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19 maggio 2011

Embodiment and mindful body: Nancy Scheper Hughes, Thomas Csordas

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[Translation by Enzo Pizzolo]

Our body’s representations – the techniques of production of sense, of control of sexuality and emotions – organize and structure in the worlds of daily life the ways of feeling and living our body; so as in clinical life and in a doctor and a specialist’s authoritative reports, case sheets and pathology’s definitions are devices of reification of it. And the symptom is the moment where our body resists to social and political results of poverty and illness, but also a bodily idiom legitimated and recognized by Biomedicine’s languages.

Our body is a social and a political construction where a collective and an invidual dimension of experience, languages, symbols and social structures are interlaced. According to this point of view, pathology, for Nancy Scepher Hughes, in the backgrounds of poverty and social discrimination, is, both the overflowing effect of biopolitics and of the strong powers on our body; and the expression, the way of wording the experience of marginality: in other words the incorporation of uncertain conditions of life.

The term-concept of “mindful body” freezes and turns over our convinctions, the dichotomic categories of the Cartesian science and philosophy, the conceptual schemes of observation, reading and reification of our body in the Western culture. Our body is a precipitate of emotions, passions and conversational practices in a normative frame, in a compulsory set of rules that circumscribes the borders of “normal” and “deviant”, “pleasure” and “sexuality”.

A special attention in the Western culture’s economy of bodies deserves the essentialist definition of identity, interiorized and expressed as “natural”; in other words, this is a changeless, neverending essence and not an “in fieri” construction. Identical, as defined, is always equal to itself, strandardized by science and biopolitchs’ linguistical devices that contended to Church and State, between public and private, the control of our bodies and of incarnate subjectivities.

The second term-concept I’d like to analise is “embodiment”, formulated by the anthropologist Thomas Csordas that describes both an attitude of our body to incorporate techniques and social devices, and a creative vocation to invent and incorporate new and different expressive operative ways.
It’s a descriptive concept of our bodily dimension in the junction between subjective and intersubjective dimension of experience, the strategies of resistance to control-devices and the normative set of rules of behavioural codes, of prohibitions and bodily prescriptions. So, our body is both presence and project in the world, bodily produtcion, and sedimentation of languages and practices of the strong powers on itself.

Therefore, the research on our body has to restart from the ways of incorporation and from the styles of bodily objectivation, from the historical and cultural variability of the relationships between mind and body, from knowledges and bodily practices, from our body’s social construction.
Yet, inverting the causal relation between the historical and cultural determination of the processes of incorporation and our body’s resistance to the inscriptions of biopower, the ways of bodily production, the neverending creative invention of our body’s expressive techniques, break up and confuse language’s powers and sedimentations: from clay to nets, from mass-media to new media, as far as cyberspace’s nowherelands; piercing, tatoos and bodily writings, video-writing and computer-graphic eroded the borders of “inorganic” and “organic”.

Our body is a text, technique and language which overturns knowledges and hegemonic cultures of it.
Also the semiotical turning-point in Anthropology – Clifford Geertz defined culture as a text and a system of symbols – suggests an analogy between our body’s materiality and a text, between the activity of bodily production and textuality as an activity of production that creates the text itself. Our body is a conversational production, a text to read and to interpret.

Yet, Csordas says, the definition of “text-body”, removed the simultaneity of the processes of incorporation of experience and of the activity of symbolic production, privileging colloquial production and our body’s bodily construction. Our body, in fact, is not only an activity of production and construction of sense but also an incorporation of the ways to live it.

The processess of incorporation of experience are ways of cultural elaboration, production and reproduction. Therefore, incorporation is a process that we can analise thanks to the new interpretative schemes of an Anthropology from our body, it’s the level of observation of the activity of bodily production of culture and social reality – and of an Anthropology of the body – where the benchmark of the analysis is the arbitrariness and the hegemony of the strong powers over our bodies, the colloquial ways that, removed from the field of consciusness, become common sense not argued.

The applicative potentialities offered by the new terms can be tested in the field.
The concept-term “embodiment” is also a useful means for the critical analysis of a medical student’s ways of learning in the formative processes, the removal of our body’s peculiarities and its capacitity to make things happen, as incarnate subjectivity. An anatomical dissection of a corpse, in a room where surgical departments are practiced, and the reification of a patient’s body are experiences that are able to transform a person and to incorporate into his/her glance knowledge and medical practices.

The training of the glance alters the student’s ways of feeling: our body becomes an inert object to explore, the parts of the body can be touched, cut. A body-corpse, a bunch of organs, is the only object of observation of an apprentice doctor. A look at the body-corpse, a biomedical decontextualized thing of observation – and also a medical student’s one – , is therefore, not exhaustive. It’s a partiality imposed by science’s methodological requirements. We have to ask to a doctor and a medical student to replace now their glances and to observe critically the definitions of “health” and “illness”, the nosological labels that give a name to pain and to the incorporated experience of poverty and disease as objective facts, strategical elements of science.

The definitions of our bodily condition in a case sheet describe an alteration, a deviancy of our body from a perfect health and remove the social and political determining factors of illness: undernourishment, poverty, marginalization, unemployment. It’s a structural violence on our body that becomes natural evidence keeping secret the relation between political and economical dynamics of oppression – and control – of our bodies and social agonies.

Therefore, the symptom is not only an alteration of our body, the indicator of a pathological condition expressed by a patient, but is also a metaphor, an incorporated act of resistance of our body to political, social – and not medical – determining factors of disease. And the request of medicalization expresses a need of legitimation of pain.
Anthropological and social sciences are asking now to focus on economical and politcal causes of pain, local structures of power on our bodies, the processes of exclusion from the access to resources, chronic undernourishment and illness as incorporated metaphores of inequality.

And they sharpen their interpretative schemes, their ways of reading our body: embodiment and mindful-body that allow to analise our body’s experience both as a way of sedimentation of social processes – of colloquial practices in our bodies – and of bodily production, resistance to the estabilished authorities of the biopolitics of bodies.

Bibliography

Berger Peter, Luckmann Thomas 1966, La realtà come costruzione sociale, Edizioni Comunità
Clifford James 1999 I frutti puri impazziscono, Torino, Einaudi
Canevacci Massimo (a cura di), 2003, Avatar n.4 Corpo, Meltemi
Csordas Thomas J., 1994 Embodiment and Experience Cambridge University Press
Fabbri P. 1998 La svolta semiotica, Bari, Laterza
Fabietti Ugo, (a cura di), 2006, Antropologia, anno 3 numero 3, Corpo, Meltemi
Galimberti U. 2003 Il corpo, Milano, Feltrinelli
George Marcus, Michael Fischer, 1986, Antropologia come critica culturale, Meltemi
Geertz Clifford, 1987, Interpretazioni di culture, Il Mulino.
Haraway D.J. 1999 Manifesto cyborg, Milano, Feltrinelli
Perniola M.1994 Il sex appeal dell’inorganico, Torino, Einaudi
Pizza Giovanni, 2007, Antropologia Medica, saperi pratiche e politiche del corpo, Carocci
Scheper-Hughes, Nancy (1987) ‘The Mindful Body Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1(1): 6-41
Volli Ugo,
1997 Feticismo e altro idolatrie, Milano, Feltrinelli
1998 Block Modes, Milano, Lupetti
2000 Manuale di semiotica, Bari, Laterza
2002 Figure del desiderio, Milano, Raffaello Cortina

Our body’s representations are a human production in the simultaneity of the perception from body and of body and, at the same time, are a talkative, social and political expression that closes, only temporarily, corporeality’s experience in a never, once and for all, articulated definition. A gesture, a word, are a body’s technique and our body is a tool absorbing shared and common experience’s techniques and knowledge, that learns to place itself in a social context and on dailiy life’s limelight :we have techniques to eat, to bear, to dance, to walk and love. They’re embodied techniques and knowledge.

There’s no matter-body as a space distinct from knowledge and techniques embodied into the processes of primary and secondary socialization (Marcel Mauss, 1950). There’s no separateness between feeling and evidence of our body, between a perception, from our body, of a certain experience of reality and a perception of our body that becomes object to itself. In summary, between object and subject of knowledge from our body and of our body. The paradox of separateness mind/body is Western culture’s aporia.

Our mind-body feeds itself with “otherness”, it’s a metabolization of the other than self, of its difference. And the other than self is a costitutive part, peculiar of every possible identity. The other than self crosses us. In this process of retroaction between “the self” and “the other than self” our mind-body feeds itself wih other “selves”. Our identity and our body-mind are (in)formed by heterogeneous and far from ours substances, they’re are changing and procedural entities.

In fact, there’s no human and social dimension in the “identical”, in the solitude of my “self” in the mirror, in my serial “self”: its place is the square, the crowd. Then, the “otherness” of our mind-body, can be defined no more as singular identity, as rational unit of Logos but rather as “fictio” modelled in its form, in the circularity between an individual dimension of experience and a collective, social and political side of it.

A special attention in the Western culture’s economy of bodies deserve the essentialist definitions of identity and body, interiorized and expressed as fixed and defined once and for all; in other words, this is a changeless, neverending essence and not an “in fieri” construction. Identical, as defined, is always equal to itself, strandardized by science and biopolitchs’ linguistical devices that contended to Church and State, between public and private, the control of our bodies and of embodied subjectivities. Identical, as defined, is always equal to itself, standardized by science and biopolitchs’ linguistical devices that contended to Church and State, between public and private, the control of our bodies and of embodied subjectivities.

Only in the second half of the Twentieth century, in anthropological science, our mind-body becomes object of observation, problematic unit of analysis that feeds itself with the cultural and political humus of the Seventies, where, for the first time, a widespread coscience (that our body’s definitions and its borders are a cultural, historical and social construction; inscriptions of the language, of biopolitics, and of our body’s knowledge on itself) matured. It’s’ a first break that doesn’t corrode the great points of views about our body, and the dichotomic categories body/mind, body/soul, body/psyche of the western Theology, Science and Philsophy.

A completely disembodied “self” was (and still is) in the Western culture, the lowest common denominator of a unitary theory, strategic for every field of Knowledge where a biological data, our body’s materiality, seems to become independent from subject’s embodied experience and from social and productive relations. The authoritative representations of our body, the dichotomic categories of the Western culture, Biomedical science, Theology and Positivist Scientism – mind/body, nature/culture, matter/soul, on the one hand, have hidden our body’s social and collective construction, and, on the other, the feeling and the bodily production of the body itself.

Psycology and Psychoanalysis, as a matter of fact, spot an essence, psyche distinct from body-matter becoming a doctor, a surgeon and an anatomopathologist’s mute object of observation in a room where surgical departments are practiced: a corpse. Bare matter that, removed our body’s ambivalence, is no more the heart of symbolic irradiation.

In the same way, in Christian Theology, the trascendental order, our soul, appears more real than our body’s evidence. In the flesh is desire and desire is a disvalue, sin and luciferin temptation. Salvation is in good works accumulation that makes even invidual salvation’s budget. Descartes, instead, runs through again the traces of the Greek Philosophy, of Platonic dualism, with the binary opposition body/mind that crossed the Western culture and history. The certainty to exist as a thought, the Cartesian “cogito ergo sum” removes our body’s symbolic evidence (from the greek “synballein”, to gather together) and makes a splitting (diaballein) from reality: the “res cogitans”, (a disembodied and decontextualized self to which it attributes the quality of the unlimitedness, of the freedom and of the consciousness) and the “res extensa”, the limited and unaware matter.

Both in the United States and in Europe, authoritative anthropologists, (that, already in the Eighties, used to read and interpret the body-text and its polysemic geography as sense-opening, place of an expressive system called coscience, of the meeting bewteen me and the other than me destabilizing every certainty of mine about the world), already had this disjunctive logic’s binary oppositions as first object of their critical observation.

A body is not only my embodied subjectivity, it’s also sensoriality, without which, I can neither live the world nor think about it; it’s the first expressive place of coscience, of my experience as adhesion to my bodily condition. In Italy, Umberto Galimberti too, an Italian anthropologist and philosopher told, in a good way, the recomposition program that had to be made.

Until Medicine, Psychiatry and Psychoanalysis won’t achieve our body’s ambivalence, overcoming the Cartesian disjunction between res cogitans and res extensa, between body and mind, soma and psyche, they, not only, will continue to treat a body as any nature’s object but also as regards desease, they will be in the conditions to consider explained and understood, a phenomenon, somatization, that is polemically discussed by organicists and psycologistis: both of them busy to make coincide the two parts of a unity that, not nature but science’s methodological requirements, have improprerly kept divided and separated. [Galimberti,1987:14]

Here I mean to analyze two innovative key-concepts of the anthropological research on our body. The first important concept is mindful-body by Nancy Scheper-Hughes (1987), teacher of Medical Anthropology in Berkeley,University of California. The second is embodiment, formulated by the anthropologist, Thomas Csordas (1994), teacher of Bodily Anthropology and Phenomenology, in San Diego, University of California. Two ways of considering our body from which it’s possibile to start again to test the simultaneity of the two bodily dimensions: from our body as exploring subject, and of our body as object of observation.

In an article published by Nancy Scheper-Hughes in 1987, “The mindful body, a prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology”, our body is defined as an “in fieri” construction in the interlacement between dynamics of production, riproduction and cultural reinvention. Our body is the place where Christian Theology and science’s talkative practices have been sedimented. It’s, also and above all, the theatre of experience and knowledge: a body full of mind, sensorial, tactile, olfactory and visual experience.

Our body’s representations – the techniques of production of sense, of control of sexuality and emotions – organize and structure in the worlds of daily life the ways of feeling and living our body; so as in clinical life and in a doctor and a specialist’s authoritative reports, case sheets and pathology’s definitions are devices of reification of it. But the symptom is not only a bodily idiom legitimated and recognized by Biomedicine’s languages but also the moment of awareness and of resistance of our body to biological, social and political results of poverty and illness.

Our body, in biomedical languages, is, in fact, a talkative, social and political construction but in it – and in every socio-cultural order – the three symbolic dimensions of experience (social, political and individual) are not divided. According to this point of view, pathology in the backgrounds of poverty and social discrimination, is, for Nancy Scepher Hughes, both the overflowing effect of biopolitics and of biopowers on our body; and embodiment of precarious conditions of existence, the ways of wording and expressing the experience of marginality and pain.

The term-concept of “Mindful body” freezes and turns over our convinctions, the dichotomic categories of the Cartesian science and philosophy, the conceptual schemes of observation, reading and reification of our body normalized by knowledge-powers’ talkative and prescriptive practices that circumscribe the borders of “desire”, “identity”, “normal”,“deviant”,“pleasure” and “sexuality” illness and health. The second term-concept I’d like to analise is “embodiment”, formulated by the anthropologist Thomas Csordas that describes both an attitude of our body to incorporate techniques and social devices, and a creative vocation to invent and embody new and different expressive operative ways. It’s a descriptive concept of our bodily dimension in the junction between subjective and intersubjective dimension of experience, the strategies of resistance to control-devices and the normative set of rules of behavioural codes, of prohibitions and bodily prescriptions. So, our body is both presence and project in the world, bodily produtcion, and embodiment of techniques and bodily techniques, of the languages of knowledge-powers languages and practices on itself.  Therefore, the research on our body has to restart from the ways of embodiment and from the styles of bodily objectivation, from the historical and  cultural variability of the relationships between mind and body, from knowledges and bodily practices, from our body’s social construction.

Yet, inverting the causal relation between the social, historical and cultural determination of the processes of embodiment and our body’s resistance to the inscriptions of biopower, we can say that the new ways of bodily production, the creative invention of our body’s expressive techniques, confuse language, science and culture’ s sedimentations: from clay to nets, from mass-media to new media, as far as cyberspace’s nowherelands; piercing, tatoos and bodily writings, video-writing and computer-graphic the capacity of our body to make things happen, expresses an incessant production of new and far from ours modalities of embodiment of the material and symbolic dimensions of existence, of other techniques and knowledge that dissolve the power of the hegemonic cultures of our body.

Also the semiotical turning-point in Anthropology – Clifford Geertz defined culture as a text and a system of symbols – suggests a comparison between our body’s materiality and a text, between the activity of bodily production and textuality as an activity of production that creates the text itself. Our body is a conversational production, a text to read and to interpret.

Yet, following Geertz, Csordas says, the analogy between culture, body and text, removed, as a matter of fact, the simultaneity of the processes of embodiment of experience and of the activity of symbolic production. Our body, in fact, is not only an activity of production and construction of sense but also an incorporation of expressive techinques and of the ways to live it.

Therefore, embodiment is a process that we can analise thanks to the new interpretative schemes of an Anthropology from our body, it’s the level of critical observation of corporeist cultures and of social reality and of an Anthropology of the body – where the benchmark of the analysis is the arbitrariness and the hegemony of the strong powers over our bodies, the colloquial ways that, removed from the field of consciusness, become common sense not argued. The applicative potentialities offered by the new terms can be tested in the field.

The applicative potentialities offered by the new terms can be tested in the field.

The concept-term “embodiment” is also a useful means for the critical analysis of a medical student’s ways of learning in the formative processes, in the removal of our body-mind’s

peculiarities: its ambivalence and its capacitity to make things happen, as embodied subjectivity. An anatomical dissection of a corpse, in a room where surgical departments are practiced, and the reification of a patient’s body are experiences that are able to transform a person and to embody into his/her biomedical competences.

The training of the glance on a corpse in a room where surgical departments are practiced alters the student’s ways of feeling: our body becomes an inert object to explore, the parts of the body can be touched, cut. A body-corpse, a bunch of organs, is the only object of observation of an apprentice doctor. A look at the body-corpse, a biomedical science’s

decontextualized thing of observation – and  also a medical student’s one – , is therefore, not exhaustive. It’s a partiality imposed by science’s methodological requirements. We have to ask to a doctor and a medical student to replace now their glances and to observe critically the definitions of “health” and “illness”, the nosological labels that give a name to pain a as objective facts, strategical elements of science.

We have to ask to a doctor and a medical student to replace now their glances and to observe critically the definitions of “health” and “illness”, the nosological labels that give a name to pain, as a matter of fact, strategical element of science.

The definitions of our bodily condition in a case sheet describe an alteration, a deviancy of our body from a perfect health and remove the social and political determining factors of illness: undernourishment, poverty, marginalization, unemployment. It’s a structural violence on our body that becomes natural evidence keeping secret the relation between political and economical dynamics of oppression of our bodies and social agony.

Therefore, the symptom is not only the indicator of an organic alteration of our body, of a pathological condition, but it’s also a metaphor, an incorporated act of resistance of our body, of a patient, in his/her entireness, to political, social – and not medical – determining factors of disease. And the request of medicalization expresses a need of care and of legitimation of social and bodily pain.

Anthropological and social sciences are asking now to focus on – not medical – economical and politcal causes of pain, of suffering; on local structures of power on our bodies: the processes of exclusion from the access to resources, chronic undernourishment and illness as embodied metaphores of inequality.

And they sharpen their interpretative schemes, their theoretical ways of reading our body: embodiment and mindful-body that allow to analise our body’s experience of ilness, the research of a care both as a way of sedimentation of social processes – of colloquial and medical practices in our bodies – and of bodily production, resistance to the estabilished authorities of the biopolitics of bodies.

Bibliography

Berger Peter, Luckmann Thomas 1966, La realtà come costruzione sociale, Edizioni Comunità
Clifford James 1999 I frutti puri impazziscono, Torino, Einaudi
Canevacci Massimo (a cura di), 2003, Avatar n.4 Corpo, Meltemi
Csordas Thomas J., 1994 Embodiment and Experience Cambridge University Press
Fabbri P. 1998 La svolta semiotica, Bari, Laterza
Fabietti Ugo, (a cura di), 2006, Antropologia, anno 3 numero 3, Corpo, Meltemi
Galimberti U. 2003 Il corpo, Milano, Feltrinelli
George Marcus, Michael Fischer, 1986, Antropologia come critica culturale, Meltemi
Geertz Clifford, 1987, Interpretazioni di culture, Il Mulino.
Haraway D.J. 1999 Manifesto cyborg, Milano, Feltrinelli
Perniola M.,1994 Il sex appeal dell’inorganico, Torino, Einaudi
Pizza Giovanni, 2007, Antropologia Medica, saperi pratiche e politiche del corpo, Carocci
Scheper-Hughes Nancy, 1987, ‘The Mindful Body Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1(1): 6-41
Volli Ugo,
1997 Feticismo e altro idolatrie, Milano, Feltrinelli
1998 Block Modes, Milano, Lupetti
2000 Manuale di semiotica, Bari, Laterza
2002 Figure del desiderio, Milano, Raffaello Cortina

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