READING GUIDE TO:Crossley, N.  (2005) ‘Mapping Reflexive Body Techniques: On Body Modification and Maintenance’, in Body and Society, 11(1): 1-35.

It is important to avoid a dualism that opposes the body to either self or society.  Instead, we should think of a reflexive relation in the sense developed by Mead:  that is we commonly divide ourselves an ‘I’ and a ‘me’, and are aware that ‘we both are our bodies and we have a body’ (2).  We can think of ourselves as other and identify with our self as well.  Body projects are therefore reflexive projects in this sense [I can temporarily objectify and modify my body, but then it affects my sense of self in turn].

There are reflexive body techniques, based on the work of Mauss.  These happen to be socially distributed and clustered, and can therefore be mapped and charted, using a special analytic technique.  This is a way of understanding the specificity of body modification and body maintenance activities, moving away from very general explanations about the possibility of the body in general in postmodern environments, or whatever.  At the same time, we can begin to indicate connections between the various specific studies on bodybuilding or cosmetic surgery.  It is suspected that common lifestyles,' habitus or self narrative’ (4) will explain the patterns and clusters.  Crossley wants to include perfectly routine activities ‘such as tooth brushing and washing’ (3) in the mapping exercise.  These sorts of activities achieve something like 100%  rate of uptake, while others, such as genital piercing, are much less common. 

 It is clear that both quantitative and qualitative methods can be pursued in researching clusters of techniques.  In this article, multi dimensional scaling is tried, a technique which produces diagrams, scatter plots or perceptual maps.  In particular, one pattern is useful – the radex [this is a diagram with variables scattered around a space, and what the analyst does is to suggest structures appearing in the space, by drawing circles which include some variables in ‘zones’.  Radial lines can also be drawn to indicate clusters –I will try to draw one below, copied from the diagram on p.5].  The zones indicate the frequency of occurrence of particular body techniques.  This approach produces some  structure to indicate patterns which might be further investigated as signs of some common habitus.


Crossley tells us that: (a) the letters represent variables; (b)circles show frequency zones (A and J occur most frequently); (c) lines demarcate thematic clusters --eg DGT could be a cluster embodying values of health and fitness [with D occuring less frequently]. Circles and lines are based on theoretical understandings or empirical analysis providede by multi-dimensional scaling.The scaling at least constrains the possibilities.

Crossley gained some data from a questionnaire survey, drawn by snowballing from his family, friends and contacts using health clubs.  The resulting sample is not representative but it is quite well balanced in terms of gender [the data for social class is much more debatable, with a large number of students for example: this is important because class did not emerge as a patterning variable in this study].

Mauss used the term body techniques to describe variations in routine behaviour between societies – different ways of walking, talking, eating for example.  These demonstrate an habitus, a set of ‘acquired and embodied dispositions…  Embodied pre-reflective understanding, knowledge or reason’ (7) [‘reflective’ here is being used in the usual sense of thinking about things consciously].  These sets are socially shared.  People can develop and implement them unconsciously, but also use them deliberately: practitioners ‘generate emotional intentions, putting ourselves into particular moods, by acting out the mood; that is, by performing the body techniques (partly) constitutive of it’ (8).  This work extends Durkheim’s conception of social facts and also collective representations, and Mauss apparently used it to criticise behaviourism.  Of course, in modern societies, there is more improvisation and more complexity available given diverse interactions.

Crossley borrows from Mauss the idea of the reflexive body technique ‘whose primary purpose is to work back upon the body, so as to modify , maintain or thematize it in some way’ (9).  The agent doing the work can be another body or one’s own.  Reflexive body techniques come clustered into repertoires, and this provides us with knowledge and understanding ‘below the threshold of language and consciousness’ (10).  They often cluster into body maintenance routines such as washing, cleaning our teeth, shaving and so on.  They can join together into larger ensembles.  They are important but taken for granted, mindful and not mechanical behaviour, and concrete enough to be subject to empirical analysis both qualitative and quantitative.  Although groups share repertoires, they can also be modified into dedicated techniques or dedicated variations of techniques – such as specific exercise regimes, or specific modifications by bodybuilders.

They do help to generate or construct a sense of self, reflexively as in the discussion above: we recognise ourselves in them and the effects they have on our bodies –‘we learn to constitute ourselves for ourselves, practically’ (13).  It is the same mechanism is taking the role of another in a dialogue.  It is true however that there are different senses of self involved here, from a conscious project to change a self to more routine activities.  Particular body techniques can serve as rituals marking out different phases or status passages, and developing special selves, such as an adult self, [from getting tattooed] or leisured self [getting ready to go out].  Routine body techniques also pattern people’s lives.  Body techniques are diverse, and it is not appropriate to over generalise about the reasons for engaging in them.

Some clusters of body techniques are used in social distinction, as in Bourdieu or even Elias(on civilisation).  In this study undertaken here, gender appeared to be a significant factor relating to different body techniques  – the body is still an important site for doing gender.  This study showed how some techniques in particular, such as shaving armpits, emphasises gender differences [there is a table showing the most significant body techniques in gender terms on page 17].  Mapping the use of these techniques across time would be a useful way to track changes in gender identification.

There seem to be no ‘statistically significant differences pertaining to class’ (17), despite other surveys and studies suggesting that social class does correlate with body techniques, such as the General Household Survey showing how exercise trends vary by class.  More detailed research is necessary, thinks Crossley.

Mapping the data are revealed other sets of clusters and zones.  The data on frequency can be divided into three main zones – core, intermediate and marginal (see the table on page 19).  Cut off points are admitted to be arbitrary, but practices do certainly vary between statistically normal (core) to statistically deviant (marginal) with intermediate rates in between.  The general data needs to be modified by noticing the effects of gender, however, leading to a rather complex diagram on page 21 – another radex.  Crossley gives us the information that: the inner circle of the radex (the most frequent activities) included washing hair, having a bath or shower, brushing teeth; the intermediate circle included using cosmetics, shaving legs, using sun beds; the outer ring included getting tattooed,  pierced, or using steroids for bodybuilding.  The diagram also indicates clusters, such as one ‘specifically relating to the doing of femininity’ (22); one showing some diversity but indicating ‘an elevated level of “body consciousness”’, with a further possible split between people interested in appearance as opposed to those more interested in health (23); a body building cluster, again with some interesting specifics including different combinations of gym work and other body building practices.  Further analysis indicates five clusters within the heavy exercisers, according to whether they are also worked out in gyms and/or did body building (further diagrams show the data on page 24).  There is also a tattooing and piercing cluster, ‘perhaps primitivist inspired’, and with a significant difference for navel piercing, which moves towards the boundaries of the feminine segment (25).These are just possibilities of what might be done, but they do locate specific body techniques in an interconnected space.

The data might be used to advance some explanations, especially of  zones and segments.  Activities in the core zone for example can be seen as routine body maintenance [mostly about hygiene] which are not particularly affected by the kind of choice and narratives characteristic of Giddens’ work.  They relate to ‘a very basic level of selfhood and recognition’, a recognition of basic social competency (26).  They will be repetitive body techniques.  They do have a history, of course, and were not common before (Elias’s notion of) civilisation occurred, and may have been spread in the ways he suggests, from elite groups through aspiring groups, energised by the modern hygiene and cosmetics industry.

In the intermediate zone, practices of distinction are more apparent, especially those based around gender.  Again, this may be the result of past struggles and power balances.  There are other distinctions relating to concerns with health or appearance.  Here we do have some evidence of ‘choice and active self construction’ (28).  There may be underlying factors [such as the distribution of cultural capital].  There are noticeable historical changes according to fashion and its cycles, and techniques can migrate between intermediate and core zones.

The marginal zone is perhaps the most differentiated and deviant.  Techniques here might be related to social movements or social fields ‘such as a model of primitivism or body building’ (29).  Some more rely on illegal practices such as the use of steroids, some will have been pathologised such as self harm.  Some will be more heavily regulated and policed than others.  Engaging in them requires disengagement from the broader community.  Some might therefore reflect personal existential projects, but it is more likely that they will require some sort of subcultural support.  Differential power resources enable some to resist being pathologised.  The activities are also historically variable, and some may migrate to the mainstream.

There is more work to be done.  Sometimes body work has unintended consequences, such as involuntary weight gain.  However, it seems that reflexive body techniques do with fall into different zones and clusters, that these clusters have different ‘socio-logics and need to be explained in different ways’ (31).  It looks as if multi dimensional scaling is a useful approach in mapping social distributions.  The specific clusters can now be investigated in more detail, perhaps using ‘ethnographical and qualitative forms of analysis’ (32).

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