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A Generational Approach to Somatic Cultures: Modes of Attention to the Young Body in Contemporary Po


The aims of this article are to identify, describe, and sociologically understand the different somatic cultures in contemporary Portuguese society—i.e., the distinct ways in which different generations have thought about, used and lived the body from the time of the Estado Novo (the New State, which was the regime that governed Portugal from 1933 to 1974) until the present day.

Beginning with the hypothesis that there are different, historically institutionalized, somatic modes of attention to the “young body”, the author uses the most relevant institutions of the socialization of the body as analytical dimensions and investigates their main incorporation strategies and models of corporality. This hypothesis is informed by different generational conditions that change people’s uses of their body, their experiences of living in it, and their thoughts on the matter. Using these analytical dimensions, the article presents a typology that identifies, describes, and comprehends the three somatic cultures in the recent history of Portuguese society: the culture of physical invigoration that forms part of the legacy of the New State; the culture of physical rejuvenation inherited from youth cultures of the 1960s and 70s, along with the growth of body design industries in the 1980s; and the culture of physical perfection inherited from the biotech culture in the 1990s, accompanied by the radicalization of the body design industry. This approach entails the discussion and reinterpretation of a corpus of historical literature, presenting research data on the body in a defined time period (1930 to date) and space (Portugal), analyzed from an embodied perspective of generational change.

Keywords: young body; generation; somatic cultures; Portugal; sociology; social history

1. Introduction

Youth is a recently invented and socially constructed category. However, to see it as a mere word [1] or metaphor [2] is an assumption that implies an attitude of extreme nominalism. Although “youth” is a historically and contextually “unstable social fact” [3] and not a biological one, nowadays the body is unquestionably a privileged locus in which to visualize young age in the social arena [4]. This in turn means that being identified as young implies an age codification linked to a certain model of modal corporality [5]—i.e., an established set of bodily traits that are socially recognized and valued as juvenile.

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