The body in sociology: tensions inside and outside sociological thought

A Howson, D Inglis

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle

77 Citations (Scopus)


The human body has in recent years become a 'hot' topic in sociology, not just in empirical research but also in sociological theorizing. In the latter context, the body has been variously a resource for broadening the parameters of traditional sociological thought deriving from the nineteenth century, and for overturning that paradigm and fundamentally reorienting the assumptions and concepts of sociological thinking. Attempts to abandon the old paradigm and foster a new one through the means of thinking about bodies are many and manifold, and in this paper we trace out the intricate history of moves towards a 'corporeal sociology'. We identify the dilemmas that have attended these developments, especially as concerns the ways in which new modes of thinking sociologically have tended to founder over the classical sociological dichotomy between social structure and social action. Through tracing out the various moves and counter-moves within this field, we identify a central contradiction that affects all contemporary sociological practice, not just that dealing with the body: an oscillation between judging the utility of conceptual tools in terms of criteria derived from the discipline of Cultural Studies, and evaluating the arguments created by those tools on the basis of the incompatible criteria of classical sociology. The paper challenges sociologists to choose one set of criteria or the other, for sociological practice cannot be based on both such antagonistic paradigms.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)297-317
Number of pages21
JournalThe Sociological Review
Publication statusPublished - 2001


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