I Want to Learn How to Think Beyond Academic Disciplines

Vol.9 2010.12.15 Tom Hope

Sociology, Embodiment and Communication

This lecture will explore ‘embodiment’ from a sociological perspective. It will begin by introducing some theories of the body and how sociologists have used these in their research. Following this, through some examples of empirical studies, the lecture will show how movements in theory have influenced descriptions of bodily behaviour and vice-versa. The lecture will conclude with an examination of bodies and technology, raising issues about the interaction between them, and illustrating the use of sociological theories of the body in understanding everyday behaviour.


Tom Hope
Associate Professor, Tokyo Institute of Technology. Dr. Hope moved to Japan in 2003 after completing his doctoral research in sociology on the maintenance of contemporary forms of community. His research in Japan focuses on the interaction of groups of humans with (primarily mobile) technologies, and how the users make sense of their techno-social relationships. His recent interests include the relation between mobile social networking and spatial design, and the computerisation of Japanese lavatory technologies.
Reference : books

 The following texts will be useful if you wish to know more about the topics discussed in the lecture. References are given in the order they appear in the lecture.

 Ritzer, George (2010) Sociological Theory, McGraw-Hill

 Durkheim Émile (2008) The Elementary Forms of Religious Life, Oxford University Press

 Simmel, Georg (1904) “Fashion”, International Quarterly, 10, 130-155

 Schutz, Alfred (1967) The Phenomenology of the Social World, Northwestern University Press

 Elias, Norbert (2000) The Civilizing Process, Wiley-Blackwell

 Goffman, Erving (1966) Behaviour in Public Places, Free Press

 Garfinkel, Harold (1991) Studies in Ethnomethodology, Polity

 Lynch, Michael (2006) “Cognitive activities without cognition? ethnomethodological investigations of selected ‘cognitive’ topics”, Discourse Studies, February 2006 vol. 8, 1, 95-104

 Sacks, Harvey, Schegloff, Emanuel A., & Jefferson, Gail (1974) “A simplest systematics for the organization of turn-taking for conversation”. Language, 50, 696-735

 Schegloff, Emanuel A. (2007) Sequence Organization in Interaction: A Primer in Conversation Analyis, Volume 1, Cambridge University Press

 Goodwin, Charles (2003)  "Pointing as Situated Practice." In Pointing: Where Language, Culture and Cognition Meet, edited by Sotaro Kita. Mahwah, Lawrence Erlbaum, pp. 217-41

 Latour, Bruno (1987) Science in Action: How to Follow Scientists and Engineers Through Society, Open University Press

 Suchman, Lucy (2006) Human-Machine Reconfigurations: Plans and Situated Actions, Cambridge University Press

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comments(最新2件 / 2)

mare    reply

Thank you for very interesting lecture on ‘body’ from a sociological point of view.
I have a few questions.
Please keep in mind that when I use the word ‘body’, it means not only a physical biological body itself but also its movement or behavior.

According to your lecture, ‘fashion’ or ‘imitation’ of Simmel, I think of it as an example of "the formation of ‘society’ by ‘body’".
On the other hand, the story that an intersex person learned how to be a woman, I think it "the formation of ‘body’ by ‘society’".

I wonder if ‘body’ and ‘society’ form each other and we cannot distinguish between ‘body’ and ‘society’.
This is like the structural functionalism of Durkheim, isn't it?
I think, as cells structure a body and cells and a body are identical, ‘body’ and ‘society’ are identical.
Moreover, ‘society’ is not a concept, ‘society’ really exists.

Could you give me some idea on the identity of ‘body’ and ‘society’?

Then, I notice that ‘gaze’ and ‘orientation’ is an example of the formation of ‘society’ by ‘body’ and the formation of ‘body’ by ‘society’ at the same time.
I think when we pass a person on the road, we are on a crowded train or etc., our behavior depends on whether we are acquainted with him.
The sociality of ‘acquaintance’ forms ‘body’ but contrarily our behavior distinguishes between the society of acquaintance and that of non-acquaintance.

This may apply to the difference between behavior at home, which is the smallest society of acquaintance, and behavior outside.
I think this can be a key to understanding of ‘body’ of Otohime users.

Could you tell me how you think about the sociality of ‘acquaintance’?

Reply from Tom to mare    reply

Thanks a lot for your comment and questions. I'm happy you found the lecture interesting. Sorry for this long response, I hope it makes some sense.

Your first comment is a good observation of the difficulties that sociologists have, and that ethnomethodology has tried to tackle. Both of the examples--Simmel's 'fashion' and Garfinkel's study of an intersex person show this. Certainly Simmel was interested in how society is formed by bodies, but fashion of course does not emerge from nothing, hence, we "imitate". In the same "Fashion" essay, Simmel says:

"As a member of a mass the individual will do many things which would have aroused unconquerable repugnance in his soul had they been suggested to him alone. "

So, individuals can clothe their bodies with the fashions of society, which can free them psychologically (in a sense), and their emotions also prompt action that makes up that society. Fashion can be seen as both "Freedom and dependence".

Certainly the intersex person could not "be" a woman without being in a society that somehow says what a woman is. But for the ethnomethodologists, the person is still required to do something. Society doesn't simply form their bodies passively, and society itself doesn't simply exist separated from bodies.

So you're thinking about the same problems that Durkheim had, yes. And in fact Garfinkel also draws on Durkheim in his more recent descriptions of ethnomethodology. One main criticism of structural functionalism has bee that it often seems to treat bodies as "puppets", controlled by structures. Did the intersex person passively do whatever society makes them do?

I am interested in your comment that "cells and a body are identical". Is that true? Does a cell know/think about what the body is doing?

Let's try to do what ethnomethodology suggests and turn the resources ("body", "society") into topics of study: Rather than asking what the identity of "body" and "society" is, let's ask:

"How does social science, engineering, science and the humanities (or people in other settings) use ideas of "body" and "society"? And what kind of 'work' should be done to create and maintain those concepts?"

Your observation about 'acquaintance' is also interesting. As you notice, our behavior differs according to the relations we have with people. We can notice how any friendship requires some 'work'--in other words, rather than simply 'being' friends or acquaintances, we 'do' being friends or acquaintances.

So, in terms of Otohime, I mentioned in my lecture that one interviewee did not use it when she was at home or with friends. Rather than saying this was simply "because she was with friends", I am interested in how not using Otohime is part of "doing friendship". What do you think would happen if she started using Otohime at home or with her friends?

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