Sociology of the Body


Instructor: Alexandrina Vanke

The course is taught at the Department of Social Sciences of the National Research University – Higher School of Economics.


This MA level course considers theoretical approaches to the body from the sociological perspective including references to other social disciplines. We will study the body as a result of social processes and differentiations, interpersonal interactions and cultural production. What are the differences between the sociology of the body and body studies? What are the main concepts in this field of research? How is the corporeality examined in different theoretical traditions? How is the body controlled and disciplined? The first part of the course is dedicated to critical discussions of abovementioned questions. The second part of the course contains examination of the body in social contexts and expects empirical research that will be conducted by students. We will discuss the body through the perspectives of gender, class, and professional milieu, as well as through leisure activity, e.g. sporting and consuming bodies. Besides, we will explore some social aspects of collective feelings and senses of perception that are connected to the corporeality. The course is intended for students who are interested in studying social theory and conducting qualitative research.


The instructor should present the main approaches to the sociology of the body, organize discussions, explain particularities of examining the body in social contexts, and help students to construct a research plan, as well as discuss intermediate results of their empirical research. Students should read the readings, put critical questions, participate in class discussions, and integrate theoretical ideas from the readings into their own research plans. Students should conduct a qualitative research on the body and write a research paper.


By the end of the course, students should be able to:

  • analyze the body from the sociological perspective;
  • examine classical and contemporary approaches to the corporeality;
  • explore the body as a product of social actions, interactions, organizations, cultures, institutions and the state;
  • organize a research plan;
  • participate in research discussions;
  • facilitate research discussions in small groups;
  • conduct a sociological research on the body.


  • Class discussion – 25%
  • Facilitation of small group class-discussions – 10%
  • Preparation for class – 20%
  • Group research presentations – 10%
  • Final research paper (approximately 12 pages in length) – 35%
  • Attendance.


1. Mapping Sociology of the Body (4 hours)

Defining the concepts of the body and corporeality in different approaches and national scientific traditions. The oppositions of Körper and Leib, corporeality and spirituality, the body and the soul. The body as an object and a subject in sociology and other social disciplines (e.g. anthropology, history, philosophy, social policy, etc.). Defining the interdisciplinary field of research on the body. Borders between sociology of the body and body studies. Classic traditions and new agendas. Subjectivists and objectivists approaches to the body.

Origin of Sociology of the Body. Theoretical roots in phenomenological and existential traditions, structural anthropology and social history. History and anthropology of the medieval body. Cultural taboo and social control over the body (e.g. regulation of sexual and gastronomic pleasure, fasting days and carnivals). The metaphor of the body in medieval mentality.

The role of the body in social interactions. Symbolic meanings of the body in culture. The body as a product of social and power relations. The body as a text and an acting agent. The body as an organism. Borders between human and nature in relation to the body. Single and multiple bodies. Discussing the key topics of the course: gendered, medicalized, healthy, disabled, sporty, consuming, working and feeling bodies. The body in relation to sexuality, emotions, pleasure and desire.

Main texts:

Featherstone M., Turner B. Body & Society: An Introduction // Body & Society. 1995. №1. P. 1–12.

Turner B.  The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory. Oxford: Basil Blackwell, 1984. (Chapter: Sociology and the Body) P. 33–56.

Turner  B. Recent Developments in the Theory of the Body // The Body: Social Process and Cultural Theory. Ed. by M. Featherstone et al. London, etc.: SAGE Publications Ltd., 1993. Русскоязычная версия: Тернер Б. Современные направления развития теории тела // THESIS: Теория и история экономических и социальных институтов и систем. 1994. Вып. 6.) C. 137–162.

Lindemann G. Leiblichkeit und Körper // Handbuch Korpersoziologie, Bd. 1: Grundbegriffe und theoretische Positionen. Hg. Gugutzer R., Klein G., Meuser M. Wiesbaden: Springer VS, 2016. (draft, electronic variant). S. 1–11.

Романов П., Ярская-Смирнова Е. Социология тела и социальной политики // Журнал социологии и социальной антропологии. 2004. Том VII. №2. С. 115–137.

Supplementary reading:

Abraham A. Der Körper als heilsambegrenzenden Ratgeber? Körpervwehältnisse in Zeiten der Entgrenzung // Körperwissen.  Hrsg. R. Keller, M. Meuser. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2011. S. 31–52.

Böhle F., Porschen S. Körperwissen und Leibliche Erkenntnis // Körperwissen. Hrsg. R. Keller, M. Meuser. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2011. S. 53–68.

Latour B. How to Talk About the Body? The Normative Dimension of Science Studies // Body & Society. 2004. №10 (2–3). P. 205–229.

Morgan D., Scott S. Bodies in a Social Landscape // Body Matters: Essays on the Sociology of the Body. Ed. by S. Scott, D. Morgan. London: Flamer Press, 1993. P. 1–21.

Shilling C. Sociology and the Body: Classic Traditions and New Agendas // The Sociological Review. 2007. №55(1). P. 1–18.

Ле Гофф Ж., Трюон Н. История тела в средние века. М.: «Текст», 2008. С. 31–86.

История тела. Т.I. От Ренессанса до эпохи Просвещения. Под ред. А. Корбена, Ж. Куртина, Ж. Вигарелло. М.: Новое литературное обозрение, 2012. С. 65–113.

История тела. Т.II. От Великой французской революции до Первой мировой войны. Под ред. А. Корбена, Ж. Куртина, Ж. Вигарелло. М.: Новое литературное обозрение, 2014. С. 10–97.

2. Theoretical Approaches to the Body

2.1. The Body in Relation to Knowledge, Power and Bio-power (4 hours)

Foucauldian approach to the body. History of the body and sexuality. Disciplined and docile bodies. The Body in the regimes of power and knowledge. Body knowledge, knowledge of the body and from the body. The body in repressive apparatuses and disciplinary orders. Power techniques and social regulations of corporeality. Bodies in total institutions, e.g. army, factory, manufactory, prison, hospital, school. Alienation of the body. Medicalization of the body. The death body.

Technologies of constituting the body and the self. The concept of bodily dispositif. Constitution of the subject through bodily and mind cultivation. The cultivation of the self. The concept of the social body. The “truth” about the body and sexuality: critical approach to production of knowledge about the body and sexuality in power regimes. Normalizing the body. Body politics. Managing the population on the levels of health, reproduction and body practices. The concepts of bio-power, bio-politics, bio-technologies. The body as practice, discourse/text and discursive practice.

Naturalization and decentration of the body. Bodies that matter. Bodies in alliance and the politics of the street. Bodies and violence. Somatic basis of individuals. Bodily inscriptions.

Main texts:

Butler J. Foucault and the Paradox of Bodily Inscriptions // The Journal of Philosophy. Eighty-Sixth Annual Meeting American Philosophical Association, Eastern Division. 1989. №11(86). P. 601-607.

Butler J. Bodies That Matter: On the Discursive Limits of “Sex”. New York & London: Routledge, 1993. P. 21–50.

Foucault M.  Discipline and Punish. The Birth of the Prison. New York: Vintage Books, 1995. P. 3–31, 135–169.

Keller R., Meuser M. Wissen des Körpers – Wissen vom Körper. Körper- und wissenssoziologische Erkundungen // Körperwissen / Hrsg.: Reiner Keller und Michael Meuser. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2011. S. 9–30.

Ярская-Смирнова Е., Романов П. Границы тела: биовласть публичной анатомии // Теория моды: одежда, тело, культура. 2013. № 30. С.137–159.

Supplementary reading:

Butler J. Bodies in Alliance and the Politics of the Street.

Фуко М. Воля к знанию. История сексуальности. Т.I. // Воля к истине: по ту сторону знания, власти и сексуальности. М.: Магистериум, Касталь, 1996. С. 175–237.

Фуко М. Забота о себе. История сексуальности. Т. III. Пер. с франц. Т.Н. Титовой, О.И. Хомы. Киев: Дух и литература, М.: Гунт, Риелф-Бук, 1998. С. 45–78.

2.2. Corporeality in Genetic Structuralism and Carnal Sociology (4 hours)

The body as a social construct. Anthropological classifications of body techniques by Marcel Moss. The body as a perceiving subject and a perceived object (Morice Merleau-Ponty). The body and mental schemes as the result of body experiences and senses of perception. The body in the space of social distinctions. The concepts of body techniques (Marcel Mauss), habitus, bodily hexis (l’hexis corporelle) and incorporated schemes in genetic structuralism of Pierre Bourdieu. Practical knowledge imbedded in the body. Explicit and implicit bodily knowledge. Body skills and habitual actions. Social usage of the body and body practices. Pragmatic sociology of Luc Boltanski: somatic culture and physical habitus. The concepts of bodily capital, body work and bodily labour in carnal sociology of Loïc Wacquant. The “carnality” of human life. Ethnography by immersion.

Main texts:

Boltanski L. Les usage sociaux du corps // Les Annales. 1971. №26(1). P. 205233.  

Bourdieu P. Outline of a Theory of Practice. Cambridge: University Press, 1995. P. 87–95, 114–123.

Wacquant L. “Habitus” // International Encyclopedia of Economic Sociology. Ed. by J. Beckert, M. Zafirovski. London: Routledge, 2004. P. 315–318.

Мерло-Понти М. Феноменология восприятия. СПб.: «Ювента», «Наука», 1999. С. 137–153, 183–197, 198–204.

Мосс М. Техники тела // Общества. Обмен. Личность. Труды по социальной антропологии. М.: КДУ, 2011. С. 304–325.

Supplementary reading:

Böhle F., Porschen S. Körperwissen und Leibliche Erkenntnis // Körperwissen. Hrsg. R. Keller, M. Meuser. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag für Sozialwissenschaften, 2011. S. 53–68.

Wacquant L. Body & Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2004. P. 127–150.

Wacquant L. Carnal Connections: On Embodiment, Membership and Apprenticeship // Qualitative Sociology. 2005. №28 (4). P. 445–471.

Wacquant L. Habitus as Topic and Tool: Reflections on Becoming a Prizefighter // Qualitative Research in Psychology. 2011. №8(1). P. 81–92.

Бурдье П. Мужское господство // Социальное пространство: поля и практики. СПб.: Алетейя, М.: Институт экспериментальной социологии, 2007. С. 286–364.

Мерло-Понти М. Феноменология восприятия. СПб.: «Ювента», «Наука», 1999. С. 205–229.

2.3. The Body in Symbolic Interactionism and Ethnomethodology (4 hours)

The body in sociology of everyday life and symbolic interactionism of Harold Garfinkel and George Herbert Mead. The body as a symbol. The concept of gender display in the approach of Erving Goffman. Face-to face interactions. Performativity of the body. The body and experiences of embodiment. “The body (noun) is embodied (verb)”. The looking-glass body, the dramaturgical body, the phenomenological body, the socio-semiotic body, and  the narrative body (Phillip Vaninni, Denis Waskul).  Bodily semantics and nonverbal communications. The role of the body in self-representations. The body, pain and scarfs. The body as a kaleidoscope of meanings. Symbolic language of the body. Gestures in education.

Bodies in sociological research. Conducting a research project on the body. Qualitative methods and the sociology of the body: interview, observation, discourse-analysis and visual analysis. Talking about bodies and bodily practices. Narrating the body. Body discourses. Discursive construction of the body.

Main texts:

Vannini P., Waskul D., Gottschalk S. Towards a Sociology of the Senses // The Senses in Self, Society, and Culture. NY: Routledge, 2012. Chapter 1. P. 3–22.

Wascul D., Vannini P. Introduction: Body in Symbolic Interaction // Body/ Embodyment. Symbolic Interaction and the Sociology of the Body. Ed. by Wascul D., Vannini P. Hampshire, Burlington: Ashgate Publishing Limited, 2006. P. 1–8.

Гарфинкель Г. Исследование привычных оснований повседневных действий // Социологическое обозрение. 2002. Том 2. №1. С. 42–70.

Supplementary reading:

Crossley N. Researching Embodiment by Way of ‘Body Techniques’ // The Sociological Review. 2007.  №55(1): 80–94.

Kamper D., Wulf C. Blickwende. Die Sinne des Körpers im Konkurs der Geschichte // Das Schwinden der Sinne. Hrsg. D. Kamper, C. Wulf. Frankfurt/M: Suhrkamp, 1984. S. 9–17.

Okley J. Fieldwork Embodied // Embodying Sociology: Retrospect, Progress, and Prospects. Ed. by C. Shilling. Oxford: Blackwell, 2007. P. 65–79.

Гофман И. Представления себя другим в повседневной жизни. М.: Издательство «КАНОН-пресс-Ц», 2000. С. 45–90.

Мид Дж. Г. От жеста к символу // Американская социологическая мысль. М.: Издательство МГУ, 1994. С. 215–224.

3. Bodies in Social Contexts

3.1. Working and Consuming Bodies (4 hours)

Bodies at Work (C. Wolkowitz). “Bodily work” and “body labour”. The body in labour regimes. Corporeality in manual labour. Embodiment and paid employment. Industrial bodies. Body work as social relationship and as labour. “Useful” and “docile” bodies by M. Foucault in the context of labour regimes. Corporeality of workers, managers and members of the army. Alienation of bodily labour. Militarized bodies. Conceptualizing the “prostitute body” (C. Wolkowitz, J. Walkowitz). The client’s body and sexual desires. “Sex work”. Commercialization of the body. Money, sex and power. The essentialised body. The body and leisure activity. Consuming bodies. Conspicuous consumption. The commodified body. Medicalized bodies and medical discourses. Health, disability and illness. Medical regulations and prescriptions as power techniques (B. Turner). The disordered body. Body and professional trauma. The body, violence and pain. The medicalization of beauty. Young and aging bodies.

Main texts:

Featherstone M. Body, Image and Affect in Consumer Culture // Body & Society. 2010. №16(1). P. 193–221.

Turner B.S. Regulating Bodies. Essays in Medical Sociology. Kent: Routledge, 2000.  P. 177–195.

Vanke A.  The Corporeality of Working-Class Men in Labor Regimes and the Private Sphere // Laboratorium. Russian Review for Social Research. 2014. №1. P. 154–158. Русскоязычная версия: Ваньке А. Телесность мужчин рабочих профессий в режимах труда и приватной сферы // Laboratorium. Журнал социальных исследований. 2014. №1. С. 60–83.

Wacquant L. Pugs at Work: Bodily Capital and Bodily Labour Among Professional Boxers // Body & Society. 1995. №1 (1). P. 65–93.

Wolkowitz C. Bodies at Work. London: SAGE Publication, 2006. Chapters: 2, 3, 5. P. 33–69, 118–145.

Supplementary reading:

Thompson C., Hirschman E. Understanding the Socialized Body. A Poststructuralist Analysis of Consumers’ Self-Conceptions, Body Images, and Self-Care Practices // Journal of Consumer Research. 1995. № 22(2). P. 139–153.

Нартова Н., Крупец Я. Переопределение границ между трудом, удовольствием и насилием: секс-работа как неформальный вид занятости // Журнал исследований социальной политики. 2010. Т. 8. № 4. С. 537–550.

3.2. Gendered Bodies: Masculine and Feminine Corporeality (4 hours)

Gendered bodies. Body projects and the regulation of gender. The body and gender identity. Embodied identities. Masculine corporeality. Masculinities, bodies and emotional lives. The body and some contradictions of hegemonic masculinity. Feminine corporeality. Compulsory and normative motherhood. Reproductive and maternal aspects of female corporeality. Women’s body and technology. The social control over the body. Control over the reproductive activity of the woman. Politicization of masculine and feminine bodies in public discourses. Representations of masculine and feminine bodies in popular culture. Images of gendered bodies in advertisements. The gendered body, image and affect. The body as simulacra (J. Baudrillard, M. Featherstone). Gay, lesbian, homosexual and queer bodies.

Main texts:

Gill R., Henwood K., McLean C. Body Projects and the Regulation of Normative Masculinity // Body & Society. 2005. №11. P. 37–62.

Goffman E. Gender display // Philosophical Transactions of the Royal Society of London. 1966. №772(25). P. 69–77. Русскоязычная версия: Гофман И. Гендерный дисплей // Введение в гендерные исследования. Ч.II. Харьков: ХЦГИ, СПб.: Алетейя, 2001. С. 306–335.

Schurko T. Compulsory Motherhood”: the Female Reproductive Body as Regulated by the State (Based on the Analysis of Newspaper Sovetskaia Belorussia) // Laboratorium. Russian Review for Social Research. 2012. №2. P. 259–264. Русскоязычная версия: Щурко Т. «Обязательное материнство»: репродуктивное тело женщины как объект государственного регулирования (на материале газеты «Советская Белоруссия») // Laboratorium. Журнал социальных исследований. 2012. №2. С. 69–90.

Witz A. Whose Body Matters? Feminist Sociology and the Corporeal Turn in Sociology and Feminism // Body & Society. 2000.  №6(2). P. 1–24.

Supplementary reading:

Connell R.W. Men’s Bodies // Masculinities. Cambridge: Polity Press, 1995. P. 45–56.

Pizzini F. The Medicalization of Women’s Body // Web-site Server Donne.

Seidler V. Masculinities, Bodies and Emotional Lives // Men and Masculinities. 2007. №10. P. 9–21.

Stephens E. The Spectacularized Penis: Contemporary Representations of the Phallic Male Body // Men and Masculinities. 2007.  №10. P. 85–98.

Гарфинкель Г. Переход в управляемое достижение полового статуса индивидом с «межполовой» принадлежностью // Исследования по этнометодологии. СПб.: Питер, 2007. С. 126–192.

3.3. The Collective Body, Feelings and Senses of Perception (4 hours)

The body and emotions. Emotional labour as a form of embodied labour. Passions in motion. Five senses of perception. Bodily Memory. Memory inscribed in the body. Habitual memory. Politics of the carni-phallic body. Collective and multiple bodies. The collective body of protest. The collective body of a festivity. The Body without Organs (TBO). Raving (dancing) bodies. The body in art. Body art. The national body/ the nation’s body.

Main texts:

Jordan T. Collective Bodies: Raving and the Politics of Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari // Body & Society. 1995. №1. P. 125–144.

Roderick I. The Politics of Mikhail M. Bakhtin’s Carni-Phallic Body // Social Semiotics. 1995. №5(1). P. 119–142.

Vanke A. Bodily Memory and Emotional Expressions of Male Members of the Army with Direct Experience of War // La Camera Blu. 2010. №6. P. 115–129.

Ваньке А. Коллективное тело протеста // Социология власти. 2013. №4. С. 79–103.

Делёз Ж., Гваттари Ф. Как сделаться Телом без Органов // Тысяча плато: капитализм и шизофрения. Екатеринбург: «У-Фактория, М.: Астрель, 2010. С. 248–275.

Supplementary reading:

Brians E. The ‘Virtual’ Body and the Strange Persistence of the Flesh: Deleuze, Cyberspace and the Posthuman // Deleuze and the Body. Ed. by Guillaume L., Hughes J. Edingburg: Edingburg University Press Ltd, 2011. P. 117–143.

Hahn A. Körper und Gedächtnis. Wiesbaden: VS Verlag fürSozialwissenschaften, 2010. S. 97–112, 131–142.

Manning E. Always More than One: The Collectivity of a Life // Body & Society. 2010. №16. P. 117–127.

Бахтин М. Франсуа Рабле в истории реализма // Собрание сочинений. Т. 4(1). М.: Языки славянских культур, 2008. С. 185–455.

Online sourses and web-sites:

Readings for each lesson will be available online.

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