Laura Azzarito

(DIS)EMBODIMENT

A few years ago, as I was walking through Frogner Park in Olso, I found myself obsessively taking photos of Gustav Vigeland’s sculptures. It is difficult to put into words, but I remember feeling enthusiastic about “being there” (Pink, 2008) and somehow connected to this “bodywork.” It was freezing cold, but I kept walking through the park for hours, looking at this artwork. It was hard to leave.

A few years later, I turn to those photos as an opportunity for reflection on and exploration of the complex and multidimensional nature of embodiment, claiming embodiment as a central notion to challenge the Western mind/body dualism institutionalized in today’s schools. In the current era of disembodiment, I find myself both disheartened by today’s “absent presence of the body” (Shilling, 2011) in schools and, at the same time, convinced more than ever about the centrality of embodiment for the education of children and young people. The body remains a complex educational matter. 

(Dis)embodiment forwards a critique of the excessively rationalistic view of the mind and dominant forms of cognitivism in schools that cast the body as a passive, docile, and “dumb” entity. An attitude of disdain toward the body, implicitly and explicitly, reproduces Western dualistic thinking about human experience, denies the understanding of how today’s globalized consumer culture inscribes the body of children and young people, and, moreover, denies the educational rights of students to self-understanding, self-description, and self-expression as embodied beings. As Dewey reminded us, the body is at the heart of the experiential world of the child. When schools fail to do justice to the myriad of body practices that involve and affect embodiment, some bodies become “Othered” in negative terms: racialized, gendered, sexed, and disabled. These inscriptions on the body, without a doubt, can be disempowering and denigrating, affecting the self-image and self-esteem of children and young people. As a result, some high-status bodies continue to be elevated, staged, and celebrated, while “Other” bodies remain misrepresented or hidden and silenced in the world. 

(Dis)embodiment claims the body as a surface on which a myriad of messages are imprinted daily, a locus of production of contested meanings, and a culturally constructed entity intimately situated in the environment. This “bodywork” suggests that all aspects of schooling in the current neoliberal globalized society need to be reconceptualized, calls for educators and education scholars to reframe student learning as a matter of body-subjects’ situatedness, and advances the need for an understanding of embodied praxis in schools. (Dis)embodiment stands against a rational disembodied mind and draws attention to the visual and multi-sensorial nature of the body, with a focus on creativity, responsiveness, social justice, and relationships established in a non-dualistic world.

 

I would like to thank Collin Palomare, RA-Visual Research Center, for helping me to enhance the quality of the photographs. 

(Click on each image to enlarge and view details.)