Sociology of the Body - Teaching Embodied Approach through Autoethnography

Abstract The article presents and discusses the way of teaching sociology of the body whose aim is to allow students to become familiar with embodied methodology and make them methodologically sensitive. The research tasks given to the students are based on analytic autoethnography which influences the students’ methodological development. Examples of the students’ works are presented and discussed, particularly in terms of the advantages they might bring in the educational process and difficulties that they may cause to both the student and the teacher. As the most valuable benefits deriving from this way of teaching the authors 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 courses of the sociology of the body in Poland and their status at Polish universities are presented as the context. The authors claim that the skills learnt during this course are crucial for students of sociology and for their methodological competencies, not only in the field of sociology of the body.

Keywords: Sociology of the Body; Teaching Research Methods; Autoethnography; Embodied Approach

“The somatic turn” in sociology can be observed not only in the sociological fields of interests and theoretical dimensions, but also in the discipline’s methodology. As a result, the embodied approach has been developed in the last few years. This approach can be understood as “an orientation to research that reveals the significance of maintaining an awareness of the embodied aspects within any form of investigation in order to reveal questions that can be explained through theory (or theories) considered appropriate” (Wellard 2015:197-198). Following Wacquant (2011) and his understanding of body as both a tool and a research subject, we want to consider “embodied approach” as a methodological perspective that, on the one hand, is focused on embodiment and its experience (embodied experiences as a research subject) and, on the other hand, on body asa tool of sociological exploration which allows the gathering of data on these aspects of social life that go beyond verbal cognition. In Poland, students of sociology have several courses related to methodology and research methods.

They usually have separate courses on quantitative and qualitative methods and a course whose aimis to prepare and conduct a research project. The courses of qualitative methods are dominated by“external,” disembodied techniques and methods of data collection, such as interviews, external observation, and discourse (or content) analysis. The awareness and significance of embodiment in the research process in not taught during these courses, in spite of the increasing number of publications on body and embodiment in sociology. The skills related to embodied approach can and should be learnt, as we argue in this paper, during courses of sociology of the body. Their aim shouldnot only be a presentation of the most important social theories and an analysis of body images,but also the teaching of research methods which allows the students to become more reflexive towardstheir own and the respondents’ embodimentduring the research process.

Therefore, thearticle is focused on the methodological dimension of the courses of the sociology of the body and thestudents’ research tasks. Its aim is to show how students can be taught the embodied approach by conducting their own auto ethnographical studies, during which one’s body is used as both a researchtool and a site of inquiry. The article starts with a brief description of teaching sociology of the body in Poland. In the following part, it presents the research tasks, that is, conducting autoethnography, proposed by the first authorto her students. Then, examples of the students’works are presented and discussed, particularly interms of the possible ethical, analytical, technical, and methodological difficulties they may cause toboth the student and the teacher. The last part puts emphasis on the usefulness of this way of teachingin terms of a student’s methodological knowledge and research practice.

Sociology of the Body Courses in Poland

In the last few years, growing interest on the body within Polish sociology can be observed, which is confirmed by a significantly larger number of publications on different aspects of the body/embodiment, conferences, and theses (Jakubowska2012). On the one hand, there is a significant number of quantitative studies on physical appearance or physical activities, but, on the other hand, the number of qualitative studies is growing and they concern such different aspects as,for example, dance (Byczkowska 2009; 2012), disability (Kowal 2012; Niedbalski 2015), prostitution (Ślęzak 2012; Wojciechowska 2015), yoga practice (Konecki 2016), climbing (Kacperczyk 2016), female sport (Jakubowska 2014), and tacit knowledge (Jakubowska 2017).

Polish sociologists who choose the body and embodiment as their main research area have become recently interested in sharing their knowledge and introduced courses of sociology of the body at Polish universities. The courses of the sociology of the body are taughtat several Polish universities. In the academic year of 2015/2016, they were offered to sociology students at four universities (Adam Mickiewicz Universityin Poznań, University of Lodz, Nicolaus Copernicus University in Toruń, and University of Gdańsk). These courses are not obligatory forall students and have an elective character.

This means that they can be chosen by students among other lectures that are offered by particular institutes (in Lodz and Torun) or take place only in the frameworks of a particular specialization or teaching module. In Poznan, they are taught in the framework of the culture studies module, and in Gdansk in the framework of sociology and anthropology of culture. They take on the form of lectures and seminars and consist of 15 or 30 hours. However, some issues related to the body appear during other courses offered to sociology students, such as gender studies, sociology of medicine, social psychology, or sociology of sport, although very often these courses are also elective.

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