83 Pages

S. Simon John Human Body, Folk Narratives and Rituals

The social construction of the body differs from the medical construction in so far as it positions the body in the center of human interaction. That is, the body is seen as the existential basis of human interaction within given social, political, economic, cultural, and environmental conditions (cf. HALL 1977). Robert CRAWFORD (1984) described the human body as a cultural object. As our most immediate natural symbol it provides us with a powerful medium through which we interpret and give expression to our individual and social experience. “Human nature,” the category of the inevitable (and often the desirable), fi nds its truth in the body. We live within a nature/culture opposition and the “natural body” confi rms our place within a more “authentic” order. It is a vital foundation upon which behavior and values are predicated. Conversely, as a symbol of nature the body must be contained and transformed by culture. We invest the body with culture, thereby distinguishing ourselves from the rest of nature. Moreover, our biological being, always mediated by culture, delimits many of our most important social roles. It defi nes us in relation to others in kinship, sex, age groups, and larger social units such as race or caste. Bodily states are key markers in which the social defi nitions of the self are invested-not only regarding role, but normality and abnormality. The body also supplies a universally experienced model of a living and dynamic unit, an organic whole, a prototype from which we can draw in our attempts to explain and give meaning to larger social units and experiences. It is our richest source for metonymy and metaphor (cf. CRAWFORD 1984).