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Edinburgh Centre for Medical Anthropology: Events



Start Date 11th Dec 2017 9:30am
End Date 11th Dec 2017 4:00pm
Duration 6 hours and 30 minutes

Politics of the Gendered Body

11th December 9.00 – 15.45

Practice Suite, CMB

9.00-9.30: Arrivals

9.30-9.45: Welcome

9.45 – 11.15: Performance

11.20 – 13.00 Visualising Gender

13.00 -14.00: Lunch

14.00 – 15.00: Vulnerability

15.00 – 15.15: Coffee

15.15 – 15.45: Discussion

9.45 – 11.15: Performance

Seed and sin: American evangelical imaginings of semen’s potent and pollutive power

Alice Nagle

For Christian pro-natalists in the American South, semen, as physical and metaphysical substance, possesses a dual nature. Primarily, it is understood as an essential component in the creation of human life which, as well as being fundamental to the spiritual ethic, is part of a holy and inherently positive interaction between a husband and wife. In that same interaction, however, at the moment of conception, the spermatozoon is the physical transmitter or the spiritual substance of sin, corrupting the sinless ovum, to create a new imperfect human being. This duality of substance can create a precarious imaginary, in which men relate to their own semen as a godly aspect of their physiology, and a hazardous pollutant. Engaging both doctrinal discourse and quotidian sexual narratives, this paper addresses the paradoxical precarity of semen, and asks what impact it has on Christian evangelical masculinity, intimacy, and reproduction.

Queer Embodied Masculinity and Experiences of Safety

Beth Cairns

The discussion of the impact of patriarchy on men is a relatively recent one, focused primarily in critical and feminist discourse which, in recent years has evolved to one on the toxic nature of hegemonic masculinity (Connell 1995, Jefferson 2002). Historically, masculinity has often been assumed to be something an embodied experience that exists within (hetero) sexual and cisgender identity. Masculinity has been seen to exist as strength, as a lack of emotion, as sex organs and often as (hetero) sexuality itself. Queer masculinity has been consistently underrepresented in these emerging discussions on masculinity, appearing almost exclusively until recent years, in patriarchal assumptions of queer masculinities’ association with femininity (Taywaditep 2002). This assumed femininity in turn has often been associated with vulnerability and victimhood where hegemonic masculinity has been associated with safety and perpetration rather than victimisation. Increasingly this heteronormative, hegemonic understanding of masculinity has been challenged with discussions of queer experiences.

This Masters’ research project sought to challenge the association between queer masculinity and femininity providing an account of how LGBT+ men experience, form and perform their own masculinities. It too sought to explore the impact that traditional hegemonic and emerging discourses had on LGBT+ men’s feelings of safety (or lack thereof). The hypothesis on which this research was based is that pressures from hegemonic masculinity, combined with LGBT+ identity, creates tensions in LGBT+ men’s understandings of their own masculinity and that these tensions in turn create unsafe situations for LGBT+ men.

This paper presented to the Politics of the Gendered Body conference will focus on the findings of this research and the unique experiences of queer masculinity that emerged. Drawing on literature from both criminology and gender theory this relationship will be discussed against the backdrop of safety discourse.

“All you white boys look the same”: performing anthropology and masculinity in the field

Joel White

This paper will analyse the concurrent ways in which maleness, whiteness and ‘the anthropologist’ are constructed, focusing on how particular ideas of ‘masculinity’ - a performance that often aims to mask or negate its performativity - structure ideas of what makes ‘professional’ and ‘successful’ anthropological work. Through a critical, personal (and embarrassing) reflection on undergraduate fieldwork with Indigenous DJ trio ‘A Tribe Called Red’, I analyse how certain gendered and racialized entitlements structured my entering the field, but also became sites of embodied ‘failure’, at masculinity and anthropology, that were productive in their own right. Here, the figure of ‘The Wrestler’ (‘drag for straight people’) and humour more generally were important concepts for both naive anthropologist and bemused indigenous musician. Joking and ‘strategic ignorance’ are depicted as two classic, if underexamined, anthropological modes of engagement; ones that can easily become a tool for either hiding personal ‘agency’ behind a wider ‘structure’ (“its institutional racism, what can I do?”) or for policing who gets into the ‘club’ or ‘field’ of anthropology, and masculinity. Particular bodies can move more easily between reflections on ‘social constructs’ and the experiences of ‘social facts’, and the terms in which each are deployed are heavily gendered. In naming the body of the “white boy” anthropologist, rarely remarked upon beyond a few lines on ‘positionality’, do we simply re-centre it? Or, can an acknowledgement of how certain anthropologists perform ‘masculinity’, with varying degrees of success, help us ungird its central position in the pedagogy and imaginaries of the discipline?

11.20 – 13.00: Visualising Gender

A toxic relationship? Visuality and Women'

Aglaja and Nichole

We know female bodies and visuality are linked – the question is how deeply. By relating an argument about images as women and an argument about women as images, we will show how both categories are deeply embedded in how we are socialised to experience the world.

After establishing the framework (how are images like women/ how are women like images?) we will show how this relationship cascades into hierarchies of knowledge production. The argument will build on Image Anthropology, Feminist theory and Visual Sociology. Data will come from a variety of Anglo-American contexts with a focus on how gender plays out at sites of knowledge production 

This paper interrogates a cyclical relationship between visuality and women, arguing that they are used to position each other respectively in hierarchies of sense-making. Language borrowed from descriptions of ‘unruly women’ is used to delegitimise or express concerns about visual forms of knowledge production, while visual techniques are used to control and police women.

However, our argument is not only about the existence of this link but about its depth and implications. As parts of a powerful set of binaries (visual/textual, emotional/rational, chaotic/linear, male/female…) The implications of being associated with images run deeply through how we value experiences of sense-making. 

What can feminist approaches teach us with regards to how images are valued, and how, in turn, may ‘image techniques’ come to be considered positive tools towards gender quality? 

Gender politics in eighteenth-century anatomical literature: The question of foetal nutrition

Anna Kuslits

The gendering of the human body in eighteenth-century anatomy has been a particularly fruitful subject of analysis for cultural historians working in the feminist critical tradition. It was roughly around this period, particularly towards the latter half of the eighteenth century, that anatomical illustrations in Western culture started to feature male and female figures as ontologically distinct forms of embodiment (Laqueur 1990), identifying sex-specific characteristics in every part of the human body down to the skeletal structure (Schiebinger 1986). The growing interest in sexual anatomy in the eighteenth century, as has been argued (Jordanova, 1985; Laqueur, 1990; Schiebinger, 1986, 2000), should be properly understood as a response to wider social transformations – the loosening of an essentially feudalistic social order –, and, as a consequence of these transformations, rising concerns over defining women`s proper place in a newly emerging, supposedly more egalitarian social formation. It was in this context that anatomy came to constitute a remarkably potent language in which to prescribe particular roles (domestic, reproductive, nurturing, etc.) to women, now grounded in what was perceived as their natural disposition.

In this talk, I aim to contribute to this body of literature with additional insights arising from my research on anatomical practices in eighteenth-century Edinburgh. In particular, I want to concentrate on debates over what anatomists in this period referred to as `the nutrition of the foetus`, and their consequent efforts to determine and visualise the exact manner in which the foetus and the mother`s body are connected. Drawing closely on contemporary textual sources, I will demonstrate how an organic bond between mother and child appears to materialise in the course of anatomical experiments with coloured injections into the umbilical cord and placenta in the pregnant female body.

Coco D’Amour: palms, women and the nation

Mairi O’Gorman

Arborescent metaphors – depicting “culture” as a tree rooted in native soil, growing along hierarchical dendritic lines – are central to many nationalist imaginaries.  This paper will interrogate the gendered dimensions of arborescent nationalism in Seychelles, with a focus on two varieties of palm.  During fieldwork carried out in 2016, I came to understand the ways that coconut and coco de mer palms were implicated in a state-led, nationalist project of kreolite (Creoleness).  The Seychelles government urges a return to “traditional Creole values” – values that draw legitimacy from a purportedly natural division between male and female social spheres.  Palms were significant for constructing, maintaining, and naturalizing these boundaries.  Their potential for accomplishing this work at a symbolic level was derived from specific reproductive characteristics and material qualities.

Coco de mer palms are either male or female, and their sex finds visible expression through either a male inflorescence that resembles a penis, or a large seed that resembles a female pudendum.  The seed has come to represent the tree in both national and global imaginaries, and also to symbolise Seychellois femininity.  The coco de mer genders the islands themselves as feminine, both for tourists (who are encouraged to view Seychelles and its women as exotic, alluring, and readily possessed), and for Seychellois (who are encouraged to take pride in this exaggerated femininity).

The coconut palm often has male, female and bisexual flowers on the same tree, and interlocutors described it as a “hermaphrodite.”  This intermediate gender category was figured as problematic in relation to the bodies of people, and gender nonconforming individuals were marginalised and vilified in relation to state kreolite.  The ambivalent body of the palm itself was central to gendered processes of economic production and consumption, and consequently productive for the nation; but human bodies could not be productive in the same way.  In particular, apparently male bodies became troubling when they were read as feminized.  I argue that this demonstrates the limits of the political utility of femininity in Seychelles.

Visualizing Albino Motherhood and Albino Feminist Thought in Nigeria

Arturo Beckles, Dudzai Mureyi

This paper draws on several key questions and visual representations addressed in my thesis: How should one begin to introduce the albino subject if the human albino subject remains one of the greatest intellectual challenges in the history of woman? What can be made of human thinking about the albino subject as subject matter? Is there a difference between the albino subject as subject matter and the human albino subject in relation to that subject matter? How is the human albino subject positioned in endogenous African belief systems? How does albino feminist thought and motherhood govern a theory about gender and the gendered experience of albinism? What if the question that has defined philosophical anthropology, “Who or what is man?” cannot be satisfied (nor “a theory of man” achieved) short of asking, “Who or what is an albino woman?” All of these questions serve to guide a history of the human albino subject based on accounts of motherhood and bearing witness to the albino bodies emergence from the womb. To unpack this further, my discussion will focus on three visual representations captured in 1969/2016 (Figures 1), 2015 (Figures 2) and 2017 (Figure 3), which reveal, in part, albino motherhoods struggle for existentialism as a part of the human process—a ‘no use for body’ defines ‘body as use,’ a ‘body unprofane’ defines ‘profanity towards a body.’ Also discussed are two makeovers (Figure 4) given to albino single mothers during fieldwork in Nigeria. My co-presenter, Dudzai Mureyi, is a pharmacist and PhD student in Global Health at the University of Edinburgh. She will make contributions in response to these visuals as a woman with albinism and share details about how her mother—who does not have albinism—approached raising a child with albinism.

13.00-14.00: Lunch

14:00 – 15.00: Vulnerability

“Where are all the men in these support groups?”: An investigation of the gendered nature of elder care in London

Lilian Kennedy

Drawing on fieldwork in Alzheimer Society support groups for informal, familial carers of people with dementia (Pwds) in southwest London, I interrogate why it matters that the vast majority of carers were wives and daughters, and that most Pwds were men. I pose that care – how and where it is enacted, by whom and for whom - creates hierarchical power relations between family members, and between carers and the state.

I couch this within investigations showing that care work attending to ill bodies has a long history of being a gendered practice (Cancian and Oliker 2000).  Calls for attention to men as providers of care ( 2017; Collins 2014), further highlights the deep entrenchment of ideas that ‘care’ is women’s work, and that ‘care’ refers to kinds of intimate work that women do. Familial, informal carework is often done within homes away from public visibility, and involves hidden ‘dirty work’ attending to visceral bodies (Twigg 2000). In exploring the expectations held by my interlocutors about men and women’s capacities to care, and what are appropriate types of care, I underline how practices of care are gendered based on varying levels of intimacy required.

I also examine how the gender distributions within my fieldsite went largely unquestioned by older carers but that younger female carers chafed at familial assumptions that they would take on everyday caring responsibilities over male members. This comparison illustrates subtle distinctions within the pervasiveness of assumptions about the gendered nature of care, which surface when women’s formal work is seen as more easily sacrificed in the face of a kin’s care need. This corroborates findings that “women were disproportionately recruited to provide elder care through their roles as wives, daughters…” (Buch 2015:278, Price 2011) while care is persistently valued less than ‘formal’ work in capitalistic economies (Glenn 2010).  Some argue that as long as care is considered ‘women’s work’ it will always be exploitative (Bubek 1995), echoing my interlocutors’ indignation about the lack of compensation and recognition from the state for their ‘informal’ work.

Care, thus, is not only women’s work, but political, because it is kept informal and gendered.

Targeting Gender; Transgender Shooters and the Production of Safe Bodies in San Diego, California

Joe Anderson

This paper attempts to show how ideas of the "vulnerable” body are constructed by transgender gun owners in dialogue with the real increased risk of bodily harm for LGBTQ communities in the United States, that in turn provides evidence of the need to carry firearms in public. I will draw on fieldwork on a community of gun owners in San Diego, California, to show that the physical changes my informant’s bodies experience during transition are related to anxieties about discrimination and physical attack, creating a lived experience of vulnerability in the absence of the legal right to carry guns for self-defence. Transition becomes a new way of being gendered in the world and carrying a gun becomes a part of that new experience that produces an embodied sense of safety. This fits into wider concerns among gun owners about how local legislative bodies, like in the broadly liberal state of California, are failing to uphold a constitutional right to bear arms, which they claim is guaranteed by the 2nd Amendment. This inability to arm in public is seen as rendering particular bodies unsafe and my male informants use the notion of the vulnerable transgender, or female body as justification for widespread access to firearms. Here, I focus on a pro-LGBT firearms training group in an attempt to show that gun use and ownership, normally associated with a hegemonic, hetero-normative masculinity in the United States (Kohn, 2004; Cox, 2007), works on bodies in particular ways that both challenges and reinforces gendered hierarchies of the fragile feminine victim and capable masculine protector.

15.00 – 15.15: Coffee

15.15 – 15.45: Discussion



Edinburgh Students