BODYWORKS CONFERENCE – ABSTRACTS AND BIOS
Parallel Panel 1 – Biopolitical Bodies :
Madeline Le Bourdon, Northumbria University – ‘Understanding Global Citizenship In Practice’
Global citizenship is an increasingly significant feature of state policies on development and education, forming part of formal education from primary to tertiary levels, volunteering programmes and the policies of international civil society groups. Scholarly discussion has focused on its conceptualisation, its universality and best practices for teaching. Yet, gaps remain on the ‘doing’ of global citizenship, differences in its interpretation across cultures and what happens when these various ideas collide. Using data collected from fieldwork working with the international non-governmental organisation Children’s International Summer Villages (CISV) delivering global citizenship education this paper will explore the micro-level lived experiences of individuals as they journey to become ‘active global citizens’.
Using ethnographic observations and participant interviews, data collected enables us to look more closely at the intimate encounters and the bodily stimuli’s which occurred on this educational ‘camp’ providing an insight into global citizenship is practiced in the day-today lived experience of individuals. We will see how sensorial experiences, physical interactions and emotive moments made up a holistic and impactful experience for participants leaving a lasting imprint on individuals. This paper will argue that to understand what global citizenship looks like in practice we need to consider the individuals experience, including the emotion and affect, which occur within it and the impact these have on the environment around them.
- Madeleine Le Bourdon is currently in the final year of her doctorate under the supervision of Professor Matt Baillie Smith at Northumbria University. Her thesis focuses on the practice and lived experience of global citizenship using data collected from an INGO that ‘builds active global citizenship’ through peace education. Previously, Madeleine has worked with a variety of NGOs both within the UK and internationally. This has included supporting youth activism in Khayelitsha, South Africa, writing content for human rights resources in schools, delivering training on teaching about human rights, as well as delivering global citizenship education in India, South Korea, Japan and the UK. Madeleine’s interests include global citizenship, global citizenship education, youth activism, human rights education, intercultural learning and INGO’s.
Halina Gąsiorowska, SWPS University – ‘American Homeless Bloggers’ Embodiment of Dissensus’
Homeless people play the role of an abject, since exclusion of tramps and vagabonds as pointed out by many scholars (for instance Todd de Pastino, Kathleen Arnold) allowed for the establishment of a state and a nation. Tramp scare in the 19th century United States constitutes a graphic example of the mechanism of exclusion in the process of consolidation of the state of migrants (de Pastino).
The homeless are American cultural Other, and remain outside of what Jacque Ranciere calls the partition of perceptible — the order of social rationality and visibility. A homeless person (supposedly stereotyped as a mentally unstable drug addict or an alcoholic, and perceived as mute animal making noises, but incapable of rational utterance) using a computer embodies a dissensus — an aberration or disagreement in the system of social rationality, the partition of perceptible. A homeless blogger writing about his or her experiences of homelessness causes even greater confusion. Therefore, during the last economic crisis in the US homeless bloggers became a media sensation. For example, The Wall Street Journal published pictures of unshaved men in worn down clothes, sitting in the park with laptops. Journalists of the most influential American dailies conducted interviews with some of the homeless bloggers. The bloggers themselves address their status of an abject/ the Other and a sensation explicitly, commenting on it and describing their interaction with passersby readers and journalists. The authors often reflect on their appearances and the visibility of stigma they bear.
I analyze selected homeless bloggers’ strategies of raising dissensus in relation to the character of their stigma: discredited vs. discreditable one (Goffman). I am interested in the ways the homeless authors expose themselves, how they deal with shame and the loss of privacy in the process. I am going to discuss dissensus of the homeless bloggers who remained anonymous as well as those who decided to expose themselves and reveal their identities and photographs.
- Halina Gąsiorowska is a Ph.D candidate at the Faculty of Arts and Social Sciences, SWPS University of Social Sciences and Humanities in Warsaw. She is interested in sociocultural perspectives on identity and new social movements. Currently she is working on her dissertation about American homeless bloggers’ struggle for recognition.
Elizabeth Johnson, University of London, Birkbeck College – ‘Bodies in Space: The Holographic Figure in the Work of Bruce Nauman’
When the first holograms were realised in 1962 they glimmered with the promise of a new medium with which to represent the body. The luminous, intangible, three-dimensional forms created by holography attracted leading artists, including Louise
Bourgeois, Salvador Dali, Simone Forti, Frank Stella and Andy Warhol. While there has been much scholarly discussion in art history concerning technical mediations of the body in post-war Western art, prevailing accounts frequently privilege video technology (Jones, 2006; O’Reilly, 2009). Meanwhile, in media archaeology scholars argue that critical studies of historical “new media” – particularly its forgotten, quirky and obscure forms – offer crucial insights into contemporary digital culture (Huhtamo and Parrika, 2011; Parrika, 2012). As such, the hologram is a window onto the intersection between the body and technology in post-war art that has, to date, been overlooked. This omission forfeits a chance to scrutinise the ways in which technological advances fuelled by the military-industrial complex challenged the significance of corporeality in the Cold War period. My paper remedies this gap by analysing the two series of holographic self-portraits made by Bruce Nauman in 1968-69. I argue that the weightless, levitating and immaterial bodies of Nauman’s holograms expose the fantasies and anxieties concerning the body in the Space Race era. My methodology combines a media archaeological perspective with formal analysis, allowing me to explore the cultural contexts through which Nauman accessed holography while attending to the particularities of individual holographic artworks. My paper extends critiques of art’s “dematerialization” in the 1960s and 1970s by demonstrating the extent that the particular materiality of Nauman’s holograms defined their subsequent critical reception. It excavates an overlooked area of Nauman’s practice, exposing the possibilities and tensions facing the recent generation of “post-internet” artists, whose appeals to digital 3D-imaging technologies are reigniting debates concerning virtual three-dimensional representation and corporeality today.
- Elizabeth Johnson is an Associate Research Fellow in the Vasari Research Centre for Art and Technology, Birkbeck College, University of London and a Lecturer for Art Histories at the City & Guilds Art School, London. Her PhD thesis, undertaken at the London Consortium, focused on the discourse of sculpture and contemporary art and was titled ‘What do you call a sculptor who doesn’t make sculptures? Bruce Nauman 1965-74’. Her most recent research project considers the influence of digital culture and technology on contemporary sculptural practice.
Parallel Panel 2 – More-Than-Human Bodies:
Louise Mackenzie, Northumbria University – ‘Cells of L’Avenir – The Body Reconsidered’
In this talk, I will describe how my experiences working in a genetics laboratory with microbial organisms as tools for genetic/artistic research led to a reconsideration of the biological body. I chose to store a thought within the body of E. coli bacteria and in undertaking this process, I came to experience my relation to the cellular body not as other but as one. Through undertaking a slow performative practice in the laboratory and through post-humanist, vital materialist and feminist readings of science and biotechnology (Braidotti, 2013; D Haraway, 1991; Keller, 2010; Margulis, 1998; Radomska, 2016), I develop a kinship relationship (Donna Haraway, 2000, p. 9) with the body of the laboratory organism which I describe as a vessel of lively material. The body of the bacterial cell is considered within synthetic biology to be a chassis. Through the project, Pithos, I reconsider this biological chassis as a vessel, with all the capacity for sharing and spilling that this entails. I define lively material as a subset of vibrant matter (Bennett, 2010) – specifically genetic material (DNA, plasmids, viruses and cells) that has the capacity to act within the body and is thus lively. Through participatory workshops that embrace the concept of lively material, I develop the mythical character, the Cells of L’Avenir, a sentient community-being of cells that exist through deep-time with whom I act as a conduit in discussion with workshop participants, alchemically communicating across an unknowable space to divine uncertain futures.
- Louise Mackenzie is an artist and Ph.D. candidate in fine art at Northumbria University, an associate of the Institute of Genetic Medicine at Newcastle University and a member of the Cultural Negotiations of Science research group. With a focus on living material, she is interested in the relationships between medium, sound, image and text, attempting to find ways in which these can be connected to produce unexpected results. Louise was a finalist in the Bio Art & Design Awards, 2015, and a recipient of the New Graduate Award at Synthesis, Manchester Science Festival, 2013. She has spoken at Leonardo LASER London, ISEA2016 Hong Kong, Bodily Matters, UCL London, and Sonic Environments, Brisbane. Her artworks have been exhibited at the National Library of Spain (Madrid), Lumiere (Durham), Summerhall (Edinburgh), BALTIC39 (Newcastle), Bond House (London), Basement 6 Collective (Shanghai) and National Taiwan University of the Arts (Taiwan).
Xiana Vazquez, University of Hull – ‘A Defence of Relations in Animal Ethics: Making Connections Between Species’
The relations between human and nonhuman animals have been subject to much theorising from ethical and political theory. Criticisms of speciesism as the system that places humans over other species, allowing us to benefit from the exploitation of Othered bodies, have arisen since the 1970s, producing a wide range of texts that deal with the way in which we should treat, or cohabit with, other species. The best-known ethical approaches, such as those by Peter Singer and Tom Regan, have focused on abstract concepts like sentience or rights. They have their roots in traditional ethical theory, where the features of rationality and objectivity, as well as the possibility to be universalized, were the cornerstones of an acceptable ethical conclusion. However, feminist theorists like Josephine Donovan have called these perspectives into question, arguing that it rests on the Cartesian dualism between mind and body, and the differentiation between culture and nature that is also at the heart of the patriarchal and speciesist social hierarchies men – women and human – animal. Donovan, together with other ecofeminists, have criticised the masculine bias of these theories, and have proposed a valorisation of female-linked concepts like care and interconnectedness rather than individualistic and context-blind perspectives. This has influenced relational approaches to animal ethics (Palmer) and can also be connected to affect theory, since it places the focus on emotional and embodied responses, vulnerability, and the results of interactions between bodies (human or nonhuman). I would like to explore these contributions in connection to proposals about interspecies (Derrida) and cyborg (Haraway) subjectivities, and liberation approaches that reject the human bias and prefer to talk about blurred, unfinished identities rather than fixed ones (Haraway, Deleuze & Guattari) that challenge the patriarchal, speciesist capitalism and its totalising structures.
- I obtained my BA in Foreign Languages and Literature in the University of Vigo (my hometown, in Galicia, Spain) in 2015. I wrote my BA thesis about a re-writing of Williams Shakespeare’s The Tempest (Indigo, by Marina Warner), working on the figure of the witch as a symbol of anti-imperial and anti-patriarchal struggles. I started the GEMMA Master in Women’s and Gender Studies in 2016 at the University of Granada. I am now finishing my second year at the University of Hull and I am working on my MA thesis, which deals with science fiction as a tool to build a new feminist, antispeciesist discourse.
Parallel Panel 3 – Sensing Bodies:
Thomas Tajo and Daniel Kish, World Access for the Blind – ‘FlashSonar or Echolocation Education: Expanding the Function of Hearing and Changing the Meaning of Blindness’
Sight is primarily associated with the function of gathering and processing near and extended spatial information which is largely used to support self-determined interaction with the environment through self-directed movement and navigation. By contrast, hearing is primarily associated with the function of gathering and processing sequential information which may typically be used to support self-determined communication through the self-directed use of music and language. Blindness or the lack of vision is traditionally characterized by a lack of capacity to access spatial information which, in turn, is presumed to result in a lack of capacity for self-determined interaction with the environment due to limitations in self-directed movement and navigation. However through a specific protocol of FlashSonar education developed by World Access for the Blind, the function of hearing can be expanded in blind people to carry out some of the functions normally associated with sight, that is to access and process near and extended spatial information to construct three-dimensional acoustic images of the environment. This perceptual education protocol results in a significant restoration in blind people of self-determined environmental interaction, movement, and navigational capacities normally attributed to vision – a new way to see. Thus by expanding the function of hearing to process spatial information to restore self-determined movement, we are not only changing the meaning of blindness and what it means to be blind, we are also recasting the meaning of vision and what it is to see.
- Daniel Kish is a psychologist, the pioneer of Human Echolocation, and founder of the World Access for the Blind. Thomas Tajo is a sociologist and member of the World Access for the Blind. They are both blind sensory researchers, Echolocation and Perceptual Navigational instructors for the World Access for the Blind. They are both blindness activists and thinkers.
Juliette Salme, University of Liège – ‘Crafting (Dead) Bodies, Crafting Oneself: An Anthropological Enquiry of the Anatomy Lesson’
Stemmed from my master’s thesis research on the medical practice of anatomy in the dissection room, this paper addresses questions of sensoriality, embodiement, and affects, as an empirical case grounded in ethnographic research. As they dissect or, more precisely, as they shape the cadaver as a medical “object” and simultaneously start visualising the anatomical structures, I propose that the students also start shaping themselves as young doctors. That is to say, their subjectivation as future professionals – in a field which, as medical anthropology has long documented, include quite a lot of emotion management – is closely related to their concrete engagement with materials, including the very palpable dead bodies and all its peculiar properties. Fluids, flesh, grease and smells of the embalmed cadaver all have effects as the students engage in the dissecting activity. As an ongoing learning process in which the physical work with materials unfolds modes of knowing the body, to follow closely the anatomising “in the making” allows to understand this predominantly non-verbal process as a means of constructing human beings as subjects. To affect and be affected is central to the understanding of the body, dead or alive, through the body. The body here is multiple, and does not strictly correspond to the naturalist conception that lies at the chore of the western biomedicine. The attention to affect is therefore important in deconstructing the dualisms that flow from the nature-culture dualism, and are constantly contradicted by intensive fieldwork among medical students and anatomists; namely, the rigid dichotomies between subjects and objects, body and mind, organisms and artefacts.
- Juliette Salme is a PhD student in Anthropology at the University of Liège, where she is also a teaching assistant in the department. Her master’s thesis focused on learning and practice in the dissection room, highlighting the anatomy lesson as a specific, multisensorial and affective practice, which is close to craft and intensively engages bodies as, as she proposes, students learn to “see with their hands”. As an elaboration of that topic, her current PhD project is a multi-sited approach that includes the increasing presence of digital and virtual technologies in medical practices, including anatomy. Through a focus on technique, she is interested in human bodies, tacit and embodied knowledge, and the senses. She is currently teaching Sensory Anthropology as a supply lecturer.
Parallel Panel 4 – Building Bodies:
Francesca Steele, Northumbria University – ‘The Female Bio Cutup – Reshaping, Reworking and Undoing’
I will focus specifically on time spent from becoming an ‘artist-bodybuilder’ 2008-2012; discussing imported bodily technologies, symmetries with machine, strict disciplines, chemical interventions and mundane routines, right through to the ‘slowing’ states of ‘unbecoming’, I will reflect upon the formation and deformation of this work.
My reiteration of artist’s transformational body ‘reconfigured as practice’ or ‘document of work’ via the deeply alchemic practice of bodybuilding is a demonstration of what I have termed the female bio cutup. Here, reclamation formed in response to felt or physical trauma, a catalyst to regeneration; where inscribed bodily actions coincide to meet with Gysin’s Cutup technique.
My presentation will reflect my voice; both pertinent and uniquely positioned to reflect lived experience as a practitioner, alongside the rare advantage of being able to review the work of artists and academics Cassils, Broderick Chow (for example) from the perspective of ‘insider’ knowledge. I will examine risk loaded transformations scribed through the body, citing cross gender identities and deeply ignited coping strategies within research methodologies through an alternative experience; that of the lived, felt, embodied physical or personal mental transition.
I draw from Acker’s reflections on her own bodybuilding practice in her essay Bodies of Work, from psychologist Gillian Straker, Burroughs and Orbach’s Fat is a Feminist Issue and more. Adding to artworks with Elenor Antin’s Carving, Kira O’Reilly’s Cup Piece. These will assist me to discuss and demonstrate alternative body economies of the ‘building up and breaking down body’.
- I am a visual and live artist researching artists’ transformative and transactional languages produced in response to trauma supervised by Sandra Johnston.
- I have exhibited work with Welcome Trust, South Bank Center and the ICA amongst other organisations and galleries. My work also features on internet sites such as ‘girls with muscle’ and persists outside the tradition of the white box space; permeating wallpapers, concealed within the doctors’ surgery, hidden in cheap hotel rooms, living in the gym, held in a reflection and breathing through scar tissue.
Isabel Fontbona, University of Girona – ‘The Female’s Bodybuilding Corporeality: Metamorphosing the Flesh to Build a New Feminine Identity’ (Accompanied with a Performance)
In this communication, we will take the following question as the starting point that runs through our doctoral research:
‘Is the woman’s muscular body as a subversive act, trying to break the patriarchal structure internalized by our society?’
The female bodybuilding practice transformed what had always been taken for granted, seeking control and power of the body, and also seeking to gain importance in the social structure. Looking for a “new identity”, this became a transgressive act, because of building a new body in which to be identified with, of stepping on a territory that historically have only been limited to the male sex, of action, strength, power, sport, muscle, and so on.
How was the emergence of this new body perceived?
And what about the aspirations of this new female identity?
How has this transgressive act nowadays ended up getting transformed through competitions in which the muscular women bodies become a new sexualized object to analyze, compare, split and be trivialized?
How is it shown by the media?
Can we understand this corporeal construction as a feminist resistance act? Or is it better to talk about a queer body?
One of the intentions of this communication is to show the comparison between two forms in which the women’s muscular body in motion, is the focus. First of all, we will show how the women’s bodybuilder body moves, how it is analyzed and then shown on bodybuilding competition stage. How objectivized and sexualised becomes the bodybuilder women’s body, how she -the woman that broke boundaries by building a new body-, again ends up being caged under the male’s gaze. On the other hand, we will show how Heather Cassils (a transgender performer), taking their body as a material to work, through several performances will work on the relevance of this new built female body, the body of the bodybuilder woman.
This conference will be accompanied with a performance to illustrate what happens in a bodybuilding contest on stage, but also to take a closer look at the backstage experience, as well as what strategies are used by the participants to show the best possible version of their own bodies: warming up, the tanning process, among others.
In the case of female bodybuilders, despite being muscular women, are generally considered that it is important to emphasize our femininity, which can be achieved by superficial means that break with the idea or image of bodybuilding being only men’s sport. It goes without saying that the way that you move on stage is also essential.
But is it really necessary to go to such great lengths to be regarded as feminine?
After such a long and hard process, does it really have any bearing on the overall results?
- Isabel Fontbona (1987) is a PhD candidate in the department of Art History at the University of Girona (Spain). She has studied two Bachelor’s Degrees in Philosophy and Art History, as well as a Master’s Degree in Introduction to the Humanity Research. Her dissertation research involves feminism and gender topics, body identity, representation and performance, focusing on the bodies of muscular women as a result of bodybuilding practice. It’s important to note, besides this academic side, her sports career as a natural bodybuilder competitor.
Parallel Panel 5 – Feminist Bodies:
Paulina Trakul, Independent Researcher – ‘“Weighted down”: The Portrayal of the Female Body with Reference to the Duality of Mind/Body and Literacy on the Example of Adeline Mowbray (1805) by Amelia Opie’
The long-established opposition of mind/body is particularly relevant in the discussion of men being identified with mind and action and women with body and passivity. To use Susan Bordo’s term, women are “weighted down” owing to their strong connection with emotions, sentiments, and body, whereas men are perceived as more intellectual and independent. Female body, emotions and intellect were the frequent subjects of the novels which reflected both conservative and revolutionary views upon female education. Conservative writers would attempt to prevent women from being influenced by new revolutionary philosophy that could undermine and destabilise women’s traditional role in society. Progressive writers of the period would advocate educating women in the hope of social empowerment which dissociates women only from the image of being passive, dependent, and emotional. A particularly interesting and controversial example of such attempts is Adeline Mowbray (1805) by Amelia Opie which demonstrates how a young, intelligent and educated woman endeavours to be perceived on a par with intelligent men while she struggles with being continuously “weighted down” due to her body and sex. Adeline’s uncontrolled and unsupervised self-education, especially in political pamphlets, encourages her to practice progressive philosophy and trespass on the fossilised social expectations and customs. Her intellectual emancipation is, however, thwarted by her body., She is mistreated and perceived purely through the prism of her femininity and physicality not intellect which forces her to embrace the traditional role of a woman Inspired by her reading, Adeline hopes that literacy and education would enhance her social status. Instead, literacy paradoxically intensifies the social limitations imposed on her.
- Paulina Trakul graduated from Faculty of English, Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznan, Poland. She received an MA in English Studies with literary specialisation in 2017. Currently, she has been working on her PhD research which is focused on the literary activities of the Bluestockings circle in the eighteenth-century England. Her fields of interests include theory of literature, especially reader-response theory, literature of the long eighteenth century, female education, female readership in the eighteenth-century England. A passionate reader of eighteenth-century and Victorian novels.
Piret Põldver, Tartu University – ‘Body As A Threat’
In my presentation I analyze how woman’s body and sexuality in the Estonian literature has been seen as a threat for men. Mehis Heinsaar has a short story titled “Beautiful Armin”, where the main character, Armin, is so heavenly beautiful that any woman’s sexual appetite for him is never satisfied. Armin is passive, he is raped several times by unsatisfied and eager women, including his sister. Eventually, his father marries him to a big and strong woman Maret, whose sexual appetite for Armin is so huge that in the end she eats him. Estonian writer Friedebert Tuglas has used a similar motive in his story “At the end of the world”.
I’m arguing that confrontations as passive-active, beautiful-ugly, men-women etc. in those short stories could be interpreted with the help of Simone de Beauvoir’s framework in “Second Sex”. Beauvoir claims that woman as the Other to man is seen as something that has to be owned. At the same time, man is threatened by a woman’s sexuality, because through sexuality a woman could own a man, and destroy his superiority. In Heinsaar’s story with reversed symbols, Armin’s heavenly appearance represents man’s transcendent goals, and Maret’s growth and strength woman’s immanent essence. At the same time, representing Armin as passive, and all the women as active, is an allegory for the cultural situation where men stereotypically avoid their responsibility for their own sexuality. A passive and a small man and an active and a huge woman in Tuglas’s story carry the same parallel. At the same time, men’s passiveness makes woman responsible for consequences. Heinsaar’s and Tuglas’s short story represent a man’s deepest fear of a woman, who, with her desires, takes man down to Earth, eventually killing and eating him.
- I am a MA student of Estonian literature in the Tartu University. I’m also working as a proof reader in the Estonian publishing house Maurus. I have written book reviews to Estonian newspapers and culture magazines since 2006. In my MA research, I analyze Estonian contemporary literature from the feminist perspective. In particular, I examine how social biases affect a heteronormative relationship in literature based on the example of how a male writer in his texts depicts and interprets love and relationships with women.
Parallel Panel 6 – Texts and Texture: Bodies in Literature:
Marine Furet, Cardiff University – ‘From “Vinyl Sleek” to “Sweet Scab”: Angela Carter’s Textural Language’
In the satirical piece, ‘Year of the Punk’ (1977), Angela Carter contends that ‘vinyl sleek’ was the texture of the Seventies. Covered in such sleek materials as rubber or silk, female skin was highly fetishised. Carter’s textural language blurs the frontier between nakedness and the artful nude, nature and artifice, skin and object, the animate and the inanimate. In this regard, it is perhaps no coincidence that Leilah, the fetishised black woman featured in Carter’s novel The Passion of New Eve (1977), who covers her skin in ‘glinting bronze powder’, shares her name and her condition as ‘[objet] de luxe’ with an expensive nightdress, which Carter mocked in an article written the year of the release of the novel. By the time she writes Nights at the Circus (1984), however, Carter’s writing seems to adopt an aesthetic of the rough – endowing her protagonist, Fevvers, with an itchy, unsmooth skin, and covering the objects around her with a ‘sweet scab’ of dirt, as with a second epidermis. In this paper, I draw on film theorist Pansy Duncan’s analysis of postmodernity’s preoccupation with textures, particularly the divide between ‘the rough’ and ‘the smooth’, and on theorisations of race and skin by Anne Anlin Cheng. I follow Carter’s textural language in her writing of the 1970s and 1980s, and its connections with race, gender, and selfhood. I argue that Carter’s tactile language is informed by her criticism of advertising and visual culture, and tease out the links between consumption, texture, and skin in her writing. In so doing, I foreground the importance of skin as a signifier in her oeuvre: a locus of tactile and visual interaction with, and consumption of, the body.
- A PhD researcher at Cardiff University, Marine Furet explores Angela Carter’s representation of, and dealings with material culture, objects, and history. She is interested in thing theory, and in literary representations of materiality, including food and skin, which she researched during her Master’s Degree at the University of Glasgow. Her PhD project is funded by the South West and Wales Doctoral Training Partnership (AHRC). In addition, Marine is a co-organiser of the Glasgow-based series of events Transatlantic Literary Women (January 2017 – Present), and is on the board of the student organisation Assuming Gender at Cardiff University. She has also published multiple reviews for the online publication Plays to See.
Kath Lawson Hughes, Swansea College of Art – ‘Auto-Fiction as Methodology: The Body as Somatic Narrative Device’
This paper will theorize how an Auto-fictional writing praxis can be utilized as a creative strategy, and alternative research methodology, to auto-ethnographic qualitative research methods. Invested in the body as a narrative device, and the porous boundaries between truth and fiction when we write and construct our self identities, always in affective relation to others, Auto-fiction will be critiqued as a tool of performative praxis on the page, enabling us to re-write our own relational narratives of embodiment, representations of somatic, phenomenological and sensory experience.
It will be argued that an Auto-fictional creative writing praxis prompts a reflective relation towards the body and embodied experience to occur, a stepping aside of the self-of-the-everyday- the subjective identity constituted in relation to the rigidity of the socio-cultural systems and rhythms within which the self in question ordinarily functions- and into a proximally-situated somatic interrelation to ones embodied and imaginative sense of being and experiencing. This reflexive and performative writing space, where a temporary loss, forgetfulness or transcendence of the self of the everyday unfolds, it will be contested, is concurrently the space where new ideations of being and identity are formulated, where becoming materializes through sensory affect.
- Kathryn Lawson Hughes is a writer, artist and PhD researcher at Swansea College of Art, Wales (UK), on a KESS II European Research Council funded scholarship. She has an MFA in Contemporary Dialogues, and has most recently presented academic research entitled ‘Self-tracking, Embodiment and Resistance: A Phenomenological Enquiry’ at the ‘Metric Culture: The Quantified Self and Beyond’ conference, at Aarhus Institute of Advanced Studies, Denmark (2017). Kath also writes auto-fiction under a nom de plume.
Merlin Kirikal, Tallinn University – ‘The Temperature, Size and Texture of Female Bodies in Johannes Semper’s Oeuvre’
Johannes Semper (1892–1970) – the Estonian intellectual, writer, essayist, translator, culture organizer – was a curious type. Approximately from 1910 until 1930s he was interested in all contemporary cultural currents and shifts – symbolism, futurism, expressionism – and furthermore, he was intrigued by “the woman question”. This stance culminated with a collection of short stories Ellinor (1927), the plot of which are shown through a perspective of a young, active and fit New Woman – a unique text in Estonian culture during 1920s and 1930s. Dipping from the works of Nietzsche, Bergson, Gide and Freud, he wrote the psychological modernist novel Jealousy (1934). Later, in 1959 published an uncouth, unbelievably black-and-white, socialist realist propagandistic book Red Carnations, “making sure” that his previous multifaceted prose would be left out of the Estonian cultural canon.
With my doctoral project I will not ask the most obvious (and probably unsolvable) question about the writer’s political choices, but rather I have chosen “the body” to be my first area of interest in his early fictional work. With this paper I aim to look closely at the abundant representations of female bodies in Semper’s oeuvre. Taking as my starting point the different ways in which female characters’ bodies are constructed, for example, remarks made about their size, texture and temperature, I will shed light on the ambivalent meanings associated with female bodies at the beginning of the 20th century and try to connect these representations with the prevailing gender ideologies in Europe.
- Merlin Kirikal is currently a doctoral student at University of Tallinn. Her doctoral project focuses on the oeuvre of Johannes Semper, mainly on his collection of short stories Ellinor (1927) and on the novel Jealousy (1934). Her thesis aims to (re)read Semper’s fiction and essays from a gender sensitive and body conscious perspective.
Parallel Panel 7 – Disabled Bodies, Mental Health, and Eating Disorders (Panel 1):
Judith Drake, University of Edinburgh – ‘Embodying Disability Aesthetic’
How members of a society relate to each other is fundamentally linked to embodiment. The idealised body is contextualised by the cultural moment: the preferred shape, ethnicity, gender, sexuality and ability changes according to this ideal embodiment. Individuals judge somatically, within seconds, whether another person’s body matches up to these expectations. These judgements filter down into how people should look, dress, act, move, talk. The apparent superficiality of these evaluations belies an insidious requirement to conform. While cosmetic surgery can be belittled as narcissistic, in relation to the non-disabled body, normalizing procedures applied to disabled bodies are generally considered as therapeutic interventions. Though some procedures will have a positive impact on the functionality of the body, there are other procedures that attempt to normalize the appearance or movement of disabled bodies to reduce negative reactions to bodies that do not meet a cultural ideal.
Using Tobin Sieber’s scholarship on Disability Aesthetics I wish to explore the somatic response to bodies that do not fit into a societal ideal, whether medical interventions are for the benefit of individuals or the people who surround them, and what can be learned from the somatic feelings they create. I will focus on the National Theatre of Scotland’s 2011 production of Girl X by Pol Heyvaert, Robert Softley & Bart Capelle. The play explores the fictionalised case of a severely disabled girl whose parents have requested surgery to prevent the onset of puberty. The medics agree with the parents and seek legal approval to perform this surgery. By examining this production, which is written, devised and performed by disabled people, I will argue that its depiction of how human worth is derived from the values outlined above, and set out the case that the disability aesthetic can problematize and challenge the social construction and interpretation of idealised embodiment.
- Judith Drake is a European Theatre PhD candidate at The University of Edinburgh. Her research focuses on disability theatre in Scotland. Currently she is researching freakery in Scotland during the nineteenth century.
Grace Lucas, City University of London – ‘Mental Health is Not All in Our Heads’
Mind and body dualism is deeply and habitually ingrained in medical practice, healthcare structures and research silos. Despite efforts focused on integration, the dominating influence of psychiatric discourse and the focus on mental health within the confines of the head continue to reinforce the split.
Working with a transdisciplinary critical medical humanities framework, guided by feminist criticism rooted in my personal embodied experience and gesturing towards making social change, my research critiques dominant models of mental health focused on immaterial thoughts or brain dysfunction, both of which overwrite embodied dimensions of experience.
I argue that mental health involves physical beings in constant contact with the world and that without a shift in the language, the social, corporeal and environmental aspects of mental health remain tacked on to problematically individualised and internalised constructs.
To go against the grain of language, I find appropriate models within Somatics or bodywork practices to conceptualise non-dualist ontologies and gesture towards an embodied model of mental health. I conclude that a radical shift in mental health research and practice is urgently needed that drops out of the head and into the ‘being-body’.
In this presentation I will begin with my own personal context as a former mental health service user, then move on to some slides analysing how and where mind/body dualism is supported in public health discourse and how this translated into public imagination and understanding, via a brief reading of some illness narratives. I will then discuss what is meant by an embodied model of mental health through both critical health scholarship, feminist new materialism and via an exploration of Somatics and bodywork practices. If feasible, I may also include interactive practical breathwork and yoga into the presentation.
- Grace Lucas PhD (née Bowman) is a writer, speaker and researcher. Grace gained her BA in English from Cambridge University and after a short career in marketing, published her memoir A Shape of My Own (Viking, 2006) / Thin (Penguin, 2007), which explored her experience of anorexia. Subsequently, she published widely on eating disorders in the national press and debated mental health issues across media channels. In 2011, Grace completed an MSc Medical Humanities at King’s College London and, in 2012, was awarded a School of Arts Doctoral Studentship at Birkbeck. Grace’s PhD thesis (awarded 2017) proposes a new embodied model of mental health. Grace now works at City, University of London as a Research Fellow in the Centre for Maternal and Child Health. She is also a qualified yoga teacher. Grace has an interest in embodied methodologies and bodywork practices for the communication and representation of distress.
Gisella Orsini, University of Malta – ‘The Power of Thinness: Understanding the Morality of Eating Disorders’
This paper is based on the data collected between April 2012 and May 2014 through a qualitative and comparative study, aiming at understanding the phenomenon of eating disorders in Italy and Malta. The medical category of ‘eating disorders’, appeared for the first time in the third edition of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, in 1980. It classifies a number of illnesses characterised by gross disturbances in eating behaviour due to a strong fear of gaining weight or becoming fat.
In contrast with the biomedical perception of the phenomenon, I suggest that eating disorders could be considered as the result of a moral self-transformative process, were control over hunger, pleasure and bodily needs are core values, and in which the body becomes the physical symbol of such a change. The thinner a body is, the higher the moral value of the person and vice versa.
The self-transformative process of people with eating disorders can be understood as a form of moral conversion along a continuum of increasing control over hunger: the higher the control, the higher the level of satisfaction and the degree of moral conversion achieved.
In this sense, while thinness is a symbolic and powerful statement of the triumph of the mind-self, the annihilation of all physical threats to the idealised mind-self, fat bodies are perceived as symbols of moral failure.
- Gisella Orsini is a lecturer of the Department of Gender Studies at the University of Malta, and a Research Associate of the Mediterranean Institute – University of Malta. She completed her Ph.D in Anthropology in 2015, with a dissertation entitled “An imperfect body reflects an imperfect person: An ethnographic study of Eating Disorders in Malta and Italy”, due to her interest in in exploring the relation between mind, body, gender and culture. Her research interest falls into the areas of anthropology of the body, health – culture and gender, medical anthropology.
Parallel Panel 8 – Disabled Bodies, Mental Health, and Eating Disorders (Panel 2):
Athia Choudury, University of Southern California – ‘Vernaculars of the Flesh: Fattening Practices and Colonial Feeling’
This paper considers how the popular discourses in “Globesity” studies subjugates the fat body as a modern medically and socially dysfunctional problem of our time. The interdisciplinary field of fat studies deconstructs the pathologizing medical and social gaze that renders fat as premature death, social dysfunction, and crisis where the only solution is eradication. “Vernaculars of Flesh” critically extends and expands this work by interrogating how renderings of the fat body as merely a modern public health problem often obscures the violences of systemic poverty, racism, and coloniality. In doing so, this paper reorients the question from how do we solve the modern problem of fat, to instead ask, how did fat become a problem for modernity?
I thicken our historic engagement with fat and fattening to colonial encounters with fattening practices— and anxieties around the touching, eating, expanding of womanly flesh and appetites—to understand ways of sensing the body. In British and French travel journals, European travelers wrote about the inhumane practice of “fattening women like piglets to the market” in contrast to the more “liberated” practices of European women self-regulating their figures through moderation, corsets, and abstention from the earthly delights of food and sex. I am interested in how these fattening practices were consistently linked to the fattening of livestock—where the language of racialized livestock gestures to how racial capitalism operates to traffic race and women’s bodies ascultural currency. Building from scholarship on postcolonial intimacies and feminist theories of embodiment, my work asks: how does the imperial body politic produce the structures of sexuality and race to mark and contain excess? What can we learn about the unboundedness of the body through an interrogation of the dead-end of fatness?
- Athia Choudhury is a doctoral candidate in the department of American Studies and Ethnicity at the University of Southern California. She crosses time and space paradoxes to follow the femme across messy ontologies at the end of the world where, as Kendrick Lamar notes, loving you is complicated. Her work considers colonial technologies confronting bodily excess, the matter of fat, the unruliness that escapes knowability (but not desire), and the many collisions that create the pressure points of our bodily surfaces.
Eleanor Byrne, University of York – ‘The Lived Body, its Disruption and Maternal Well-being’
Here my aim is to discuss problems that perinatal women may encounter in their relationship with their bodies, demonstrating how phenomenology provides a good framework for understanding this relationship. From this, I illustrate how phenomenology may be useful both as a resource for facilitating private self-understanding in new mothers, as well as in systematic integration with current perinatal health services.
First I introduce the key phenomenological ideas about the body that underpin the concepts that will prove important in patient understanding of perinatal mental illness. Crucial here is embodiment and the lived body. The lived body (as opposed to the purely anatomical body) gives us our most fundamental sense of being in the world and provides a sort of anchoring for us. When the way we experience our bodies is radically disrupted, so is our anchoring in the world. I focus here on bodily certainty in the healthy subject and its negation in illness.
In the second half of this paper I discuss ways in which bodily doubt might be particularly prominent in cases of postnatal depression, focusing on Young’s work on feminine bodily comportment, and the power of the understanding of an experience of bodily doubt as temporary.
- I am a MA by Research Student at the Department of Philosophy at the University of York. I am currently looking at ways in which the phenomenological tradition can contribute to a richer understanding of perinatal mental health, drawing on ideas from traditional phenomenology, feminist philosophy and the philosophy of medicine & psychiatry.
Botsa Katara, Durham University – ‘The Prosthetic Body: Abled, Disabled or Posthuman?’
The growing advancement of medical sciences coupled with an obsessive veneration of technology has rendered the human body being perceived as obsolete, mortal, and inefficient. The unhinged blending of technology with the body has drastically altered the experience of living with a disability. Amputations and prosthesis have transformed into sophisticated electric circuitry of metals, wires, miniature chips or drugs that promise a cyborgian or post human efficiency that surpasses flesh and blood.
I will argue how the pursuit of machinic perfectionism of the body has resulted into an absolute dismissal of what it means to have and live with a disability. The paper will demonstrate that the wave of image culture, capitalism and consumerism has rendered the body itself as an emblem of disability that needs to be urgently equipped to fight its limitations and incompetence. Amputations are not restricted to being extensions to a disabled body but are memory and intelligence enhancing drugs or a third arm attached to the existing two. The ramifications of this are negation of agency, irrationality of affect, the loss of the singularity of the experience of being a prosthetic.
Under the framework of phenomenology and affect theory this paper will focus on the select works of Beckett, Melville, and Coetzee along with sci-fi, cyborg fictions, and illness memoirs of prosthetics. It will demonstrate how the relationship of the self with the body is beyond its functionality. Our experiences, cognition, perception, and subjectivity are intertwined with physical body.
- My name is Botsa Katara, first year PhD in English literature and medical humanities, from Durham University. Hold a Masters in Modern English literature from the University of Edinburgh, did my thesis in identity conflict in cancer patients. I worked as an assistant at a prosthesis centre in Delhi, India where I closely observed prosthetics.
Keynote: Lisa Blackman, ‘Affect, Immaterial Bodies and Machinic Perception’
The bodies we inhabit do not end at the skin. We are always entering into new relations of emergence and becoming. Whilst at the same time, we live culturally specific norms of personhood or subjectivity that become part of our deep history – how we think, react, feel, respond etc. This distinction between processual theories of becoming and interdisciplinary debates on subjectivity, as they intersect with affect studies, will be a key focus of the lecture today. I have called this paradox the problem of the “one and many” in my book, Immaterial Bodies: Affect, Embodiment, Mediation (Sage, 2012); this paradox relates to the fact that our bodies are both open and processual, whilst at the same time we live specific local norms of personhood that shape what becomes available to us as processes and practices of becoming. This paradox is vexed and difficult to theorise and I argue is one of the challenging questions for theories of the body and affect and interdisciplinary study and practice.