This workshop welcomes Professor Lawrence Cohen as a keynote speaker and explores the fragmentation of the body and its corporeal reality in contemporary India.
Today, due to the expansion of medicalization and the proliferation of biotechnologies, human body parts are treated as commodified “objects” that can be donated or bartered globally, thereby intensifying the body’s increasingly fragmentary, disjunctive image. Examples include organ transplants, blood donations, surrogacy, donations, the sale of gametes, and stem cell research. We are now witnessing the growth of the so-called “tissue economy,” a system in which donated tissues are procured, managed, banked, and circulated in order to maximize their productivity in sustaining people’s life and health.
While such a process of body fragmentation is generally thought of as dehumanizing in that it erodes the body’s moral premise as a private realm that ensures the wholeness or completeness of one’s identity, interestingly, against such a conventional image of the body, ethnographic works in (but not limited to) India have highlighted an unbounded, shared, or “fragmentary” quality of body-self. To name a few examples, the famous concept of the dividual person sees the body as composites of substance-codes, which are constantly given or absorbed in daily transactions with others; meanwhile, the phenomenological study of aging or senility reveals the inherently fragmentary and vulnerable nature of the body-in-time (Lawrence, Cohen. 1999. No Aging in India). Yet another way of imagining the body’s fragmentariness can be found in the experience of the transgendered body, where specific organs (such as breasts or sexual organs) claim their independence by trying to break away from the body’s unity.
Whether constituted by bodily fluids or a multiplicity of alienated individuated organs, the idea of the body as inherently fragmented or dismembered seems to reside within certain people’s lived realities. However, one should not explain away the seemingly extensive, rigorous penetration of the “tissue economy” in contemporary India by turning solely to cultural explanations. As Copeman (2014. Veins of Devotion) suggests, various forms and assemblages of substances and codes should be attended to in specific social, cultural, and political contexts.
This workshop aims to examine how fragmented bodies are experienced by people and connected with their corporeal reality. How is the “fragmentariness of the body” experienced in different contexts? How is the “wholeness” of personhood desired and/or eroded? Does the fragmentation of the body and bodily fluids lead to the fragmentation of personhood? What are the moralizing discourses surrounding the body and body parts? By asking these questions while also referring to the concepts of bioavailability and operability for analysis, this workshop discusses the fragmentation of the body and personhood, body politics and violence, as well as the alienation of the body and its images in modern-day India.