12 Jun 2009 - 13 Jun 2009 All day CRASSH, 17 Mill Lane


Registration for this conference is now closed.

Convener: Simon Cohn (General Practice and Primary Care Research Unit, Cambridge)
Co-convener: Sonia Smith (General Practice and Primary Care Research Unit, Cambridge)

Conference summary

This two-day workshop, based at Cambridge University's interdisciplinary Centre for Research in the Arts, Social Sciences and Humanities, will assemble a core of notable speakers from UK, Europe, the USA and Australia, to think about the ways in which conceptualisations of the human body and its processes inevitably have to deal with variation and ambiguity. Drawing from disciplines including philosophy, social anthropology, the history of medicine, visual arts and the clinical fields of immunology and metabolism, the event will explore the ways in which a tension frequently arises between knowledge based on fixed categories, such as specific illnesses or anatomical structures, and the reality of individual bodies and their living processes. Paired presentations, led by chosen discussants, will cover a range of topics relating to how mess and disparity are negotiated and incorporated into ideas about the body, its systems, notions of health and definitions of illness. The workshop will consequently invite participants to describe different practices involved in negotiating anatomical, classification and diagnostic understandings of the body, and explore how active concepts such as thresholds and tolerance are regularly central to ensure that more traditional static notions, such as borders and boundaries, are actually operationalised.

Discussions about the body have become increasingly central both in contemporary academic and public discourse, reflecting new concerns about property ownership, bioethics and biotechnological advances. In addition, modern medicine is increasingly adopting a view of complexity that links a wide range of traditional specialisms and defies simple models of disease. However, there currently exists a void between these developments and concerns, and more phenomenological and ethnographic accounts relating to lived experience and everyday practice. Thus, whilst there is a rich and established tradition of sociological, historical and anthropological discussions of the body, this work has rarely been linked to studies of science and medicine itself, and the ways knowledge about both the healthy and ill body is constructed and practiced.

This event will bring together a genuinely interdisciplinary set of international speakers, all variously engaged in questioning the ways in which the body is described and made known. It will provide a unique space to share and explore this topic, catalyse new ways of theorising the production of knowledge about the body, and promote new debate and questions to be pursued in future.


 Administrative help: Sam Mather


Tel: +44 1223 766886
Email enquiries@crassh.cam.ac.uk