The Consuming Body


Pasi Falk

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  • Theory, Culture & Society

    Theory, Culture & Society caters for the resurgence of interest in culture within contemporary social science and the humanities. Building on the heritage of classical social theory, the book series examines ways in which this tradition has been reshaped by a new generation of theorists. It will also publish theoretically informed analyses of everyday life, popular culture and new intellectual movements.

    EDITOR: Mike Featherstone, University of Teesside


    Roy Boyne, University of Northumbria at Newcastle

    Mike Hepworth, University of Aberdeen

    Scott Lash, University of Lancaster

    Roland Robertson, University of Pittsburgh

    Bryan S. Turner, Deakin University

    Recent volumes include:

    Risk Society

    Towards a New Modernity

    Ulrich Beck

    Max Weber and the Sociology of Culture

    Ralph Schroeder

    Postmodernity USA

    The Crisis of Social Modernism in Postwar America

    Anthony Woodiwiss

    The New Politics of Class

    Social Movements and Cultural Dynamics in Advanced Societies

    Klaus Eder

    The Body and Social Theory

    Chris Shilling

    Symbolic Exchange and Death

    Jean Baudrillard

    Sociology in Question

    Pierre Bourdieu

    Economies of Signs and Space

    Scott Lash and John Urry

    Religion and Globalization

    Peter Beyer

    Baroque Reason

    The Aesthetics of Modernity

    Christine Buci-Glucksmann


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    I would like to thank all my colleagues and friends at the University of Helsinki for inspiring discussions around the themes of body and consumption. Special thanks for Bryan Turner, Jukka Siikala and J.P. Roos for their valuable comments during the creation of this book. I am also indebted to the editors of Sage, Stephen Barr, Louise Murray and Rosemary Campbell, whose professional skills turned this book-project into reality.

    The publication details of the original versions of the chapters in this book are as follows:

    Chapter 2 (Body, Self and Culture) is elaborated from the original version published with the title ‘Modern Oralities — a cultural topology of the consuming body’ in Research Reports of the Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, No. 227, 1992. Chapter 3 (Corporeality and History) was originally published in Acta Sociologica, Vol. 28, No. 2, 1985: 115–36 with the title ‘Corporeality and Its Fates in History’. Reprinted with the permission of Scandinavian University Press. Chapter 4 (Towards an Historical Anthropology of Taste) was originally published in Social Science Information, Vol. 30, No. 4, 1991: 758–90 with the title ‘Homo Culinarius — towards an historical anthropology of taste’. Chapter 5 (Consuming Desire) was originally published with the title ‘Consuming Supplements — paradoxes of modern hedonism’ in Research Reports of the Department of Sociology, University of Helsinki, No. 226, 1992. Chapter 7 (Pornography and the Representation of Presence) was originally published with the title ‘The Representation of Presence: Outlining the Anti-aesthetics of Pornography’ in Theory, Culture and Society, Vol. 10, No. 2, 1993: 1–42.

    I would like to thank the publishers for their permission to reprint this work.

    Copies of Aspirin advertisments (Chapter 6) courtesy of Bayer.


    Bryan S.Turner

    Ten or 15 years ago it was possible to argue that the body was a topic which had been systematically and seriously neglected in the social sciences, particularly in the sociology of modern culture. However, in the 1980s a small trickle of books began to appear which both problematized the body as a topic in social theory and also recognized the body as a major issue in modern culture and politics. The social background to the emerging interest in the sociology of the body included the political and social impact of feminism and the women's movement in the academy and broader society, the complex legal and ethical questions surrounding the new medical technologies of in vitro fertilization, the development of the techniques of virtual reality, the increasing use of cyborgs for both military and industrial purposes, and the development of an aesthetics of the body in consumer culture. The evolving interest in the body on the part of sociologists was signalled by such publications as John O'Neill's Five Bodies (1985) and The Communicative Body (1989), Francis Barker's The Tremulous Private Body (1984), David Armstrong's The Political Anatomy of the Body (1983), Don Johnson's Body (1983) and The Body and Society (Turner, 1984). These studies were influenced by a variety of theoretical and philosophical traditions, but the work of Michel Foucault (1981, 1987 and 1988) was clearly of major significance in the development of a general analysis of the body. In addition to the perspective of Foucault on the discipline of the body in a carceral society, social theories also drew heavily on the phenomenological perspective of Maurice Merleau-Ponty (1962), but the interest in the phenomenology of the body should be seen as an effect of a broader concern with the understanding of the everyday life-world and the life-nexus, the study of which had been profoundly shaped by both Martin Heidegger's critique of the metaphysics of being (Dreyfus, 1991), by Edmund Husserl's commentary on the philosophy of Descartes (Husserl, 1991) and by the parallel development of the concept of the ‘life-nexus’ (Lebenszusammenhang) in Wilhelm Dilthey's philosophy. The complex inter-relationship between Husserl, Heideggar, Foucault and the growth of the sociology of the body has yet to be fully explored and understood. However, this critical response to the rationalism of Descartes and the Cartesian view of the subject led eventually into a post-structuralist orientation to the importance of emotions, desire and the affective life, the modern self is seen as charged by sensibility and emotions, and by the need for coporeal intimacies.

    It is now no longer possible to talk about the absence of the body in social theory. In a variety of subfields within the social sciences there has been a plethora of publications relating to the body; one indication of the quality of this recent scholarship is the work edited by Michel Feher, Fragments for a History of the Human Body (1989). None the less we do not possess a coherent and comprehensive theory of the body which would address the huge range of problems relating to the issue of human embodiment, the body and the body-image. This Preface provides a pretext for developing a sketch of what such a comprehensive theory might entail.

    At present the sociology of the body is highly developed in three areas. Firstly the bulk of research on the body has been into representational issues, examining the symbolic significance of the body as a metaphor of social relationships. Research on the representational aspect of the body has dominated much of the anthropological tradition, and the research of Mary Douglas on Purity and Danger (1966) and Natural Symbols (1970) created a tradition of scholarly enquiry into the problems of danger and risk surrounding the orifices of the body as representations of the dangers surrounding transitional points in social life. In medieval Christian culture the five senses were doors or windows on the soul, through which dangers could enter and threaten the spiritual life of the individual; it was important to guard these openings. The mouth was a door through which the Devil could enter the castle of the body (Pouchelle, 1990). Douglas' work was therefore a stimulating and original contribution to the traditional notion of taboo and pollution in anthropological work. Douglas' analysis of cosmology can be seen to be an extension of the work of writers like Emile Durkheim, Marcel Mauss and Robert Hertz who explored the problem of the sacred and profane distinction as it related to the construction of the body as a representation of social divisions. Hertz's study of the sacred nature of the right hand in his Death and the Right Hand (1960) pointed to the importance of the body in a range of dichotomies and conceptual schema, including the notion of the inside and the outside. Hertz's work on handedness in relation to the sacred (right)/profane (left) distinction has been generally important for work on the asymmetry of the human body, where sidedness is fundamental to the cultural preference for the right side and right hand (Coren, 1992; Turner, 1992). These representational studies have also been highly developed in the history of art and in the historical analysis of the nature of political sovereignty. Here again the historical research of E.H. Kantorowicz (1957) on the nature of the sacred and profane body of the king was a major development in understanding the symbolic role of the body in political discourse. Louis Marin's analysis (1988) of the king's narrative and the power of the king's body in France might also be taken as a paradigmatic illustration of this approach to sovereignty. The representational issues surrounding the human body typically hinge on the anatomical differences between men and women. Representations of women's bodies therefore often indicate the paradoxical role of women in society as creative agents through reproduction and subordinates through the patriarchal power of men. These contradictory images of women have often been exaggerated within a religious framework where the masculinity of God conflicts with the universality of the divine. This problem was focused in Christianity on the figure of Mary who was both subordinate to God's will but who also reproduced Christ as a man. The idea of immaculate conception was important to suggest that Mary's earthly existence as a woman did not contaminate Christ as a divine figure. In Mariology there was therefore a strong temptation to see Mary as co-redemptrix with Christ. This ambiguity in the power and status of Mary presented a variety of representational problems for medieval art which were resolved by various symbolic presentations of Mary as virgin and Mary as mother (Miles, 1986).

    The second major focus of the recent development of sociology of the body has been around the question of gender, sex and sexuality. The questions about the gendered nature of power have been facilitated by feminist and gay writing on the body. Much of the development of feminist writing in this area has depended upon the creative work of writers like Julia Kristeva (Crownfield, 1992), Donna Haraway (1989) and Arlie Hochschild (1983). The general drift of much of this debate can be summarized in the notion that, while we are born either male or female, masculinity and femininity are social and cultural products. There has been considerable interest therefore in how costume and fashion help to fabricate the female body (Gaines and Herzog, 1990). In this sense, sex has a history of being constructed by the powerful discourses of religion, medicine and the law. The work of Foucault on the historical construction of sexuality has once more played a major role in this area. Foucault's work was initially directed towards the various institutions, practices and techniques by which the body is disciplined, but his later work moved more in the area of how the self is produced through the production of the body, that is, through the technologies of the self (Martin et al., 1988). The work of Foucault has inspired a number of major historical enquiries into the complex relationship between the body, gender and sexuality. One might mention in particular the work of Thomas Lacqueur (1990). In his Making Sex, Body and Gender from the Greeks to Freud, Lacqueur has shown how medieval theories of sexuality held to the doctrine of a single sex with dichotomous genders in which the female body was simply a weakened or inverted form of the male body. Anatomical investigation was unable to transform this rigid ideological notion into an alternative discourse until the emergence of Freudian psychoanalysis. A considerable amount of contemporary scholarship therefore has gone into the historical analysis of the impact of Christian ideology on the presentation of gender differences as differences of a moral order (Aries and Bejin, 1985; Cadden, 1993; Rousselle, 1988). Although much of this analysis is concerned with the historical shaping of the difference between men and women, gender differences continue to play a major role in the representation of power and authority in contemporary industrial societies. For example, Emily Martin (1987) in her The Woman in the Body has presented a fascinating analysis of the relationship between industrial production and reproduction in which for example, the reproduction of children is still referred to as ‘labour’.

    The third arena within which the sociology of the body has played a major theoretical role in recent debates in the social sciences is in the area of medical issues. The sociology of the body has been important in providing a sociological view in such categories as sickness, disease and illness (Turner, 1987). The body is crucial to the whole debate about the social construction of medical categories where the naive empiricism of conventional medicine has been challenged by the notion that diseases have a history, are culturally shaped by current scientific discourses and owe their existence to relations of power. Of course, the social constructionist debate is highly provocative and to some extent unresolved and unsettled, but it has provided a powerful paradigm for challenging much of the taken-for-granted wisdom of conventional medicine. David Armstrong's The Political Anatomy of the Body (1983) provides a useful illustration of the impact of the new sociology of knowledge on the historical analysis of medicine via a focus on the spatial and temporal dispersion of the human body. Once again much of this historical critique of the taken-for-granted paradigm of medicine has been promoted by feminist analysis and feminist theory, particularly in relation to conditions like anorexia nervosa (Bell, 1985; Brumberg, 1988).

    There is therefore in contemporary social theory a strong movement towards an elaboration of the sociology of the body ranging from the postmodern debate (Boyne, 1988), to calls for ‘rematerializing the human in the social sciences of religion’ (McGuire, 1990), and to the reappraisal of major literary figures in terms of the metaphor of the body as in the case of Jane Austen and the Body (Wiltshire, 1992). Despite this effervescence of activity in the field, the body remains illusive and ill-defined; we still lack a general theory of the body in society and of society in the body. The great importance, indeed the joy, of reading Pasi Falk's The Consuming Body is the realization that a general perspective on the body is, to use a body metaphor, ‘near at hand’. Falk's book shows how we can move from the analysis of corporeality to an analysis of the organs of the body and, via this brilliant study of the mouth, to an analysis of social reciprocity and social solidarity, concluding, through an analysis of taste and disgust, with a theory of modern consumption and the self as realized through self expression in consumption. In this Preface I propose to identify a number of core features which are necessary to constitute, from a theoretical stand point, a coherent outline of the body following the lead of Falk in his historical account of the orders of society, which bind the body to society, and the way in which the body shapes social relations. My anxiety with the existing social theory of the body is that it fails to move beyond the notion of representation and social construction to a genuine understanding of social reciprocity which is the core issue in any sociological perspective. Falk's superb and sustained analysis of orality seems to me to provide exactly the link which is necessary to pull together an implicitly individualistic approach to the body in much contemporary writing to a genuinely social view of the nature of human embodiment.

    A general outline of the theory of the body requires the following:

    • a sophisticated understanding of the very notion of embodiment which would be a method of exploring the systematic ambiguity of the body as corporality, sensibility and objectivity;
    • an embodied notion of the social actor and a comprehensive view of how the body-image functions in social space;
    • a genuinely sociological appreciation of the reciprocity of social bodies over time, that is an understanding of the communal nature of embodiment and;
    • a thoroughly historical sense of the body and its cultural formation.

    These elements are implicit in Falk's study of the body and modern consumption, and in the Preface I merely offer some slight emphasis to his general approach. I conceive of these areas of analysis in terms of a hierarchy: from the nature of embodiment, which addresses the whole question of social existence; to the nature of the social actor; to the social level of exchange and reciprocity; and to the most general level of historical, cultural formations.

    The debate about embodiment has emerged out of a general dissatisfaction with the legacy of Descartes' rational actor which was the foundation of nineteenth-century social sciences models of reality and which survived into contemporary theory via Max Weber's sociology of action and Talcott Parsons' general theory of voluntaristic social action in the 1950s. The phenomenological tradition has attempted to provide a more sustained notion of the relationship between the objective instrumental body and the subjective living body, which is captured in the distinction in the German between Korper and Leib (Honneth and Joas, 1988). The notion of embodiment suggests that all of the fundamental processes of conception, perception, evaluation and judgement are connected to the fact that human beings are embodied social agents. It is not the case simply that human beings have a body but they are involved in the development of their bodies over their own life-cycle; in this respect, they are bodies. In this regard, the notion of the sociology of the body may be somewhat misleading in suggesting a special area of sociological enquiry. It might be more appropriate to talk about a sociology of embodiment indicating that the question of the human body and embodied experience cannot be isolated to a particular field subdiscipline or area of study. In the development of this approach, an implicit philosophy anthropology has been profoundly important especially in the work of writers like Arnold Gehlen (1988). I believe that Falk has incorporated this notion of the body and embodiment into his whole approach to consumption, because he realizes that, while one can talk about an objective body, as sociologists we need to concentrate on corporeality or bodiliness as the experientiality of the body. As he says in the introduction to his book ‘the body has to be understood as a sensory and sensual being’.

    The nature of corporeality and embodiment leads directly into the question of the self and the social actor. The characterization of the social actor has been an issue which has dominated the entire development of the social sciences, involving as it does questions about the rationality of social action, the importance or otherwise of affective and emotional elements, and the role of symbol and culture in the constitution of the social self. By and large the corporeality of the social actor has been, until recent years, neglected in the analysis of social action. The brilliance of Falk's approach to this question is to cast it in a distinctively historical context, that is we do not have to decide on an essentialist definition of the social actor but rather we are obliged to explore the historical setting of the corporeality of the social self. Recent writing on the body has indeed associated the emergence of the debate about the body with the growing importance of the postmodern or reflexive self in high modernity. For example, Anthony Synnott has stated somewhat baldly that ‘the body is also, and primarily, the self. We are all embodied’ (1993:1). In a similar fashion, Chris Shilling, following the approach of Anthony Giddens to contemporary forms of intimacy, also argues that the project of the self in modern society is in fact the project of the body; ‘there is a tendency for the body to become increasingly central to the modern person's sense of self-identity’ (Shilling, 1993:1). The transformation of medical technology in recent years has made possible the construction of the human body as a personal project through cosmetic surgery, organ transplants, and transsexual surgery. In addition there is the whole panoply of dieting regimes, health farms, sports science and nutritional science which are focused on the development of the aesthetic, thin body. Both Synnott and Shilling have noted that modern sensibility and subjectivity are focused on the body as a representation of the self, such that the body is in contemporary society a mirror of the soul. I have argued (Turner, 1984) that this involves a profound process of secularization whereby the diet is transformed from a discipline of the soul into a mechanism for the expression of sexuality which is in turn the focus of modern self-hood. Whereas traditional forms of diet subordinated desire in the interests of the salvation of the soul, in contemporary consumer society the diet assumes an entirely different meaning and focus, namely as an elaboration or amplification of sexuality. The project of the self therefore is intimately bound up with these historical transformations of the nature of the body, its role in culture and its location in the public sphere.

    However, the claim made by Giddens and adopted by Shilling that high modernity is marked by the development of self-reflexivity is a problematic historical claim. It can be argued by contrast that the history of self-reflexivity has to be traced to the transformation of confessional practice in the twelfth century (Morris, 1987), through the growth of Christian disciplines and spiritual manuals in the Reformation, to the Protestant tradition of piety and to the Protestant diary, and to the Counter-Reformation's elaboration of baroque mentalities. In particular the seventeenth century had a very distinctive conception of the person as a construct or artifice, as the product of social intervention and cultural organization. The individual, as a creation of social and historical arrangements, was revizable. The idea that the world is a stage and all the people merely players perfectly expressed this view. What is significant about contemporary society is the fact that the possibility of the body/self as a project is now open to a mass audience, being no longer the goal or ideal of an elite court group or high bourgeois culture. Dieting, jogging, the workout, mass sport, and physical education have all brought the idea of the perfect body to a mass audience. In this sense, Giddens' claims about self-reflexivity and the democratization of love are certainly plausible in that the quest for personal satisfaction through the body beautiful is now a mass ideal. The significance of Pasi Falk's approach to the body is to connect the emergence of the modern self with the idea of consumption. Following the work of Colin Campbell (1987) on the relationship between romanticism and consumerism, Pasi Falk argues that the sense of the self in contemporary society is profoundly connected with the idea of unlimited personal consumption (of food, signs and goods). I consume, therefore I am. The modern advertising industry has of course elaborated the whole idea of the consuming self as the ideal form of the modern person. In the process of developing this argument, Pasi Falk also provides us with a profoundly important critique of Foucault's treatment of the self as merely the effect of discipline and technologies of the self. Foucault's continuing commitment to structuralist forms of analysis subordinated not only the phenomenology of experience and the sensual body, but also removed any possibility of resistance or opposition to disciplinary practices. Perhaps to Pasi Falk's analysis of the consuming self, we might add the notion that for the self in a consumer society, it is the body-image that plays the determining role in the evaluation of the self in the public arena (Schilder, 1964). It is the surface of the body which is the target of advertising and self-promotion, just as it is the body surfaces which are the site of stigmatization. The modern consuming self is a representational being.

    Sociology is ultimately not an analysis of representational meanings, but a science or discipline of action and interaction. We need to understand the body in the processes of action and interaction at the level of everyday reciprocities and exchange. Pasi Falk's approach to eating and consumption provides him with an important way of developing the notion of social solidarity from an analysis of the consuming body. One might note that the very word sociology comes from the Latin socius meaning friendship or companionship; sociology is a science of friendship and companionship. Companionship is in literal terms a community based upon the sharing of bread and we might therefore suggest that sociology is an analysis of the eucharistic community, that is an enquiry into forms of solidarity based upon the reciprocity of (already always social) bodies in a context of shared eating. While sociologists have typically grounded social solidarity in the idea of shared values, there may be a more primitive notion of community, that is an eating community. Here again the mouth is a particularly interesting feature of the human body, being the site of an ambiguous set of practices which include eating and biting, kissing and shouting, sucking and talking. Pasi Falk draws our attention to an important relationship between words and food, because words and food are crucial means of reciprocity and exchange. The argument about self formation is now connected, through a discussion of eating, with the formation of society itself as an eating community.

    In an argument which is highly connected to Emile Durkheim's analysis of the sacred profane dichotomy in The Elementary Forms of Religious Life (1961) Pasi Falk draws an historical contrast between the ritual meal of primitive society and the individuated forms of eating and consumption in modern society in an analysis which contrasts communion with exchange. It is important to note that Fustel de Coulanges, who influenced Durkheim's view of religion and society, argued in The Ancient City in 1864 (Fustel de Coulanges, n.d.) that the hearth was the institution which created the foundation of classical Roman society; the hearth was the focal point where the family was gathered in ritualistic activities, which created fundamental social bonds. The gods of the family hearth were particularistic deities of the social group. In Pasi Falk's version of the elementary forms of society, it is the eating community and the ritual meal which provide the ground-work for the formation of society as such. One might also note that this is a line of argument which follows the earlier work of William Robertson Smith (1927), who in his lectures of 1889 on the primitive semitic society also drew attention to the social functions of the ritual meal of sacrifice in the formation of Abrahamic religions. In Christianity this ritual meal had been converted into a formal communion with God through the ritual consumption of the body and blood of Christ. Just as the affective bond between mother and child is formed through female lactation, so the intimate emotional bond at the base of society is formed by shared consumption of food around a ritualized pattern of eating. For Pasi Falk the transformation taking place in modern society is thus away from the collective rituals of eating to the privatized meal. Here again the history of society is linked to the history of the body, that is to the transformations of taste taking place in the reorganization of eating.

    One might argue that one of the most profound dichotomies in the study of society which has been developed by sociology has been the contrast between community and association which follows from the work of Ferdinand Tönnies (1957). The Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft distinction has influenced much of subsequent sociology; wherever there is a distinction between universalism and particularism, between neutrality and affectivity, between the local and global, between the rational and the non-rational as in for example Talcott Parsons' concept of the pattern variables, one can detect the legacy of Tönnies. In Pasi Falk's hands, this Gemeinschaft/Gesellschaft distinction is transformed into a theory of the body/self/society such that the communal bonds of the ritual meal are eventually replaced by the privatized forms of consumption in modern society, but this historical transformation is also one from the open body/closed self to the closed body/open self of modern society. Pasi Falk's notion, which again follows Durkheim's views on individualism and individualation, is that in primitive society the self is underdeveloped but by constrast the body is open, whereas in contemporary society the self is overdeveloped and correspondingly the body is closed. This open/closed body distinction is thus mapped onto a notion of collective and individualized patterns of eating. One might add to Pasi Falk's view of the transformation of the ritualized meal into restaurant snack, the Weberian notion of the rationalization of the distribution and consumption of food. The modern consumption of food is not only shaped by commercial transformations of eating in the restaurant but also by the application of science through dietetics and nutrition to the production of effective and efficient means of eating. One could imagine a research programme which would trace the impact of home economics, nutritional science and dietetics on the rationalization of the consumption of food as an illustration of the secularization and rationalization of food-consumption. In a recent study of the impact of Fordism and Taylorism on the food industry, George Ritzer (1993) has analysed McDonaldization as an illustration of Weber's theory of rationalization and disenchantment. McDonalds operates with a limited menu, precise measurements of food and standardized systems of delivery in order to achieve efficiency, profitability and reliability. McDonaldization removes all surprises from life; its production methods remove the unpredictable from eating, including the risk of food poisoning. The short hasty lunch undertaken at McDonalds is thus the opposite of the orgiastic ritual meal of the primitive hoard. The gap between the traditional family meal with its bourgeois civility and conviviality and the privatized lunch time bite at McDonalds perhaps beautifully captures the distinction between the life world and the rational system of modern industrial society.

    It is probably appropriate to regard sociology as an alternative commentary on the limitations and failures of classical economic theories of economic action, need and rational behaviour. Sociology developed as an alternative to the notion of economizing actions by considering the non-utilitarian significance of consumption, the role of non-rational and affective issues in consumer choice, the political regulation of knowledge, and the constraints on the sovereignty of the consumer. Sociology functioned as a critique of the underlying moral and political assumptions of the operation of markets in civil society. Pasi Falk's superb study of the mouth, consumption, the body and society could be seen as a continuation of that classical theme, namely as a critique of the disembodied actor of classical economic theory. His analysis of luxury, conspicuous consumption and the social implications of modern patterns of eating is a genuine sociological contribution to economic theory, again very much in the tradition of Durkheim's critique of Manchester economics and its utilitarian assumptions. Pasi Falk takes us a long way towards a comprehensive sociology of the body, but there is clearly much work still to be done especially around the idea of the postmodern body, the relation between the body and risk society, the continuation of the gender division and the sexual division of labour and the implications of virtual reality for social embodiment. Although there is much terrain to cover, Pasi Falk's path-breaking study points us clearly in the right direction through this stimulating analysis of the sensuality of orality and corporeality.

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