A retrospective look and new reflections on the processes of embodiment as a paradigm and methodological orientation for Anthropology

Interview with

Reception: January 28, 2021

Acceptance: February 4, 2021

On January 22, 2021 we had a conversation with Professor Thomas Csordas in which he presented the reflections that preceded and those that accompanied the development of one of his contributions to the field of Anthropology, the paradigm of embodiment, also enunciated by him as a methodological orientation for the study of culture and self from the processes of embodiment.

His interest in the development of this perspective arose in the course of his ethnographic research on religion, where he identified the centrality that the immediacy of experience could have in understanding various human processes. His inclination for studies on culture, the processes of constitution and transformation of the self, as well as human experience were the basis for the development of the paradigm of embodiment from the perspective of cultural phenomenology.

Two elements of his proposal that are explored in greater detail in the interview are, on the one hand, the conception of the body and, on the other, the collapse of dualities (subject-object, perception-practice and body-mind), from which he proposes start to analyze being in the world from embodied experience. The approaches that Csordas develops around these two elements allow us to identify the uniqueness of his proposal within the framework of the anthropology of the body and the epistemological, theoretical and analytical challenges that this approach implies.

Something characteristic of his various publications on the processes of embodiment is that his approaches, although some of them dense and abstract, manage to anchor themselves in the ethnographic analyzes that he has carried out in his studies on religion and health, mainly. Therefore, a second moment of the interview focused on his methodological experience to study the processes of embodiment. His reflections on this aspect outline relevant considerations to approach various phenomena from this perspective. Csordas not only reflects on the various ethnographic studies he has carried out, but also offers us new veins of research from the paradigm of the embodiment, among which are distinguished phenomena that have arisen from the coronavirus pandemic that we are going through on a global scale, as well as other problems that unfortunately persist in the world, such as racism and misogyny.

This conversation with Professor Csordas concludes with a brief discussion about the most recent elaborations that he has developed on the paradigm of the embodiment. Without a doubt, their approaches continue to expand the horizon from which we can understand the diversity and complexity of the human experience.

Olga Olivas

Thanks, Tom, for this interview; we really appreciate your time for this conversation about an analytical perspective that you have developed through different studies, which is the embodiment. And the first question I'd like to start with is how did you become interested in the study of embodiment.

Thomas Csordas

I became interested because, as an anthropologist, I wanted to understand the human experience, the experience in the literal sense of what people go through in the course of their lives and the challenges they face, the immediate experience they encounter. And at the time I was training there was no preoccupation with the experience itself. In fact, among anthropologists, experience was thought to be inaccessible, only cultures, as symbol systems in Geertz's terms, while, as forms of textuality, in Derrida's terms, they were accessible; that the experience was beyond the reach of anthropology. And I didn't like that, my PhD advisor even told me: "Be careful with the experience, you know, people will criticize you for using that."

So I looked for ways to think about it and I approached phenomenology, which is the description of phenomena as they are presented to humans. And when reading different texts of phenomenology, like those of Alfred Schutz, for example, a bit of Heidegger, I came across the thought of Maurice Merleau-Ponty, who spoke of embodiment/ embodiment, which spoke of perception as a form of experience based on embodiment. And that attracted me and it seemed like a way to enter, as the access point to the experience; that is, the access points to experience would be through perception, which can only be understood in terms of bodily experience, embodiment/ embodiment. And that's how I became interested in her. I was especially interested in Maurice Merleau-Ponty and his very important work the Phenomenology of perception, where he elaborates a form of existential analysis based on embodiment, and which is very relevant to culture and cultural experience.


Yes, it is interesting and we can see it in your work also when you integrate all these discussions that Merleau-Ponty developed around perception. And something that is also clear is that you said that you were interested in the experience, and it probably had to do with the type of topics you were researching at the time. What were some of the reflections, thinking about all this phenomenological theoretical perspective, around the experience and in relation to the issues that you were looking at in the field, or that you were recently investigating in the field? What were the reflections that preceded your proposal of the processes of embodiment What did you elaborate more deeply on in the two articles “Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology” and “Somatic Modes of Attention”?


Well, it has always been evident to me that experience is accessible through certain types of human activity more easily than others. I was very interested in religion, and therefore I was very interested in religious experience. I was interested in religion because it was an aspect of human activity where experience was close to the surface. And I was interested in the experience because it would help to understand religion, which is a very critical aspect of human activity. So the relationship between interest in religion and experience were reciprocal investigations, and within that interest I was concerned not only with religion and religious experience, but specifically with transformation. How did religion have that rhetorical force for transformation? So I began to study not only religious systems, but especially religious movements whose goal was to transform society, as a collective force. And I also became interested in religious healing rituals, which were a way to transform the experience on a more personal and individual level, to transform the self, from an afflicted self to a healthy self. I was interested in religion and religious experience, and embodiment was a way of entering it. It wasn't an easy way to get in, because the thinking about embodiment through Merleau-Ponty was thick, let's say. And I applied it to the religious movement in which I was working, in the forms of healing that I was working within the movement of the Catholic Charismatic Renewal. In this way I sought to elaborate the idea of embodiment in a useful way. I then examined my ethnographic data on the religious movement and religious forms of healing to better formulate the idea of embodiment; So I used the religious data to formulate a method, a methodological orientation or paradigm of embodiment.

It took me literally thirteen years from when I started thinking about embodiment until I was able to publish the articles you mentioned, "Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology" first, and "Somatic Modes of Attention" later. And I must say that those two texts actually started as one long article; they were closely related. The first part exposing the idea of embodiment and the second giving the example of the type of category that you can identify, the somatic modes of attention, if you think within this paradigm of embodiment; but at first it was a very unwieldy and long article. And it was thanks to advice and consultation and a reflection from my closest colleague, Janis Jenkins, that suggested that it be divided into two separate articles. So we have what exists now, two separate pieces: “Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology” and “Somatic Modes of Attention”. And I'll be forever grateful to him for that advice on how to turn a very long and, dare I say, heavy and dense article into two somewhat more accessible and coherent articles. And I must say that I am also very grateful that the work "Somatic modes of attention" now exists in Spanish translation, in the volume edited by Silvia Citro.


Yes in Plural bodies, which is the name of the book, and it somehow dialogues with other very interesting works around discussions about the body, and something in that direction as well and related to what you are saying.

You said that at first you were thinking about experience, because culture was approached mainly from a symbolic framework and you tried to find patterns in the notion of culture. And something that interested you most was the lived experience of this dimension, and what you develop in the "Paradigm of embodiment" is an approach, a methodological orientation to approach the self and culture, and the body as an existential terrain of the culture. So it is evident that, although the word body is present in your work, there is a difference in the way you are approaching the study of embodiment, compared to what had been developed before in the anthropology of the body. So you are not talking about the body, but about embodiment, which can be understood or even reflected and analyzed from a different perspective. Could you explain in this sense the difference between the anthropology of the body and embodiment as a paradigm for anthropology?


In the most basic terms, the anthropology of the body understands the body as an object, a cultural object, or a social object, and the embodiment paradigm understands that the body is a subject, that it is a subject of experience. And part of the way in which I always remind myself of that difference: that, from the point of view of embodiment, I never use the article "the" to refer to the body; It is not "the body" that interests us, it is "my body" and "your body" and "our bodies" as entities that breathe and live and that are the existential basis of the self and of culture.

It is a slightly more elaborate way of making the distinction in terms of approaches within this field. We have an anthropology of the body, as we have just said, but which normally treats the body as a source of symbols, a microcosm of society, for example, or treats the body as an object of analysis in its own right, insofar as it can be manipulated and controlled and transformed by social forces. That is the anthropology of the body.

There is also the study within anthropology and related fields of non-verbal communication, such as kinetics, proxemics and gesture, in which the body is conceived mainly as a means of communication, and in which the analysis is based on often in a linguistic analogy, as when referring to various types of body languages.

And then there is the anthropology of the senses, which focuses on the body as a cultural filter and shaper of reality. And sometimes, in this approach, each sense is a culturally formed modality of perception; it is sometimes approached in terms of how the senses are synthesized in differentiated ways in a sensory apparatus integrated across cultures.

Finally, the fourth approach, the cultural phenomenology of embodiment, is the starting point and the basis of my work, which examines the body as being in the world. And it requires recognizing that culture is more than a symbol and a meaning, since it also includes experience, and that our bodies are, at the same time, a source of existence, the source of movement and the place of experience.


And would you say that, in this sense, what you have developed in the "Paradigm of embodiment" could be complementary to other approaches in the study of human experience, where bodies, not human experiences but bodies, were approached for other phenomena?


Yes, they are absolutely complementary. And I think the four approaches I just mentioned are complementary to each other. And, of course, embodiment is not the only way to approach culture. It is not that I am saying that there is no value in thinking of culture as a system of symbols. I am not saying that there is no value in thinking of culture as a set of adaptations to our environment, or that culture is not a set of practices and customs. But I also want to say that culture is a fundamental way of describing what we take for granted about ourselves and the world and other people. And what we take for granted, the understanding of what we take for granted, can come from our bodily experience.


Yes, definitely. They can be complementary because they take you to different aspects of the human, of the human being. And one of the arguments that I find so interesting and intriguing in your proposal, and I think it makes a difference between other approaches to the study of the body or our bodies, is that your proposal focuses on collapsed dualities: objective / subjective, perception / practice, body / mind, subject / object. This is something that is present in your arguments. And I think it challenges the perspectives of different disciplines that address the study of human beings in the social sciences. And it also provides a renewed understanding of the various processes that human beings go through.

However, I know that you know some of the criticisms that have been developed and that affirm that the proposal of the embodiment it continues to be the bearer of a dualistic vision of the human being. For example, Farnell argues that the notion of habitus de Bourdieu, who provides a basis for the generation of practices, does not recognize the person as an agent. Farnell claims that the generation process, the regenerated socio-cultural content and the subsequent adjustments to the external constraints of the social world are all apparently unconscious, or less than conscious, arguing that the human being is not perceived as an agent and as a reflective person or subject. How would you react to criticism of the dualistic vision in its notion of embodiment?


First of all, I think that Bourdieu's perspective is interesting and has some merit, because Bourdieu is so concerned with showing how the world is taken for granted and that dispositions are instilled in people's bodies and sedimented in their lives, that leaves out the agency. And that is partly why I have found him useful and interesting, but it is also partly why I found it important to juxtapose his work with that of Merleau-Ponty, who does talk about it and in whose work the idea of agency is deeply rooted. embedded, the idea of agency and intentionality; because one's body is always oriented towards the world and moves towards it. So while Merleau-Ponty talks about the body to the world, Bourdieu talks about the world being embedded in our bodies. Therefore, that criticism has a certain weight, I think. But the problem of dualism in general is simply present in contemporary thought, since the Enlightenment. In other words, dualism is a starting point against which one reacts. So it is always there as a reference point. Even in a negative way, even if we worry about ending the dualities, they are there and they are recurring. The dialectical process consists of recognizing that duality is present and can be collapsed, and it reappears and then we want to tear it down again.

What we react against is the rigidity of duality, and the primary duality is the duality between mind and body that always goes back to René Descartes. And in some sectors Descartes is considered "bad" because he distinguished between mind and body and made it difficult for us to put them back together. Well, in some ways they were always together. In some respects it is always possible to distinguish between them. And perhaps Descartes is not as guilty as we think he is. Perhaps it is we who have reified and rigidified the distinction between mind and body, perhaps even more than Descartes did. I believe that the problem of duality that we have to fight against is only a problem when dualities, such as the duality between mind and body or subject and object, are considered mutually exclusive, opposed, antagonistic between yes, or even that one side of the duality dominates the other and is therefore oppressive. And in that sense the duality of mind and body is something to fight against. If the mind considers itself superior to the body, it must be fought against. If the body considers itself superior to the mind, that is, biology determines everything, that is something to fight against. So the problem is not duality, per se, the problem is the duality that stiffens and reifies. So it is important to collapse the dualities to see what happens, to escape the prison of rigid duality. And by doing that, we can also recognize that if there are two sides to things, they don't have to be considered or thought of as rigid dualities, they can be thought of as polarities, they can be thought of as ends of a continuum, and we can be inspired by the poet William Blake who said that the opposites are positive. There are two positive sides to this polarity. It is not that one is positive and the other negative. It is not that one is good and the other bad. It is not that one is dominant and the other is inferior, but that both sides of the polarity are positive. So the fight against duality can be done by collapsing dualities, and it can also be done by recognizing that there can be duality without dualism, without it becoming an ideology.


And then, from this point that you are elaborating, the collapse of the dualities will definitely lead us to another aspect of the human being. As you are saying, as in the polarities we can see not the opposition between the aspects of the human being, but a continuous process, a continuum between those polarities. So could you elaborate a bit more on what's at the core of this dualities collapsing perspective that might help us better understand your arguments? Especially thinking about the human experience, because that is something that is at the core of the embodiment paradigm, perceiving collapsed object and subject, collapsed body and mind. And that is something that is part of the process of understanding the human experience. We do not experience ourselves as divided or separate. Can you expand the information about it?


Well, we can experience it. The point is that we can experience ourselves as divided and separate, and we can experience ourselves as dualistic beings, but what we want to avoid is being trapped in the prison of duality, of dualism. And I think the answer is precisely what I was saying about the liberating aspect of collapsing dualities, and the liberating aspect of thinking of dualities as polarities, as positive polarities. Those things are at the core of this perspective.


And, well, thinking about the different experiences that you have approached from the perspective of embodiment ... for example, in some cases you have approached the overlap between religion and health, as you said at the beginning, in studies with charismatic Catholics and healing processes natives. Something that is present there is religion and health in these processes of embodiment. And in some other cases you explicitly focus on mental health processes; for example, in your research on adolescents in psychiatric treatment. What have you found compelling in using this approach to the study of human experiences, using the embodiment approach to analyze those different human experiences?


The main thing that I find convincing is that it gives access to immediacy, to immediate concrete presence, which must be used as a level of analysis. As a starting point to understand the human experience is immediacy. That is why it is useful to start with perception. And if you start with the immediacy of perception, then you can tackle any other issue. You can address the question of why immediacy appears as it does, as the phenomenon that appears, and that allows you to approach structural issues, right? It is not studying experience rather than structural issues. It is studying the experience as a starting point, as a path in the immediacy of the experience. For example, you are not only interested in the laws that allow or prohibit refugees to cross the border. You are also interested in - and want to start there - the experience of the refugee when he tries to cross the border and succeeds or fails. You are not only interested in the structural violence of the health system that is imposed on the affected people, but you want to start with the experience of those people when they try to navigate and establish trajectories through those health systems, in order to understand by understanding their experience . Because there are anthropologists and social scientists who only care about the structural aspects and end up forgetting the experience that people are living in those environments.


And regarding all this elaboration around how to approach phenomena from the paradigm of embodiment, you speak of the processes of embodiment. So if we understand this as a process, we can also identify some stages in it. And it has to do with what the starting point is. What is the first stage that we elaborate to approach the human experience from the perspective of the embodiment? And you speak of immediacy as the starting point of perception, of the preobjective, of the prereflective of this perception, to later elaborate to a greater extent the processes of objectification of the self, for example. So in the pre-objective self and then the objectification of the self it is clear that we can identify different stages in the process of embodiment. But I would like to know if these processes are lived by human beings according to those stages that we are analytically elaborating to approach embodiment. Is it a linear process in human experience? Is it a continuous process, or - as you say - a back and forth process? Is it a dynamic process in which human beings move from one place to another? What can you say about that?


Well yes, it is dynamic and iterative. And the process of immediacy that we speak of leads to various forms of objectification. Because we have to think in terms of concepts. We have to think in terms of institutions. We have to think about how we communicate with other people, how we think about ourselves. So there are the processes of the pre-objective self, and then there are the objectifications that we constantly perform on ourselves. Objectifications and re-objectifications, and de-objectifications that are necessary to live in society, and objectifications that are alienating to ourselves. But it is a constant process of iteration, back and forth.


This is how it is understood in the human experience: as a dynamic back-and-forth process. And it goes hand in hand with this analytical perspective that we are trying to identify in the process of starting from the pre-objective to objectification, although these processes are probably experienced at the same time by human beings.


Yes, it is not a linear process. It is a process that comes and goes from the pre-objective to the objective. And also, I mean, you can think of it as simultaneous. Simultaneously I am experiencing the immediacy of this conversation that we are having, but at the same time, I am objectified by you and me, as someone who has something to say about embodiment. So they are simultaneous, it is not linear in that sense either.


It is something that I think we should also address, given your experience, because in different articles, books and chapters you are always elaborating these arguments, but you also give us the empirical material, you are talking about cases. So it is very clear to see how you are taking all these reflections to the field, and I think that is very illustrative. Something that I would like to know in this regard is that understanding embodiment as a methodological orientation puts us in the task of approaching different phenomena, considering an ethnographic perspective that is present in many of the works that you have developed. And in these terms and in very technical terms, what would you say are the essential research techniques to study the processes of embodiment, thinking about all this complexity, about the human experiences that we are going to analyze if we want to approach them from the perspective of the embodiment?


The essential research technique is ethnography. It is as simple as that. There is nothing different about the kind of work I do than any other anthropologist necessarily does. What is important and what is distinctive, perhaps, is that embodiment is, in the phrase you just used, a methodological orientation.

It is a way of approaching the data of ethnography. It is not that the data is different, it is just that an orientation in relation to the data is different. The starting point is the starting point of the experience and the immediacy to which we access through embodiment. So that's the real thing. The answer is very simple. The technique is ethnography. But what is significant is how you approach and orient yourself towards that material.


I ask this because I have read some arguments that, for example, if we think in narrative identities, and we are doing interviews, we are left only with the speech of the people, with the narratives that are telling us about something. And something that some authors have developed is that, to approach the study of bodies, we need to go beyond narratives. But in this sense, would you say that it is essential to also do ethnographic observation, or does it depend on how we approach the material present in the interviews? Or can we also just stay with these data and approach the human experience from the perspective of the embodiment?


Yes, it is a very good question and a very important one. Observation is certainly important. I mean, insofar as one of the fundamental aspects of our bodies is how we move them, and how we are persuaded to move them, or trained to move them, it is important to observe those movements.

However, it is also true that language, to use Heidegger's term, reveals our being and reveals something about our experience and reveals something about our embodiment and our movement. So we can learn about embodiment in part through narrative and discourse. And I insist on it, in the same sense in which we spoke before: if you are trapped or imprisoned in duality, the dualism between language and experience, you are also tying yourself. So language and experience is another duality that we want to collapse; we want to understand how they interpenetrate each other.


And, well, thinking about this way of approaching human experience, would you say that the embodiment paradigm is more suitable for studying some human experiences than others?


Yes absolutely. I think that's the case, and that goes back to the argument I started with. As I have said, I am interested in religion, and embodiment is, yes, especially suitable for the study of religion. Probably more than for the study of political economy. Which is not to say, again, that I want to make an absolute distinction between the study of religion and the study of political economy, because one can find bodily experience in alienation from work. So again, that is a duality that we would like to collapse. At the same time, this is to say that there are certain aspects of life that are more susceptible to being studied through the paradigm of embodiment, or the methodological orientation of embodiment, and there are some where embodiment is not so close to the surface of the body. phenomenon as it is in religion.

Even in my own work and my own writing there are some things that I have done where embodiment is not in the forefront of what I am thinking. Sometimes I have written about language without making much reference to embodiment. Or in the new book that Janis Jenkins and I just published, Troubled in The Land of Enchantment, our study on adolescents in psychiatric care. It is not a book on embodiment. But it is a book about lived experiences. Within that study of lived experience there are parts of the book where our bodies become relevant, but not as relevant as in some of the writings I have done on religion.

So not everything revolves around embodiment, and embodiment as a methodological orientation may not always be the most relevant starting point.


Yes, and regarding this book, which is very interesting and I really recommend that people read it, something that has to do with embodiment is an article related to that study you did with adolescents, which is “Living With a Thousand Cuts ”. It's very interesting the way you analyze the experience of cutting yourself in relation to embodiment, and also in relation to agency, and the relationship between the individual and the world. So it's probably not a book on embodiment, but definitely your perspective on embodiment is present in the different studies that you have developed.


And I think it is a very good observation, because, although that book does not deal with embodiment, there are aspects of embodiment that are very relevant to the experience of these young people, and that is precisely why with my gaze towards the bodily experience I chose that practice of cutting and self-cutting, and I said, “aha! that's where the embodiment is ”. So I separated it and we did that separate article about those who have practices of cutting themselves precisely because it was an aspect that could be analyzed from the point of view of embodiment and, in fact, invited an analysis from the point of view of embodiment.


And before concluding, I would like to ask you: now that we are experiencing a pandemic, and that every study, every investigation, is trying to adapt to this new circumstance to develop field work, for example, what challenges do we face during the pandemic? to address the processes of embodiment in the countryside? Thus, in particular, what is the difference to do the field work at this time and to analyze the data that we can collect in these circumstances from the focus of the embodiment paradigm, or from this methodological orientation?


Yes, the first thing that comes to mind is the experience that is being described more and more frequently than it has been called long covid, covid long-lasting, people who contract the disease and who think they are better and not, or the disease lasts for months and months and continues to emerge through different symptoms that they recognize and associate with the disease. And there are more and more stories, experiential stories, of people who suffer with this particular version of covid.

So I suspect that if we look very closely at their experiences, we would find that there is a new somatic mode of attention in our society and emerging culture. That is, a way of attending to our bodies and with them, a new somatic attention mode that is clearly characteristic of people who have covid length. And that is a different place, a very clear aspect, I think, where thinking in terms of embodiment can help us or lead us to an understanding or analysis of what is happening with this.

Another thing that is surprising in terms of bodily experience, or the fears of our own bodies, is the anti-vaccination ideology, anti-vaxxers/ anti-vaccines. What is your experience and perception of your own bodies that leads you to fear vaccination more than disease? And that is another point to think about from the methodological orientation of embodiment; it can be helpful in the pandemic setting.

And also beyond the pandemic, in our broader social situation, one might wonder what is the bodily foundation of racial hatred and misogyny that we see more and more in society. How can we understand that real gut experience of hatred, that racial hatred or misogyny that we see in society? Because that is a bodily phenomenon, or at least it can be understood from the point of view of bodily experience.


And something that came to mind while you were talking about all these veins that we could currently follow: what about our relationship with technology in these circumstances? Because when you talk about somatic modes of attention as culturally elaborate ways of paying attention to and with our bodies, in the environment where there is an embodied presence of others, now there are interactions that are being mediated by technology in different circumstances. What can we reflect on the processes of embodiment there?


Well, let's talk about our conversation right now. It's because of Zoom, right? We are in small rectangles instead of sitting across from each other at the table. And that affects the nature of our embodied intersubjectivity or, to use a word that I really like, “interbodyness” - that is deeply affected by the technology that we are all using now. That is, we look at ourselves. I can see myself. I can never, I mean, in a real embodied conversation you don't see yourself, do you? You only look at the other person. And that's an embodied effect too. In fact, I have observed that in classes and online teaching some students feel very nervous when turning on their cameras. And that is due, I believe, to the fundamental otherness that is built in our embodiment. There is a sense of otherness that we have in ourselves towards ourselves. We are not always one with ourselves, and the fact that you are looking at yourself all the time in the Zoom makes this come to light in a way that can be very disturbing and unnerving for people. So some students I have had get very anxious. They would be looking forward to participating in a seminar anyway, but worse seeing themselves there.

Another aspect of our technology: Everyone who has used Zoom notes that when you've been there for an hour and done, you feel like you've been working for three hours. It is physically much more exhausting. So that's another way that Zoom, technology, affects our embodiment.

Finally, I read something that has nothing to do with the technology itself, but with the quarantine aspect of the pandemic, of which our dependence on Zoom is a part. I read an article that talked about how injuries to people's toes have increased dramatically. There is an epidemic of toe injuries, broken fingers. Why? Because people are at home and they are more prone to walking barefoot and there are things on the road and people are bumping into things with their toes and getting hurt. This is an unintended bodily consequence of quarantine. So you don't know if I'm wearing shoes right now. Yes I am, but if I weren't we could end this conversation and I immediately get up and break my toe by hitting it against the table.


Yes, so the way we not only experience our bodies, but also the way we move, interact in this space, or interact with this space or our environment, is definitely affected by this health emergency situation that we are experiencing. , and you have made some very interesting points to think about.

And the last question I'd like to dwell on (we're wrapping up)… well, you said it took you thirteen years to post something about embodiment, and the first publication was in the 90's. So it's been like thirty years since then and you have continued to elaborate this perspective in the different works that you have developed over time. Is there something that has changed in these new elaborations or analytical approaches to concrete phenomena compared to what you wrote in the 90s about it? Or are you still crafting something new in this approach to embodiment?


Yes, there have been some advances in my thinking about embodiment since then. I will mention two articles in particular: one that I published in 2004, entitled "Asymptote of the Ineffable" (asymptote of the ineffable), which was, in a way, a companion article to "Embodiment as a Paradigm for Anthropology." In this one I took ethnographic data from religion and used it to elaborate the embodiment paradigm, and explain what it was trying to mean by embodiment. And part of the reason it took me so long is, precisely as you said, that I insisted on doing it not in the abstract, but working with specific ethnographic data from religion. So I used the data from religion to come up with the idea of embodiment. In "Asymptote of The Ineffable" I reversed that strategy and used the idea of embodiment to make a contribution to the understanding and theory of religion. So instead of using religion to elaborate embodiment, I used embodiment to make an argument about religion. And it was based precisely on what I just referred to, on this essential alterity or alterity that is structured within our bodies. That is an elemental structure of existence, if you will, and to say that this alterity, which is fundamentally structured in our embodiment, is the phenomenological nucleus that is elaborated in religion. So we were able to think and recognize and experience otherness, the divine otherness of the great God, or the otherness that threatens us through witchcraft, or the otherness of a spirit with which we are in conversation. This kind of religious sensibility has its primary aspect in our own embodiment. And that's what I was referring to in that article.

The second elaboration of the embodiment that I have been working on comes from an article that was published in A Companion to the Anthropology of Body and Embodiment, by Blackwell, and which deals with cultural phenomenology, elaborating embodiment from the point of view of agency, sexual difference and disease. In that article I challenged myself because in the first writings I defined embodiment as an indeterminate methodological field, caught up in a discourse and experienced as activity and production. And finally, I looked back and said to myself: "How could I say that?", Because it is quite cryptic; and I challenged myself: "well, this is how I defined embodiment, but what do I mean by an indeterminate methodological field?" So in this article, which I published in 2011, I elaborate on what I am saying about embodiment as an indeterminate methodological field in terms of agency, sexual difference, and disease, but I am also juxtaposing our very corporeality to other methodological fields such as animality. How is our human embodiment related to animals, animality and materiality? How is our human embodiment related to the methodological field of matter and materiality? I'm not going to say anything more about this, because we are at the end of our conversation and it is an unfinished piece of thought that I still want to work on; in the future we can continue to elaborate the idea of embodiment.


Yes, definitely. This is a good way to end as well, because I'm sure that people will be interested in looking for these texts, or recent publications that you have where we can find more elaboration on that paradigm, which is something that we can see in your trajectory. And it is good and refreshing to see how it continues and, like the process of embodiment, it is something dynamic, something alive. As you said, it gives us renewed ways of approaching some ethnographic data and it still continues to do so through these new elaborations that you are sharing with us.

I really enjoyed this conversation, Dr. Thomas Csordas. I have enjoyed it a lot and I hope you do too; Thanks a lot.


I really enjoyed it, Olga, and thanks to you and Renée for inviting me to participate in this. It has been fun and enjoyable. Thanks to you.

Olga Olivas has a doctorate in Social Sciences with a specialty in Social Anthropology from ciesas West. He completed postdoctoral stays at the Department of Social Studies at Colegio de la Frontera and at the Department of Anthropology at the University of California, San Diego. Currently she works as a professor-researcher at the Conacyt Chair in the Department of Social Studies at Colef and as Lecturer in the departments of Anthropology and Global Health at the University of California, San Diego (ucsd). He is part of the National System of Researchers, level 1. His interests are focused on health / disease / care processes, new religiosities, processes of embodiment and migration on the US-Mexico border.

Thomas J. Csordas is Distinguished Professor in the Department of Anthropology, holds the Dr. James Y. Chan Presidential Chair in Global Health, is founding director of the Global Health program and director of the Institute for Global Health at the University of California, San Diego (ucsd). His research interests include medical and psychological anthropology, global health, anthropological theory, comparative religion, cultural phenomenology, and embodiment, globalization and social change, and language and culture. He has conducted ethnography with Charismatic Catholics, Navajo Indians, adolescent psychiatric patients, Catholic exorcists, and refugee and asylum seeker health service providers. Some of the critical issues in her studies include therapeutic processes in religious healing, ritual language and creativity, sensory imagery, self-transformation, techniques of the body, and lived experience.

0 0 votos
Article Rating
Inline Feedbacks
See all comments


ISSN: 2594-2999.


Unless expressly mentioned, all content on this site is under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.

Download legal provisions complete

Encartes, vol. 4, núm 7, marzo 2021-agosto 2021, es una revista académica digital de acceso libre y publicación semestral editada por el Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social, calle Juárez, núm. 87, Col. Tlalpan, C. P. 14000, México, D. F., Apdo. Postal 22-048, Tel. 54 87 35 70, Fax 56 55 55 76, El Colegio de la Frontera Norte Norte, A. C., Carretera escénica Tijuana-Ensenada km 18.5, San Antonio del Mar, núm. 22560, Tijuana, Baja California, México, Tel. +52 (664) 631 6344, e Instituto Tecnológico y de Estudios Superiores de Occidente, A.C., Periférico Sur Manuel Gómez Morin, núm. 8585, Tlaquepaque, Jalisco, Tel. (33) 3669 3434. Contacto: encartesantropologicos@ciesas.edu.mx. Directora de la revista: Ángela Renée de la Torre Castellanos. Alojada en la dirección electrónica https://encartesantropologicos.mx. Responsable de la última actualización de este número: Arthur Temporal Ventura. Fecha de última modificación: 15 de abril de 2021.

The texts on this site were translated from Spanish to English using Google Cloud Translation.