Beyond the Unquestioned Body: Some New Corporeal Nuances - A Comparative Review of Two Ethnographies of the Body

  • Agathe Faure


This article questions the Cartesian mind/body dichotomy followed by most Western academia. It compares and contrasts two ethnographies of the body that entail different theoretical conceptions of the body, casting doubt on the ‘Cogito ergo sum’ which reduces the body to this ‘common thing’ on which the authority of a superior private mind is exerted. The first ethnography - ‘The Body of One Color: Indian Wrestling, the Indian State, and Utopian Somatics’ by Alter (1993) - seems to follow, at first, this tradition, defending the Foucauldian image of an inanimate and politically benign body inhabited by a multiplicity of external force relations called ‘power’. However, in his conclusion Alter (1993) questions the Foucauldian framework stating that the Indian wrestler does not express his protest rationally, but fundamentally embodies his opposition to state domination. The second ethnography - ‘Words from the Holy People: a case study in cultural phenomenology’ by Thomas Csordas (1994) - introduces his concept of ‘embodiment’ as the way bodies are inhabited in the world prior to all abstract objectifications of it. I conclude with Lambek’s original argument (1998) that the discussed mind/body problem arises from the human capacity of self-reflection and needs to be understood in its specific Western socio-historical context.


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