Anthony Synnott / Tomb, Temple, Machine and Self: The Social Construction of the Body, The British Journal of Sociology, Vol. 43, No. 1 (Mar., 1992), pp. 79-110
The body is socially constructed; and in this paper we explore the various and ever-changing constructions of the body, and thus of the embodied self, from the Greeks to the present. The one word, body, may therefore signify very different realities and perceptions of reality; and we consider briefly how and why these meanings changed.
Plato believed the body was a ‘tomb’, Paul said it was the ‘temple’ of the Holy Spirit, the Stoic philosopher Epictetus taught that it was a ‘corpse’. Christians believed, and believe, that the body is not only physical, but also spiritual and mystical, and many believed it was an allegory of church, state and family. Some said it was cosmic: one with the planets and the constellations. Descartes wrote that the body is a ‘machine’, and this definition has underpinned bio-medicine to this day; but Sartre said that the body is the self.
In sum, the body has no intrinsic meaning. Populations create their own meanings, and thus their own bodies; but how they create, and then change them, and why, reflects the social body.
Also a book!
Anthony Synnott / The Body Social: symbolism, self, and society (1993)