Body Thoughts by Andrew Strathern

By Andrew Strathern

Offers an outstanding assessment of anthropological proposal at the physique

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The final point here is that the head was seen as the seat of life in another, concrete sense as the vessel of the procreative seed or semen, transmitted to the male testes via the cerebrospinal column. The gener- ative seed or fluid was also thought to be carried in the knees, hence the practice of clasping the knees in supplication for mercy (Onians 1954, 174). The association of head with semen also explains the form of rep- resentations of the god Hermes as a phallus with a head at the top.

Con- nerton's example here is that of blood, a concept that in the European case is linked to hierarchy, in the same way as is the theme of table manners. A lineage name, a personal name, a coat of arms, all "allude in a somewhat etherealised manner to something that is distinctly and directly corporeal: blood" (Connerton 1989, 86). Blood comes to be a symbol in this way because it stands for the reproduction of estates. It is a "preclass" symbol that is transmuted into taste or distinction once a class-society comes into being.

But, through institutionalization of bodily move- ments and positions, hexis becomes habitus, a master concept for Bour- dieu, linking the individual to society. Habitus refers both to a general concept in Bourdieu's scheme of thought and to the very specific, local, "emic" ideas of a given people, which he insists we must take into account in order to understand them. He stresses also that cosmic notions always operate in definable practical contexts and are adjusted to the exigencies of practice-for example, in the reckoning of seasons and their relationship to farming work.

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