Fragmenting the body

Theme 1: Fragmenting the body

The body features in and is represented differently across the MIDAS sites, with some focusing on the whole body, others as a fragmented entity, others understanding the body as one part of a larger landscape. Similarly the lines drawn, blurred or removed between notions of the body and the mind vary as do the boundaries between the physical and the virtual/digital body. These differences reflect different purposes, and interests that circulate within the case study contexts – and these histories shape and inform their methodological practices.

Zoning the body has a number of benefits for researching embodiment in digital environments, it:

  1. Allows in-depth micro focus bringing parts of the body into view;
  2. Brings into view the connections to be made between these elements;
  3. Recognizes the different social roles and functions that body parts have in embodied interaction; and
  4. Helps to stabilize the methods of research, the case studies that fragment the body have clear sets of methods

Not zoning the body also has benefits, it:

  1. Creates a holistic un-bounded body that keeps the idea of the body open;
  2. Enables complex and varied interaction with the body (e.g. Performance);
  3. Allows aspects of embodiment (e.g. emotion, affect) that do not map to distinct body parts to be examined; and
  4. Provides a methodological space for interdisciplinary views of the body.

Each approach to fragmenting the body also has limitations. Fragmenting the body can close down and fix the body, produce myopic observation, atomize and de-contextualize embodied experience and interaction, and limit imaginative research. Not fragmenting the body can lose sight of the body, lead to weak connections regarding embodiment, unfocused and ungrounded research.

Interrogating a site’s approach to fragmentation contributes to an understanding of its conception of embodiment, and makes it possible to consider the benefits of moving between different stances to fragmenting the body, for example, by layering or sequentially connecting these approaches.

a) Go back to the case studies and identify how the different sites ‘fragment’ the body. What are the research opportunities and limitations of this fragmentation?

b) Thinking of your own work on the body – how would fragmenting it in different ways impact on your research, theoretically, methodologically and practically?