August 2, 2021

“We are witnessing a shift away from the rejection of the body as destiny towards an interest in the body as an object”

« At a time when virtual bodies proliferate, where blood and organs are exchanged, where the border between the mechanical and the organic is blurred, where we are approaching the programming of the species and the replication of the individual, it is more than ever necessary to test the limit of the human: “Is my body still my body?” “, asked Jean-Jacques Courtine in the third part of theHistory of the body (Le Seuil, 2006). A territory of modifications, a place of experimentation, a material that can be freely shaped according to desires, but also a place of heavy injunctions, of vulnerabilities, where social and racial inequalities are inevitably embodied, and where violence takes place: during of a year marked by the pandemic, isolation, police violence, the body has illustrated itself in its paradoxes.

Read also The century of the body

Political scientist, sociologist, research director at CNRS, Dominique Memmi is interested in contemporary biopolitics, and in the body as an object of social sciences. In Revenge of the Flesh (Le Seuil, 2014), she noted an appeal “To the body and to nature as a more or less important, more or less exclusive basis of identities”. Why ? What is the “Historical necessity” at work in this return of the body as a support for identity? Dominique Memmi returns to the unfolding of the interest of the human sciences for the body. Examining the scope of concrete social practices and emerging from the debate between constructivism and naturalism, she questions the possible advent of a time “Where the contestation of the determining nature of biology on identities would not prevent a new place, henceforth” reasonable “, from finally being returned to it”.

How has the interest of French human sciences for the body evolved?

It was deployed in three stages. There was a first, very “intellectual” moment in the 1950s – basically Lacanism, structuralism, a very abstract, but very influential production. In the 1960s, we began to take an interest in the body as a simple instrument of analysis, a place on which power and domination are based, where the social world is reflected, and where we can therefore easily read its effects. Sectorial sociologies and body histories then appear : those of food practices, sexuality, moods, with Françoise Héritier, Maurice Godelier, Georges Vigarello, Alain Corbin… In the decade 1990-2000, the body became a fascinating object as such, “Good to think about”, as Claude Lévi-Strauss says. We then see the appearance of two dictionaries of the body, several manuals of “sociology of the body”. The body is put on the social science aggregation program. A striking flowering of books reflects a mood of the time particularly concerned with the fate of the body and the biological. This is what gave me the idea of ​​the seminar which, since 2005, tries to explain this specific intellectual production.

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