Corporeal Geographies

The growing scholarship in corporeal geography is evident in the vast range of studies and approaches to understanding the body. One of the most popular approaches, for geographers and other social scientists, continues to be the cultural inscription approach which draws on post structuralist theories to understand the body as a surface to be etched by cultural and social systems. While our bodies make a difference to the experience of places, we might also think of bodies and spaces as mutually constituted. Instead of thinking about space and place as preexisting sites in which bodily performances occur, some studies argue that bodily performances themselves constitute or reproduce space and place. Geographers have looked at the way in which bodies are gendered, sexualized, racialized, aged, and so on by, for example, workplaces, schools, leisure spaces, homes, suburbs, cities, and nations. Hence, the mutually constitutive relationship between bodies and places can be examined at a variety of scales, from the space of the body itself, to intimate geographies such as the bathroom, bedroom, changing room, and other home spaces.

Some geographers argue that bodies and spaces are performative, that is, they have no ontological status or fixed characteristics. In this way, space is not just a backdrop for bodies rather it plays an important role in constituting and reproducing social relations. Bodies and spaces are simultaneously material, imaginary, symbolic, and real.

Understanding bodies and spaces as performative offers geographers new ways of thinking about power relations. One such way is to think in terms of space as paradoxical. Thinking of space and bodies in this way means working with the idea of simultaneously occupying center and margin (masculine and feminine, heterosexual and homosexual, young and old, and so on). Bodies cannot be understood as just 'man' or just 'woman', but rather as sexed bodies that are contingent upon time and place. The commonly held belief that we all have to fit into the model of one sex or another has been contested as there are many bodies that do not fit the two sex model. For example, some bodies have both male and female genitalia (usually known as 'intersexed'), transsexuals, people with XXY chromosomes, and even female body builders. These corporeal geographies may queer, and make paradoxical, space at a variety of scales from the home to international tourism sites.

Performative bodies and spaces are central to the newly emerging 'emotional geographies' scholarship. Important studies in emotional geographies have argued that people and places are imaged, felt, and experienced in ways that are radically entwined with each other. Feelings of shame, pride, guilt, and pleasure which are bound up in exercise, dietary, and cosmetic regimes reveal that bodies are emotionalized sites and hence an important focus for geographers. These lived experiences are entwined in multiple power relations realized in space/place. In the future, it is likely that human geographers will increasingly interrogate bodies (their own and others) as multiple, fluid, fractured, and constituted in particular spaces.

The body has been increasingly embraced in some sections of the discipline as a scale for considering social and cultural difference, so much so that in some cases 'the body' has come to mean the expression of fluid subjectivities. It is important to note, however, that the body still remains geography's Other and that the weighty materiality of bodies – particularly as conceptualized in and of biology – has yet to be fully explored. The takenfor granted notion that biology stands outside culture, is one of the primary reasons why geographers have neglected the body as an object of study and despite this recent surge of interest in bodies, the 'leaky', 'messy' zones of bodies and their resulting spatial relations, remain largely unexamined in the discipline.