The Body as Material Subjectivity

A discussion on the importance of the “body” in anthropological theory as both a metaphor and the material locus of subjectivity.

This paper examines the significance of the body in anthropological thought and further argues that the body is the material locus of subjectivity. In order to build this hypothesis, it critically reviews the work of three key thinkers Merleau-Ponty (1964), Bourdieu (1984, 1990), and Taussig (1980, 1986, 1993). It also argues, together with Csordas (1990), for the possibility of a productive dialogic relationship between the preobjective and a conception of representation that includes a consideration of habitus.
“Bourdieu (1990: 71-72) notes that the body takes metaphor seriously. By this Bourdieu implies that we live our lives through actions structured in time and space. Moreover, the material world that surrounds us is one in which we use our living bodies to give substance to the social distinctions and differences that underpin social relationships and symbolic systems. In the context of anthropological theory, Bourdieu’s sentence takes on another meaning. The body has inherited a Cartesian dichotomy between the thinking mind and the mechanic body that means the metaphors ascribed to it did not give any agency to the body. The body takes this very seriously because, as Foucault (1979) shows, the body became a site of bio-political struggle.”