The Sense and Sensation of Body Modification Practice

Stilwell, Natasha. 2009. The Sense and Sensation of Body Modification Practice. Doctoral thesis, Goldsmiths, University of London [Thesis]

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Abstract or Description

This thesis explores the ways in which body modification is experienced as sensate and embodied. The term body modification refers to a group of practices that institute some transformation at the level of the body. Techniques include tattooing, body piercing, branding and scarification; also implanting or beading, the insertion of objects under the skin, and forms of minor 'surgery'. The thesis seeks to extend conceptions and analyses of the modified body and to develop creative ways of thinking about and communicating the experiences of body modification practice. It does so by way of an empirical focus on sensory processes of body modification, which yields detailed insight into the texture of modification experiences as they are lived. Through an in-depth ethnography that included accompanying individuals as they were modified, and interviews with body modification practitioners and participants, the thesis augments and expands existing literature on body modification and sense and sensation. It does this by focusing, in particular, on the sensate-led working practices of body modification practitioners, pain (and especially the implications of 'elected' pain), sensation, sound and the tactility of visuality (the haptic) as experienced by participants. Highlighting these important areas of body modification experience not only produces a sensate epistemology of body modification practice, but also makes significant contributions to debates on methodology, ethics and craft. This thesis explores: the need for creative and embodied research methods, particularly where the focus is 'the body'; how an 'immanent ethics' is created, through sensate experience, by body modification practitioners; and the implications of understanding custom body modification as a practiced and embodied craft activity. Tuning-into the experiences of the modified body not only expands what body modification is understood to 'be' but makes an important contribution towards the development of sociology as an embodied practice.

Item Type:

Thesis (Doctoral)

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body modification, sensory processes, sense, sensation, pain, the haptic, ethnography

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Date Deposited:

06 Jul 2020 13:41

Last Modified:

08 Sep 2022 15:46


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