The body is a crucial site of sociospatial relations, representation, and identities. It is the place, location, or site of the individual. It is also a site of pain, pleasure, and other emotions around which social definitions of wellness, illness, happiness, and health are constructed. The body is the location of social identities and differences such as gender, sexuality, race, ethnicity, age, (dis)ability, size, shape, appearance, and so on. These identities or subjectivities may form the basis for oppression and exclusion, meaning that the body as a space is bound up in knowledge and power. The body is, therefore, a site of struggle and contestation. Where a body can go, what it can do, who can get access to it, is regulated and controlled. The body – materially, socially, and psychologically – marks a more or less impermeable boundary between Self and Other.
There is no universal agreement about what the body is or where it begins and ends. The diversity and complexity of embodied experiences demonstrate that bodies are constructed through different social, cultural, and economic networks and through different spaces and places. The sociopolitics that surround bodies and space are increasingly being critiqued and scrutinized. By examining bodies, geographers are able to understand further the ways in which places are embodied and bodies are emplaced.
Often referred to as the 'geography closest in', the body became the subject of social science enquiry from the late 1970s when humanistic geographers were concerned with the way bodies move through and occupy space. This early work was influenced by phenomenological approaches and geographers explored the body as a subject that can approach and connect with its surroundings and thus bring space into being. For many, the phenomenological approach was an important starting point for embodying geography. Humanistic geographers, however, were criticized for not considering the subjectivities or identities of bodies under investigation. It was not until the 1990s, and in response to criticisms of disembodied geography by feminist geographers that the body became an explicit part of the geographical agenda. Turning to 'the body' was also part of the 'cultural turn' in the discipline. Over the past decade or so the growing attention to consumption and lifestyle issues such as food, fashion, and leisure, meant that geographers could no longer ignore either embodied experiences or representations of bodies. It has been shown that people's desires to be involved in particular practices or activities is intimately connected to their own body image. It has also been suggested that certain types of bodies may seek to exclude Other bodies from their environments. As such, feminist, social, and cultural geographers are critical of the mind/body dualism and are exploring notions of identity, power, and embodiment.