Techniques Of The Body Essay

6056 words - 24 pages

As human beings we are very active creatures. It is very rare we sit absolutely still with no movement at all, in fact to do so would be considered strange in most social contexts. These movements are not however sporadic, they are in fact highly controlled, practiced skills. Even when remaining relatively still, for example, to rest or sleep, we have still been taught the required skills to do so, whether it’s how to sit on a chair or lay on a bed, these are very ordinary, everyday techniques that we take for granted and perceive as something natural, but often they are technique’s we have been taught to do.
Marcel Mauss in his work Techniques of the Body (1934) is regarded as the first piece of work to outline a systematic anthropology of the body (Synnott 1993). It aims to show evidence that most everyday body techniques differ between people raised in different environments, as they have a different way of life that requires a different set of skills. According to Mauss all ordinary activities such as walking, running, swimming, resting are not just techniques we are naturally equipped with but are instead culturally acquired. The aim of this paper is to critically assess Mauss’ argument that techniques of the body constitute culture. This will be done by looking at what is defined as culture in the context that Mauss refers to. An analysis of Mauss’ examples of “body techniques” given in his paper will then begin, whilst also drawing on current examples. Mauss’ work will then be compared to other writers in the field of ‘the body’ such as Elias and Goffman.
The notion of culture that Mauss refers to is one conceived as a corpus of knowledge and information that is passed through generations through practical application (Ingold 1999). So in this notion behaviour is not something that is inherent but instead learned from observation of one’s immediate surroundings and fellow men. As Goodenough (1957) puts it “a society’s culture consists of whatever it is one has to know or believe in order to operate in a manner acceptable to its members “(Cited in D’Andrade (1984:89). According to this definition members of a given society are required to learn the manners and behaviours that are acceptable to their pacific cultural beliefs in order to operate as a fully accepted member of their given society. As Mauss states “all these elements of the art of using the human body, the facts of education are dominant” (1934:459). So it could then be argued that culture simply forms a set of rules and instructions in which one has to learn and adhere to in order to develop into a fully fledged member of society and even the world. When referring to these rules and instructions it’s important to note that these are not just those that are verbal or written, like those given out within a social institutions such as school, but very often they are formed through symbols and the meanings given to them, as Geertz defines “an historically transmitted pattern of...

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