chapter  2
13 Pages

The body in social theory

Overview In this chapter I first introduce the reader to the broad range of dynamically embodied acts that constitute the scope of the study of bodily movement in cultural contexts. I then identify possible reasons for the longstanding bias against the body in Western thought, and the curiously disembodied view of human beings that permeated the social sciences prior to a ‘corporeal turn’ toward embodiment that began in the 1970s. I divide the corporeal turn into two distinct phases: the first moves us from disembodied social science to a focus on ‘the body’ – I call this the first somatic turn. Stimulated by the existential phenomenology of MerleauPonty, the works of Foucault and Bourdieu, a range of feminist theorists, and an interdisciplinary, postmodern, phenomenological valorization of the sensuous, a number of social theorists were seeking ways to ‘bring the body back in.’ A second somatic turn, a theoretical enrichment of the earlier phase, re-positions the moving body and the primacy of active, moving persons as central to a theoretically adequate account of embodied social action. This enrichment stems from a principle of Williams’s semasiology that unifies the concepts of action, discourse and embodiment: the primacy of the signifying moving person. The chapter concludes by noting some theoretical convergences and distinctions between MerleauPonty’s ideas and semasiology.