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Critically Assess the Contribution of the Perspective of Embodiment to the Study of Emotions

Critically Assess the Contribution of the Perspective of Embodiment to the Study of Emotions

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An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Charlotte Ulett. Originally submitted for Social Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast, with lecturer Barbra Graham in the category of Social Studies
An essay for the 2012 Undergraduate Awards Competition by Charlotte Ulett. Originally submitted for Social Anthropology at Queen's University Belfast, with lecturer Barbra Graham in the category of Social Studies

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Published by: Undergraduate Awards on Aug 30, 2012
Copyright:Attribution Non-commercial

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10/27/2013

 
 Critically Assess the Contribution of the Perspective of Embodiment tothe Study of Emotions
40021427ANT 3035WORDS: 2128
 
2
The anthropological paradigm of embodiment has been continually re-worked, re-explored and contested by various scholars.. Structural-Functionalist scholars such as Durkheim contested that thesocial group is prior to any individual determinations or motivations. However, this theory wassuggested prior to the establishment of the embodiment perspective and does not take into account the physical body. Embodiment however, contests that it is primarily through the individual body that social life is contextualized and understood. Despite, these fundamental issues the perspective of embodiment can help us to understand emotions and their development in society. Emotions as seen through the perspective of embodiment are not purely socially or cognitively constructed, rather they take placeinitially through and on the human body. This essay will first explore the origins of the perspective of embodiment as proposed by Merleau-Ponty, Mauss and Bourdieu. It will then go on to suggest ways inwhich embodiment can help us in understanding human and bodily emotions. Finally, it will present various criticisms of the embodiment paradigm and ways that proponents of embodiment have tried toovercome these.
The anthropological paradigm of embodiment has been continually re-worked, re-explored and contested by various scholars. The main anthropological debate that 
 
3has been battled with in terms of embodiment is whether the individual or the socialcomes first in structuring culture. Structural-Functionalist scholars such asDurkheim contested that the social group is prior to any individual determinationsor motivations. However, this theory was suggested prior to the establishment of the embodiment perspective and does not take into account the physical body.Embodiment however, contests that it is primarily through the individual body that social life is contextualized and understood. Despite, these fundamental issues theperspective of embodiment can help us to understand emotions and theirdevelopment in society. Emotions as seen through the perspective of embodiment are not purely socially or cognitively constructed, rather they take place initiallythrough and on the human body. This essay will first explore the origins of theperspective of embodiment as proposed by Merleau-Ponty, Mauss and Bourdieu. It will then go on to suggest ways in which embodiment can help us in understandinghuman and bodily emotions. Finally, it will present various criticisms of theembodiment paradigm and ways that proponents of embodiment have tried toovercome these.To understand the way embodiment helps to contextualize emotions, we must first understand exactly what the paradigm of embodiment entails. There are two maintheories of embodiment that have come to light in anthropological and sociologicalstudy. The first theory was discussed by Merleau-
Ponty who “elaborates
embodiment in the problematic of 
 perception
” (Csordas, 1990: 7).
Merleau-Ponty
stheory is described as being
 preobjective
, he suggests that “our starting point…[is]
the experience of perceiving in all its richness and indeterminacy, because in fact wedo not have any object 
s prior to perception” (Csordas, 1990: 9). For Merleau
-Pontythis perception that is prior to the understanding of any objects and their meanings,begins in the body. Merleau-
Ponty “step[s] backward from the objective and start[s]
with the body in the worl
d” (Csordas, 1990: 9), he says that we must “consider...the
constitution of our body as object, since this is a crucial moment in the genesis of the
objective world” (Merleau
-Ponty, 2002: 83). The main dichotomy expressed inMerleau-
Pontys’
 preobjective
theory is that of subject-object, the theory intends to

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