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DRPS : Course Catalogue : Centre for Open Learning : Social and Political Science

Undergraduate Course: Thinking through the Body (LLLJ07003)

Course Outline
SchoolCentre for Open Learning CollegeCollege of Humanities and Social Science
Credit level (Normal year taken)SCQF Level 7 (Year 1 Undergraduate) AvailabilityNot available to visiting students
SCQF Credits10 ECTS Credits5
SummaryThis course is not available to University of Edinburgh matriculated students. This is a for-credit course offered by the Office of Lifelong Learning (OLL); only students registered with OLL should be enrolled.

Human bodies seem to be, at first glance, relatively fixed and certain physical entities. However, perspectives from social science show that bodies may be better understood as being shaped by a range of social and cultural factors, including gender, age and beliefs. This course draws primarily on sociological perspectives - and others including anthropology, philosophy, medicine and holistic healthcare - to provide a critical overview of these different ways of understanding bodies.
Course description Content of course
1. Which bodies? Nature and society
In the first week we will cover the basis of the debate underpinning the course. Bodies are undeniably biological ¿things¿, but they are also social. We will look at explanations of the social ¿construction¿ of the body and the interaction between biology and society.
2. Changing ideas about the body: historical and philosophical perspectives
This class covers a range of thinkers on the body, from Aristotle to Norbert Elias. We will look at their perspectives on the development of western ideas about the body.
3. Disciplining the body
In this class, we will explore the way in which society shapes and attempts to control the body. As well as considering the views of thinkers such as Michel Foucault and Bryan Turner, we will also consider the impact of a range of institutions (e.g. prisons, schools, governments, etc.).
4. Differently known bodies
This week covers feminist perspectives on bodies, which have highlighted fundamental differences in how we experience them. Hence, we will explore differences in embodied experience, for example in relation to gender, (dis)ability and age.
5. Medical bodies
The institution of medicine and the dominance of rational science and medical ways of knowing are examined in this class. We will also look at the impact of advances in technology on understandings of bodies. Critiques of mainstream medicine lead into the next class.
6. Holistic bodies
This week offers an overview of different ways of knowing about bodies found in Traditional Chinese Medicine, Ayurveda, Homeopathy and ¿mind-body¿ therapies. Why are they popular? Why are they still marginal?
7. Consuming bodies and the ¿body project¿
Bodies in consumer culture and the body as a never-ending ¿project¿ are the focus of this week. Areas of focus will include cosmetic surgery and eating disorders.
8. Working bodies and work on bodies
Whether paid or unpaid, work is often central to our embodied experience, not least because we spend so much time doing it. In this class we will look in particular at work which focuses on bodies (e.g. home care workers, beauticians, boxers, bouncers).
9. Bodies in popular culture
In the penultimate class we will look at the flood of TV shows which tell us how to eat, dress, lose weight and deal with ¿embarrassing illnesses¿. How ¿helpful¿ can we understand these to be, and might they fulfil a particular social function?
10. Course review and summary
Entry Requirements (not applicable to Visiting Students)
Pre-requisites Co-requisites
Prohibited Combinations Other requirements None
Course Delivery Information
Not being delivered
Learning Outcomes
By the end of this course, students should be able to:
* Demonstrate an understanding of social and cultural debates around the body (in particular relation to gender, consumerism, health and politics);
* Identify social scientific ways of thinking about bodies;
* Compare, contrast and critically evaluate various perspectives on bodies;
* Apply their understanding to everyday embodied life.
Reading List
Essential Readings
Howson, A., 2004. The Body in Society. Cambridge: Polity Press.

Bendelow, G., 2009. Health, Emotion and the Body. London: Polity.
Bivins, R., 2007. Alternative Medicine? A History. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
Ehrenreich, B. and English, D., 2010. Witches, Midwives and Nurses. New York: Feminist Press.
Elias, N., 2000. The Civilizing Process. Vol I Part II. Oxford: Blackwell.
Turner, B.S., 2008. The Body and Society. 3rd ed. London: Sage.

Web sources
The Center for an Accessible Society, The ¿New Paradigm¿ of Disability:
ORLAN (artist) website:
Stelarc 2009, Stretched Skin, Scott Livesey Galleries:
Channel 4, Beauty and the Beast: the Ugly Face of Prejudice:
Angela McRobbie, Sociology of Culture:
Additional Information
Graduate Attributes and Skills Not entered
KeywordsNot entered
Course organiserMr James Mooney
Tel: (0131 6)50 3077
Course secretaryMrs Sabine Murdoch
Tel: (0131 6)51 1855
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