Brock University

(Un)Bounded Bodies and Parts: Changing body boundaries in contemporary health, life sciences and biotechnologies II

"Shoring up" Bodies and Boundaries

Drawing on the conference theme of Borders without Boundaries, this session invites empirical, analytic or theoretical papers that examine changing body boundaries in the context of contemporary health, life sciences and biotechnologies. From tissue banking and organ donation in which material parts are separated from wholes to bioscientific phenomena such as microchimerism in which cells from one person are present in another, social scientists have shown how the assumption of clearly bounded bodies or impermeable body boundaries no longer holds. The person cannot be thought to map non-problematically and fully onto what is assumed to be a clearly bounded biological body. The separation of parts from wholes also raises important questions about new forms of biological values, movements and exchanges giving rise to new concepts and phenomena such as the bioeconomy, biovalue and biocapital. We seek papers from the sociology of health and illness, science and technology studies and any other fields of sociology that address a range of topics including: changing ideas of personhood/identity/the individual; extraction, movement (including trafficking) of people and/or parts; the hierarchical valuing of parts; stabilization of unstable body boundaries; the ecology/environment of unbounded bodies and parts; and governance of unbounded bodies.

Session Organizer: Jennie Haw, York University, ; Matthew Strang, York University,


Tracing the Site of Appetite through Bodily Contestations: Expert Controversies, Lay Advocacy, and the Promotion of 'Food Addiction' as a Medical Pathology

Merin Oleschuk, University of Toronto, , Kat Kolar, University of Toronto,

Food addiction discourse has emerged in popular media and scientific arenas with considerable controversy. According to those who promote the classification of food addiction as a medical disorder, this condition is broadly characterized by compulsive overeating accompanied by feelings of lack of control, guilt, or depression, as well as symptoms of 'withdrawal' and 'tolerance'. Experts are at odds over whether food addiction 'exists', while lay support groups and organizations (e.g., Overeaters Anonymous) lobby to have food addiction become a medically recognized pathology. Such groups promote food addiction as a framework for developing research and interventions to manage unruly obese bodies. Using discourse analysis, we investigate this food addiction controversy as a case with which to explore contemporary shifts in obesity medicalization and identify some of the specific interests at play in these shifts. Further, we argue that food addiction discourse makes apparent a site through which a particular character of embodied subjectivity is being simultaneously discursively demarcated and constituted through practices of research, intervention, and regimes of self-discipline.  We conceptualize this contested site of knowledge, normative regulation, and self-constitution as 'appetite'. We conclude with thoughts on how this conceptualization of 'appetite' may contribute to future research on bodies and boundaries.


Cancer patients and corporeal vulnerability: (Re)constructing a bounded body through cosmetic intervention

Rachael Pack, The University of Western Ontario,

Look Good, Feel Better (LGFB) is a program designed to teach female cancer patients cosmetic techniques to manage troubling appearance related problems associated with chemotherapy.  The program promises that the correct application of beauty products will have restorative effects for both the body and the mind. Cancer patients will appear more feminine, and this in turn, will relieve anxieties and reduce depression. Since its development in 1987, in the United States, the program has expanded to 21 countries throughout the world, including 59 locations in the UK which cumulatively served 1.1 million women in 2010.  The purpose of this paper is to critically consider the conditions that allow for LGFB to flourish, the anxieties it ameliorates, and the negative implications of such a framing of the “problem of cancer.”  I argue that LGBF responds to the ambiguous status of cancer which straddles the boundaries self/other,  inside/ outside and subject/object rendering cancer abject. Drawing from the theoretical work of Julia Kristeva and Jackie Stacey, I unpack our ambivalent reaction towards the visibly cancerous body and the ontological and corporeal anxiety that such a visual encounter produces. Situating this reaction in the context of neoliberal subjectivity, I argue that aesthetic programs like LGFB respond to the cultural imperative for a “clean and proper” body, and re-inscribe the notion that the abject body is one that can and should be concealed, hidden away, and overcome, leaving no cultural space in which women can confront their corporal vulnerability.





Necrovalue and the Subjectivity of Indigenous Peoples’ as Abnormal Other in the Genetic Dispositif

Mark Munsterhjelm, University of Windsor,

Genetic research has constituted Indigenous peoples in racially configured assemblages that derive value from Indigenous peoples’ based on subjectivities that constitute Indigenous peoples as premodern conduits to the ancient dead and/or predisposed to disease under modernity. Concepts of biovalue (value from life processes), proposed by Waldby (2000) or Rose (2007) do not adequately account for the pervasiveness and persistence of these subjectivities. Such value can be termed necrovalue, for it derives from the movement from life to death of necropolitics as letting-die and sovereignty as making-die, and reifies exposure to death due to colonial dispossession and subsequent conditions of poverty and systemic racism. I suggest that since the 1980s, a genetic dispositif has emerged that involves the coalescing of heterogeneous assemblages of transnational oriented capital, transnational genetics research, with settler state biotechnological industrial development, and Indigenous peoples. Within this genetic dispositif, genetic researchers organize assemblages based on organizing narratives which constitute Indigenous peoples as Abnormal Other subjectivities who are predisposed to disease due to having premodern genes. The translatability of these genetically deterministic organizing narratives helps stabilize assemblages within the genetic dispositif since it allows many disparate agents to advance their respective goals. The paper concludes by discussing how genetic researchers assemblages are vulnerable to challenges by assemblages organized by Indigenous peoples’ organizations which reject this subjectivity and the right of scientists to impose such subjectivities upon Indigenous peoples.


Too little, too much, and the in between: fat bodies and eating disorders.

Kate Hickey, University of Calgary,

This paper explores how the eating disordered body and the fat body co-exist as antithesis while they differently come to form the one body in the 2013 APA, DSM-5 publication section of eating disorders. This paper draws on PhD dissertation research. Specifically, it examines the co-production of the sick body in tandem with the sick mind and variations as found in the following data: obesity and eating disorder conferences, in-depth interviews with eating disorder professionals, online self-help forums for people with Binge Eating Disorder, and an on-site visit to an eating disorder in-patient treatment hospital.


© Canadian Sociological Association ⁄ La Société canadienne de sociologie