Sociology of the Body - Research Practice in Poland


I am delighted to introduce the special issue of Qualitative Sociology Review, devoted to research practice of sociology of the body in Poland. In the last years, we have observed a growing interest in sociological reflection on human body and influence of social processes on the body. The rising number of publications and thematic groups on conferences concerning this subject attracts interest of academics with sociological, as well as anthropological, philosophical, and pedagogical background. It issatisfactory that we engage to challenge, a well-domesticated in Western culture, Cartesian concept ofhuman body-soul dualism. Evidently, sociological, anthropological reflection onthe human body has not started with the appearanceof the subdiscipline.

Such contemporary philosophers,sociologists, and anthropologists as Pierre Bourdieu, Michel Foucault, Marcel Mauss, Simonede Beauvoir, Norbert Elias, Erving Goffman, Anselm Strauss, Edward Hall, Maurice Merleau-Ponty, Zygmunt Bauman, or Anthony Giddens, and others built foundations for contemporary sociological thought concerning human body. International sociology of the body had its milestones, such as Brian Turner’s The Body and Society published in 1984, Drew Leder’s The Absent Body (1990), Chris Schilling’s (1993) The Body and Social Theory from the beginning of 1990’s, or inception of Body & Society journal in 1995. Similarly, as body studies in Poland have developed in the past twenty years, there is a number of publications devoted to the subdiscipline’s identity. Oneof the widely known Polish sociologists was Zygmunt Bauman with a number of works on body in postmodern culture (e.g., 1995), which have influenced body studies in social sciences among Polishacademics. Other publications from this period include Zbyszko Melosik’s (1996) Tożsamość, ciałoi władza [Identity, Body, and Power] and edited byDariusz Czaja (1999) Metamorfozy ciała. Świadectwai interpretacje [Metamorphoses of the Body]. It was followedby a number of books on the subject, includingAdam Buczkowski’s Społeczne tworzenie ciała.Płeć kulturowa i płeć biologiczna [Social Constructionof the Body. Gender and Sex] published in 2005; theworks of Ewa Banaszak and Paweł Czajkowski (e.g.,2010), a book Praktyki cielesne [Bodily Practices] editedby Jacek Kurczewski (2006) and Ucieleśnienia. Ciałow zwierciadle współczesnej humanistyki [Embodiments.Body in the Reflection of Contemporary Humanities] edited by Anna Wieczorkiewicz and Joanna Batorfrom 2007.

There has also been published a review of the most significant anthropological body studies (Szpakowska 2008). Anna Kacperczyk and I (2012) have as well contributed to the advance of the subdiscipline, among others by editing a special issueof Przegląd Socjologii Jakościowej entitled Body in SocialSpace, where we presented articles concerning qualitative research on the human body. The milestonein the Polish development of the subdisciplineis a monograph of Honorata Jakubowska (2009) Socjologiaciała [Sociology of the Body], which introduced the subject profoundly to the Polish audience.Since the appearance of the above mentioned publications,the body in Polish sociological studies has been increasingly present, giving examples of various research topics, ranging from disability to sport, transplantations to food and eating, dance, gender, yoga, climbing, prostitution, cosmetic surgeries, sexuality,body art, and many others. There are as wellother researchers whose achievements are mentionedin this issue’s articles, but who would rather identifywith sociology of medicine, sport, culture, art, or gender. Please, forgive not mentioning of all their names,as the contributors of this issue have done it in aninsightful manner, presenting the literature of theirspecific field of interest within the subdiscipline.

This special issue of Qualitative Sociology Review includes papers from participants of the Sociology of the Body in Poland conference, which took place at the Faculty of Economics and Sociology, University of Lodz in June 2016. The aim of the conference was to develop methodological standards, discuss research trends and possibilities of application of outcomes. The proceedings included as well reflections on su chissues as teaching of sociology of the body and the specificity of the subdiscipline, its difficulties, challenges, and perspectives. The effects of inquisitive discussions and workshops which took place during the conference are presentin the texts. Each article in this special issue of Qualitative Sociology Review presents a different aspect ofresearch practice in sociology of the body in Poland.All of them, however, have a qualitative character, and the majority is based on empirical studies. The contributors in this issue share their individual perspectiveson human body, its practices, and manifestations in social reality.

In the first paper, Girls in Football, Boys in Dance. Stereotypization Processes in Socialization of Young Sportsmen and Sportswomen, Honorata Jakubowska and I depict the issue of gender stereotypization strategies during the socialization process of children practicing atypical gender sports. We present outcomes of two qualitative studies:among girls playing football and boys practicing ballroom dancing. The text is focused on varioustypes of social influence of the children’s families (mainly parents), coaches, and peers. Moreover, we demonstrate the strategies which the children participatingin atypical gender sports are subjected to,such as stereotypization, destereotypization, apparentdestereotyping, and hidden stereotyping. The benefits of participating in atypical gender sports are also discussed, particularly in terms of socialand psychological profits.

In the following article, Izabela Ślęzak reflects on A Present and a Non-Present Body—Experiencing the Body by Female Sex Workers in Commercial Sexual Relations. The article is based on qualitative data, mainly unstructured interviews, whichwere analyzed in accordance with the procedures of grounded theory methodology. The problem discussedin the text concerns making women’s bodies accessible to men in the commercial context relatedto specific ways of experiencing it. The author’s discussion focuses on category of a non-present, selectively present, and present body, which refers toways in which female sex workers experience their bodies during commercial sex acts. Issues of gender present in body experiences are continuedby Mariola Bieńko. Her paper, The Body asa Private and Social Space. The Margins of Research Regarding Old Age and Gender, concentrates on the body as a project in the context of late modernity. The author bases her outcomes on a two-year, qualitative research conducted in four Polish cities. The aim of the author was to review theories and empiricalstudies concerning socio-cultural issues and the subjective determinants of perceptions of physicality. The body has become the main instrument of experiencing the world and oneself, a significant area, a keyelement of an individual’s identification strategy. The presentation and reception of body is dominated by an aesthetic perspective, organically bound with the tendency to aestheticize daily life in general. As we find out from the study, the emotional aspect of experiencing body, as well as the cognitive aspect within consciousness, the mental image of one’s own bodydiffer according to respondents’ age and gender.

Incorporated gender issues, but not only, are alsopresent in the fourth article, entitled The Theater Plays the Body. Replication of the Canon of Beautyamong Young Actresses in the Theater. Anna Dwojnychand Katarzyna Kuczkowska-Golińska depictthe results of a qualitative research conducted in Polish theater circles. The authors’ aim is to answer thequestion whether the theater has currently becomea place where bodily images are being standardizedand beauty canons reproduced. The text presentsconclusions concerning how studying at a theaterschool significantly impacts the perception of one’sown body, a wide spread belief among the students concerning the importance of the body (and thebeauty thereof) in the profession of an actor, which results in subjecting the body to some regimes, often destructive ones, and last but not least, the pressure to have a perfect body strongly internalized in the theater circles. The bodily image is as well featured in Tomasz Ferenc’s Nudity, Sexuality, Photography. Visual Redefinition of the Body. The article presentschanging relations of photography with a naked orsemi-naked body and different forms and recordingconventions. From the mid-19th century the nakedbody became a subject of scientifically groundedphotographic explorations, an allegorical motif referringto painting traditions, an object of interestand excitement for the newly-developed “touristic”perspective. The author examines three main waysin which photographs depicting nudity were beingtaken at that time and shaped three visual modes.These include artistic-documentary, ethnographic-traveling, and scientific-medical. Tomasz Ferenc presents one more, probably prevalent in numbers,kind of photographical images: pornographic. He looks back to the middle of the 19th century and depictsthe repertoire of pornographic pictures, whichwas already very wide, and soon became one of thephotographic pillars of visual imagination of modernsociety. The author discovers the developmentof this genre to date. He tries to answer how all theprocesses connected with pornographic imagesaffected our imagination and real practices, whatdoes the staggering number of erotic photography denote? One of possible answers comes from Michel Foucault who suggests that our civilization does nothave any ars erotica, but only scientia sexualis. As the author claims, creating sexual discourse became an obsession of our civilization, and its main pleasure is the pleasure of analysis and a constant productionof truth about sex.

The issue of visual representation of the body and bodily practices is continued by Agnieszka Maj. Her article, entitled A Healthy Mind in a Healthy Body—Recipes for a Healthy Living as Seen in Polish Vlogs, focuses on one aspect of the fashion forleading a healthy lifestyle which has recently reachedPolish society. One of the most popular sources of informationconcerning healthy lifestyles is, of course,the Internet. Some people have decided to introducechanges into the way they eat and exercise, primarilyin order to become healthier and slimmer with thehelp of Internet. The article analyzes examples of Polishvlogs posted on the platform that areprincipally devoted to improving fitness, as well asshowing the most effective ways to lose weight. The author investigates four main areas: the vloggers’motivations for creating and publishing videos, thevloggers’ reference to their own bodies, the reasonsthey offer for seeking a healthier way of living, thevloggers’ bodies as their representation in the socialspace of the Internet, and the role of the Internet communityin the many processes in helping people becomeslimmer. Wojciech Goszczyński and Anna Wójtewicz introducean inquisitive topic related to the previously mentioned article, namely, food and eating. Their paper on Body on the Plate. On the Relation between the Carnality and Food (on the example of meat in advertising) poses questions such as: dowe own our bodies? Do we control them during themeal, or does the meal control us? The authors aimat examining the complex nexus of social and physicalpractices embedded in eating habits. The investigationof selected culinary advertisements givesan answer on the way food stabilizes, catalyzes,separates, and mediates social relations, as well as socialand individual bodies.

The last paper, authored by Honorata Jakubowskaand I, Sociology of the Body—Teaching EmbodiedApproach through Autoethnography, representsthe subject of teaching sociology of the body and use of a qualitative research technique—autoethnography. Additionally, the article presents and discusses the way of teaching sociology of the body whose aimis to allow students to become familiar with embodied methodology and make them methodologically sensitive. We describe the research tasks given to the students in terms of the advantages they might bringin the educational process and difficulties that theymay cause to both the student and the teacher andillustrate the subject with examples of the students’works.

As the most valuable benefits deriving fromthis way of teaching we indicate raising methodological sensitivity, the ability to link embodied experience and knowledge with theoretical concepts, self-understanding in terms of social processes, but also putting into practice the perspective of embodiment in the social sciences. The article sets the issueof teaching in the specific cultural context, the courses of the sociology of the body in Poland and their status at Polish universities is proposed. As the editor of this special issue of Qualitative Sociology Review I must express my deepest gratitude to the reviewers, who made the time to advise and improve the articles. I would as well like to thank the authors for their contribution and hard work during the long process of preparation of this special issue. A big thank you to the editors of Qualitative Sociology Review, for their time, excellence in publishing, and great support during the whole process.


  1. Banaszak, Ewa and Paweł Czajkowski, (eds.). 2010. Corpus delicti. Rozkoszne ciało. Szkice nie tylko z socjologii ciała. Warsaw: Difin.

  2. Bauman, Zygmunt. 1995. Ciało i przemoc w obliczu ponowoczesności. Torun: Wydawnictwo Naukowe Uniwersytetu Mikołaja Kopernika.

  3. Buczkowski, Adam. 2005. Społeczne tworzenie ciała. Płeć kulturowa i płeć biologiczna. Cracow: Universitas.

  4. Czaja, Dariusz, (ed.). 1999. Metamorfozy ciała. Świadectwa i interpretacje. Cracow: Contact.

  5. Jakubowska, Honorata. 2009. Socjologia ciała. Poznan: Wydawnictwo UAM.

  6. Kacperczyk, Anna and Dominika Byczkowska, (eds.). 2012. “Ciało w przestrzeni społecznej.” Przegląd Socjologii Jakościowej 8(2).

  7. Kurczewski, Jacek, (ed.). 2006. Praktyki cielesne. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo Trio.

  8. Leder, Drew. 1990. The Absent Body. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

  9. Melosik, Zbyszko. 1996. Tożsamość, ciało i władza. Poznan: Edytor S.C.

  10. Schilling, Chris. 1993. The Body and Social Theory. London: Sage.

  11. Szpakowska, Małgorzata, (ed.). 2008. Antropologia ciała. Warsaw: WUW.

  12. Turner, Bryan S. 1984. The Body and Society. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.

  13. Wieczorkiewicz, Anna and Joanna Bator, (eds.). 2007. Ucieleśnienia. Ciało w zwierciadle współczesnej humanistyki. Warsaw: Wydawnictwo IFiS PAN.

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