Continuing to think about this body history stuff again.

I was looking over my old notes on the blog about this and along the way ran across this post by Wildly which set wheels turning in my head again. She made several points there that I think didn’t sink in for me at first, which are really important. One of them is the point about mind/body dualism.

One risk with using the body as a category of analysis is that it is easy to think of bodies as distinct from persons. I have done some research on lawsuits brought response to workplace injuries in the early 20th century US. I have often thought of those lawsuits in terms like “in every injury suit a person went to court seeking monetary compensation for damage to his or her body.” This formulation makes sense but it frames the body as distinct from the person and as a form of property, analogous to the formulation “a person went to court seeking monetary compensation for damage to his or her automobile.” While the law in the US did sometimes distinguish between persons and bodies and treat bodies as property belonging to persons, body history should not simply assume that conceptual framework. That framework implies a dualism of mind and body, where persons are mental or spiritual beings that possess and inhabit bodies.

On the other hand, while persons are always embodied one must be careful in how one proceeds. Persons are not reducible to their corporeal qualities and rarely if ever derive all of their identity and experience from corporeality. Indeed, many people have protested being treated as if their corporeality exhausted their humanity, as if they were just a body, understood as an inert and manipulable object.