Cultures of Embodiment - SO676

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Module delivery information

Location Term Level1 Credits (ECTS)2 Current Convenor3 2020 to 2021
Autumn and Spring 6 30 (15) PROF C Shilling checkmark-circle


Images of 'trim, taut and terrific' bodies surround us in contemporary consumer culture. They look down on us from billboards, are increasingly central to advertisers’ attempts to sell us clothes, cosmetics, cars, and other products, and pervade reality television programmes based on diet, exercise and ‘extreme’ makeovers. These trends have occurred at the same time that science, technology, genetic engineering and medicine have achieved unprecedented levels of control over the body: there are now few parts of the body which cannot be remoulded, supplemented or transplanted in one way or another. In this course we explore how culture represents and shapes bodies, and also examine how embodied subjects are themselves able to act on and influence the culture in which they live. We will seek to understand the relationship between the body and self-identity, embodiment and inequalities, and will explore various theories of the body. In doing this we range far and wide by looking at such issues as work, music, sex/gender, cyberbodies, Makeover TV, film, transgenderism, sport, music, work and sleep. Embodiment is the enduring theme of this course, though, and we will explore its many dimensions via a range of disciplinary and interdisciplinary perspectives, and by asking and addressing a range of questions such as ‘How and why has the body become increasingly commodified?’, ‘Why has the body become increasingly central to so many people’s sense of self-identity?’, ‘If we live in a culture that has been able to intervene in the sizes, shapes and contents of the body like never before, have people have become less sure about what is ‘natural’ about the body, and about how we should care for and treat our bodily selves?


This module appears in the following module collections.

Contact hours

22 weekly lectures, 22 weekly seminars, one hour each

Method of assessment

40% coursework (two 2,250 words each) 10% seminar contributions and 50% 3-hour examination (summer term)

Indicative reading

Shiling, C. (2016) The Body. A Very Short Introduction. Oxford University Press.
Fraser M & Greco M (eds) (2005) The Body. A Reader. London: Routledge
Shilling C (3rd edn. 2012) The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage
Shilling C (2005) The Body in Culture, Technology and Society. London: Sage
Shilling C (2008) Changing Bodies. London:Sage
Thomas H & Ahmed J (eds) (2004) Cultural Bodies. Oxford: Blackwell

See the library reading list for this module (Canterbury)

Learning outcomes

Demonstrate a systematic understanding of how culture shapes human bodies and embodied relationships.
Possess an understanding of how the body constitutes a basis for the creation, reproduction and transformation of culture.
Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the relationship between the body and self-identity in the contemporary era.
Possess and use a systematic understanding of some of the major theories which have explored the relationship between embodiment and society.
Demonstrate a coherent and detailed understanding of how the culturally patterned body is implicated in the construction, maintenance and reproduction of social inequalities.
Demonstrate a systematic understanding of the area of 'body pedagogics'.
Possess a critical understanding of the relationship between the culturally patterned body and different modes of experience


  1. Credit level 6. Higher level module usually taken in Stage 3 of an undergraduate degree.
  2. ECTS credits are recognised throughout the EU and allow you to transfer credit easily from one university to another.
  3. The named convenor is the convenor for the current academic session.
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