Our bodies, our selves Flashcards Preview

Anthropology > Our bodies, our selves > Flashcards

Flashcards in Our bodies, our selves Deck (31)
Loading flashcards...

Sociocultural anthropologists study notions of the body...

By examining how culture affects societal and individual bodily ideas, ideals and practices. They provide ethnographic records of how various sociocultural groups value appearance-related practices.


Biological/physical anthropologists study notions of the body..

By classifying human diversity related to body size, shape, composition and appearance. They investigate how geographical, social, economic and other aspects affect physical development, health and well-being.


Linguistic anthropologists study notions of the body..

By researching how the body communicates; how messages are sent within a particular social context and how a language shapes bodily concepts – for example, male and female bodies.


Archaeologists study notions of the body..

By recording physical variations, modification and adornment practices over time through examining material remains.



We all share certain characteristics such as flesh, blood and bones, as well as proneness to disease and illness, aging and dying



Dark skin is due to the amount of melanin in the skin which, in turn, is related to the climate in which a person, or his/her forebears, lives or lived. Melanin protects the sensitive inner layers of the skin from the sun’s damaging ultraviolet rays. Light-coloured skin maximises ultraviolet penetration – ensuring adequate amounts of vitamin D for good health. Too much vitamin D is also detrimental, so dark skin in tropical climates protects people from possible illness in another way.


Sickle cell diseas

- Group of inherited blood disorders in which red blood cells have an abnormal half-moon (or sickle) shape
- This mutation inhibits the delivery of oxygen to cells throughout the body.
- Disproportionately affects people of Middle Eastern, Indian, Mediterranean and African descent – people with darker pigmented skins
- Sickle mutation is highly prevalent in populations from areas of the world were malaria is frequent.
- These same individuals, who only carry the sickle cell trait, are highly protected against malaria and have a higher survival rate, than sickle cell free individuals.


Anthropology's concern with the body

- Anthropology is concerned with how people experience themselves, in the context of their culture.
- The way we were held, lovingly or not, fed when we cried, taught to walk, how to eat and how to behave – in fact, all the things we learned to do with our bodies – were according to the guidelines of our sociocultural system


Body image

- Perceptions of the body refer to thoughts and feelings about a person’s own physical appearance
- Multifaceted and complex construct that includes the ways in which people see themselves and how they think others see them.


Globalisation has brought various perceptions of body image..

.. Through cultural exchange, social mobility and migration. Over the last couple of decades, global markets, mass- and social media have influenced the way the world perceives beauty trends and standards – for example, the increasing focus on thin female bodies
- The global society has become a part of everyone’s lives. Celebrities, models, beauty pageants, sport heroes, actors and actresses are used to popularise universal accepted ideals of beauty
- Mainly based on Western ideals.


Body modifications

- Refers to any form of change to a person’s natural physical appearance or anatomy.
- It is a human act; no other animal modifies its body. - Humans have been marking and modifying their bodies as far back as we can trace.
- In all communities, people change the appearance of their bodies in some way, as culturally determined in their society.
-This can be achieved through temporary or more permanent changes of a body part.



- An ornament or accessory that a person wears or puts on.
- For example, objects in the form of feathers, beadwork, jewellery, skins or clothing.


In addition to aesthetic considerations, body decoration and adornments are also used to...

... - Used to designate social status, rank, gender, occupation and identity within a community – and usually in keeping with its sociocultural pattern.
- Such “markers” include the queen’s crown, the red hunting jacket of an English gentleman, the gold-embroidered jacket of an Indian rajah, the leopard skin regalia of a Zulu king.
- Further, temporary modifications are also practiced, in line with religious requirements, for example wearing the Christian Cross, Jewish Star of David or temporarily decorating the body with henna – as practiced by Muslim communities in India on religious occasions.


Rite of passage

- A ritual or ceremony that marks a change in social status, such as during puberty, marriage and death.
-body modifications play a part in the rites of passage to indicate and individual’s change of status.
- The modification of the physical body is generally seen to demonstrate changes in the social or spiritual body.



- Tattoos are created by inserting ink or some other pigment through the epidermis (outer skin) into the dermis (second layer of skin).
- Historically, tattoos convey different meanings about the person’s position or status in the community.
- In other words, tattoos are a way in which people transform and express themselves and a way that human beings establish themselves as part of a specific sociocultural group.



- Alters skin texture by cutting the skin and controlling the body’s healing process. The cuts are treated to prevent infection and to enhance the scars’ visibility. Deep cuts leave visible incisions after the skin heals, while inserting substances like clay or ash in the cuts results in permanently raised bumps, known as keloids.
- Substances inserted into the wounds may result in changes in skin colour, creating marks similar to tattoos.
- Cutting elaborate and extensive decorative patterns into the skin usually indicates a permanent change in a person’s status. It is often done as a part of a rite of passage or in others it represents endurance and courage.
- Scarification is practised among societies such as the Nuer and Dinka in Africa and the Kaniggara from Papua New Guinea.



- A form of scarification that creates a scar after the surface of the skin has been burned.
- Branding is done in some societies as a part of a rite of passage.
- In Western Europe, branding, as well as some forms of tattoo, were used to mark captives, enslaved peoples and criminals.



- Involves long-term insertion of an object through the skin in a way that permits healing around the opening.
- Almost universally practiced, aesthetic considerations seem to be predominant, for example, the pierced noses of some women in India.
- As always, a practice such as body piercing should be understood in the particular sociocultural context where it occurs.
- The Fulani of Sudan and the Masaai of Kenya are African examples of women wearing elaborate and quite heavy earrings consisting of wire and beads, which result in the ear lobe being stretched.


Male and female circumcision

- Involves the surgical removal of genital foreskin or parts of the external genitalia.
- It is not just a biological practice, but a cultural embodiment that reflect traditions or histories.
- Jewish and many Muslims communities use male circumcision as a religious rite of passage.
- Circumcision, in various South African communities, forms part of a broader initiation ritual.


Male castration

As an extreme measure to control sexuality, male castration is performed to make men more docile and less aggressive.


female genital cutting/ Clitoridectomy

- The excision of the clitoris or parts of the labia is not done for enhanced sexual pleasure or hygienic reasons, but to ensure virginity before marriage or to deny sexual pleasure.
- Still practiced in many central and northern African countries.
- Particularly among African Muslims.



-“Para” is a Greek word, meaning “beside” or “alongside”
- “Clues”, including sounds that accompany speech that is not a direct part of language, such as laughter, sighing and groaning.


Body language or non-verbal communication

Full understanding of verbal messages is only possible with the aid of body language. It is an important part of how people convey messages.



The “science” of body language



The study of human beings’ perception and use of space, is also related to non-verbal communication



Subdivision of proxemics, focuses on touching as an element of communication. It studies the type, frequency and intensity of touch. As other aspects of nonverbal communication, touching is culturally determined.



- Implies a physical human being, including its mind, thoughts, spirit, emotions, feelings and the environment and culture within which it exists.
- The state of living in a body, combines mind and matter.
- It is the way in which people biologically embody the social and physical world in which they live. The mind does not act on the body as an object, but the body and mind are interrelated and mutually affect one another.


The individual body

- Humans perceive and experience their own physical bodies.
- It can be reasonably assumed that all humans have at least an intuitive sense that their em-bodied selves exist separate from other individual bodies.
- It includes aspects such as mind, matter, psyche and self. - These aspects and the relations between them as well as the ways in which the body is received and experienced are highly variable
- Culture provides codes and social norms to domesticate the individual body to meet the need of social and political order.


The social body

- The body and its products, as natural symbols, are used to think about nature, culture and society
- Constructions of and about the human body are used to justify “particular views of society and social relations".
- Further, a link is often established between the health or ill-health of the individual and social bodies, attributing, for example, death and ill-health to social tensions and hostilities


The body politic

- An object of social and political order through cultural norms, regulations, laws.
- An analogy is being made between a human, living body and social entities, for example, a community or society.
- It refers to the surveillance and control of individual and collective bodies in reproduction and sexuality, in work and leisure, in sickness and in other manifestations of human deviance and difference.
-The stability of the body politic rests on its ability to discipline individual bodies and regulate the collective bodies, whilst political instabilities affect these bodies.