This week, ENGL 690 (Health and Humanities: Intensive Research Practice) discussed the many intersecting lines of thought surrounding conceptions of the body. Students traced connections from science and technology studies (STS) to (bio)ethics and the biomedical model, between disability studies and rhetoric, and from anthropology to narrative. One prominent discussion involved how disability studies may critique bioethical notions of bodily perfection and biomedical choices made by doctors to “correct” disabilities. Students also discussed how anthropological views on the body may offer cross-cultural perspectives that challenge the universalism often underlying western conceptions of the body. Rhetoric was explored as a way to analyze how people talk about illness and the body while narrative was discussed in terms of its potential for meaning-making and identity integration. Finally, students discussed what is at stake in the production of knowledge about the body and how historical conceptions of the body have changed with the advent of new technologies.
Prominent theorists discussed included: Bruno Latour on the subject/object divide; Giorgio Agamben on biopolitics; Donna Haraway on the permeability of the body with regards to technology; Francis Bacon and Renee Descartes on forging the mind/body divide and establishing the body as a research site for natural science; and Michel Foucault on biopower.
Through these discussions the very notion of “the body” became destabilized as students introduced theories from posthumanism and animal studies. Overall, students agreed that they will never be able to think of the body the same way.