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Review of  Discourse, the Body, and Identity

Reviewer: Catie Berkenfield
Book Title: Discourse, the Body, and Identity
Book Author: Justine Coupland Richard Gwyn
Publisher: Palgrave Macmillan
Linguistic Field(s): Discourse Analysis
Issue Number: 14.2750

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Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2003 14:38:45 -0600
From: Catie Berkenfield
Subject: Discourse, the Body, and Identity

Coupland, Justine and Richard Gwyn, ed. (2003) Discourse, the Body, and
Identity, Palgrave-Macmillan.

Catie Berkenfield, Ph.D. Candidate, Department of Linguistics,
University of New Mexico.


This book, edited by Justine Coupland and Richard Gwyn, is a selection
of papers from the Cardiff Roundtable in Language and Communication's
theme session on 'Discourses of the Body,' held at the University of
Wales in June, 1999. Two additional papers, those by Woodward and Lupton
& Seymour, were also included. The contents of the book reflect both the
discussion from the theme session and the efforts of individual authors
or collaborators to rework their papers in order to contribute to an
interdisciplinary understanding of 'Discourses of the Body.' This
problem-centered volume draws on multiple disciplines and, thus, seeks
to reach a wide audience of social scientists whose interests involve
the relationships between the body and human discourses. The book
consists of an introduction by the editors and three thematic sections:
The Body as Interactional Resource (3 chapters), Ideological
Representations of the Body (5 chapters), and The Body, Pathology and
Constructions of Selfhood (3 chapters).


In the introduction to the book, Coupland and Gwyn provide a brief
historical overview of the problem of embodiment in 20th century social
science. Two important figures in the development of current
perspectives on human bodies in and with discourse are Erving Goffman
and Michel Foucault. Goffman's work on performativity and face led to a
greater understanding of the role of human agency in interaction, the
symbolic means of expressing and managing the body in interaction, and
the relationship between the social body and the construction of self.
Foucault's work on the institutions to which the body is subject gave us
a way to locate the body historically and also to describe how high
modern bodies produce and reproduce discourse. The editors include each
paper as an example "of how discourses of the body, as they are revealed
in talk, text and other semiotic practices, sustain a series of moral,
ideological and practical positions ... to show how the body is
articulated as discourse, and how, in turn, discourse articulates the
body" (6). A working definition of 'discourse' is provided:

"the term discourse in the broadly Foucauldian sense of one (or more)
particular, internally coherent set(s) of values and orientations, which
is/are held to be normative, persuasive or simply unexceptional within
specific groups or movements, which guides practical action, but which
is configured around and through a finite set of claims, statements or
accounts, amounting to a stance or (partial) world-view." (6)

The authors explicate several threads that help the reader to
understand, in very general terms, the interdisciplinary nature of work
on 'Discourses of the Body' in this volume. These include the following
ideas: "ideological analysis needn't be purely speculative or abstract,"
"discourse analysis must be multimodal," "analysis must be culturally
aware," "the body itself is not a stable phenomenon," and
"representations and construals of the body impact directly on people's
lives in the form of particular outcomes" (7-9).

The chapter concludes with an outline of the remaining chapters and a
justification for the organization of the papers into the 3 parts. The
body of the book is followed by an index of names and an index of subjects.

Part 1: The Body as an Interactional Resource

Ch. 2 The Body in Action, Charles Goodwin

Using videotaped data from a training at an archaeological field school,
Goodwin describes what he calls "symbiotic gestures": these are action
complexes that comprise material objects and cultural percepts in the
world, gesture, and talk. He illustrates how such gestures involve
mutual elaborations of these different semiotic systems that help to
structure communication in a social environment and to reproduce the
practices of archeology as a community discipline. If understanding is
aided by the mutual interdependencies of semiotic systems, as Goodwin
argues, then meaning may be located, although not exclusively, between
systems rather than simply internal to a single system.

Ch. 3 Transcending the Object in Embodied Interaction, Jon Hindmarsh and
Christian Heath

In this chapter, Hindmarsh and Heath discuss how people create meaning
through talk, gesture, material objects, and the use of their bodies.
Using videotaped data from design class presentations of invented
objects, the authors illustrate how speakers use their bodies to orient
their audience toward the object under discussion in particular ways.
Then using videotaped data from medical consultations, the authors
illustrate how patients use their bodies to show doctors the position,
scope, and intensity of pain from earlier episodes of experienced pain.
Of particular importance, both sources of data show that there is an
interactional component to embodied communication in which a person will
persist in using the body to communicate the perspective up until the
point that the interlocutor acknowledges that perspective.

Ch. 4 Flirting, Alan Radley

Using a phenomenological approach to how flirting is embodied, Radley
begins his chapter by arguing that flirting reflects a social valuation
of play, both as a lack of serious commitment in the act of flirtation
and in the sense that flirtation implies a refusal to hold meaning
static in a more general way. Drawing on Goffman's (1951) discussion of
categorical and expressive symbols, Radley argues that discourse and the
body are not really separable when it comes to flirting because flirting
creates a space in which the possible meaning of delight overlays a more
mundane meaning that is simultaneously experienced by a body. In
addition, the experience of flirting seems to require the
acknowledgement of the "Other." Radley concludes that flirtation occurs
through simultaneous denotation and performance allowing the emergence
of non-discursive symbols that may, but do not have to, become

Part II: Ideological Representations of the Body

Ch. 5 Aging Bodies: Aged by Culture, Mike Hepworth

In this chapter, Hepworth discusses how the Western biomedical model of
aging is primarily a model of decline. One of the main problems then is
how to separate out effects of aging from effects of disease and
Hepworth reviews the work of Gubrium (1986) on this topic. He goes on to
discuss the work of Bytheway (1985) and Woodward (1991, and this volume)
in terms of how people conceptualize old age and, then, looks at the
work of Frank (1996) and Williams (1996) as they deal with the crises of
both sudden and chronic illnesses and the epistemology of the body.
Hepworth suggests that William's work in particular "offers a useful
conceptual framework within which to work towards an interactive
processual perspective on aging and decline" (95), in which the meaning
of age is located discursively rather than objectively. In the second
half of this chapter, Hepworth turns to the work of Gullette (1988,
1993, 1997, 1998) and the social construction of aging as decline at
the intersections of biology, psychology, and culture. Hepworth briefly
touches on aspects of aging as decline in relation to both gender and
socioeconomic status. Working with a social construction model enables
intervention in the process of construction, however Hepworth reminds
the reader that, a postmodern valuation of aging notwithstanding, the
aging body has an embodied reality and must be taken into account.

Ch. 6 Tales of Outrage and the Everyday: Fear of Crime and Bodies at
Risk, Marian Tulloch and John Tulloch

Tulloch and Tulloch discuss the term "outrage" in terms of how the media
construct the relationship between public reaction and perception of
risk for violent crime. The authors are interested in how media
construct women as being at risk for crime and in how women in focus
groups and interviews either respond to or challenge such constructions.
In addition, they briefly touch on how such constructions of the female
body negatively affect men. Outrage is most often expressed upon the
violation of a worthy person's rights to safety. However, within
patriarchy, only women who adhere to particular behavior patterns
consistent with women's stereotypical roles are worthy of outrage. This
asymmetry puts women in a position of conflict: how does she balance her
inviolable rights to safety and the risks to which she may willingly
have exposed herself in going about her life? The analysis here suggests
that the women in this study are adopting discursive strategies to
assert their rights to their bodies, that is, when violent crime occurs,
these women evaluate and assert their right to safety rather than
internalizing the consequences of so-called "risky" behavior.

Ch. 7 Ageist Ideology and Discourses of Control in Skincare Product
Marketing, Justine Coupland

In this chapter, Coupland provides an analysis of how the face gains
semiotic significance in women's magazine media, particularly in terms
of advertisements that appeal to readers as having aging skin. In the
first part of the paper, the author discusses how advertisements
rhetorically position themselves and their readers as being in control
of the aging of skin and as having a moral responsibility to counteract
the effects of aging by buying skincare products. Next, Coupland shows
how advertisements lead readers to infer arbitrary lower boundaries on
youth (and the skin quality associated with youth) and also illustrates
implicit ageist ideology in the text that suggests that women over 30
are already at the stage where skincare will be 'corrective.' Finally,
she details the ways in which skincare advertisements take advantage of
a pseudo-scientific discourse in order to give their products
credibility. In the second part of the chapter, Coupland turns to a
discussion of the embodied contradiction that women face when they make
choices about having a tan or taking care of their skin. She then
deconstructs what it means to have a "fake" tan and shows how shifting
consumer values in the relationship between beauty and health have made
this a viable option for women. The general idea is that the skincare
product market is at odds with general consumer needs, both in terms of
products that protect the skin from damage and self-esteem, and the
rhetoric of advertisements aims at concealing this contradiction to
encourage women to buy products that may not really do what they are
claimed to do.

Ch. 8 Talking Bodies: Invoking the Ideal in the BBC Naked Programme,
Adam Jaworski

Jaworski takes a look at the BBC Programme entitled Naked, "a collage of
interviews about people's own bodies" (151), in order to look at the
interviewees' conceptions of their own bodies in relation to a 'norm.'
He specifically focuses on age and gender/sexuality as themes around
which the interviewees positioned their bodies. He identifies 3
prominent positions in the age discussion: the life-cycle consists of an
aberrant adolescence followed by a 'prime' period followed by the
degeneration of middle-age and onward, a person can 'fix' their body
through hard work and concomitantly a lack of hard work on the body
leads to deviance, and an ideal body is necessary for having a good sex
life. In the discussion of gender/sexuality, people orient their
discussion of their bodies in terms of attracting partners (including
grooming habits, plastic surgery, and size of the male genitals); in
terms of a loss of appeal due to menopause or impotence; in terms of
other activities that are rewarding; and in terms of positive feelings
toward their sex lives or participation in the sex industry. The general
finding is that the people in this series do subscribe to normative
ideals about the body, however a few interviewees challenge these norms
and derive a sense of self-esteem in spite of difference.

Ch. 9 Bodies Exposed: A Cross-cultural Semiotic Comparison of the
'Saunaland' in Germany and Britain, Ulrike Hanna Meinhof

In this chapter, Meinhof compares British and German sauna discourses
from architectural, institutional, and commercial textual perspectives.
The author demonstrates how particular configurations of these aspects
of the sauna experience reproduce cultural attitudes toward the naked
body. Meinhof contrasts the range of British perception of saunas on a
scale of "sinful and sexually suspect" to "a somewhat insignificant
aspect of sport and fitness in general" (185) with the German perception
of saunas as exotic, traditional, mystical, sport- and health-oriented,
relaxing, leisurely, and family-oriented. She attributes these
differences to different sets of expectations of and attitudes toward
the naked body in public, reflecting a generally monolithic British norm
of the body as private and a German norm of the body as public, this
last being a result of and constitutive of the postmodern bricolage that
characterizes the German sauna experience.

Part III: The Body, Pathology and Constructions of Selfhood

Ch. 10 Processes of Refiguration: Shifting Identities in Cancer
Narratives, Richard Gwyn

In this chapter, Gwyn looks at the relationship between identity and the
experience of cancer for John Diamond and Marilyn French, two people who
lived with cancer and produced texts describing that experience. The
author discusses how people who have cancer experience changes in their
identity along with changes in their bodies that the disease brings.
Then he discusses the work of Frank (1993), which deals with the
refiguration of identity through the cancer experience, and shows how
Diamond and French's experiences are in line with Frank's work on cancer
and the heroic journey. Finally, Gwyn briefly deals with the practice of
writing evocative autoethnography as a method in social science,
concluding that the union of more traditional social science methods and
first person subjective ethnography creates a humane means of theorizing
the links between personal and social identities.

Ch. 11 The Statistical Body, Kathleen Woodward

The focus in this chapter is to look at how bodies become vulnerable
through exposure to statistical probabilities in media. Woodward notes
that the general public has a tendency to take statistics as predictive
of future events or trends rather than as descriptive of the past or the
present and, because of this, "our bodies are figured as being in a
perpetual state of risk" (228). She shows how risk has become a
commodity in the sense that we pay for the means to find relief from
stress. Woodward looks at three media representations of risk and the
medical body. In the first she shows how a fictionalized healthy woman
manages her risk of breast cancer from a 'rational' position when she
chooses preventative bilateral mastectomy. In the second, she discusses
how a woman who had breast cancer deals with the effects of statistics
on her choices and timing of treatments before and during her illness.
In the third, Woodward summarizes the autobiography of a woman whose
mother had Huntington's disease and how the woman dealt with her 50-50
chance of getting the disease as well. Woodward illustrates the
different strategies that each woman has for dealing with risk and the
possibility or fact of living with illness.

Ch. 12 'I am Normal on the Net': Disability, Computerised Communication
Technologies and the Embodied Self, Deborah Lupton and Wendy Seymour

Using data from internet interviews in 3 case studies, Lupton and
Seymour explore the relationship between computerized communication
technologies (CCTs) and people whose disabilities give them particular
embodied experiences of the technology as well as the social worlds to
which the technology provides access. They ask "what discourses frame
ways of understanding disability in the context of CCTs?" (247). Rather
than looking at CCT-mediated discourse as an arena for the performance
of any virtual identity, the authors focus in on performances that are
shaped by people living with specifically disabled bodies. CCTs enable
the people from the case studies to participate in social activities
that positively impact their lives and give them autonomy. But at the
same time, each person's experience of the CCT and what it offers
creates an awareness of the limitations of the specific body in
comparison to a 'norm.' Lupton and Seymour position this finding within
a broader politics of disability, illustrating that discourse can never
be truly emancipated from the body that produces or participates in it.


The focus of this book is on how discourse, the body, and identity come
together in communication and open up new sites of analysis and new ways
of understanding and theorizing what emerges from these sites. Rather
than looking at discourse, the body, or identity as some variable to be
factored out of an analysis, in order to postulate direct links between
meaning and one bounded aspect of the communicative experience, the main
thrust in this research is to illustrate that multitextual meaning is
greater than the sum of its parts and can only be apprehended at the
intersections of texts.

With this in mind, the editors have presented a collection of research
that involves a broad range of data sources from videotape to
phenomenological objects, disciplinary texts in sociology to mass media,
and computer-mediated interviews to statistics. The variety of texts and
the findings in each chapter indicate the potential that this
interdisciplinary topic has for research that deals with the
relationships that hold or shift between embodied individual and
embodied social identities.

The breadth of research sites covered in the book might make it
difficult for the editors and/or authors to explain or provide a
theoretical framework for what they have so thoughtfully described. But
this was not the case. Positioning this volume within the intellectual
traditions of Erving Goffman and Michel Foucault, the editors and
authors successfully linked the particulars of the research sites to
more general theories of personal and social identity and to theory of
historical institutions, contributing to the stabilization of this field
of interdisciplinary inquiry.

Finally, a theme that occurred and recurred for me throughout the book,
which reflects my own preoccupations with the relationship between
individual and social identities, was the theme of recognition. Given
the multitextual nature of meaning as produced by discourse, the body,
and identity, how do we learn to recognize meaning at these shifting
intersections? And if these intersections are always shifting, even when
the shift is slight, what consequences should this have for a linguistic
theory of meaning? In other words, what are the foundations of
recognition that will account for how we deal with meanings that resist
ABOUT THE REVIEWER Catie Berkenfield is currently a PhD Candidate in Linguistics at University of New Mexico. Her interests include language and gender, corpus linguistics, and discourse analysis and her dissertation research is on the stylistics of metaphor in discourse.