This essay explores the concept that the body in contemporary society is undergoing a process of commodification.

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This essay explores the concept that the body in contemporary society is undergoing a process of commodification. To support this theory I will make reference to, and outline examples of the three following sociological theories as discussed in the text:

  1. Structuration Theory: The body as a project
  2. Social constructionism: The body as a contested site
  3. Phenomenological approach to the body: The body as lived experience

The body – and its parts, is a significant topic for sociological analysis. This increased sociological interest in the body is the result of factors such as the rise in consumerism, the aging of western population and the growth of medical technology.  “Commodification is a Marxist concept that describes all things in society (even people) as commodities. All material and social phenomena are products of a society and contribute to the production of other components of society”.  Many sociologists believe the human body has long been a target for commodification within numerous cultural settings.

Structuration theory refers to the body as a project and is one of the main theoretical approaches to the body as it highlights the association between self identity and the body under the conditions of late modernity.(Gray, 2006). Structuration theorists consider the self as a personal project that is under our power and control (Gray, 2006). This development has been the result of the decline of formal religious structure in the West which created and sustained ontological faith existing outside the individual. This decline led to the rise of consumer culture as an owner of symbolic value. This created a tendency for people in high modernity to place ever more importance on the body as a reflection of self.

Structuration theory has been influenced by the work of Anthony Giddens. Giddens considers the self to be set apart by a high concentration of reflexivity (or constant self monitoring and scrutiny) that takes the form of an endless life story. (Gray 2006). Structuration theory is the conceptualization of the body as a project and the extent to which it provides a sense of control and meaning for participants. People use their body shape and appearance as a means of expressing their individual identity. Structuration theorists believe that self identity is constantly evolving, moreover we see ourselves with a past, present and projected future.(Gray, 2006).

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The emergence of the body as a project has been influenced by several social trends including advances in body altering technologies and consumerism. Tattoos, in fact have enjoyed an explosion in popularity and mainstream acceptance in the last decade. A tattoo cannot be viewed separately from the living being, it’s a form of social communication, providing symbolic information about the individual. (Kottack, 2000).

For some tattoo enthusiasts, the body is a project. Each tattoo means something, according to Judy Bauer “I agree tattoos are more personal these days, an art form of self expression ...

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