Living in bodies, living as bodies : the relationship between body and self at different ages

Underwood, Mair. (2006). Living in bodies, living as bodies : the relationship between body and self at different ages PhD Thesis, School of Social Science, The University of Queensland.

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Author Underwood, Mair.
Thesis Title Living in bodies, living as bodies : the relationship between body and self at different ages
School, Centre or Institute School of Social Science
Institution The University of Queensland
Publication date 2006
Thesis type PhD Thesis
Supervisor Dr Leonn Satterthwait
Prof. Helen Bartlett
Total pages 287
Collection year 2005
Language eng
Subjects L
370302 Social and Cultural Anthropology
750304 The aged
Formatted abstract

This thesis explores the various ways that people of different ages feel about, understand, and behave with regards their bodies. That is, how bodies are lived at different ages. The focus is on how individuals negotiate both their embodiment, and the Western culture of the body.


In an attempt to ascertain participant perspectives a grounded theory approach was taken. To ensure that the methodology was commensurate with the key concepts as employed, the more recent constructivist version of this approach was adopted. Fifty-four individual interviews and five focus groups were conducted with individuals aged 20-30, 45-55 and 70+ years.

It was found that the different ways of living the body revolved around differing body-self relations. Specifically, the study found three main orientations to the body:


( 1 ) The more embodied orientation which results from a complex relationship between a body and a self that are simultaneously separate, interconnected, and one and the same. This way of living the body focuses on the ' achievement' of a body that is socially acceptable and concordant with the individual ' s sense of self.

(2) The more Cartesian orientation which results from the combination of a constant self with a changing and inevitable body. The focus is on the separation of body and self as part of the process of accepting and adapting to a limiting body.

(3) Cartesian resistance which results from the combination of a more Cartesian style body-self relationship (in that they are separated) with an 'achieved' body reminiscent of the more embodied orientation. In this variation of living the body the aim is to create a body that serves the self effectively.


The results of this study provide an evidence-base for theoretical discussions of the body, something that they have all too frequently been lacking. But more importantly, the way that the body is lived (that is, diet, exercise, smoking) is proving to be the determinant of health in contemporary Western societies, and thus the results have the potential to inform strategies to improve health outcomes for people of all ages.

Keyword Body image
Human body -- Social aspects

Document type: Thesis
Collection: UQ Theses (RHD) - UQ staff and students only
Citation counts: Google Scholar Search Google Scholar
Created: Fri, 24 Aug 2007, 18:45:14 EST