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The Mindful Body

A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology

by Nancy Scheper-Hughes and Margaret Lock

Last tended to November 28, 2020

Scheper-Hughes, Nancy, and Margaret M. Lock. ‘The Mindful Body: A Prolegomenon to Future Work in Medical Anthropology’. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1, no. 1 (1987): 6–41.

Lock and Scheper-Hughes begin by pointing out we all come to the body with a set of assumed [[Cultural Dichotomies]]

Mind vs Body, Seen vs Unseen, Natural vs Supernatural, Magical vs Rational, Irrational vs Rational , and Real vs Unreal

These opposing pairs colour the way we understand our bodies and the medical worlds that manage them.

Thier explorations call into question the classic western definition of the body, particularly within biomedicine.

The body has three dimensions

First as a physical and symbolic artefact, second as naturally and culturally produced, and third as an entity anchored in a particular historical moment.

Lock and SH propose three kinds of bodies

The individual body - A phenomenology of lived bodily experience

  • Our intuitive sense of being an embodied self. An individual human with a head, arms, and legs that moves through the world feeling tiredness, warmth, pain, tingling sensations and all the rest of it; an understanding that there is a difference between what is contained within our skin and what is outside it.
  • Or in hyper academic speak; "the phenomenological sense of the lived experience of the body-self"
  • How this body is perceived and experiences varies enormously across cultures and historical moments; as mind and matter, as psyche and soul.

The social body - Structuralist and symbolic readings of the body

  • The body as a symbol we use to think with. we naturally map elements of the body onto society; it's a natural metaphor in much of our communications.
  • "The body in health offers a model of organic wholeness; the body in sickness offers a model of social disharmony, conflict, and disintegration"
  • We speak of healthy and sick societies and cultures as if they were collective bodies

The body politic - A poststructuralist view of how the body politic works

  • The political regulation, surveillance and control of both the individual body and the collective social body
  • In essence, everything Foucault theorised: controlling bodies in the service of a certain definition of collective stability, health, And social well being
  • This third view of the body in political context is the most theoretically rich for analysing how and why certain kinds of bodies are made.
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