Penn Arts & Sciences Logo

The Body as Politics: Case Studies in the Relationship between the Body, Society, Culture and Art

ENGL 016.302
W 2-5


This seminar will examine historic situations in which the human body has been used to symbolize, literally to em-body, political or other forces in a given society. The cases will focus on concepts developed in the 20th century though they will trace their origins from as far away as the ancient world through courtly behavior in the early modern period to the Nazi regime. The examples will focus on the representation of the body in the performing arts and particularly in dance. The movements and dance concepts will be considered part of a social and political framework; they will be understood as attempts to educate and condition people to incorporate desirable or reject undesirable conventions and values. These conventions and values reach back to historical as well as psychological patterns and uncover deep seated fears, anxieties, hopes and ideals.

The course will examine the way in which utopian theories - from the notion of the natural to that of the artificial - vary from society to society or even at one particular time. It will examine through literary texts, images, paintings and videos how attitudes to the body have emerged, how and why notions of dangerous dancing women coincided with the emergence of health cults and nudism or the notion of the virtual body.

The course will develop critical thinking skills in class discussions as well as research assignments and introduce students to academic conventions and scholarly methods of working.