “Fear, Isolation, and Public Spaces (Bodies)
Project Proposal Due Sunday, October 1 by midnight (Canvas)
Week Six: Black Men and Public Space FIELDWORK ANALYSIS #1 DUE
T 10/3 Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (pp. 72-130)
Darnell Moore, "Urban Spaces and the Mattering of Black Lives" (Bodies)
TH 10/5 Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me (pp. 130-152)
Kayla Renee Parker, "Black Women vs. White Men in Public Spaces:
A Crosswalk Experiment and Relevance” (Bodies)
SMALL GROUP FACILITATION #2
Week Seven: Women and Public Space DISCUSSION POST #5 DUE
T 10/10 No class. Fall Recess. Enjoy!
TH 10/12 Lisa Moricoli, “Double Life: Everyone Wants to See Your Breasts
Until Your Baby Needs Them” (Canvas)
In class: Screen Killing Us Softly 4
Week Eight: Gender and Public Space DISCUSSION POST #6 DUE
T 10/17 Ada Guzman, “What Happens When Women Manspread” (Bodies)
“Women Try Manspreading for a Week” (Bodies)
“What is Manspreading?” (Bodies)
In class: Body Project Fieldwork Reports
TH 10/19 Nico Lang: “Separate Is Never Equal: What Hidden Figures Says
About America’s Trans Bathroom Debate” (Bodies)
Jeannie Suk Gersen, “The Transgender Bathroom Debate and
the Looming Title IX Crisis” (Bodies)
SMALL GROUP FACILIATION #3
BODIES IN A GLOBALIZED WORLD
Week Nine: Transnational Bodies DISCUSSION POST #7 DUE
T 10/24 Shani Mootoo, “Out on Main Street” (Bodies)
TH 10/26 June Jordan, “Report from the Bahamas” (Canvas)
Reflection Paper on Embodied Experience due Sunday by midnight (Canvas)
Week Ten: Religion, Sexuality, and Public Space FIELDWORK ANALYSIS #2 DUE
T 10/31 Leila Ahmed, “On Becoming an Arab (A Personal History)” (Bodies)
TH 11/2 Alok Vaid-Menon, "(A)Head of Her Times: The Sexual Politics of the
Headscarf in the Netherlands" (Bodies)
Krista Tippett, "The Veil as Resistance: Muslim Women
and Social Change in Egypt" (Bodies)
SMALL GROUP FACILITATION #4
Annotated Bibliography due Sunday by midnight (Canvas)
Week Eleven: Religion and Public Space DISCUSSION POST #8 DUE
T 11/7 The Complete Persepolis (pp.1-79)
"The Islamic Veil Across Europe" (Bodies)
TH 11/9 The Complete Persepolis (pp.80-188)
SMALL GROUP FACILITATION #5
Week Twelve: Hybrid Bodies and Public Space
T 11/14 The Complete Persepolis (p.189-257)
TH 11/16 The Complete Persepolis (p.258-319)
Researched Embodied Experience Paper due Sunday by midnight (Canvas)
T 11/21 The Complete Persepolis (p.321-end)
In class screening of Persepolis
TH 11/23 No class. Thanksgiving Break.
Week Fourteen: Drafting the Final Project
T 11/28 Small Group Working Session
TH 11/30 Small Group Drafts Due
Week Fifteen: Dress Rehearsals!
T 12/5 Group Project Presentations
TH 12/7 Group Project Presentations
Final Exam Time for Bodies Projects Exhibits:
W 12/13 Core Convivium 2:30-5:30pm
“We are and we are not our bodies.” - Virginia Woolf, The Waves
Definition and Context
In contrast to the Cartesian mind-body dualism that suggests the life of the mind and the life of the body are two distinct entities—in which life of the mind is considered more important than the life of the body—the concept of embodiment conceives of the body as absolutely central to our existence in the world. Theories of the body suggest that the lived bodies we inhabit affect our self-identity and beingness in the world, thereby affecting our experiences, belief systems, and worldviews. In other words, it is impossible to experience the world without our bodies! Through this lens, the body is not simply a biological object that is acted upon, but an interface through which we interact with the world. Rather than posing the body as something to be “overcome,” concepts of embodiment find value in the lived experience of the body.
Theorists such as Elizabeth Grosz historicize this dismissal of the body by suggesting that Western culture has been steeped in a deep “somatophobia,” or fear of the body, that dates back to ancient Greece (5). Within this mind-body dualism, the sentient (feeling) body is viewed as a hindrance to logic and rational thought. In fact, in Volatile Bodies (1994), Grosz goes as far as to suggest that “philosophy as we know it has established itself as a forming of knowing, a form of rationality, only through the disavowal of the body, specifically the male body, and the corresponding elevation of mind as a disembodied term” (4). This is a problem for Grosz on many fronts. One of her main issues with this view is that it devalues the experiences of people who are not encased in male bodies, in addition to discounting perception and emotion as fundamental to a three-dimensional understanding of human existence.
While certain theories and philosophies continue to downplay the importance of the body, other fields of knowledge locate the body at the center of their fields of inquiry. For example, the centrality of the body as a site of knowledge is deeply important to the disciplinary fields of sociology (the study of social behaviors and society) and anthropology (the study of peoples and cultures). Within these fields of study, the body is considered the focal point through which cultural norms and stigmas are played out. These bodies of thought are rooted in a phenomenological framework that reject an artificial separation between mind and body.
Theories of Embodiment
Social theorists, particularly those in gender studies, ethnic studies, and critical race studies, also position the body as an essential component of study. Kimberlé Crenshaw’s concept of intersectionality, in addition to The Combahee River Collective Statement, were foundational texts in framing contemporary social theorists’ understanding that it’s not just “the body” that is important to understanding human existence, but bodies in their specificities and multiplicities. In other words, there is no neutral, one-size-fits-all body upon which theories of embodiment are founded. One cannot talk about a “woman’s body” without also discussing race, class, ethnicity, sexuality, ability, nationality, etc. This is because what it means to be “woman” cannot be separated out from the unique social matrix that accounts for all of our self-identities and embodied experiences!
In fact, because it is the white male body that is considered the “default” body in Western culture (as Grosz reminds us), it is not enough to consider the specificities of bodies on an equal playing field; we must also consider them in relation to institutions of power. Because not all bodies are given equal power, or social capital, in society, and we must attend to what the cultural norms are that determine which bodies are viewed as more valuable, and therefore allotted more privilege, in any given society. This is what French theorist Michel Foucault refers to as biopolitics, the practice in which certain bodies and lives are granted more cultural worth than others. How such value is determined is connected with Foucault’s concept of docile bodies. To articulate this concept he argues that contemporary Western society increasingly regulates the body and treats it like a machine. In this sense, the body is “subjected, used, transformed, and improved” (136) to better uphold the cultural norms of the dominant society. This governance of the body is another reason why studies of embodiment matter—if the body has become a central mechanism of societal manipulation and control, then it is vital we understand how and why the body “means” in a myriad of social contexts.
Of course, concepts of embodiment are not only concerned with the “natural,” biological body. Increasingly, body theorists are interested in how technology changes our embodied experiences. In her germinal essay "A Cyborg Manifesto" (1991), Donna Haraway goes as far as to suggest that our increasing dependence on technology has extended the boundaries of the body, making each of us a cyborg of sorts. Whether we are typing on laptops, playing video games, utilizing virtual reality, using smart phones, or driving in the car, technology has become a fundamental aspect of our daily lives.
In short, theories of embodiment allow us to better understand ourselves and the world around us. When we start to pay attention to the lived body as a integral part of what it means to be human, we are better positioned to understand not only cultural norms, but also how many ways there are to “be” in the world.
Sources and Further Reading
Foucault, Michel. “Docile Bodies.” Discipline and Punish: The Birth of the Prison. Trans. Alan Sheridan. 2nd Edition. Vintage: New York, 1995: 139-145.
Foucault, Michel. “Right of Death and Power Over Life.” The History of Sexuality, Volume I. Trans. Robert Hurley. Vintage: New York, 1990: 139-143.
Grosz, Elizabeth. “Introduction: Refiguring Bodies.” Volatile Bodies: Toward a Corporeal Feminism. Indiana University Press: Bloomington, 1994: 3-24.
Howson, Alexandra. “Introduction: An embodied approach to self.” The Body in Society. 2nd Edition. Polity Press: Cambridge, 2013: 16-18.
Haraway, Donna. “A Cyborg Manifesto: Science, Technology, and Socialist-Feminism in the Late Twentieth Century.” Simians, Cyborgs, and Women: The Reinvention of Nature Routledge: New York, 1991: 149-181.
Patricia DeRocher, Ph.D.
Assistant Professor, Core Division