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Body, Self, and Society

Body, Self, and Society: The View from Fiji

Anne E. Becker
Copyright Date: 1995
Pages: 224
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  • Book Info
    Body, Self, and Society
    Book Description:

    Anne E. Becker examines the cultural context of the embodied self through her ethnography of bodily aesthetics, food exchange, care, and social relationships in Fiji. She contrasts the cultivation of the body/self in Fijian and American society, arguing that the motivation of Americans to work on their bodies' shapes as a personal endeavor is permitted by their notion that the self is individuated and autonomous. On the other hand, because Fijians concern themselves with the cultivation of social relationships largely expressed through nurturing and food exchange, there is a vested interest in cultivating others' bodies rather than one's own.

    eISBN: 978-0-8122-9024-0
    Subjects: Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
  3. List of Figures
    (pp. ix-x)
  4. Preface
    (pp. xi-xiii)
  5. Acknowledgments
    (pp. xiv-xvi)
  6. Introduction
    (pp. 1-6)

    The following inquiry into the relationship of embodied experience to the social context of selfhood unfolds from an ethnographic paradox and a clinical puzzle. My arrival in Nahigatoka for doctoral research in anthropology was greeted with enthusiasm and then perplexity on the part of my Fijian hosts on hearing about my interest in their interest in body shape. They were not, they politely clarified, especially attuned to body shape. This occasioned my own equal perplexity, in turn, since I had spent the previous months framing a study on what I felt was nothing short of a cultural preoccupation with food,...

  7. Chapter 1 Cultural Bearings: Identity and Ethos in Fiji
    (pp. 7-26)

    Fiji is an archipelago of approximately 300 islands located south of the Equator on the 180th meridian (Figure 1.1), both geographically and culturally straddling the conventional border between Melanesia and Polynesia. Fijian lifeways draw elements from both Polynesian and Melanesian cultural traditions¹ and reflect an orientation toward identity characteristic of other Pacific Island cultures. This chapter traces the roots of Fijian identity and ethos. It also introduces the microcontext of this monograph, Nahigatoka Village, which provides the ethnographic backdrop to the exploration of the relationship between food exchange, care, body, self, and society in the following chapters.

    The primary field...

  8. Chapter 2 Body Imagery, Ideals, and Cultivation: Discourses on Alienation and Integration
    (pp. 27-56)

    How are the various meanings that are projected onto and expressed through individual bodies socially mediated? How does the social inscribe its values onto the body, and to what extent is the individual a willing versus a hapless accomplice to the act of inscription? What legitimation is granted to the use of the body as an instrument of the social order or, alternatively, as a vehicle for personal expression of talents or affiliation with a certain community? This chapter addresses these questions by beginning to examine how the appropriation of the body as either a personal or collective entity bears...

  9. Chapter 3 Nurturing and Food Exchange: An Ethos of Care
    (pp. 57-84)

    Fijians seem to be more complacent than Westerners about the cultivation of the body’s shapes and spaces. Although they express admiration for aesthetically pleasing forms and a clear preference for robust shapes, they make little or no effort to attain the culturally defined ideal in their own bodies. Paradoxically, remarks drawing attention to size and changes in others’ bodily forms are unremitting; greetings, jokes, and insults abound with references to weight loss or gain or to unusual body size.

    The relative lack of interest in cultivating one’s body is grounded in the understanding that personal achievements are indexed not by...

  10. Chapter 4 Disclosure and Exposure: The Body and Its Secrets Revealed
    (pp. 85-103)

    The preceding chapter presented evidence of Fijians’ extraordinary vigilance in monitoring bodies for information about their social connectedness. In the process, responsibility for cultivating the personal body is removed from the sphere of the individual to that of the collective. The community’s moral qualities are symbolically condensed in bodies, which record and reflect the care vested in them. To the extent that a body indicates something of an individual’s character, it does so largely in terms of this person’s capacity to redirect nurturance to the community.

    This chapter examines the social monitoring of bodies for confirmation of their participation in...

  11. Chapter 5 The Body as a Community Forum: Spirit Possession and Social Repossession
    (pp. 104-126)

    The Fijian self is unshielded from the community’s gaze, located in both community and body. The body is transparent and permeable, permitting the essence of the self, theyalo,to spill out into the community. The fluidity of bodily boundaries also allows spirits (niju) and spiritual manifestations to enter and occupy the body. We have seen that the Fijian community directs and claims the body’s productive and reproductive labors. In this chapter, we will examine a similar appropriation of the body’s space as a community forum. Analogous to the concretization of care in anatomic space is the manifestation of social...

  12. Chapter 6 Cultural Metaphors: Body and Self
    (pp. 127-134)

    We have explored the ways in which the Fijian body is situated within the socio-cosmic matrix, as well as how it embodies the collective. Although core identity begins with a relationship to a body, it includes the community. Bodily experience transcends the individual body, is diffused to other bodies, and is even manifest in the environment. Self-essence (concretely identified in theyalo) likewise transcends the body to affiliate with the collective. The two, body and self, do not share a mutually fixed or exclusive identity; their common substrate is the collective.

    These elements of Fijian embodiment differ from Western folk...

  13. Epilogue: On Being Gwalili in the West
    (pp. 135-136)

    In my absence from Nahigatoka, I have noticed that my thoughts have gradually turned less and less toward speculating what feast might be being discussed overyaqonain Tai Vani’s cookhouse, wondering whether mangoes were still in season, or imagining a circle of women who were no doubt coaxing a new baby to take his first step. However, at very unpredictable times, vivid scenes still replay themselves in my thoughts, and even more unpredictably, letters arrive from overseas–both events for which I am thankful.

    One of my dearest friends from Nahigatoka sent a letter to me soon after my...

  14. Appendix A: Glossary and Language Notes
    (pp. 137-142)
  15. Appendix B: Research Methods
    (pp. 143-154)
  16. Appendix C: Graphic Representations of the Data
    (pp. 155-172)
  17. Notes
    (pp. 173-190)
  18. Bibliography
    (pp. 191-200)
  19. Index
    (pp. 201-206)