‘survey and consume’ others’ bodies in the ‘airport departure lounge’ of post- modern society (Turner, 2000: 42). A variety of explanations have been put forward to account for this shift in ‘visual culture’, variously crediting the gay movement, feminism, the style press or consumerism (and specifically the marketing of heterosexual women’s desire) with responsibility (e.g. Chapman and Rutherford, 1988; Edwards, 1997; Featherstone, 1991; Moore, 1988; Mort, 1996; Nixon, 1996; Simpson, 1994; see Gill et al., 2000 for a longer discussion). While the reasons for it are contested, there is widespread agreement that a significant change has occurred, in which men’s bodies as bodies have gone from near invisibility to hypervisibility in the course of a decade. This change is regarded as so significant that a number of anxieties have been raised about its impact on men (particularly boys and young men), including concerns about health, self-esteem, body image and eating disorders (see Grogan, 1999 for a review). More fundamentally, there have been suggestions that males may increasingly be defining themselves through their bodies, in the wake of social and economic changes which have eroded or displaced work as a source of identity, particularly for working-class men (Henwood et al., 1999). One of the aims of the research project of which this article forms a part was to examine this claim, holding it up against men’s lives. While speculative, this much-repeated claim resonates with much contemporary social theory about the body, which has highlighted its centrality to ‘the modern person’s sense of self- identity’ in high modernity (Shilling, 1993: 3). Most contemporary sociological writing about the body has been concerned to locate its increasing significance in changes in the cultural landscape occasioned by the shift to what is variously characterized as high, late or post- modernity (Featherstone, 1991; Giddens, 1991; Shilling, 1993; Turner, 1984). Central among these changes are the gradual ‘desacralization’ of social life, the erosion of grand political narratives or certainties, and the rise of both indi- vidualism and consumerism (Shilling, 1993). Giddens (1991) argues that the dissolution of tradition in late or high modernity has been accompanied by Body Projects 39 at UNIV HOUSTON on August 4, 2012 bod.sagepub.com Downloaded from
‘ontological insecurity’ and a reflexive concern with identity and the body. Secure and stable self-identity no longer derives automatically from one’s position in the social structure, and in its place we are seeing attempts to ground identity in the body, as individuals are left alone to establish and maintain values with which to live and make sense of their daily lives. In late modernity ‘we have become responsible for the design of our bodies’ (Giddens, 1991: 102).
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