PASSAGES AND THE PERSON BY MALCOLM RUEL (Clare College, Cambridge) I Body symbols have been the focus of much recent attention in the social sciences. One well-established approach that has been developed within social anthropology by Leach (1958), Douglas (1966, 1970) and their followers (e.g. Sutherland 1977; Gager 1982; Okely 1983) has been to demonstrate how ideas and pro- cedures with regard to the body can be read as expressions of facts about society. The approach is Durkheimian: the body becomes a vehicle, a 'natural symbol', serving to represent fundamental features of society: its formalism or freedom; its preoccupation with boundaries or the polluting, and so forth. Such a treatment takes the body very much as a given fact, a readily available metaphor for social realities of a different order. But as recent work has shown (e.g. Blacking, 1977), the body within culture, far from having a passive role in relation to social and cultural values, can and does play an active role in their creative expression and development, not least in music, the dance, play and communication. So, too, one may expect that body symbols become the means whereby con- cepts are developed in the cultural understanding
Journal of Religion in Africa – Brill
Published: Jan 1, 1993
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