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SIEF2013 11th Congress: Tartu, Estonia.
30 June - 4 July, 2013

SIEF2013: Circulation

Tartu, Estonia; 30th June - 4th July


Body, corporeality and configuration: the affective body in the vortex of culture, identity and communication

Location Ülikooli 16, 212
Date and Start Time 02 July, 2013 at 10:30


Katrin Alekand (University of Tartu) email
Judit Kis-Halas (University of Pécs) email
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Short Abstract

Choosing body as one of the most fancied topic in social and cultural research this panel is discussing the affective body: body as an active agency in creating cultural and social representations.

Long Abstract

During the 1990s social theory signalled a radical change in understandings on the body. The affective turn in social sciences brought about a shift in perspectives, thus the body has been regarded as site of potentiality instead of former mere entity and substance (Clough - Halley 2007, Blackman 2008) Bearing in mind that it must have been just as too simplistic, even the other side of the coin, to reduce body phenomenon to immediate social processes or classifications, body is discussed as interplay of often interdependent biological, physiological AND social processes. However, within the new understanding body as felt or the so-called "feeling-body" was gaining more and more importance compared to former neglecting or extremely reducing tendencies regarding it as an "inert mass".

Focusing on the above relatively recent turn this panel intends to discuss body as socio-cultural phenomenon uniting affective, reflexive and communicative aspects. We invite papers investigating the further questions from ethnological, anthropological, and even interdisciplinary perspectives:

• the communicative aspects of the body (body language, the impact of physical distortions / disorders on communication, body as message and field of negotiation);

• the role of body techniques in transmitting attitudes / emotions / ideas;

• body as site of somatisation / health / healing / sensation

• body experienced as corporeality;

• body as medium between self and the "Other" expressing social / cultural / gender roles


Blackman, Lisa: The Body: The Key Concepts. 2008. Oxford: Berg Publ.

Clough, Patricia Ticineto - Halley, Jean (eds.) The Affective Turn: theorizing the social. 2007. Durham and London: Duke University Press.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.


Body and place: techniques, arts, crafts and skills

Author: Katrin Alekand (University of Tartu)  email

Short Abstract

M.Mauss stated that there is no natural behaviour and all techniques of the body are learned and taught. We can also say: there is no such thing as natural body, all our bodies are customized and altered using different arts and crafts. Techniques and arts of the body are strongly related.

Long Abstract

M.Mauss stated that there is no natural behaviour, all techniques of the body are learned and taught. We can also say: there is no such thing as natural body, all bodies are customized and altered using different arts and crafts. Techniques and arts of the body are strongly related.

The techniques of the body Mauss examined can be categorized as instrumental - it is body in motion, in action. But our bodies make other react long before we take any move or say any word. The way we have customized our bodies starts dialogues between us from the very first glimpse. Traditional arts of the altered bodies are strongly related to body-tissues and mainly to our biggest organ: skin. Compared to other species human skin has very unique characteristics and human being is the only animal who modifies its own body deliberately, often very painfully. Techniques for altering one's body are usually very resource-consuming. It takes both money and time to become customized and crafted as one's desired out-speaking embodied self.

For a long time arts of customizing body have been located both in geographical place, related to a certain culture, and socio-cultural place, related to a person's social position. Last century has been a wild period of melting, mixing, combining and developing of traditional arts of the body and techniques of the body that has a wide variations of results. From creativity to hate-speeches.

“Those who can’t tolerate the cold and wet, are the first to quit”

Author: Vedis Olafsdottir (University of Iceland)  email

Short Abstract

Wake up in a dark morning in January. Sit up in the tent, crawl out of the sleeping bag. Wind, frost, snow. The shoes are frozen. How did hard conditions affect the body and mind of a researcher in a two year long research of Reykjavik’s volunteer air ground rescue team?

Long Abstract

To become a member in Reykjavik’s air ground volunteer rescue team, each candidate needs to complete two years of training. The team is based on volunteers and therefore all the training is during weekends or evenings. The training can be tough, physically, mentally and technically. The weather can be bad and candidates need to survive weekends up in the mountains, eat, sleep, walk and pee in cold, wet and windy conditions. If the members are able to cobe in rough conditions; crawl in tents, sleep in the cold, ski 35 km a day and face the fear as of climbing icey slopes, crossing bustling glacier rivers and navigating alone through mountains, they are deemed to be able to rescue others.

Based on two year long fieldwork, I am intersted in how candidates change and adjust their bodies and minds to rough conditions. Who cobes, who quits? Furthermore, how did I as a researcher and a full participant of the training adjust to the field?

Upright and independent: sculpting modern men in early 20th century Iceland

Author: Valdimar Tr. Hafstein (University of Iceland)  email

Short Abstract

Traditional glíma wrestling offers a vantage point on the physical formation of modern subjects through the sculpting of upright, male bodies. Appropriating techniques that previously distinguished noble bodies, glíma helped to retool techniques of social distinction to mark strong, modern men.

Long Abstract

A traditional form of wrestling with medieval roots, Icelandic glíma offers a vantage point on the body techniques involved in the formation of modern national subjects. In the span of a few years at the dawn of the 20th century, customary jostling turned into a full-blown, organized sport, complete with clubs, rules, tournaments, uniforms, accessories, and trophies. It soon came to be known as Iceland's national sport.

On the basis of written and visual documents - pamphlets, rules, newspapers, memoirs, photographs and film footage - this presentation focuses on the physical discipline and "arts of using the human body" involved in forming the modern subject, with an eye on that subject's reflexive relationship to its own practices and their temporality.

I'm interested in particular in the stress on posture in glíma training, competitions, and visual representations of the masculine body, and in the democratization of techniques that had previously served across Europe as physical markers of noble bodies. In the first decades of the 20th century, one finds the notion of uprightness cropping up in a lot of different contexts: the straight back and the steady gaze. In previous centuries, a straight back and steady gaze was the prerogative of the European aristocracy, part of a social dynamic of pride and humility, in which aristocrats distinguished themselves through posture. In an egalitarian move, characteristic of the project of modernity in the 20th century, this mark of distinction became the mark of a strong, modern man.

Astrals, spirits and etheric bodies: concepts of the body in a New Age religious healing system

Author: Judit Kis-Halas (University of Pécs)  email

Short Abstract

The paper introduces a relatively new method of alternative healing, called psychotronics, as a typical manifestation of contemporary New Age medicine. I focus on the interconnected system of body, soul and spirit concepts and their symbolism within a holistic interpretation of health and therapeutic issues.

Long Abstract

In the paper I will introduce a relatively new method of alternative healing, called psychotronics, also a typical manifestation of contemporary New Age medicine. I examine the phenomenon in its complexity, since it is not only a healing practice (=effecting a physiological change), but also an ideology that reshapes the practitioner's (and occasionally the patient's) entire worldview and reprograms his life. First I give a brief summary of New Age spirituality, and ideas of healing, because they form the ideological background of the method.

In the second part I refer to the different roots, the basic concepts, and the actual practices of psychotronics in Hungary. My introduction is focusing on the particular concepts of body, soul and spirit, and their tightly interconnected system and symbolism within a holistic interpretation of health and therapeutic issues. According to psychotronics, all kinds of illnesses are rooted in impure morals. Immoral life and sins destruct the body's self-defence system and opens it to evil spirits. Thus therapies imply different forms of exorcism and purification. At the same time, healers not only fight and conquer demons but carrying out spiritual surgery, which means that they are operating the patients' spiritual bodies.

Primary data for the study draw on several semi-structured interviews with practitioners, patients and their families that have been collected during my on-going field research in rural South-West Hungary. Additional information has been gained both from print and electronic media.

Getting it right: learning new movements, manners and attitudes

Author: Karin Högström (Stockholm University)  email

Short Abstract

Middle Eastern dance classes, courses for jobseekers and an integration project for Somali refugees are examples of how techniques of the body are taught in processes including transmission of attitudes and ideals. There are, however, differences in the participants’ relative power and status.

Long Abstract

Using ethnographic examples from Sweden this presentation focuses education where people are taught new movements and postures in processes also including transmission of certain attitudes and ideals.

In Middle Eastern dance classes in Stockholm pupils learn new and unfamiliar movements, largely by imitation. They are also introduced to Middle Eastern culture and taught how dancers should act in relation to the audience. In an integration-project, illiterate Somali refugees are taught new skills, e.g. to greet a person in the "right" way (eye-contact and firm handshake). Participants are told how to raise children in Sweden (do not hit them!). They are also encouraged to exercise more and avoid wearing big headscarves. A course by the Swedish employment office instructs jobseekers how to make a good impression on potential employers. Participants are taught not only what to say, but also correct posture, facial expression and tone of voice.

These courses aim at changing not only the participants' posture and movements, but also their manners and, to a certain extent, their attitudes and emotions. Bodies and minds are purposefully adapted to certain cultural contexts. There are, however, considerable differences in the participants' relative power and position in Swedish society. While most Swedish women learn Middle Eastern dance to add extra quality to their lives, the unemployed have little choice other than adapting to the demands of employers. The ways of Somali refugees are ascribed almost no value in Sweden. Profound changes of their behaviour and attitudes are therefore considered necessary.

Coffee and class for the Swedes, as seen in the Millennium Trilogy by Stieg Larsson: analysing coffee as materiality of actor-network-theory

Author: Åsa Ljungström (Mid Sweden University)  email

Short Abstract

Coffee and class express the paradox of a dream of a classless society, denying the divisiveness of class affiliation. Drawing on theory of materiality the paper aims to analyse coffee running through the bodies, creating chains of communication.

Long Abstract

In the Millennium Trilogy coffee and class express the paradox of the dream of a classless society denying the divisiveness of class affiliation in Sweden. Coffee is used to create affinity while the consumption of other kinds of food and drink is used to subtly mark social hierarchies. Swedish people like to believe that it is possible for anyone to climb the social ladder; equality has been the leading ideal since the 1960s, or even since the 1930s when the building of the welfare state began. Having a coffee works to level the communication between people in real life as well as in the novels. The author uses the coffee as a formula to get the storyline going, introduce new characters or forecast events. Not until the New York Times' columnist (Kamp 2010) wrote about the pathological coffee consumption did the Swedes notice. To us it seemed just normal. The Swedes will have a coffee during a break at work, at home, with a friend, or whenever they open communication. Any interviewer knows how a coffee works - a refusal of an offer of coffee requires explanation. The serving of coffee makes a self-evident statement in any kind of group within the wide middle class. Drawing on theory of materiality and presence the paper aims to analyse coffee running through the human bodies creating chains of communication. Anything is possible with a coffee for us and for Stieg Larsson's characters coping with the morale of good and evil, black and white.

This panel is closed to new paper proposals.