Harnessing the Flesh. Social Class and Reflexive Embodiment

Research output: ThesisPhD Thesis


Few things present themselves as being more personal, intimate and natural than the relationship to our own bodies. If there is one thing that individuals can claim as being exclusively their own, it is after all their body. Furthermore, in a society that places ever more value on health, beauty and physical well-being, the body is increasingly seen as a malleable object that everyone can shape according to personal style and preference. This doctoral thesis questions such ideas and instead tries to demonstrate how the apparently most personal and individual aspects of embodiment are shaped by the socio-cultural environments in which we find ourselves. Through a comparative analysis of diet-, food- and sporting-practices, drawing on nine different surveys conducted in Flanders and Belgium between 2004 and 2010, this study will aim to show that when individuals perceive and judge their own bodies, they do so through the lens of their social background. The way in which they care for and invest in their bodies is itself closely tied to the material and cultural resources they have at their disposal. It is the possession of such resources which places effective limits on the plasticity of their bodies and especially on their capacity to realize the 'ideal body'. It is the aim of this thesis to show that class-inequalities become, quite literally, inscribed in the flesh, that the most valued and most stigmatized physical traits are not randomly dispersed across social space and that to 'feel good in your own skin' is not a matter of biological or psychological factors, but a social privilege that is distributed in a highly unequal manner.
Original languageEnglish
Awarding Institution
  • Vrije Universiteit Brussel
  • Glorieux, Ignace, Supervisor
Place of PublicationBrussels
Publication statusPublished - 2013


  • habitus


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