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Abject Relations

Abject Relations: Everyday Worlds of Anorexia

Copyright Date: 2010
Published by: Rutgers University Press
Pages: 248
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  • Book Info
    Abject Relations
    Book Description:

    Abject Relationspresents an alternative approach to anorexia, long considered the epitome of a Western obsession with individualism, beauty, self-control, and autonomy. Through detailed ethnographic investigations, Megan Warin looks at the heart of what it means to live with anorexia on a daily basis. Participants describe difficulties with social relatedness, not being at home in their body, and feeling disgusting and worthless. For them, anorexia becomes a seductive and empowering practice that cleanses bodies of shame and guilt, becomes a friend and support, and allows them to forge new social relations.

    Unraveling anorexia's complex relationships and contradictions, Warin provides a new theoretical perspective rooted in a socio-cultural context of bodies and gender.Abject Relationsdeparts from conventional psychotherapy approaches and offers a different "logic," one that involves the shifting forces of power, disgust, and desire and provides new ways of thinking that may have implications for future treatment regimes.

    eISBN: 978-0-8135-4821-0
    Subjects: Health Sciences, Anthropology

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-viii)
    (pp. ix-x)
    (pp. xi-xvi)
  5. 1 Introduction
    (pp. 1-20)

    The air of anticipation among the young women in this suburban Vancouver community house had been building all week, simmering in summer conversations on the veranda, then spilling over into therapy sessions with staff. As a group, the women told me about the nameless “underweight woman” who was coming to stay with them for a brief period. Her emaciated state was their central concern, for all the women in this program had gained weight through a recovery program and were still adjusting to their new embodied presence. A few days later this anonymous person had a name. “Josie will sabotage...

  6. 2 Steering a Course between Fields
    (pp. 21-50)

    In the edited volumeCritical Anthropology Now, Marcus discusses the distinctiveness and juxtaposition of the included essays in ways that parallel the position I have adopted in my fieldwork. The distinctiveness of this volume, Marcus suggests, “lies in the strangeness of the positions in which a number of the writers found themselves in the field. This is not the traditional, exotic strangeness of anthropological fieldwork, of being immersed in other worlds of difference that anthropology itself has prepared one for. It is rather the loss of this condition that provides strangeness here, the strangeness of being immersed in writings, inquiries,...

  7. 3 Knowing through the Body
    (pp. 51-69)

    This chapter explores my experience with what Rabinow calls the central conundrum of ethnography: how ethnographers negotiate fieldwork relationships among people with whom they do not share a common set of assumptions, experiences, or traditions (1977, 155). These negotiations were complex for me, for they operated simultaneously on a number of levels and were constantly fluctuating. I was not simply observing people with anorexia; I was interacting with them, continually finding common ground and difference, and challenging my own assumptions about food and eating. I was not only entering into new relationships with people, but also entering into a new...

  8. 4 The Complexities of Being Anorexic
    (pp. 70-98)

    In this chapter I explore the ways in which people with anorexia understood and experienced relatedness in their everyday lives, that is, with how they continually transformed connections by truncating, creating, sustaining, and abandoning them. My understanding of relatedness stems from recent approaches to kinship that have been critical of the traditional divide between biological and social understandings (Carsten 2000b, 2004; Edwards 1993, 2000). “Relatedness,” as I use the term, is about the intersection of the social and the biological, which, as Stafford suggests, “refers to literally any kind of relation between persons—including those seemingly ‘given’ by biology and/or...

  9. 5 Abject Relations with Food
    (pp. 99-127)

    A different field of relatedness—that between participants and food—now becomes my focus. The relationships that those diagnosed as anorexic have with food are often assumed to be an extension of taken-for-granted concepts around nutrition, concepts that are transformed into idiosyncratic routines aimed at weight loss. My research challenges this common assumption, exploring the various meanings that participants attributed to particular foods, and the practices involved. We see that food practices were central to the relationships that people with anorexia had with each other, their own bodies, and other people.

    Here, I first discuss the genealogy of nutrition to...

  10. 6 “Me and My Disgusting Body”
    (pp. 128-151)

    Despite being referred to me while she was an inpatient on an eating-disorder ward, Julia disagreed with her diagnosis of anorexia. “It’s not anorexia,” she told me, “it’s an ambivalence to food.” Ambivalence was a recurring theme throughout her narrative and the dominant motif on which her relationships pivoted. Thirty-eight years of age, Julia was the fourth child in what she described as “a really bright, high achieving family; … it’s very hard coming fourth in line to smart, bright women. I’m not suggesting that I’m stupid, but they put unbelievable expectations on me and at the same time treated...

  11. 7 Be-coming Clean
    (pp. 152-178)

    Purging through self-induced vomiting and taking laxatives was only one of a range of practices participants cited for cleansing the bodies they experienced as dirty and disgusting. Other techniques included washing and scrubbing parts of one’s body with water or antiseptic cleansers, or sucking antibacterial lozenges to cleanse one’s “contaminated” mouth. The goal was a body that was sanitized, scrubbed, and exfoliated of experiences, memories, and its own corporeality. These combined washing and flushing practices led me to reexamine the experiences of anorexia under the lens of hygiene.

    Bathrooms, toilets, bedrooms, and kitchens were the household sites where these anorexic...

  12. 8 Reimagining Anorexia
    (pp. 179-190)

    The aim of this book has been to provide a new approach to the phenomenon of anorexia. In my discussion of anorexia there is one player that I have consciously relegated to the background: the media. As I argued in the introduction, I did not wish to reproduce the discursive explanation of anorexia as a “reading disorder” and tried to steer away from media representations of anorexia. I anticipated that in focusing on participants’ everyday worlds, my fieldwork would be led away from the disembodied textual analyses that have already been extensively explored in the eating disorder literature. As my...

  13. NOTES
    (pp. 191-208)
    (pp. 209-226)
  15. INDEX
    (pp. 227-230)
  16. Back Matter
    (pp. 231-232)