Not available in 2024/25
AN489      Half Unit
Anthropology of the Body

This information is for the 2024/25 session.

Teacher responsible

Prof Catherine Allerton, Dr Clara Devlieger and Dr Nicholas Long

This course will first be available during the 2025/26 academic session.


This course is available on the MSc in Anthropology and Development, MSc in China in Comparative Perspective, MSc in Social Anthropology and MSc in Social Anthropology (Religion in the Contemporary World). This course is available as an outside option to students on other programmes where regulations permit.

Course content

This course takes anthropological engagement with the body and embodiment as a point of departure to challenge the notion of the body as universal, natural or ‘normal’, instead revealing ways that bodies are social products of historical and cultural environments. Bodies cannot be separated from lived, multi-sensory experiences, and much anthropological debate surrounds the extent to which bodily experience precedes, exists alongside, or is determined by, shared cultural and discursive constructions. Therefore, the course investigates ways that we encounter and inhabit the world through our bodies, considering how the body is experienced, expressed, controlled, imagined, (com)modified and ‘sited’. What can anthropological analyses of bodies reveal about subjectivity, personhood, masculinity and femininity? What do bodies tell us about encounters across species? How does sensory experience differ cross-culturally? When is a body not a body?

The course explores a wide range of potential theories and topics that may include: phenomenological approaches to the body; ideals of beauty and gendered body modification; skin and the senses; hair; pain and suffering; commodified bodies and body parts; moving, feeling and experiencing the body; affect theory; disciplining and controlling the body; the limits and the ‘end’ of the body; engagements with non-human bodies; decolonizing embodiment; body positivity.


10 hours of lectures and 15 hours of seminars in the AT.

Formative coursework

Students will be expected to produce 1 essay in the AT.

Indicative reading

  • Blackman, Lisa, and Couze Venn. 2010. Affect. Special Issue of Body and Society, 16(1).
  • Csordas, T. 1999. “The Body’s Career in Anthropology.” In Anthropological Theory Today, edited by Henrietta Moore, 172–172.
  • Greenhalgh, Susan. 2017. Fat-Talk Nation: the Human Costs of America’s War on Fat. Ithaca: Cornell University Press.
  • Jacobs-Huey, Lanita. 2006. From the Kitchen to the Parlour: Language and Becoming in African American Women’s Hair Care. Oxford. Oxford University Press.
  • Jarrín, Alvaro. 2017. The Biopolitics of Beauty: Cosmetic Citizenship and Affective Capital in Brazil. Berkeley: University of California Press.
  • Mascia-Lees, Frances E, ed. 2011. A Companion to the Anthropology of the Body and Embodiment. John Wiley & Sons.
  • Mauss, Marcel. 1979. [1935]. “Body Techniques.” In Sociology and psychology: essays by Marcel Mauss, (trans. B. Brewster), 95–123. London: Routledge & Kegal Paul.
  • Saraswati, L. Ayu. 2013. Seeing Beauty, Sensing Race in Transnational Indonesia. Honolulu: University of Hawai'i Press.
  • Scarry, Elaine. 1985. The Body in Pain: The Making and Unmaking of the World. Oxford: Oxford University Press.
  • Wacquant, Loïc. 2004. Body and Soul: Notebooks of an Apprentice Boxer. Oxford: Oxford University Press.


Essay (100%, 4000 words) in the WT.

Key facts

Department: Anthropology

Total students 2023/24: Unavailable

Average class size 2023/24: Unavailable

Controlled access 2023/24: No

Value: Half Unit

Guidelines for interpreting course guide information

Course selection videos

Some departments have produced short videos to introduce their courses. Please refer to the course selection videos index page for further information.

Personal development skills

  • Self-management
  • Team working
  • Problem solving
  • Application of information skills
  • Communication
  • Specialist skills