ISA World Congress of Sociology, Yokohama, Japan, July 2014

Research Committee on
The Body in the Social Sciences, RC54

RC54 main page

Let’s Re–Invent an Embodied Sociology.
Identifying Bodies and Bodily Inequalities in an Inequal World


Program Coordinator

Number of allocated sessions including Business Meeting: 14.Aim of the RC54 14 allocated Sessions is to focussing on embodiment in action, how we use information of our body state to enable complex movement, and in turn, how this knowledge can also be used to understand movement in other bodies. In the process of critiquing philosophy’s own negligence regarding the body, the very expression “the body” has become problematized, and is increasingly supplanted by the term “embodiment”. The move from one expression to another corresponds directly to a shift from viewing the body as a non gendered, prediscursive phenomenon that plays a central role in perception, cognition, action and nature to a way of living or inhabiting the world through one’s acculturated body.

The question of embodiment is thus not simply a theoretical problem, but a problem that has emerged for strictly historical reasons. This also means, howewer, that while a certain historical necessity has led the body to require attention in a great variety of disciplines, the body simultaneously remains obscure, and for precisely the same reason, insofar as our ways of addressing it remains attached to forms of thought that are inadequate to the very phenomenon they seek to address. This is what it means to speak of the “epoch of the body”: if we take seriously the historical necessity of the contemporary interest in the body, and not simply dismiss it as a fashion, we would have to regard it not only as an enigma that poses a conceptual challenge, but also as an epochal matter – a problem that arises from within the history of our thought, as a rupture within that history. Despite a growing number of reflections about the body, there currently exist, indeed, no complete works based on the sense and associative functions of corporeality as an “entity” located within space and time, particularly in the dominion of social sciences and, more specifically, in the field of sociology. According to Shilling (2008: 7)[1] “our very ability to intervene in social life is dependent on the management of our bodies through time and space”.

It is, therefore, not a question of reconstructing the history of the body and its conceptualization, nor of revisiting the paradigms through which the body has been contemplated. This is graphically illustrated in post-structuralist thought, although Foucault put great emphasis on the role of the body in the construction of thought and social action. Nevertheless, the mainstream of post-structuralist theories views bodies as reconfigured, fluid, multiple, and dispersed. The impact of physical mobility on contemporary cultural logic is such that sociological research is becoming more focused on analytical paradigms to make mobility the fundamental paradigm of our daily lives.

This return to relevance of spatiality, in the physical world and in the offline world is nevertheless not a return to space in the sense of how we have understood it up to now: a mere container of individuals, objects and events. As Dourish and Bell (2011)[2] highlighted, also in light of the digitalization of the omnipresent web, the re-emergence of spatiality, starting from diverse disciplinary dominions (geography, sociology, architecture, economy, art, urban informatics, to name a few), is configured as “transduced space”[3]), or in other words constructed and initiated continuously and socially by networks and new digital realities emerging at the intersection of mobility, geo-sociality and increased reality. Within the aforesaid scenario in movement the concrete problem of defining the space of action, as a fundamental integrated element, defined by the interaction between sensorial-motor activity and the experience of the body in a situation and the mobile connection produced by specific technologies, is evident. Therefore, to determine the boundary between the social sensorium[4] and mobile technologies is the fundamental metho-dological problem, still unresolved, arising from the current “spatial turn”[5].

There is a growing view in cognitive neuroscience that embodiment is a reflection of grounded cognition. This is a theoretical and empirical view that conceptual knowledge is divisible into domains, and these domains are in large part determined by partially separable brain networks. Any one network is the location for information encoding, memory storage, retrieval and mental manipulation. For example, brain areas that are used to manipulate a tool are the same that are used to know what a tool is, to remember tools in general, to plan new actions and to learn about new tools. The same applies for social networks, non-tool objects and so on. This has implications in that it says there are different categories of knowledge that embody the world in different ways. There is not one unique neural embodiment "system" or process. The interpretation of brain scans and what information is actually contained in the information images create their own reality about mind-brain connections.

The notion of the “sensory inscribed body”[6], emerging from current digital media research, presents the body as a relatively “free form”[7] availing itself of a range of narratives generated from electronic scans in order to participate fully in a “networked society.” The interpretation of digital scans by the press and non-scientists is, indeed, a relatively “free form,” with all sorts of narratives generated from the new media. It is really the body a “free form”? We need to identifying corporeality as the total of sensory-motor abilities that permit the body to interact successfully with the environment that surrounds it. The exact ways in which the activation profiles are “connected” constitutes a central problem for scientists who study brain, mind and society. One may ask how simultaneously activated processes are bound to one another to generate a continuity of experience. As in all living organisms, the human body is organized according to a specific temporal structure, where all of the vital functions demonstrate variability over periods of time that range from a few milliseconds to several months. In human beings, just as in less cognitively sophisticated organisms, the frequencies of many biological rhythms relate to periodic stimuli from the external environment, while many others are determined by internal pacemakers, totally independent of environmental input. But the external influences are not simply overlapped by the rhythms dictated by endogenous pacemakers, but are in fact modulated by them.

In relation to time, the variability of the physiological condition also implies a diverse “susceptibility” of the human body to disease. Even so, pathogenic mechanisms may not be constant over time, either in terms of their presence or severity, so determining a variability over time of their suitability to produce clinical manifestations of disease. Our sensory apparatus has evolved by relying on the environment in different ways: for example, taking advantage of contingent facts relative to the structure of natural scenarios (Ullman and Richards, 1984: 21)[8] or of the computational shortcuts produced by body movements and locomotion (Blake and Yuille 1992)[9] . Once the fundamental role of the environment as pertains to evolution and the development of cognition is acknowledged, extended cognition becomes a true cognitive process. Entering into this process, the rhythmic body becomes the central point of intersection between time, action and context. How is the passage of time fixed, how are the significant benchmarks “domesticated,” how are the most important memories marked? In anthropological and ethnographical repertoires, the history of archaic humanity gives extensive and significant answers to these questions. According to Descola (2005: 57)[10] , the rhythmic body constitutes, indeed,
the difference that separates the modern Western World from from all the populations of the present and the past, which have not considered it necessary to proceed with naturalization of the world.

Theoretical as well as empirical presentations are welcome. ------------------------------------------

[1] “The Body in Sociology”, in Malacrida, C, Low J (2008), Sociology of the Body. A Reader, Toronto, Oxford University Press.
[2] Dourish, P. Bell D., (2011), Divining a Digital Future: Mess and Mythology in Ubiquitous Computing, Cambridge (MA), The MIT Press.
[3] The theory of transduced space is referred to by Kittchin, Dodge (2011) in an essay in which the authors recall their previous works and the work by A. Mackenzie (2002, 2006) on the social dimensions of software and programming codes. [cfr. Kitchin R., Dodge M. (2011): Code/Space: Software and Everyday Life, Cambridge (MA), The MIT Press.
[4] The term “sensorium” signifies the totality of the sensory functions that in a given moment connect the human body to the context in which it is moving and acting. See Dizionario il Ragazzini (Bologna: Zanichelli, 2005: 972).
[5] The term is from Warf and Arias 2009 [cfr. Warf B., Arias, S., eds. (2009), The Spatial Turn: Interdisciplinary Perspectives, London: Routledge.]
[6] Farman, J.(2011), Mobile Interface Theory: Embodied Spaces and Locative Media, New York, Routledge.
[7] Manovich, L. (1999), “Database as Symbolic Form, « Convergence » , 5: 80.
[8] Ullman, S. Richards, W. (1984), Image Understanding, Norwood NJ, Ablex.
[9] Blake, A. and Yuille, A. (1992), Active Vision, Cambridge MA, MIT Press
[10] Descola, Ph.(2005), Par-delà nature et culture, Paris, Gallimard


For sessions program and schedule see

On-line congress program


Author Meets their Critics

Session Organizer
Bianca Maria PIRANI, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy,

Session in English

Not open for submission of abstracts.
Presentation of the RC54 collective book: Body & Time: Bodily Rhythms and Social Synchronism in the Digital Media Society.
Edited by Bianca Maria Pirani and Thomas S. Smith.


Bodily Power at Work in Everyday Practices

Session Organizer
Itsuhiro HAZAMA, University of Nagasaki, Japan,

Session in English

This session aims to generate a dialogue that goes beyond the traditional glamorized body to reexamine the processes by which life practice opens the possibilities of the body in a particular time and place. Approaches to experiences of pain and suffering have focused on the phenomenological body as the basis for the generation of meaning in contexts of political violence and societal marginalization. For example, such approaches have revealed that the body in pain unmakes the world. They go beyond the dichotomy of nature and culture to describe the pre-verbal body`s capability of expression, but not its political or social power.

The nature-culture dichotomy supplies methods for rescuing the body from physical predicaments. For example, perceived somatic disorders in traditional settings, in which the body has been idealized as a micro-cosmos constituting a perfectly ordered culture and society, have been considered to be resolved by the restoration of order through activities such as healing rituals. Customary procedures for the reintegration of bodies into a community’s intrinsic “culture” are believed to stop bodies from belonging to the “natural” world, thereby preventing them from excluding, utilizing, or conflicting with each other.

However, research in the social sciences has not fully examined the body in actual societal experience or bodily dynamism in coexistence with others. In contemporary life practices, highly mobile people or those experiencing drastic societal change make various efforts to ensure the continuity of life, such as by making the best use of cross-border movements of people, goods, and worldviews based on “here and now” interactions involving a physical body. Not only must the body be reshaped into a canonical figure within a fixed social institution through traditional practices but body experience must also be imagined and created by way of bricolage, the assembly of pieces to make something new.

This session addresses the issues of the body’s power of semantic generation and the political and social effects of this generation by clarifying the processes by which a common body is made through the reading and transmitting of macrosocial dynamics, with reference to coping practice and the use of logic in a manner that is sensitive to local and differential contexts. The approach of this session enables theoretical and empirical examination, helping to cultivate fieldwork-based research.

The session explores the possibilities of the body in life practice by suggesting the following investigation areas: the invention of a new meta-ethnic identity through communicative musicality, the acquisition of a body searching for peace by citizens in a conflict-ridden society, the resonance of patients’ voices among caretakers, a new form of vitality in medical expertise, and the modification of bodily movements for self-commoditization to produce an ethnic culture.


Challenges and Trends in Sociology of Time

Session Organizer
Marian PREDA, University of Bucharest, Romania,

Session in English

Time is a determinant agent of life, one we do not feel, as it strains along with us. Because time is not irreversible, it is our destiny, the stable and intangible component of life.

Treating the irreversibility of time as the base of the Universe expansion, S. Hawking1 (1988/ 2001) analyzes time interdependent with space, as they curve in the movement process of an object. G. Bachelard2 (1958/ 1969) sees the space as the quality component of time, while Einstein places time in a reference system. Being coordinated by this intangible variable of life, the time, could we manage to have control over our daily actions? Time is also the base of social order.

No matter the society we live in, we can all schedule and manage our daily activities guided by time. While antique societies treated time as an agent in the process of mentality, body, nature and social life change, contemporary societies discuss time through measurement, coordination and control. Which is the first gesture we do when we wake up? ‘Placing’ ourselves in a chronologic time could be the foundation of social order? Every form of life responds to the cosmic time (B. Adam3, 1990).

Time is not just a measurement unit of the surviving process, but also a biorhythm unit. People have adjusted even to the rhythms imposed by the society, for a better coordination and organization, by creating different measurement units like the clock, the week, the month, the year. So the industrialized societies are characterized by the budgeted human time.

Through the last decades, Sociology has shown interest in studying time budgets.We must not understand time only related to the measurement instruments, but also from a social perspective, as regulator of norms, values and social control. Could time be the fundamental element of social change? Could technological innovations be an important agent of temporality? Quantum leaps, life prolongation, could they be a result of progress?


Dancing Bodies: Accessing Implicit Memories

Session Organizer
Dulce FILGUEIRA DE ALMEIDA, University of Brasilia, Brazil,

Session in English

One of the most traditional forms of body language is dancing. In the so-called traditional societies, it complies aspects that refer to ritual systems, corroborating the formation of social interaction processes based on their rites.

In different cultures (indigenous, African and aboriginal), dancing allows understanding the interfaces between sacred and profane, revealing culture patterns and the ethos of each ethnic or social group. In this context, by means of the relation sacred/profane present in a dance, senses and meanings expressed by the experienced body of the social actor can also be established. Here, the notion of experienced body has the sense of corporeality (embodiment) as its background. It refers to what is culturally learned in terms of the perception that the social actors develop in their schemes of experiences of the social world and it is socially produced by means of the social practices that constitute the habitus.

The aim of this session of the RC54 is to understand the embodiment in action (the movement) and, specifically, is working up to the body practice experienced – through the dance ‒, that is build based on a set of body techniques, thus conforming a body education ‒ we can identify, record and interpret cultural, social and symbolic traces.

Therefore, a dance is a privileged form of accessing implicit memories. In this way, we encourage papers with methodological perspectives in sociological theory, especially in phenomenological approach.


Design, Undesign and Redesign: Eliminating Embodied Inequality

Session Organizers
Stephen GILSON, University of Maine, USA,
Liz DEPOY, University of Maine, USA,

Session in English

Over the past several decades, design and branding efforts for social justice and democracy have exponentially increased. Designers have apprehended and applied market strategies to create products and images to change the world. However, to date, design and branding have not been analyzed to understand and reassign their power in creating, labeling, and affixing differential worth to bodies that are disenfranchised because they are atypical, unruly alters.

This vacuum leaves a huge gap in intellectual development and guidance necessary to harness design and image to challenge and diminish social inequities that have prevented local through global social acceptance for the full range of bodies. In this presentation, we argue, and illustrate through a targeted analysis of embodied design, its epistemic and axiological foundations and its praxis that design and branding are tacit yet powerful influences on the creation, reification, and perpetuation of the acceptable human corpus and its opposite.

We illustrate how design and its byproducts in advanced capitalist global, national and local environments are significant social influences on determining and reifying embodied worth, internalized and assigned identity of category members, social status, and comparative flourishing of members of diverse social groups.

Given this understanding, we conclude with the constructs of undesign and redesign as the power tools to advance symmetry, inclusivity, and equality for diverse bodies.


Embodiment in Digital Society. New Perspectives in Social Time

Session Organizer
Bianca Maria PIRANI, University of Rome La Sapienza, Italy,

Session in English

According to the current digital media research, the body is a relatively “free form” availing itself of a range of narratives generated from electronic scans in order to participate fully in a “networked society”. The twentieth century saw art move from the canvas to the computer. Digital technology earned the status of paint, plaster, and pencil and became a mode of artistic expression. Since its birth, the digital arts have become a major influence in the art world and society as a whole. Graphic design and computer gaming are the two most common forms of digital art that have captured the attention of people in and outside of the artistic community. Computational creations often emulate real-world objects; for example the digital keyboard mimics the wood and ivory piano.

Penny wondered how society can influence the evolution of an artistic expression that bases itself on the manipulation of behavior. Nevertheless, there is another way of observing the current technological shift – a way that makes us wonder whether this shift might not be interfering with, the biological, physical and social inborn clocks –with their own rhythms that manage our biologically experienced time.

Once the fundamental role of the environment as it pertains to evolution and the development of cognition is acknowledged, extended cognition becomes a true cognitive process. Entering into this process, the rhythmic body becomes the central point of intersection between time, action and context. How is the passage of time fixed, how are the significant benchmarks “domesticated,” how are important memories recorded? In anthropological and ethnographical repertoires, the history of archaic humanity gives extensive and significant answers to these questions. This Session aims at focussing on the ways in which biologically experienced time in a technologically shrinking world interacts with cultural traditions, with social systems, with social innovations, with new technology, with embodied memory, and with human dyadic and community bonds: i.e., on the elementary communication of people.

Theoretical as well as empirical presentations are encouraged , especially those relating to micro-interactional research on the sociology of embodiment. In other words papers, power point presentations, and multimedia performances are most welcome.


Embodying Another Self

Session Organizer
Chan LANGARET, Université Paris Ouest, France,

Session in English

Considering the multiplicity of the selves, in the material life or in the virtual life, related to the individual or to the community, according to the reality or to the fiction, we can wonder how the self is constructed. This session explores how the constitution of the self is linked to an embodied dimension. Focused on case studies in different fieldworks, with notably questions of personal conceptions and social visibility, associated to different sociological approaches, the session aims to present several analyses about the embodied dimension of various self conceptions.

Sociology and anthropology have already studied this question of embodiment, the self often counted as a unity. Following precursory Marcel Mauss`s analysis of the body (1934), we can ask the cultural dimension of the body uses and understand how this dimension can impact the construction of the self. Edward T Hall (1966) explored this cultural dimension in the way people consider distances between bodies with the concept of proxemics. David Le Breton (1990, 2002, 2011) also analyzed the link between the cultural and imaginary conception of the body and its use in creating a physical and spiritual entity defined as an embodied identity. These works help to consider, in various areas of self expression, the embodiment of the self.

Erving Goffman’s analysis (1959, 1963, 1971) notably aimed to understand how the embodiment of multiple roles and identities are linked to cultural, socio-economic or professional requirements. Norbert Elias’ analysis (1939, 1956, 1987) explored the Western cultural and historical production of self-control in the last centuries. He showed how individuals can follow the way of the “detachment”, where the self is based on (and attached to) a rational thinking about it ; and how individuals can otherwise follow the way of the “involvement”, where the self is based on (and attached to) the feeling of real experience.

This last dimension of his sociological analysis can also be linked to the notion of Flow developed by Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi (1990) and opens a new field in asking the embodiment of the self by distinguishing the embodied self and the mentally considered self.


Facing Unequal Bodies. On the Construction of Social Inequality in Body Image

Session Organizers
Michael MUELLER, University of Dortmund, Germany,
Anne SONNENMOSER, Institute for Advanced Study in the Humanities, Germany,

Session in English

Bodies can be considered as pictures, but they are, as the art historian Hans Belting has stated, far more than pictures as they represent people. The philosopher Helmuth Plessner described this problem out of the perspective of the individual, who has a body which he has to be as a person, while s/he can watch at her/his body as an object. This disposition is − besides being a possibility − quite a challenge, as one cannot only work on his/her body, s/he has to. Moreover one can work on his body, but s/he cannot totally change it: So every individual has to be a body s/he cannot totally control, while the body and especially the body image is seen as a representation of the person.

To understand what a person represents with his or her body image, people can use a society’s knowledge resources (pictures, sculptures, books, movies, oral discourse etc.). By providing information about the meaning of certain types of body images these knowledge resources link body images as well with social valuations, group affiliations and stereotype.

In this respect the experience, that a body image cannot be brought in consilience with social norms and expectations, is not only an individual problem, as it can be a manifestation of social inequality and discrimination routines. Moreover a society’s handling of body images can give insight into the ideas of human perfectibility or non-perfectibility which underlie contemporary conceptions of man.

The proposed session focuses on empirical studies:


Let’s Re-invent an Embodied Sociology

Session Organizer
Bianca Maria PIRANI, Sapienza University of Rome, Italy,

Session in English

This Session is aimed to explore how our perception of the body and body related themes such as gender, age, sexuality, disability, health and disease are influenced by cultural differences and at the same time affects our intercultural communication. Thus, it focuses on the triangle culture, body and communication through the analysis (epistemological as well as empiric) of the cultural differences anchored in the sensory-motor body.

Its ultimate goal is, therefore, to provide knowledge and experience on how social scientists and professionals can better handle cultural differences linked to the body. Empirical case studies are especially welcome.


Music on the Move: The Rhythms of Mobility and Performed Movement-Space

Session Organizer
Shinichi AIZAWA, Chukyo University, Japan,

Session in English

This session welcomes papers presenting sociological approaches to the study of music. Music is an essential part of human life and human body. Our session is not limited to only the cultural aspects of music. Rather, we comprehensively examine the relationships between music and human life or between music and human body. Music is embedded in people’s lives in the form of the daily rhythm, tempo of life, sentimental moods, social collective memory, or individual preferences. Music has been important part of the sociological theorization in the daily social world.

For example, a French sociologist, Maurice Halbwachs, has drawn a connection between musical memory and collective and social memory. Other sociologists and social thinkers have attempted to theorize music, body and society, for example, Max Weber, Theodor Adorno, Pierre Bourdieu.

In this session, we aim to deepen sociological understanding of music to facilitate sociological research on musical experiences. We welcome papers, preferably providing empirical evidence, concerning the various musical experiences.Of course, we welcome papers employing not only sociological but also economic, anthropological, or psychological approaches in examining music and the human body.


RC54 Business Meeting

Session Organizer


The Robot and the Forest

Session Organizer
Roberto CIPRIANI, University of Roma 3, Italy,

Session in English

Biology has been under the influence of the animal-machine metaphor. Today’s reference machine is no longer a clock but a robot. Accordingly, living cells are but individual parts in charge of the smooth functioning of the robot. Now, what if the living body rather were compared to a forest? Ecosystems do not evolve under the tutelary guidance of some central programming biased by the search of a best collective interest, but rather by the search of a best collective interest of each of its individual inhabitants. That body-forest would arise not from a prefigured plan tending to a preconceived goal merely from its history. Among the many questions that such a Session many at once inspire is the following: how could emerge specialized psychosocialized functions from that organizatiion, that implicates the cooperation of multiple cell types?

Theoretical as well as empirical presentations are encouraged; especially welcome are multimedia performances.


The Sensory Inscribed Body

Session Organizer
Anabela PEREIRA, University Institute of Lisbon, Portugal,

Session in English

Embodied experience is a fundamental concept for understanding culture as cognitive construction (communication, learning, and identity). Culture structures the sensory experience in specific ways so that we give sense, worth, and feelaccording with relational spaces (Bennett &Castiglioni, 2004). In current information time enclosed by all technological shifts, and by the logic of a fully “networked society” this raises the question of the construction of our culturaltech identities, and embodied computer-generated expe-rience,concerning the extension of“physical move ment”through“electronic communications”.How conscious are we of the process? How perceptional are we of itsinscription in our bodies?

Integrating tech (embodied) cultural identity means dealing with the dynamics of this process involving the mobile connectivity (and disconnection),innovatively across a variety of cyber-devices and integrated places. It involves the opening of our space of perceptiontowards a “sensory inscribed body” mirrored on different “narratives generated from electronic scans making it our own experience” (Pirani, 2013:39). Grounding between mobility and immobility, itrequires examining the interdependencies and changes in “physical movement” and in “electronic communications”, with the increasing focus on the “social sensorium”(ibid.).

The aim of this session is to evaluate how people connect and built new forms of identification,and embodiment,withinthe expanding of physical experiences, and individual (and collective) sense of time,inthis “movement-space”.The session holds this theme incorporatingnetworkedmobile experiences into one’s praxis of living, comprising bodily interactions mediated by technological networks, applications,and devices.


Joint Sessions

Click on the session title to read its description and the scheduled day/time.

Conceptions of the Body and Health in High-Risk Organizations

Joint session of RC01 Armed Forces and Conflict Resolution [host committee] , RC49 Mental Health and Illness and RC54 The Body in the Social Sciences


Reinstating the Body: Equal Footing for the Spiritual and the Physical, a Leisure Approach

Joint session of RC13 Sociology of Leisure and RC54 The Body in the Social Sciences [host committee]


Time on the Context of Health and Illness: the Medical Control of the Body

Joint session of RC15 Sociology of Health [host committee] and RC54 The Body in the Social Sciences



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June 2014