Skip to main content


SOC3090 : Investigating the Body

  • Offered for Year: 2024/25
  • Module Leader(s): Professor Janice McLaughlin
  • Other Staff: Dr Ruth Graham
  • Owning School: Geography, Politics & Sociology
  • Teaching Location: Newcastle City Campus

Your programme is made up of credits, the total differs on programme to programme.

Semester 1 Credit Value: 20
ECTS Credits: 10.0
European Credit Transfer System


The module will introduce students to, and advance their knowledge of, sociological 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. As an important topic across many areas of sociological work there is a broad range of topic and conceptual approach we can take that can vary depending on what is happening in the world and who contributes to the module.

The topics in the module are selected to capture contemporary dynamics around the human body which raise questions about social acceptability and social and legal regulation in different spheres of intimate and social life. The module also acknowledges the role of the body in creative expression. We will also 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.

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 important areas of conceptual understanding relevant across the areas we will analyse throughout the module. 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. Themes across the module will enable us to think about the implications of beauty ideals, new medical technologies, creative practices such as tattooing or dance, the boundaries of normality and abnormality and contemporary risks to the body. The conceptual tools introduced in the early stages of the module are central ideas in sociology connected closely to ideas explored in other module provision. The particular topics can adapt to different issues happening in the world and to the input of different contributors.

Teaching Methods

Teaching Activities
Category Activity Number Length Student Hours Comment
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture81:008:00In person lectures
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesLecture32:006:00In person timetabled lecture
Structured Guided LearningLecture materials81:008:00Pre-recorded lecture material, non-synchronous
Guided Independent StudyAssessment preparation and completion134:0034:00N/A
Guided Independent StudyDirected research and reading1132:00132:00N/A
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesSmall group teaching81:008:00In person timetabled seminars.
Scheduled Learning And Teaching ActivitiesWorkshops22:004:00PIP 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. It is also the space that is used to introduce and work towards assessment 2.

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

Formative Assessment is an assessment which develops your skills in being assessed, allows for you to receive feedback, and prepares you for being assessed. However, it does not count to your final mark.

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