The history of the body is a discipline which emerged in the 1980s; it questions the extent to which the body is “natural,” and asks whether all societies have experienced the body in the same way. Recent developments include approaching the body by studying its parts––examining changing understandings and representations of one specific body part across time––or looking at the experience of the body by its “users.” The combined classical and Christian heritage of western civilization has assigned the body a subordinate place in its value systems, but dichotomies such as mind/body and soul/body are by no means universal. The subject is associated in particular with the work of Michel Foucault, although his studies of the classical world have been criticized for relying unduly on élite philosophical texts, neglecting Rome, and ignoring female sexuality. In a widely challenged book, Thomas Laqueur presented the period before the 18th century as dominated by the “one-sex body,” in which the female and male genitalia were seen as the same organs, but positioned either inside or outside.Less
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