Sociology of the Body

A subfield of sociology called "sociology of the body" examines how the human body is portrayed and used socially in contemporary cultures.
Sociology of the Body Sociology Definition


A subfield of sociology called “sociology of the body” examines how the human body is portrayed and used socially in contemporary cultures. This section examines people as embodied individuals, as opposed to just actors with values and attitudes.


The development of consumerism and the expansion of the leisure industries were two major shifts in post-war society that sparked academic interest in the body. Feminist advances and the establishment of feminism as an academic domain prompted the development of a sociology of the body.

The sociology of the body and its contemporary development is influenced by various theoretical traditions, including phenomenology, Marxist humanism, and philosophical anthropology.

However, Michel Foucault significantly affected historical and sociological perspectives from the late 20th century. His investigations into sexuality, medicine, and discipline led to the development of a broad philosophy of body control. The study of governmentality as a whole was encouraged by the contrast made between the individual body and regulatory controls in the 1978 book “The History of Sexuality.”

Erving Goffman illustrated the significance of the body for identity in disrupted interactions in “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life.” A significant outcome of Goffman’s methodology realized the need to control physiological functions to prevent embarrassment.

The body started to show up in the study of micro-interactions. Still, it also had significant repercussions on the historical sociology of the standards of civilized behavior performed by Norbert Elias in his book “The Civilizing Process.” Elias examined the training of the body in the evolution of court society, particularly regarding martial arts, dancing, and general demeanor.

Domestic utensils, such as a fork or spittoon, were crucial components in the training of the body to control manners. By the 1990s, studies on sexuality, culture, and the portrayal of the human body had made the history of the body a significant academic development.

As a reaction to the overly-intellectualized heritage of sociology, which tended to focus on the self as a mind with ideas, reasoning, and intentions, several sociologists encouraged an interest in the embodied character of the human being in the 1980s.

Talcott Parsons acknowledges socialization’s expressive, ritual, and emotional components but gives values and an information-based social structure predominance. Individuals occupy bodies, and this bodily existence generates interest in sex, food, and emotions.  Individuals also enjoy the presence of other bodies.

Beyond those subjects that are directly related to the body, like the sociology of health, acknowledging the body has been crucial in many others. For instance, many religions focus on controlling and training the body. Foucault and others have noticed how much emphasis has been placed on controlling the offender’s body while administering punishment in the study of the sociology of deviance as well.

By observing the significance of physical gestures, such as “looking someone in the eye” or tilting their head to indicate that they are open to receiving the message, humans may better grasp social interactional forms like discussion.

There has been some complexity in regions like dialogues of gender in trying to reconcile the assertion that the body is a fundamental component of the human person with the sociological axiom that social action is derived by sociocultural understandings of physical realities rather than directly from the realities themselves. 

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