Review Essay: Individuals? Factors? Definitions? The sociological abstraction of the body


Henning Eichberg
University of Southern Denmark


When starting to teach university courses in Body Culture, I proposed Chris Shilling’s The Body & Social Theory (1993) as basic literature. The book’s intention was interesting, indeed. However, the book produced a lot of misunderstanding both for my students and for myself. Why was that? A closer examination of the third edition (2012) reveals some serious analytical and terminological problems. As these problems are not particular of Shilling’s approach, but can be found in a wide range of sociological studies, they deserve a deeper analysis and a critical discussion. Are humanist studies allowed naively to talk about “the biological body”, “individuals”, “factors” or “us in modern society”? This is more than a linguistic question – it is not least a question of philosophy. Kate Cregan’s Key Concepts in Body & Society (2012) follows the same track as Shilling, but presents a more practical application for students. Her book illustrates especially the problem of “defining” phenomena of human life. Can we really define – describe by strict limits – what is historically changing and socially diverse?

Click here to read this peer reviewed article  in Scandinavian Sport Studies Forum, Vol. 5 2014

About the Author

HENNING EICHBERG, professor Dr. phil. habil., is a cultural sociologist, historian, and philosopher. He teaches body culture studies and the study of play at the University of Southern Denmark, Institute of Sports Science and Clinical Biomechanics, Odense. He has dealt with the history and cultural sociology of sport, play and body culture; the cultural ecology of movement; the history of early modern mili­tary tech­nolo­gy; Ind­onesian studies; and democracy, ethnic mi­norities, and natio­nal identity. His main research at present concerns the philosophy of play. Eichberg authored, among others, Der Weg des Sports in die industrielle Zivilisation (1973), Militär und Technik (1976), Leistung, Spannung, Geschwindigkeit (1978), Festung, Zentralmacht und Sozialgeometrie (1989), Body Cultures (1998), The People of Democracy (2004), Bodily Democracy. Towards a Philosophy of Sport for All (2010), and Idrætspolitik i komparativ belysning – national og international (2012).

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