This conference invites papers that foreground the body as the subject of enquiry, and raise questions of (dis)embodiment, corporeality and of human agency. In doing so we would also like to raise the possibility of revisiting certain categories of historical analysis like the state, nation, religion, region and so on through the narrative of the human body. How are identities of gender caste, class, tribe, of normative behaviour and power, marked and imagined on the human body? The very embodiment of these identities in the human form itself is a continuously negotiated and renegotiated process.
Any fruitful investigation on the body would require us to locate it in the contestation of ‘nature’ and ‘culture’. Feminist scholarship problematises this binary and has pointed out that the ‘biological’ body is also culturally produced. Gender then, is not seen as a natural difference, but rather conceived of as bodily styles that are performed in order to create gendered subjectivities. Furthermore gender and sexuality are often externalized and associated with animal bodies, as a way of communicating certain attributes such as strength, wisdom, courage, etc.
The body thus becomes a powerful metaphor used in everyday language. Figuration of Purushashukta, or Bharat-Mata are crucial ideological underpinnings to specific world-views. At particular historical moments, inscribing borders, boundaries, and attributes such as femininity to certain geographical terrains were ways of imagining a geo-body of the nation. In recognizing this distinct body as the body of the 'nation', individuals could identify as citizens of this nation. As various such intersecting social hierarchies are visualized directly or indirectly in the form of the human body, they serve to create particular images of the 'self' versus the 'other.'
As both the subject and object of power, the human body is an important unit. Embodied power is evident in moments of violence especially when they kill, mutilate and imprison other bodies in order to control and subjugate them. Through the shifts in ideas and practices of law, medicine and education, we also come to see that the body is both the site and the means of regulation, control and discipline. Rituals and code of normative behaviour attempt to regulate how bodies deal with material and temporal realities of birth, ageing and death. Similarly, bodily experiences of hunger, sex and procreation are mediated by historical circumstance and cultural practices. Entire socio-moral orders are thus imagined and focussed on controlling the form and actions of the body, both individual and communal. . The body not only is a site of regulation and control but is also becomes the site and tool of resistance in creating counter paradigms to normative standards and authority.
Foregrounding the individual body helps complicates binaries and narratives of living/dead, healthy/unhealthy, male/female, savage/civilised and purity/pollution. How have such categories been mapped on the body or conversely what markers on the body are taken as indicative of such categories? Moreover, how do certain performative acts and gestures mark certain bodies as being criminal/strange/queer or alien? In what ways do these gestures, speech acts, performances reify/contest social norms? Are there material limitations beyond which the body cannot perform? Is there a static, ‘normal’ body and how did different cultures think about deformities and abnormalities at different points of time?
Collectives of human bodies, in the form of say institutions, are also organized and informed by certain structures. While some of these institutions are formal such as the unions and political parties, some of them are more intimate such as friendship, kinship and family. Bodies also mobilise in more amorphous collectives such as the crowd or the mob at certain pivotal points of time, rupturing consolidated power structures.
Further, how do these collectives relate and to and reflect certain spatial categories of rural/urban, village/forest, frontier, hinterland, etc? How have architecture and infrastructure re-figured the modes of sociality within these spaces? These spaces come alive through the everyday bodily practices. Routine, as governed by religious and ethical values, thus create and ascribe meanings to such spaces. In addition, how can the economic categories of production, distribution, display and consumption be viewed through the lens of the body? Histories of technologies, cycles of work, migration and leisure present textured and layered narratives of bodies. How can questions of taste and notions of embodied skills complicate quantitative and disembodied economic narratives that focus on demographics, biometrics and prices?
How then do we begin to understand the complicated relationship between society, social institutions and the body? The different interpersonal relations between bodies at different moments can particularly be seen in cases of conscious constructions of public image vis-a-vis the private image. For example, certain political leaders like Nehru presented themselves as secular in public and religious in private life whereas others like Jinnah could be perceived as a believer in public and atheist in private. Thus what are the multiple (and contradictory) ways in which the 'self' is projected and constructed? Can the body itself be read as an archive of memories, trauma, experiences, etc?
The interplay of normative standards and lived experience produce multiple and intersectional identities, which are embodied not just at the physical but also at an emotive level. Emotions such as love, rage, shame, honour, bravery, disgust, so intimately connected to the corporeal body are powerful factors that shape and are shaped by the social realm inhabited by the body. The representations of the bodies, or the body as symbol has traditionally been central to aesthetic practices like writing, poetry, painting, cinema, advertising, and activities like gymnastics, sports, etc. How do various aesthetic modes define and challenge the limits of the body?
The idea of the body, individual and collective, and its larger world as co-constitutive thus calls for an understanding of the interactions, contestations, mediations, movements, distributions, and the limits and boundaries of the body and notions of embodiment. In shifting the focus to body and embodiment to foreground dialectic and dialogic processes in history conference hopes to complicate and rethink historical narratives.
The sub-themes that animate this conference include but are not limited to the following:
Body and violence: How does foregrounding the body in narratives of war, riots, massacres, battles add to narratives of violence? How are bodies marked and defined by violence? How do bodies act in moments of violence?
Body as archive: How is memory inscribed on the body and what can the body tell us about experiences of trauma? How is the body central to ritual and oral practices? In what ways are skills and knowledges embodied and transmitted?
Representations of the body and body as a metaphor: How has the body been represented in literature, art, cinema, etc.? How has the body been conceptualized in metaphors for entities like the nation, the polity, state, community, etc.? In what ways have non human bodies such as ghosts, gods, spirits, celestial beings, and anthropomorphic forms imagined and why?
Body as a site of ethics and morality: How have ideal notions of the body changed historically? How have bodies been the site of moral and ethical contestations as evident in cultural and religious processes of reform, revolution and education? How have different ethical moral orders been defined by bodily practices?
Disciplining the body: How have different disciplinary practices of the body defined and developed institutional spaces of prison, asylum, hospitals, schools, etc? What are the way in which normative expectations, punishments, and rewards shape the body?
Body and its material world: How do bodies shape technology, scientific development, resource extraction/mining, agriculture, hunting, etc? In what ways are life cycle, ageing, childhood, etc mapped through the body? What can bodily practices of death, birth, sex, disease, disposal, etc. tell us about socio-cultural processes?
Body and physiology: How do we understand physiological constructs of gender in different societies? How are multiple genders expressed and contested by the body? How do bodily practices of dress, grooming, diet, adornment, sexuality, etc reflect certain social hierarchies? What have been the implications of associating race, ethnicity, class, caste with physiological features and bodily behaviour? How have medicinal practices, caregiving effected the body?
Labouring and working body: What marks the body of the skilled worker as different from that of the unskilled, the apprentice from the master, the informal worker from the formal? What do narratives of the rest and leisure of working bodies tell us about economic shifts?
Body and its geography: How are bodies construed as savage/wild/civilized vis a vis their geographical contexts? How does travel, migration and movement of bodies reflect larger social, economic and political processes? How are spatial arrangements such as town planning refigured to govern and manage bodies?
Transactions/trade amongst bodies: How does accumulation of wealth and conspicuous consumption enhance, protect, and display the body? In what ways are the exchanges of goods and services mediated through the body as seen in inheritance, dowry or patron-client relations? How do bodies mediate functioning of land grants, markets, fairs, exhibitions etc? How does centering the body allow us to rethink narratives of slavery?
Performative bodies: Bodies follow normative scripts and function through taken for granted assumptions in ritual, exhibitory, and the quotidian realms. How do certain performative acts and gestures mark certain bodies as being criminal/strange/queer or alien? In what ways do these gestures, speech acts, performances reify/contest social norms?
Interested participants are requested to submit an abstract of about 250-300 words and a paper of about 3000 words on any of, but not restricted to, the sub-themes outlined in the concept note.Both the abstract and the paper for the conference should be sent to chsyoungscholars2017[at]gmail.com