Bodies, in theory and practice

I don’t write much about my personal life here, and I don’t really intend to start. However, recently I’ve been thinking about the ways in which my life as an academic is changing other aspects of my life. My research has, in small ways, changed my life recently. Those life-changing moments were my favorite moments as a student and they’re my favorite to observe in my own students. So, I think it’s only fitting to reflect on this a bit, and to consider the relationship between research and “real life” more fully.

My interests in internet media and issues of embodiment/disability has meant that during the lead up to my prelims I read a lot of body theory, trying to sort through the ways that scholars have tried to make sense of bodies, their capabilities, and their relations to the mind. Phenomenology, feminist and queer theory, disability studies, and other fields have wrestled with these questions, and none offer clear answers, though they do provide provocative theories. The strongest thread to much of this theory, however, was the sense that the mind and body are far from easily separable. Perhaps the body is, itself, socially constructed (a la Judith Butler); or perhaps it is a set of conditions that, in turn, shape our identities and experiences (as in much disability theory); or perhaps it is even both, a real set of conditions that we understand through social constructions.

In any case, I found the most surprising part of my time reading for exams was how my schedule gradually shifted to include more and more time for taking care of my own body. I was never an athletic kid – I was a reader, a musician, and I watched a lot of ST:TNG and The Real World. I have never liked cooking – I’ve been fortunate to have partners who do, and I’ve eaten well without learning how to cook well for myself.

Yet, the more I read about the interconnections of the body and the mind, our bodies and our lived experiences and technology use, and the vagaries of what constitutes “ability” and “disability” and grey areas in between, the more I felt a need to take care of myself and respect the body I have. I started lifting weights, I started running (I always hated running!). More recently, I’ve started cooking more for myself and taking more of an interest in what my fiance is doing in the kitchen. They’ve been largely positive changes, and they came nearly directly from reading heavy theory.

I think it’s important to acknowledge these moments in which life as an academic seeps in to other parts of our lives and identities. They’re exciting, sure. But by sharing them, it seems that we can be more honest about the interconnectedness of what we do and who we are. Few would argue that research can actually be fully objective. But still, we largely write and teach as if that were the case. The fan studies literature in which authors explore their own fandoms are fascinating to me for this reason – they display a recognition of the fact that research, itself, is situated in bodies, identities, lived experiences. People do research. And lately, it seems to me that research does people, too.

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