I was just informed that the panel on which I was invited to present has been accepted for the Society for Pyschological Anthropology Biennial Meeting. The panel is organized by Jonathan Marion and is titled, "Re-Embodying Identity." Here is the panel abstract:
Working out of a variety of approaches and models, this panel is geared towards exploring and understanding the interactivity of body and identity. While a number of scholars have started to look to the body as a site of culture, the interconnection of body and identity still remains largely under appreciated. Building off the idea that practice and activity can be valuable sites for anthropological inquiry, this panel focuses on and interrogates the significance of bodily experiences and conceptualizations to understanding the constructions of both personal and collective meanings and identities.
This panel’s use of the term re-embodiment is not to suggest that people are somehow otherwise not embodied, disembodied, or alienated from their bodies. All physical practices, such as sitting at the computer, are, of course, embodied, as, ultimately, are all thoughts about such activities. Similarly, it would be inaccurate to assume that someone at their computer feels some sense of bodily alienation; i.e. as if somehow their body is not their’s. That people typically take little notice of their bodies (on a day-to-day basis) save when something goes wrong does not mean, however, that bodily experience and perception otherwise cease to be significant in constructions and understandings of personal and collective identities; and it is against this backdrop that this panel engages with re-embodiment, wherein and whereby awareness of and attention to the body can be re-engaged. Borrowing from different traditions across the social sciences, the papers on this panel—dealing with modern body piercing, Brazilian squatting, Polish Evangelicals, competitive ballroom dance, and embodied conflict—each explore some practices and beliefs wherein and whereby personal and collective identities are re-embodied. Rather than answering any questions, this panel is intended as a step in theorizing, conducting research on, and then re-theorizing the significance of re-embodying identity.
Organizer and Chair: Jonathan S. Marion
05 min – Introduction
17 min – Amelia Guimarin: Body Piercing and the Re-embodiment of Commodity-Based Identity
17 min – Ana Paula Pimentel Walker: Embodied Identity and Political Action:
Lessons from the Participatory Budget in Brazil
17 min – Jacob Saunders: The Body’s Religious Sentiments: Identity and Bodily Practice Among Polish Evangelicals
17 min – Jonathan S. Marion: Being Ballroom: Re-embodying Identity in Competitive Ballroom Dancing
17 min – Ian Grand: Becoming Palladin: Embodied Narratives, Conflicts, and Identities
15 min – Audience: Questions & Discussion
University of California, Irvine
Body Piercing and the Re-Embodiment of Commodity-Based Identity
Commodity-based identity is a significant part of today's consumer culture society. Some scholars view this reliance on commodities as limiting the power of the individual. However, this study focuses on the activity of body piercing to argue that individuals exercise authority as they utilize commodities to create bodily-centered identity. In the community of college-age individuals, body piercing has emerged as an important commodity used to express personal and communal identity. This project draws upon first-hand ethnographic research and existing theoretical analysis in Anthropology and other Social Science disciplines to argue that body piercing represents the re-embodiment of commodity-based identity.
In this study, the practice of body piercing in the college-age community is analyzed in relation to traditional rites of passage with which it shares undeniable similarities. When children become distanced from their parents, as in the case of 'going away to college,' they enter a new stage in life; they may then undergo a crisis of identity when the structure on which they based their identity, their family unit, is replaced by a community of their peers. This crisis often occurs in conjunction with the crisis of bodily detachment which arises in part from the practice of commodity-based identity. However, in this case, body piercing as a form of commodity-based identity intercedes as a way to reconcile these crises of identity and claim, or reclaim, bodily-centered identity through the activity of body piercing.
Pimentel Walker, Ana Paula
University of California, San Diego
Embodied Identity and Political Action:
Lessons from the Participatory Budget in Brazil
A focus on identity in activity is fundamental to understanding how squatters’ perceptions of their social positioning shifts based on the new set of social relations that emerged with the implementation of the Participatory Budget, a municipal mechanism of resource allocation. The evidence comes from fieldwork conducted in Porto Alegre during January and February of 2005 for my master’s thesis in Urban Planning. When squatters perceived that their social positioning changed under the local social relations of power, they also changed their actions by advocating for their rights. The leftist progressive pioneers of the Participatory Budget envisioned political participation in terms of citizen’s rights, independent of land tenure status. Nonetheless, outside of this particular political narrative, legal title is an important index of citizenship rights. Lawful tenants, incapable of preventing squatters from placing their demands through the Participatory Budget, began to treat squatters as political brokers between themselves and the city administration. The meaning of political participation changed from a political right, as initially envisioned by the framers of the Participatory Budget, to a political responsibility of the squatters. I use the theoretical framework established by D. Holland, D. Skinner, W. Lachicotte, and C. Cain in Identity and Agency in Cultural Worlds in order to understand this dialectical relationship between narrative/figured worlds and positional identities. Even though embodied political identity is mostly unconscious, the index of legal title becomes a conscious aspect of squatters’ positional identity. In the figured world of the Participatory Budget, this change in squatters’ positional identity enables them to refuse to act as political brokers for the lawful tenants.
University of California, San Diego
The Body’s Religious Sentiments:
Identity and Bodily Practice Among Polish Evangelicals
This paper examines the relationship between identity and the body in an evangelical community in Poland. Drawing on two years of field research in a Polish Baptist community, I suggest that communal ideas about what the body is, what it does, and what it should do, are central to communal and individual religious identity. In exploring these models of the body, I argue that it is the body’s perceived objectivity and transparency—its capacity to give inner states a physical form—which explains the import that ascetic practices carry in the community. A żywa wiara (living faith) is viewed within the community as irrepressible; real emotions, states, and qualities are made visible by the body and through bodily practice; piety, honesty, humility and obedience are thus embodied. I posit that such beliefs about the body are important due to the general suspicion of speech and sentiment present in the community. Statements of faith, claims of religious feeling, and internal spiritual experience are treated with a measure of distrust by the community, as if lacking the objective grounding the body is seen to provide. I explore how the privileging of the body as a source of objective knowledge about faith and sentiments has significant consequences for identity formation within the community. For example, in the development of ideas about proper Baptist bodily practice, in the necessity of communal evaluation of each believer’s body, and in the manner that evaluative models become motivating for individuals.
Marion, Jonathan S.
California State University San Marcos
Some Observations on the Re-embodying of Identity in Ballroom Dance
This paper explores some of the dynamics of ballroom dance that allow for and facilitate the re-embodying of practitioners identities. Just as the body is inescapably implicated in human culture and knowledge, the converse is also true. While never separate from physical bodies, views of the body are always contextually construed, inevitably arising in the dialogue between the physicality of bodies and the values and understandings—both personal and cultural—by and through which those bodies are attended. Physical mannerisms, practices, and proxemics (e.g. Levy 1973, Bourdieu 1977, and Hall 1988 respectively) are integral elements of sociocultural discourse, as are the conceptualizations that are formulated out of and in response to these discourses. Uses and understandings of the body thus emerge as never being only natural and, as such, any robust understanding of humans cannot ignore the psychophysicality of human experience and conceptuality.
Like other physical pastimes, ballroom dance allows people to consciously reconnect with their physicality. But dance and other expressive movement styles often go further, allowing people to experience, experiment with, and use their bodies in non-instrumental manners. This paper thus explores some of the dynamics whereby and wherein persons not only come to be aware of their bodies in and through ballroom dance but, specifically, of their bodies in interaction with others. And, as this paper will argue, while any type of physicality may help, partnered dance forms are especially efficacious in facilitating the very re-embodiment that modern modes of work, transportation, leisure, and home life may make all the harder—and thus all the more valuable—to attain.
Grand, Ian J.
California Institute of Integral Studies
Embodied Narratives, Conflicts, and Identities
The themes in this paper derive from the view that we develop meanings and values through embodied interaction with the cultural worlds to which we belong. Patterns of movement, gesture, feeling, expression, and thought are all embodied, and the development of these embodied patterns occurs in communities of participation. Because bodily identities symbolize aspects of our participation, it becomes important to look at them clinically.
Developmentally, we imitate, practice, and improvise with other people's gestures and movements and excitatory expressions, both in and out of the family of origin. We are, moreover, influenced by a broad range of media and multicultural images. These practices are automated and become part of one's identity either as whole set pieces or as partial incorporations. We live various bodies as we go through our daily worlds, both consciously and unconsciously, and these enactments may be in conflict or harmony with each other.
In this paper patterns of imitation will be looked at as means to the individuals embodied identity. Psychological conflict will be seen as the conflict between embodied enactments that symbolize and evoke particular cultural and familial values and meanings. Implications for psychotherapy will be discussed.