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Giulia Sciolli (PhD student in Social Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
Kelly Robinson (Lecturer in Medical Anthropology, University of Cambridge)
‘Mens Sana in Corpore Sano’: Cultivating ‘Healthy Minds’ and ‘Healthy Bodies’ in an Eating Disorders Treatment Centre in Italy
Drawing on doctoral fieldwork in an Italian treatment centre for anorexia and bulimia nervosa, the paper examines what happens when the thinking patterns and bodily practices that are deemed pathological by professionals, are for patients a way of ‘mastering oneself’. Without questioning the concrete risks of extreme food restriction, frequent purging, physical exercise to exhaustion and the resulting weight loss, I take seriously the fact that patients experience these as self-care practices. Yet, I show how professionals frame those practices as ‘pathological’ through a careful tracking of the patient’s ‘body’ and ‘mind’ performed by biomedicine and the psy-sciences. I suggest that treatment works by gradually substituting patients’ ways of ‘being well’ with a definition of health that is jointly constituted by psychotherapists, psychiatrists, nutritionists, endocrinologists and educators. I focus on specific therapeutic activities that cultivate patients’ ‘awareness’ – that is, a new way to ‘see’ the condition they find themselves in: not as something that protects them and makes them feel powerful, but as a form of enslavement from an external force that ‘took over their minds’ and ‘blurred their vision’, both metaphorically and literally. This external force, as it is then seen, neurologically ‘distorts’ the way patients see their bodies, with thin bodies made fat. This apparent distortion is reconfigured by teaching patients an alternative way to see their bodies and the food that nourishes them – a new view of the body as composed of parts that are all equally important, with food providing the necessary building blocks for its functioning.
Thoughts as Space: Deaf Story-Telling as Cosmogenesis
Visual Vernacular ﴾'VV'﴿ is a formal narrative praxis through which deaf performers externally map thoughts‐in‐space, constructing weather, creatures, people, landscapes, emotions, and musings made manifest using their dynamic bodies. Born from the visual‐tactile dominance of conditional deafness, these performances enact specific instants via the storyteller's body, exhibiting elements of the way that teller experiences her own uniquely deaf-centred world. A similar practice emerges in more quotidian deaf-centred performances, whether as a means of externalising and re-examining the teller's own inner imaginative terrain, or in order to help others to witness and understand her experiences and perspectives. Such performances are also explicitly informed by each person's sensorium, perspectives, and embodied memories of living a specific deaf life‐way. Each teller therefore maps a unique 'DEAF space’ made visible via external fleshy instantiation. This paper examines the performed shapes of deaf storytellers' individually‐generated worlds and the entities that populate them. It considers the inimitable social and physical elements that inform each unique performer‐teller, and what can be lost when these body-maps are subjected to eisegesic entextualisation, transduction, or interpretation, particularly during confrontations with British text-centred institutions. Drawing from ethnographic examples of VV and other variations of visual-tactile telling, I explore the ways that deaf people sometimes generate lenses onto an otherwise unseen internal DEAF spaces, thereby reframing each teller not as interlocutor but as mind-mapping world-maker.
About the Speakers
Giulia Sciolli is in her final year of PhD in Social Anthropology at the University of Cambridge. She completed a BA in Anthropology and International Development at the University of Sussex, and a Master of Science in Medical Anthropology at University College London. Before embarking in her PhD, she worked as Research Assistant in the Management and Healthcare Laboratory (MeS Lab) at the Scuola Superiore San’t Anna in Pisa, Italy. Her current PhD project seeks to explore practices of care in a public treatment facility in Italy that admits patients diagnosed with anorexia and bulimia nervosa.
Dr Kelly Robinson currently holds a fixed-term, Medical Anthropology Lectureship in the Department of Social Anthropology and will commence her Leverhulme Early Career Fellowship later this year. Her research focuses on the senses, disability, communication and social access. Her doctoral research (UCL), entitled Looking to Listen, investigated institutional reception of – or resistance to – deaf-centred communication practices. Her Leverhulme project will foreground the ways that individual histories, bodies, sensorial hierarchies, education, and experiences of formalised support can generate epistemic dissonances and injustices in confrontation with UK institutions
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