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Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 14:38:45 -0600 From: Catie Berkenfield Subject: Discourse, the Body, and Identity
Coupland, Justine and Richard Gwyn, ed. (2003) Discourse, the Body, and Identity, Palgrave-Macmillan.
Catie Berkenfield, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Linguistics, University of New Mexico.
This book, edited by Justine Coupland and Richard Gwyn, is a selection of papers from the Cardiff Roundtable in Language and Communication's theme session on 'Discourses of the Body,' held at the University of Wales in June, 1999. Two additional papers, those by Woodward and Lupton & Seymour, were also included. The contents of the book reflect both the discussion from the theme session and the efforts of individual authors or collaborators to rework their papers in order to contribute to an interdisciplinary understanding of 'Discourses of the Body.' This problem-centered volume draws on multiple disciplines and, thus, seeks to reach a wide audience of social scientists whose interests involve the relationships between the body and human discourses. The book consists of an introduction by the editors and three thematic sections: The Body as Interactional Resource (3 chapters), Ideological Representations of the Body (5 chapters), and The Body, Pathology and Constructions of Selfhood (3 chapters).
In the introduction to the book, Coupland and Gwyn provide a brief historical overview of the problem of embodiment in 20th century social science. Two important figures in the development of current perspectives on human bodies in and with discourse are Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault. Goffman's work on performativity and face led to a greater understanding of the role of human agency in interaction, the symbolic means of expressing and managing the body in interaction, and the relationship between the social body and the construction of self. Foucault's work on the institutions to which the body is subject gave us a way to locate the body historically and also to describe how high modern bodies produce and reproduce discourse. The editors include each paper as an example "of how discourses of the body, as they are revealed in talk, text and other semiotic practices, sustain a series of moral, ideological and practical positions ... to show how the body is articulated as discourse, and how, in turn, discourse articulates the body" (6). A working definition of 'discourse' is provided:
"the term discourse in the broadly Foucauldian sense of one (or more) particular, internally coherent set(s) of values and orientations, which is/are held to be normative, persuasive or simply unexceptional within specific groups or movements, which guides practical action, but which is configured around and through a finite set of claims, statements or accounts, amounting to a stance or (partial) world-view." (6)
The authors explicate several threads that help the reader to understand, in very general terms, the interdisciplinary nature of work on 'Discourses of the Body' in this volume. These include the following ideas: "ideological analysis needn't be purely speculative or abstract," "discourse analysis must be multimodal," "analysis must be culturally aware," "the body itself is not a stable phenomenon," and "representations and construals of the body impact directly on people's lives in the form of particular outcomes" (7-9).
The chapter concludes with an outline of the remaining chapters and a justification for the organization of the papers into the 3 parts. The body of the book is followed by an index of names and an index of subjects.
Part 1: The Body as an Interactional Resource
Ch. 2 The Body in Action, Charles Goodwin
Using videotaped data from a training at an archaeological field school, Goodwin describes what he calls "symbiotic gestures": these are action complexes that comprise material objects and cultural percepts in the world, gesture, and talk. He illustrates how such gestures involve mutual elaborations of these different semiotic systems that help to structure communication in a social environment and to reproduce the practices of archeology as a community discipline. If understanding is aided by the mutual interdependencies of semiotic systems, as Goodwin argues, then meaning may be located, although not exclusively, between systems rather than simply internal to a single system.
Ch. 3 Transcending the Object in Embodied Interaction, Jon Hindmarsh and Christian Heath
In this chapter, Hindmarsh and Heath discuss how people create meaning through talk, gesture, material objects, and the use of their bodies. Using videotaped data from design class presentations of invented objects, the authors illustrate how speakers use their bodies to orient their audience toward the object under discussion in particular ways. Then using videotaped data from medical consultations, the authors illustrate how patients use their bodies to show doctors the position, scope, and intensity of pain from earlier episodes of experienced pain. Of particular importance, both sources of data show that there is an interactional component to embodied communication in which a person will persist in using the body to communicate the perspective up until the point that the interlocutor acknowledges that perspective.
Ch. 4 Flirting, Alan Radley
Using a phenomenological approach to how flirting is embodied, Radley begins his chapter by arguing that flirting reflects a social valuation of play, both as a lack of serious commitment in the act of flirtation and in the sense that flirtation implies a refusal to hold meaning static in a more general way. Drawing on Goffman's (1951) discussion of categorical and expressive symbols, Radley argues that discourse and the body are not really separable when it comes to flirting because flirting creates a space in which the possible meaning of delight overlays a more mundane meaning that is simultaneously experienced by a body. In addition, the experience of flirting seems to require the acknowledgement of the "Other." Radley concludes that flirtation occurs through simultaneous denotation and performance allowing the emergence of non-discursive symbols that may, but do not have to, become conventionalized.
Part II: Ideological Representations of the Body
Ch. 5 Aging Bodies: Aged by Culture, Mike Hepworth
In this chapter, Hepworth discusses how the Western biomedical model of aging is primarily a model of decline. One of the main problems then is how to separate out effects of aging from effects of disease and Hepworth reviews the work of Gubrium (1986) on this topic. He goes on to discuss the work of Bytheway (1985) and Woodward (1991, and this volume) in terms of how people conceptualize old age and, then, looks at the work of Frank (1996) and Williams (1996) as they deal with the crises of both sudden and chronic illnesses and the epistemology of the body. Hepworth suggests that William's work in particular "offers a useful conceptual framework within which to work towards an interactive processual perspective on aging and decline" (95), in which the meaning of age is located discursively rather than objectively. In the second half of this chapter, Hepworth turns to the work of Gullette (1988, 1993, 1997, 1998) and the social construction of aging as decline at the intersections of biology, psychology, and culture. Hepworth briefly touches on aspects of aging as decline in relation to both gender and socioeconomic status. Working with a social construction model enables intervention in the process of construction, however Hepworth reminds the reader that, a postmodern valuation of aging notwithstanding, the aging body has an embodied reality and must be taken into account.
Ch. 6 Tales of Outrage and the Everyday: Fear of Crime and Bodies at Risk, Marian Tulloch and John Tulloch
Tulloch and Tulloch discuss the term "outrage" in terms of how the media construct the relationship between public reaction and perception of risk for violent crime. The authors are interested in how media construct women as being at risk for crime and in how women in focus groups and interviews either respond to or challenge such constructions. In addition, they briefly touch on how such constructions of the female body negatively affect men. Outrage is most often expressed upon the violation of a worthy person's rights to safety. However, within patriarchy, only women who adhere to particular behavior patterns consistent with women's stereotypical roles are worthy of outrage. This asymmetry puts women in a position of conflict: how does she balance her inviolable rights to safety and the risks to which she may willingly have exposed herself in going about her life? The analysis here suggests that the women in this study are adopting discursive strategies to assert their rights to their bodies, that is, when violent crime occurs, these women evaluate and assert their right to safety rather than internalizing the consequences of so-called "risky" behavior.
Ch. 7 Ageist Ideology and Discourses of Control in Skincare Product Marketing, Justine Coupland
In this chapter, Coupland provides an analysis of how the face gains semiotic significance in women's magazine media, particularly in terms of advertisements that appeal to readers as having aging skin. In the first part of the paper, the author discusses how advertisements rhetorically position themselves and their readers as being in control of the aging of skin and as having a moral responsibility to counteract the effects of aging by buying skincare products. Next, Coupland shows how advertisements lead readers to infer arbitrary lower boundaries on youth (and the skin quality associated with youth) and also illustrates implicit ageist ideology in the text that suggests that women over 30 are already at the stage where skincare will be 'corrective.' Finally, she details the ways in which skincare advertisements take advantage of a pseudo-scientific discourse in order to give their products credibility. In the second part of the chapter, Coupland turns to a discussion of the embodied contradiction that women face when they make choices about having a tan or taking care of their skin. She then deconstructs what it means to have a "fake" tan and shows how shifting consumer values in the relationship between beauty and health have made this a viable option for women. The general idea is that the skincare product market is at odds with general consumer needs, both in terms of products that protect the skin from damage and self-esteem, and the rhetoric of advertisements aims at concealing this contradiction to encourage women to buy products that may not really do what they are claimed to do.
Ch. 8 Talking Bodies: Invoking the Ideal in the BBC Naked Programme, Adam Jaworski
Jaworski takes a look at the BBC Programme entitled Naked, "a collage of interviews about people's own bodies" (151), in order to look at the interviewees' conceptions of their own bodies in relation to a 'norm.' He specifically focuses on age and gender/sexuality as themes around which the interviewees positioned their bodies. He identifies 3 prominent positions in the age discussion: the life-cycle consists of an aberrant adolescence followed by a 'prime' period followed by the degeneration of middle-age and onward, a person can 'fix' their body through hard work and concomitantly a lack of hard work on the body leads to deviance, and an ideal body is necessary for having a good sex life. In the discussion of gender/sexuality, people orient their discussion of their bodies in terms of attracting partners (including grooming habits, plastic surgery, and size of the male genitals); in terms of a loss of appeal due to menopause or impotence; in terms of other activities that are rewarding; and in terms of positive feelings toward their sex lives or participation in the sex industry. The general finding is that the people in this series do subscribe to normative ideals about the body, however a few interviewees challenge these norms and derive a sense of self-esteem in spite of difference.
Ch. 9 Bodies Exposed: A Cross-cultural Semiotic Comparison of the 'Saunaland' in Germany and Britain, Ulrike Hanna Meinhof
In this chapter, Meinhof compares British and German sauna discourses from architectural, institutional, and commercial textual perspectives. The author demonstrates how particular configurations of these aspects of the sauna experience reproduce cultural attitudes toward the naked body. Meinhof contrasts the range of British perception of saunas on a scale of "sinful and sexually suspect" to "a somewhat insignificant aspect of sport and fitness in general" (185) with the German perception of saunas as exotic, traditional, mystical, sport- and health-oriented, relaxing, leisurely, and family-oriented. She attributes these differences to different sets of expectations of and attitudes toward the naked body in public, reflecting a generally monolithic British norm of the body as private and a German norm of the body as public, this last being a result of and constitutive of the postmodern bricolage that characterizes the German sauna experience.
Part III: The Body, Pathology and Constructions of Selfhood
Ch. 10 Processes of Refiguration: Shifting Identities in Cancer Narratives, Richard Gwyn
In this chapter, Gwyn looks at the relationship between identity and the experience of cancer for John Diamond and Marilyn French, two people who lived with cancer and produced texts describing that experience. The author discusses how people who have cancer experience changes in their identity along with changes in their bodies that the disease brings. Then he discusses the work of Frank (1993), which deals with the refiguration of identity through the cancer experience, and shows how Diamond and French's experiences are in line with Frank's work on cancer and the heroic journey. Finally, Gwyn briefly deals with the practice of writing evocative autoethnography as a method in social science, concluding that the union of more traditional social science methods and first person subjective ethnography creates a humane means of theorizing the links between personal and social identities.
Ch. 11 The Statistical Body, Kathleen Woodward
The focus in this chapter is to look at how bodies become vulnerable through exposure to statistical probabilities in media. Woodward notes that the general public has a tendency to take statistics as predictive of future events or trends rather than as descriptive of the past or the present and, because of this, "our bodies are figured as being in a perpetual state of risk" (228). She shows how risk has become a commodity in the sense that we pay for the means to find relief from stress. Woodward looks at three media representations of risk and the medical body. In the first she shows how a fictionalized healthy woman manages her risk of breast cancer from a 'rational' position when she chooses preventative bilateral mastectomy. In the second, she discusses how a woman who had breast cancer deals with the effects of statistics on her choices and timing of treatments before and during her illness. In the third, Woodward summarizes the autobiography of a woman whose mother had Huntington's disease and how the woman dealt with her 50-50 chance of getting the disease as well. Woodward illustrates the different strategies that each woman has for dealing with risk and the possibility or fact of living with illness.
Ch. 12 'I am Normal on the Net': Disability, Computerised Communication Technologies and the Embodied Self, Deborah Lupton and Wendy Seymour
Using data from internet interviews in 3 case studies, Lupton and Seymour explore the relationship between computerized communication technologies (CCTs) and people whose disabilities give them particular embodied experiences of the technology as well as the social worlds to which the technology provides access. They ask "what discourses frame ways of understanding disability in the context of CCTs?" (247). Rather than looking at CCT-mediated discourse as an arena for the performance of any virtual identity, the authors focus in on performances that are shaped by people living with specifically disabled bodies. CCTs enable the people from the case studies to participate in social activities that positively impact their lives and give them autonomy. But at the same time, each person's experience of the CCT and what it offers creates an awareness of the limitations of the specific body in comparison to a 'norm.' Lupton and Seymour position this finding within a broader politics of disability, illustrating that discourse can never be truly emancipated from the body that produces or participates in it.
The focus of this book is on how discourse, the body, and identity come together in communication and open up new sites of analysis and new ways of understanding and theorizing what emerges from these sites. Rather than looking at discourse, the body, or identity as some variable to be factored out of an analysis, in order to postulate direct links between meaning and one bounded aspect of the communicative experience, the main thrust in this research is to illustrate that multitextual meaning is greater than the sum of its parts and can only be apprehended at the intersections of texts.
With this in mind, the editors have presented a collection of research that involves a broad range of data sources from videotape to phenomenological objects, disciplinary texts in sociology to mass media, and computer-mediated interviews to statistics. The variety of texts and the findings in each chapter indicate the potential that this interdisciplinary topic has for research that deals with the relationships that hold or shift between embodied individual and embodied social identities.
The breadth of research sites covered in the book might make it difficult for the editors and/or authors to explain or provide a theoretical framework for what they have so thoughtfully described. But this was not the case. Positioning this volume within the intellectual traditions of Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault, the editors and authors successfully linked the particulars of the research sites to more general theories of personal and social identity and to theory of historical institutions, contributing to the stabilization of this field of interdisciplinary inquiry.
Finally, a theme that occurred and recurred for me throughout the book, which reflects my own preoccupations with the relationship between individual and social identities, was the theme of recognition. Given the multitextual nature of meaning as produced by discourse, the body, and identity, how do we learn to recognize meaning at these shifting intersections? And if these intersections are always shifting, even when the shift is slight, what consequences should this have for a linguistic theory of meaning? In other words, what are the foundations of recognition that will account for how we deal with meanings that resist stabilization?
ABOUT THE REVIEWER:
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Catie Berkenfield is currently a PhD Candidate in Linguistics at University of New Mexico. Her interests include language and gender, corpus linguistics, and discourse analysis and her dissertation research is on the stylistics of metaphor in discourse.