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SOC3090 : Investigating the Body

  • Offered for Year: 2022/23
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Janice McLaughlin
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus
Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0


The module will introduce students to, and advance their knowledge of, social and ethical debates around the human body. It will explore important theoretical understandings of how we live in our bodies, how our body plays a part in social interaction, is transformed, ages, is treated by medicine, and is regulated by law and social norms. In doing so we will explore the significance of the human body to our position in the world.

The topics in the module have been selected to capture contemporary dynamics around the human body which raise questions about social acceptability and legal regulation in different spheres of intimate and social life. They also will allow us to consider how we can research the human body and its significance to interaction and identity. Sociological theory on the body and embodiment is at the heart of the module.

Alongside this, the module also aims to introduce students to ethical challenges around what it is possible for individuals or institutions such as medicine to do to the body and how that should be regulated by law, policy frameworks and professional codes of practice. Research being undertaken by the module leader on different aspects of contemporary investigations of the body will be drawn upon to give students rich and distinctive insight into how to scrutinise the social and ethical shaping of the body. The module will also integrate the COVID-19 pandemic into what we explore given to how the crisis has changed numerous aspects of the management of the individual body, as well as the social body.

The module aims are:

To explore how the shape, appearance and capabilities of people’s bodies has an influence on their social position and identity.

To introduce students to important sociological understandings about the body and embodiment from across medical sociology, disability studies, sociology of the body and others.

To develop students' knowledge of important social, legal and political processes of regulating the body and creative practices of transforming the body.

To introduce students to some of the ethical debates about how far the body should be regulated and how much the body can be transformed.

The module will draw from primarily contemporary areas of sociological debate and every day practice where bodies matter in order to explore the body’s social significance. Of particular importance are concerns in medical sociology and disability studies about how medicine treats bodies which are different because of their varied capacities, either because of lifelong disability or because of the emergence of limitations in what the body can do due to ageing, illness or injury. It will also look at sociological engagement with the productive aspects of body expression, by incorporating debates about how we can ‘enhance’ our body’s capacity by doing things such as taking drugs to make our bodies thinner, stronger or faster, or creatively changing our bodies via cosmetic surgery, piercing or tattoos as a vehicle for representing a different or changing aspect of our identities.

Outline Of Syllabus

The module begins by introducing students to three important areas of conceptual understanding relevant across the areas we will analyse throughout the module. These are sociological theories about embodiment, ethical approaches to evaluating how the body should and should not be regulated and creative approaches to understanding the possibilities of embodied transformation. The rest of the module will work through areas of sociological concern relating to embodiment, matched with particular empirical areas of body interaction, difference, regulation or creative practice. This approach will allow students to appreciate how the body can be conceptualised and also how it can be researched in particular contexts. For example, we will discuss how ideas around disability which emerge from sociology, anthropology and bioethics help us challenge notions of what the ‘normal’ body looks like and what it can do. We will then apply that to the area of using genetic reproductive technologies to select ‘designer babies’ who will not have different impairments at birth. This approach will be taken across the themes of disability, medical intervention, sport, ageing, organ donation and body enhancement

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials160:308:00Pre-recorded lecture material, non-synchronous
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion131:0031:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture101:0010:00In person timetabled lecture
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading1136:00136:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching71:007:00In person timetabled seminars.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops42:008:00PIP timetabled structured workshops
Teaching Rationale And Relationship

Workshops provide an opportunity for the students to undertake a variety of tasks and interactions with the module leader that deepen their understanding of key concepts within the module.

The small group teaching - which will take the form of seminars - provides opportunities for the students to work together in smaller collectives to engage with how we can evaluate the social and ethical dimensions of what bodies can and cannot do and how they can be changed.

Assessment Methods

The format of resits will be determined by the Board of Examiners

Other Assessment
Description Semester When Set Percentage Comment
Essay1M401500 words. Generic feedback will be provided by email and a surgery session provided for one-to-one feedback.
Case study1M602500 social and ethical examination of a specific example of regulation or creative transformation chosen from a list provided.
Formative Assessments
Description Semester When Set Comment
Essay1MStudents will have the opportunity to submit a plan for how they will structure and approach the assessment. (Optional)
Assessment Rationale And Relationship

In the essay the students will be given several essay questions to choose from, each of which will ask them to critically evaluate theoretical ideas within the sociology of the body. The work they will do to complete the essay and the feedback they will receive will help enhance their critical writing skills. The final assessment emphasises their independent learning skills by applying the ideas they have been introduced to evaluate the social and ethical significance of a particular issue.

Reading Lists