Sociology of the body

Alison Phipps, Gillian Bendelow

Research output: Chapter in Book/Conference proceeding with ISSN or ISBNChapter


The concept of “embodiment” emerged as sociology finally began, in the late twentieth century, to tackle questions around what it really meant to have, or “be,” a body. Although arguably the classical sociologists had grounded their ideas implicitly in an embodied subject – for instance, Marx's concept of alienation or Durkheim's work on suicide – the body was taken for granted as a biological entity or seen as a blank canvas for the operation of the social, and was implicitly assumed to be that of the white, heterosexual, able-bodied man. “The body” itself began to emerge as a major theme from the 1980s onward as social scientists addressed how perceptions, experiences, and even corporeality were influenced and produced by social structures, discourses, and interactions. This required sociologists to engage with the lived aspects of intersections between aspects of identity such as gender, class, “race,” sexuality, age, and (dis)ability – in other words, the diversity of bodies rather than the implicitly “normal” and unquestioned “body.” It is impossible to summarize the enormous range of sociological thought and research that has emerged since, but in this brief entry we attempt to chart the approaches and themes which have the most apparent salience for health and illness.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe Wiley-Blackwell Encyclopedia of Health, Illness, Behaviour and Society
EditorsWilliam C. Cockerham, Robert Dingwall, Stella R. Quah
Place of PublicationOxford UK
Number of pages8
ISBN (Electronic)9781118410868
ISBN (Print)9781118410868
Publication statusPublished - 6 Jan 2014


  • Pierre Bourdieu
  • feminist theory and gender studies
  • Michel Foucault
  • ontology
  • pain
  • sociology of the body


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