In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Geographies of the Body

  • Introduction
  • General Overviews
  • Journals
  • The Body and/in Geography
  • Gendered Bodies
  • Sexuality, Space, and Bodies
  • Fat Studies and the Body
  • Body Size and Shape
  • Consumption
  • Religion and the Body
  • Race, Ethnicity, and the Body
  • Age and the Body
  • Class, Poverty, and the Body
  • Visceral Bodies
  • (Dis)abilities and the Body
  • Health, Well-Being, and the Body
  • Geopolitics and the Body
  • Bodies and Everyday Spaces
  • Work, Employment, and the Body
  • Researching the Body

Geography Geographies of the Body
Carl Bonner-Thompson, Peter Hopkins
  • LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017
  • LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017
  • DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199874002-0157


Geographical research about “the body” started to develop in early 1990s when feminist geographers highlighted the ways in which bodies are important sites that enable a disruption of masculinist thought through the consideration of all matters “bodily” as important to the production of knowledge. This was initiated, in part, by the cultural turn which, as argued in Feminism and Geography: The Limits of Geographical Knowledge (Cambridge, UK: Polity, 1993), allowed for scientific and positivist ways of thinking to be challenged, opening up disciplinary borders. The definition of the “the body” is often contested: it is understood as a material, fleshy, and corporeal object made up of organs, bones, and skin, but also as a social, cultural, and discursive construction that comes into social existence through relations of power and language. Geographers bring a unique spatial contribution to bodies, arguing that they are places where discourse and power relations are simultaneously mapped, embodied, and resisted, and where identities are performed and constructed. Geographers also argue that bodies are spatially contingent; in other words, the ways bodies are performed shift in and across space (and time), with readings and understandings of such embodied performances simultaneously varying spatially. Geographical work on the body has since expanded, providing rich conceptualizations of bodies and embodiment. These include identity intersections of gender, sexuality, fatness, size, shape, religion, race, ethnicity, age, class, health, and (dis)abilities. It also includes bodies in their everyday spaces such as the street, home, and places of work; some recent work has started to think about bodies as central to geopolitics at multiple scales. Other work has engaged with the messy materiality of bodies that have biological and physiological requirements and productions in the context of geographies of Consumption and bodily fluids.

General Overviews

Geographical scholarship on bodies has been—and continues to be—influenced by neighboring disciplines (e.g., sociology, gender, feminist, queer, and psychoanalytical theory) and so often has an interdisciplinary flavour. Butler 1993 has been influential for geographers using ideas of language and discourse to disrupt the idea that bodies have any “real” biological bedrock, thinking of bodies only as coming into being through cultural meaning. This book is a reaction to critiques of her previous work that suggested she failed to engage with bodies. Therefore, Bodies That Matter (Butler 1993) seeks to recenter bodies in theories of gender, sexuality, and performativity. Grosz 1992 has also been influential in thinking about bodies as more than biological, thinking through their place in discourses and power. Longhurst 2001 builds on the work of Grosz to urge geographers to not omit material and biological bodies from their focus, and think about the material and discursive together. Shilling 1996 explores sociological work on bodies to contribute to debates about bodies in an era of “late” or “high” modernity. Young 1990 and Orbach 2009 draw upon psychoanalytical perspectives to understand how bodies are understood, surveyed, and managed in people’s everyday lives. Young 1990 has been particularly influential with regard to work that seeks to explore how marginalized identities become abject while Probyn 2005 thinks through material embodiment, in particular the stimuli that produce bodies’ multiple physiological and visceral status, and how these come to have sociocultural meaning. This book in particular focuses on feeling of shame and the act of blushing.

  • Butler, Judith. Bodies That Matter: On The Discursive Limits of “Sex.” New York: Routledge, 1993.

    Very influential in the social sciences and arts and humanities, Butler’s work on performativity has provided theoretical and conceptual tools to disrupt bodies as simply being biological objects. This work understands bodies as sociocultural constructs, only given meaning through language and discourse.

  • Grosz, Elizabeth. “Bodies-Cities.” In Sexuality and Space. Proceedings of a Symposium Held at Princeton University School of Architecture, 10–11 March, 1990. Edited by Beatriz Colomina, 241–253. New York: Princeton Architectural, 1992.

    Grosz’s work has been influential for feminist geographers (and others) grappling with ways to disrupt the fixed understandings of bodies. This chapter in particular is useful in thinking through the ways bodies are only socially comprehensible when they are brought into being through discursive power relations.

  • Longhurst, Robyn. Bodies: Exploring Fluid Boundaries. London: Routledge, 2001.

    A key text for thinking about the materiality of bodies, and useful for thinking through the ways that material and visceral bodies are not independent of culture, and are understood through power relations and discourses. Throughout Longhurst calls for more attention to biological bodies

  • Orbach, Susie. Bodies. London: Profile Books, 2009.

    Partly written from a psychoanalytical perspective, this book explores the ways contemporary societies think about bodies as sites of improvement—among other things—to stabilize fixed ideas of a singular natural body.

  • Probyn, Elspeth. Blush: Faces of Shame. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 2005.

    A useful book for thinking through the body’s visceral and physiological reactions to social life—how bodies feel and react to shame. Useful in bringing together ideas of discourse, material embodiment, physiology, and place when thinking about bodies.

  • Shilling, Chris. The Body and Social Theory. London: SAGE, 1996.

    This book traces shifting debates around bodies in sociology. It does so to highlight the best ways to think about bodies in collaboration with self-identity and death. It situates these ideas in time of “late” or “high” modernity.

  • Young, Iris Marion. Justice and the Politics of Difference. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 1990.

    Chapter 5 in this book explores bodies that are thought to be “ugly” in society. It uses Kristeva’s theories of the “abject” to understand how ideas of “ugly” and “beautiful” bodies are inherently political when framed by thinking about injustice—particularly in the cases of homophobia, sexism, ageism, ableism, and racism.

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