Body, Power, Desire: Mapping Canadian Body History
By Helps, Lisa
Taking into consideration the theoretical literature on the body generated in various disciplines and recent approaches to the body in Canadian historical writing, this essay argues that attention to the power of the body as defined by Spinoza, Nietzsche, and Gilles Deleuze can offer new possibilities for historical praxis. An exploration of works on women’s bodies and medicine, children’s bodies, the bodies of First Nations peoples, and the treatment of dead bodies, as well as a discussion of the author’s work on vagrancy, homelessness, and city building on Canada’s west coast, demonstrates that doing history through the body does not simply mean doing body history. Conceiving the body as a site of historical investigation can flesh out and shed new light on many seemingly disembodied historical processes, such as relationships between children and parents, colonization, community development, and city building.
En tenant compte de la littrature thorique sur le corps provenant de plusieurs disciplines ainsi que des perceptions rcentes du corps dans les rcits historiques canadiens, le prsent article avance que l’attention mise sur le pouvoir du corps, tel que dfini par Spinoza, Nietzsche et Gilles Deleuze, peut offrir de nouvelles possibilits en matire de praxie historique. Une tude des oeuvres sur le corps des femmes et la mdecine, le corps des enfants, le corps des membres des Premires nations et le traitement des cadavres ainsi qu’une discussion de l’oeuvre de l’auteure sur le vagabondage, le sans- abrisme et la construction urbaine sur la cte ouest du Canada dmontrent qu’tudier l’histoire en mettant l’accent sur le corps ne signifie pas tudier l’histoire du corps. En utilisant le corps comme un lieu d’enqute historique, il est possible d’expliquer et de dtailler plusieurs processus historiques qui semblent sans contexte, comme les rapports entre les enfants et les parents, la colonisation, le dveloppement communautaire et la construction urbaine.
In 1995, Caroline Bynum published an article in Critical Inquiry entitled, “Why All the Fuss about the Body? A Medievalist’s Perspective.” We can see Bynum’s 1995 intervention both as a rear- view mirror and as a crystal ball. It is difficult to cite a cause or beginning point for “all the fuss.” The feminist struggle of the 1960s and 1970s for legal access to abortion and women’s control over their own bodies brought the body, reproduction, and life itself irreversibly into the domain of public scrutiny and debate. In this same period, people of colour fought for the inclusion of their bodies into exclusionary spaces, and lesbians and gay men battled to protect both their bodies and their sexual practices from the reach of the state. In the academy in 1984, sociologist Bryan Turner called for “renewed attention to the body” in The Body and Society: Explorations in Social Theory, which provoked a range of responses and a ripple effect in the humanities and social sciences (Fraser and Greco 2005, 1). The translation into English of Michel Foucault’s Discipline and Punish and the History of Sexuality provided scholars with new ways of thinking about how bodies are made and how they are made productive. Taken together, these and other factors contributed to the increasing prominence of the body as a site of scholarly inquiry, creating, by 1995, a fuss indeed. Since the mid-1990s, there has been a proliferation of publications and conference presentations on the body, so much so that it is possible to assert that the humanities and social sciences have taken a corporeal turn.1 My interest, as a Canadian historian immersed in the theoretical and historical literatures dealing with the body, is how Canadian historians have approached the body, and, more specifically, the degree to which they have been engaged in and influenced by the recent turn to the body. I also want to consider how theoretical insights generated outside the discipline of history can offer a useful way into body history. A focus on the body, I argue, can allow historians to ask new questions of their sources and subjects; or, put another way, bodies can offer new ways into seemingly old problems.
Some historians might argue that there is nothing new about studying the body. Since the emergence of the “new” social history in the 1970s, the body has indeed surfaced, to varying degrees, in histories of medicine, sexuality, gender, children, violence, sports, immigration, labour, religion, war, and colonialism. Such efforts of historians have led, in a sense, to a corporealizing of Canadian history, a recovering of a vast array of bodies: female bodies in early-nineteenth-century Montreal censured for cross- dressing and loitering in the streets and green spaces (Poutanen 2002; see also Valverde 1991; Strange 1995; Iacovetta 1999); turn- of-the-twentieth-century male bodies connecting through holes in lavatory walls (Maynard 1994; see also Kinsman 1996); children’s bodies in negotiation with their parents (Gleason 1999; see also Barman 2004; Bates 1985); women’s bodies violated and abused (Lepp 2007; Walker 2004; Dubinsky 1993); male bodies in the boxing ring (Wamsley and Whitson 1998), on the lacrosse field (Bouchier 1994), and engaged in dueling matches (Morgan 1995); increasingly robust bodies of turn-of-the-twentieth-century female athletes (Smith 1988; see also Lenskyj 1986; Vertinsky 1900);2 “dangerous” bodies of “foreign men” during the Cold War (lacovetta 2000); labouring bodies and bodies as machines (Forestall 2005; Comacchio 1998; Steedman 1997; Iacovetta 1992; Radforth 1987); bodies healed by faith (Opp 2002; Jasen 1998); bodies of soldiers suffering from battle exhaustion (Duffin 1996; Copp and McAndrew 1990); and First Nations bodies colonized (Kelm 2001; Lux 2001; Carter 1999; Van Kirk 1980).
Given the great range of works on the body, how can we best assess the emerging field of what I will call “Canadian body history”? In many of the studies cited above, bodies do indeed appear, flesh out arguments, and make class relations and processes of gendering and racialization more tangible. What I want to focus on here are certain recent works in which the authors formulate their arguments and analyses through the body, that is, recent works in which the body is the central site of investigation. First, however, we must ask and answer what is a body? How are bodies “made”? What is embodiment? An embodied negotiation? There is no simple way to answer any of these questions. Indeed, an attempt to grapple with them, especially the first, reveals a series of contradictions that are best conceived as tensions. Still, it seems clear that, as some of the historical works considered below illustrate, the incorporation of theory-or at least an unpacking of seemingly simple terms-can lead to more conceptual and analytical clarity. I begin, then, in theory. Next, I move to a detailed exploration of some key recent Canadian works on the body. Finally, I consider how my own recent research on the history of city building, vagrancy, and homelessness on Canada’s west coast draws on and seeks to contribute to both the theoretical literature and the Canadian works that have laid the important groundwork for studying the history of the body and embodiment in Canada.
The Body and Embodiment: Theoretical Concepts
I choose the work of French philosopher Gilles Deleuze as a point of theoretical departure because it is helpful in conceiving the body as something that is always becoming and in understanding this becoming in relation to other bodies. Deleuze reinvigorates Spinoza’s conception of the body. As Michael Hardt points out, Spinoza contended that “a Body is not a fixed unit with a stable or static internal structure. On the contrary, a body is a dynamic relationship whose internal structure and external limits are subject to change” (Hardt 1990). For Deleuze, the body is the most basic organ of life. It is a social organ whose structure and limits change in relationship with other bodies. It desires to connect to other organic and inorganic bodies to form assemblages, which are themselves also bodies. Deleuze asserts, in conversation with Michel Foucault, that “desire [not power as Foucault argued] makes the social field function” (Deleuze 1997). According to Deleuze, desire is not a lack. It is a process, not a structure. It is an event, not a thing or person. In his words, “above all [desire] implies the constitution of a field of immanence or a ‘body without organs’… this body is as biological as it is collective and political; it is on this body [without organs] that assemblages make and unmake themselves” (1997). The “body without organs” is a plane of immanence from which the social field emerges.3 Assemblages are living beings (for example, humans, animals, plants) and things that come together in particular configurations in particular times and places. Assemblages are continually making and unmaking themselves through lines of flight, movements of deterritorialization. Furthermore, Deleuze maintains that lines of flight are primary; they constitute the “cartography of the social field” (1997). In other words, movement, or becoming, is primary. Ontologically speaking, then, and relevant to examining bodies historically, the being of the body is a becoming. Or, simply put, bodies are al\ways becoming; however, according to Deleuze, “systems of power will plug and bind,” will attempt to reterritorialize these becomings, these lines of flight. Systems of power (for example, the law and the state) are related to the body’s becoming and the making and unmaking of assemblages not only, as Foucault would have it, through normalization and discipline but also through coding and reterritorialization (Deleuze 1997).
To suggest how these theoretical insights might work historically, I briefly consider the case of Joseph J. On 15 May 1881, Joseph was brought before the police court in Victoria, British Columbia, for “loitering in the road and for vagrancy.” The superintendent of police reported to the magistrate that, only last week, Joseph had promised to “leave the country.” He had gone to Washington but had come back on the next steamer and “here he is again!” According to the Daily British Colonist, Joseph defended himself most emphatically against the vagrancy charge: “I’m not guilty your Honor,” he declared. “Leastwise, I don’t think any man as has a bit of ‘bacco in his clothes can be called a vagrum” (Daily British Colonist 1881, 3). The magistrate thought otherwise and sentenced Joseph to three months at hard labour breaking rock in the chain gang. We might see the magistrate’s sentence as an attempt to discipline and normalize Joseph J.’s body: the magistrate condemned him to work in the gang, attempted to make him productive, and subjected him to prison disciplinary regimes. We might also think of Joseph J. as a boat-man-water assemblage, however, deterritorializing, fleeing to Washington, and becoming, through desire (desire to return to Victoria, desire to loiter and smoke with his friends, desire to be affected by tobacco and conversation in a familiar place), a road-man-tobacco assemblage. By arresting Joseph J., the superintendent of police (a gun-man-uniform assemblage) blocked this desiring assemblage, he reterritorialized it, removed it from the street, and impeded it from embodying public space in seemingly undesirable ways. The magistrate coded the road- man-tobacco assemblage as “vagrant” and again reterritorialized this assemblage through hard labour in the prison to becoming a chain- man-rock assemblage. In these two different readings, I am not merely saying the same thing in different words; in the disciplinary and normalizing reading of the body, systems of power, and, of course, resistance to these systems-perhaps once in jail Joseph J. refused to work-make the body. In the second reading, it is desire that drives becoming and systems of power that bind or block this becoming.
What is the quality of this desire? The body in its movements and its connections with other bodies is motivated by a desire to increase its power. The critical concept here is the power of the body, which has a different timbre and quality than the systems of power just described. The power of the body connects. Deleuze draws on Spinoza and works through Nietzsche to define the power of the body as its capacity to affect and be affected (Deleuze 1983, 62; see also Thrift 2004, 59-61; Patton 2000, 49-67). To increase the power of the body is to increase this capacity. In assessing Deleuze’s work on Nietzsche, Michael Hardt maintains that there are two important points to consider in terms of the power of the body: “First, this power to be affected never deals with a possibility, but it is always actualized in relations with other bodies. secondly, this power defines the receptivity of a body not as a passivity but as ‘an affectivity, a sensibility, a sensation’” (Hardt 1990).
There are three key points to take away from this short discussion of Deleuze’s work. First, if historians think of the body not as a fixed or stable unit but as something that is always becoming in and through its movements and its connections with other beings and things, we can examine these becomings historically and scrutinize the making and unmaking of assemblages. second, if we concede that it is desire that is primary in the social field, the desire of bodies to connect with other bodies, to affect and be affected, to sense and be sensed, then we must understand systems of power as reactive. The law and the state, for example, are reactions that attempt to plug, block, or bind the desiring lines of flight through which becoming bodies connect, and through which bodies become. Third, when we think of the body through Deleuze as a desiring organ whose power lies in its capacity to engage with, to affect, and to be affected by other bodies, we can conceive of the body as the motor of history.
Undeniably, however, the body is also a product of history, a product or an effect of systems and technologies of power and disciplinary regimes. Foucault’s arguments about the production and normalization of the body in Discipline and Punish have been widely circulated so I will not recapitulate them here (1977). Judith Butler’s reading of Foucault’s work is perhaps less well known. She argues that “what constitutes the fixity of the body, its contours, its movements, will be fully material, but materiality will be rethought… as power’s most productive effect” (1993, 2). To recognize the body as an effect of power is not enough for Butler. She pushes Foucault further and insists that “it will be as important… to ask after how bodies which fail to materialize provide the necessary ‘outside,’ if not the necessary support, for the bodies which, in materializing the norm, qualify as bodies that matter” (1993, 16). There is a tension here with the work of Deleuze, for whom there is no “necessary outside” no “constitutive outside,” no “outside” at all.4 As we shall see, however, some of the works considered below illustrate that Butler’s conception of the body is as critical as that of Deleuze to understanding the workings and the makings of bodies historically. That is, they examine the fates and consequences of bodies that did not “materialize the norm” and simultaneously provided the necessary support for the bodies that came to matter in nineteenth-and twentieth-century Canada.
Even after working through Deleuze, Foucault, and Butler, we have not adequately answered the questions “What is a body?” and “How are bodies made?” Ultimately concerned with the production of space, Henri Lefebvre’s discussion of the fetishization of products is crucial for understanding the body as a product of history. Working from Marx, he argues that “products and the circuits they establish (in space) are fetishized and so become more ‘real’ than reality itself-that is, than productive activity itself…. Merely to note the existence of things … is to ignore what things at once embody and dissimulate, namely social relations and the forms of those relations” (1991, 81). Although he goes on to use this basic premise to examine the production of space, it can also be used to historicize the body. Rather than starting with the premise that the body is “real,” historians can ask what activities (e.g., childbirth, religious healing, colonization, dissection) produced specific bodies (e.g., the maternal body, the body of faith, the colonized body, the object of medicine). Furthermore, it is necessary to understand productive activities and the bodies they give rise to as simultaneously material and discursive. In the words of feminist geographers Pamela Moss and Isabel Dyck, it is crucial to investigate the “entwinement, to the point of simultaneity rather than unity, of the discursive body-through inscription, signification, complicity-and the material body-through activity, sensation, modification” (2002, 37).
Finally, it is necessary to define the theoretical concept of embodiment. In “The Body as Method?” historian Kathleen Canning suggests that the notion of embodiment, “a far less fixed and idealised concept than body,” might be useful for studying the body in history, in that it “encompasses moments of encounter and interpretation, agency and resistance” (1999, 505). Similarly, philosopher N. Katherine Hayles argues that “embodiment is contextual, enwebbed within the specifics of place, time, physiology and culture that together comprise enactment. Embodiment never coincides exactly with the ‘body’” (1993, 154-55). Echoing this definition, Moss and Dyck define embodiment as “those lived spaces where bodies are located conceptually and corporeally, metaphorically and concretely, discursively and materially, being simultaneously part of bodily forms and their social constructions” (2002, 55). They argue that embodiment is about being connected, temporally and historically, to other discursive and material entities-other bodies-in concrete practices, politically, culturally, socially, economically, and spatially (2002, 55). It is the concept of embodiment that allows us to link Deleuze, Foucault, Butler, and Lefebvre together. In short, embodiment is the mode through which bodies are in the world. In Deleuzian terms, embodiment is the mode through which bodies become, it is the lines of flight, the deterritorializations and reterritorializations through which assemblages are made and unmade. Through Foucault and Butler, embodiment is the means by which bodies are produced as effects of systems of power; embodied negotiations are the ways in which bodies resist within these systems. Following Lefebvre, embodiment is the productive activity, the social relations, through which bodies are made; an examination of embodiment is the examination of this material and discursive making.
The Body as a Site of Investigation
In this section, I examine a small body of work that lays a foundation for Canadian body history.5 The works considered here are foundational precisely because they privilege the body as a site of investigation. Approaching the body in this way does not mean scrutinizing the individual body. As the discussio\n of Deleuze illustrates, the individual biological body is never only itself. Indeed, all of the studies considered below map histories of nineteenth- and twentieth-century Canada through the body. Those most successful in doing so not only demonstrate that the institutionalization of medicine, colonization, or the building of community must be understood as processes of embodied negotiation; they also flesh out hitherto amorphous aspects of each of these processes and by so doing point to new possibilities for historical practice. Together, these works deal with the following themes: women’s bodies and medicine, children’s bodies, First Nations people’s bodies, and finally, dead bodies. What these studies all point to is the understanding that by doing history through the body, historians are never only doing body history.
I turn first to medicine, where the body is both the most obvious and the primary site of intervention and practice. Many works in the history of medicine, and in particular those that deal with birth control, pregnancy, and abortion, address these issues through an investigation of the social, legal, and political relations surrounding them, so much so that women’s bodies themselves tend to be eclipsed (McLaren 1993; Jasen 1997; Dodd 1983). Wendy Mitchinson’s The Nature of Their Bodies: Women and Their Doctors in Victorian Canada provides an early and significant antidote to this tendency of medical history to disembody women. In this seminal work, Mitchinson argues that, since medicine and culture are inextricably linked, one useful way to study women’s lives in the past is to examine their medical experiences (1991, 7). Her book focusses on how “sex and gender determined the [medical] treatment women received in mid-to-late nineteenth century English-speaking Canada” (8); she is interested in the treatment that women who suffered from conditions directly related to being female received from their doctors (10).6 In Giving Birth in Canada, 1900-1950, Mitchinson homes in on childbirth and extends her period of study well into the twentieth century.
Although 11 years separate the publication of these two works, taken together they can be read as an examination of a century of embodied negotiations (in the Foucauldian and Butlerian sense outlined above) between women and their doctors. Mitchinson argues that, in the first part of this century, from around 1850 to 1900, medicine was increasingly professionalized, doctors came to be seen as experts with legitimate knowledge of the body, and the “personal and body became separate and the physician looked to the latter to provide clues to disease instead of the patient who interpreted what her body was saying” (1991, 360). In the latter half of Mitchinson’s century, from 1900 to 1950, she asserts that giving birth became increasingly medicalized and doctors came to view the body as a machine. In examining how this medicalization was enacted, she aims “to see how physicians worked in their world” (2002, 10).
The Nature of Their Bodies and Giving Birth in Canada have far too many strengths to address here fully, and so I shall outline only a few. First, these books provide a starting point for Canadian body history of the medical variety both by setting a research agenda and by pointing scholars to a wide range of relevant sources. Second, Mitchinson shows that physicians saw the male body as the norm against which women’s bodies and women’s health were measured. To be a man was to be healthy, to be a woman was, by definition, to be unhealthy. In Giving Birth in Canada, this straightforward “othering” is complicated when the non-pregnant female body becomes the norm against which the pregnant body is the measured. In both equations, women come up short. A third important contribution is Mitchinson’s map of the ways in which physicians created a “normative model of birthing” over the course of the first five decades of the twentieth century through extensive record keeping, counting, measuring, and accumulating power/knowledge (2002, 162- 63,188-89, 304-305). Giving Birth in Canada can be seen as a study of the disciplining of women’s bodies. Through physicians’ increased attention to prenatal regimes of exercise and diet, general “surveillance of women throughout their pregnancies” (129), and a rise in intervention in the birthing process, women’s (pregnant) bodies were produced through various disciplinary practices. Furthermore, women, as active agents in their own right and of their own bodies, participated both by disciplining themselves (for example, adhering to recommended diets and visiting the doctor at appropriate intervals) and by demanding inductions, pain relief, and caesarian sections when they saw these interventions to be in their best interest. A fourth and related point is that in both works, Mitchinson, refusing to see women as victims, narrates a tale of agency and resistance; while considering power differentials between women and their (mostly male) doctors, she convincingly demonstrates that women could and did shape the medical care they received.
It is this last point that I wish to pursue. If scholars examine bodies through systems of power (in Mitchinson’s analysis, the discourses and practices of modern medicine), then we are bound to see historical subjects who were on the less powerful side of such systems (in this case, women patients) as resisting and reacting to and within these systems. Going back to Deleuze, however, we can usefully investigate the histories of so-called less powerful historical subjects by scrutinizing a different kind of power, the power of the body to increase its capacity to affect and be affected. Within the scope of Mitchinson’s work, some examples of this power are the capacity to bring forth life, to hear the sound of a child’s first cry, to experience relief from pain, and to die so that a child might live. By engaging Deleuze, we can conceive the desiring assemblages of woman-child-neighbour, woman-child-advice book, woman-traditional knowledge-food, woman-anesthesia-bed, ad infinitum, as active forces against which doctors reacted.7 As with the example of Joseph J. cited above, a Deleuzian reading is no simple reversal. As I will suggest in a discussion of my own work below, reconfiguring both the site where power lies and the type and timbre of (desiring) power allows historians to ask new questions about both bodies and relations of power.
Going beyond a structure-agency analysis also allows historians to move from a straightforward assertion of agency to an investigation of the ways in which historical actors created themselves as subjects. In a reading of Gayatri Chakravorty Spivak’s work, historian Ritu Birla asks how historians can begin to sort out “the general tension between history as a narrative that produces the unitary subject with agency, and the critical impetus of historical thinking, attentive to historicity and the situated complexities of subject production” (2004; see also Birla 2002, 175- 85). In terms of Mitchinson’s work, we might ask these questions: What types of pregnant female subjects were produced through interactions with doctors in the latter half of the nineteenth and the first half of the twentieth centuries? How did women who relied both on their own bodily knowledges and experiences, and on the assistance, intervention, and expertise of doctors negotiate their movement within and between these different ways of knowing? Mitchinson asserts that “while many women experienced ill health for years, they continued to live their lives and continued to bear children. The health complications they presented to their physicians goes a long way to explain why so many practitioners perceived women as sickly and why they connected this ill health to the body itself; but what the actual patient records also underline is the strength of these sickly women who had lived for years in weakened health and had somehow managed to carry on” (1991, 223). The question I wish to pose then, is not, “did women have agency?” but rather, in Spivak’s words, how did women “put together a continuous-seeming self for everyday life” (1999, 238)? How did women “manage to carry on”? How did they create themselves as subjects within and between competing discourses and practices?
James W. Opp addresses this last question in “Healing Hands and Healthy Bodies: Protestant Women and Faith Healing in Canada and the United States, 1880-1930.” According to Opp, “many historians have regarded faith healing as more of an historical joke than a serious topic of inquiry,” and the few studies that do exist do not examine the practice as a gendered one. Claiming that over 80% of healing testimonials were written by women, he argues that “women were not simply a part of the divine healing movement, [sic] their bodies were the movement” (2002, 237). Rather than subsuming “a central paradox in late-Victorian perceptions of gender and the body,” he points out that women were both more “inclined to religion and more susceptible to disease” than men and women’s testimonies of healing reflected this ideology (244). By situating his study within this paradox and in/on/through the bodies of faith-healed women, Opp explores how women, through their involvement in faith healing, were able to subvert the control of physicians, reconceptualize the body, and challenge “cultural constructions of femininity and women’s bodies,” thereby creating “a means by which women could obtain a state of wellness otherwise denied them by conventional medicine” (237, 245-46).
Like Mitchinson, he begins with the premise that male bodies were seen as the healthy norm and women’s bodies the unhealthy other; but rather than viewing women’s negotiation with medical and religious norms only as agency, he looks at how “women mediated multiple discourses surrounding the nature of religion, medicin\e and the body” (2002, 237). The premise of these mediations was that the body and the divine were intimately linked: “the body had the ‘capacity’ to be healed by God” (237). He shows that women drew simultaneously on discourses of medicine and religion in their faith-healing testimonials, looks closely at how women physicians involved in faith healing were situated both inside and outside the medical paradigm, and details women’s “discourse of divine healing in childbirth.” It was particularly with regard to childbirth, Opp notes, that doctors and the medicine they represented and dispensed came under particularly virulent attack: this discourse “of divine healing in childbirth embodied how women renegotiated their relationship with medical culture” (60).
The embodied negotiations that Opp recounts seem to be primarily discursive; he sees divine health as a “discursive strategy.” The reader is left to wonder, however, how women employed this discursive strategy to shape the material conditions of their lives. What does it mean that the “discourse of divine healing embodied how women renegotiated their relationship with medical culture”? The idea of a “discourse embodying,” while compelling, must be more completely fleshed out. Opp illustrates very clearly the competing discourses that women negotiated in making themselves, as subjects of divine healing, open to, in his refrain, “taking the ‘Lord for the body’” (2002, 237, 249). What he might have attended to more carefully is the “entwinement, to the point of simultaneity” of the discursive and the material. He might have explored how discourses of faith healing / materially sick bodies were entwined, or how discourses of “faith in God” / “severe pain for 15 hours of labour” were drawn together. He might have consiered whether a particular kind of illness shaped the discursive strategy that a woman used in dealing with her ailment. Did a specific experience in childbirth shape the kinds of prayers that were needed or said, for example? Opp concludes that “it was only through the epistemological space that constructed the body as divine that a social space for challenging modern medicine could be created” (252). Surely space did not, however, construct the body as divine; women constructed- experienced their bodies as divine. It was women’s material- discursive bodily realities, and their articulations of these, that opened up a series of spaces in and through which they could pose a challenge to modern medicine.
With Mona Gleason’s “Embodied Negotiations: Children’s Bodies and Historical Change in Canada, 1930-1960,” we move from women’s bodies to those of children. In this work, Gleason addresses the disciplining of the body and the relationship between body and identity. This article is an important break in the almost complete silence in the historiography of children’s bodies in Canada. Using 24 published autobiographies of “so-called ‘ordinary’ women and men,” she argues that “children’s bodies represented an important, and largely unexplored site upon which the sometimes competing interests of adults and children were negotiated and mediated … the body was … an important [medium] through which children learned how they differed from one another and their positions in well-established hierarchies of power” (1999, 114, 113). Gleason foregrounds children’s bodies and sees them as legitimate sites of knowledge. Drawing heavily on her admittedly limited sources, she clearly illuminates how embodiment could be a tension-ridden process for children: not only did they have to navigate the power relations of parent-child relationships, but they also had to contend with the ever-present advice of experts (as filtered through their parents) and the more widespread dominant discourses of “gendered embodiment,” sexuality, and racialization, all of which she sees as related. One of her most poignant examples is of Mtis writer Maria Campbell, who, in her autobiography Half Breed, describes her mother putting her hair into ringlets: “I knew it looked ridiculous because I was always in short pants, boys’ shirts and bare feet. With warts on my hands and with such dark skin, I knew that the ringlets and me did not belong together” (cited in Gleason 1999, 120). The last phrase encapsulates the centrepiece of Gleason’s project: to expose sites of disjuncture between bodily prescriptions-whether of parents, experts, or dominant social values-and children’s remembered experiences of their embodiment. In ways similar to Opp, Gleason approaches the body and embodiment by probing how children produced themselves as subjects, how, through processes of embodied negotiation, they “put together … continuous-seeming [selves] for everyday lives” (Spivak 1999, 238).
Delineating her central concepts at the outset, Gleason notes that she uses “the word embodiment … for the remembered experiences in which the body figured prominently” and argues that “embodiment, in effect, represents a process whereby power relations between children and adults in specific historical circumstances are manifested at the level of the body” (1999, 113-14). What I find compelling is that, in Gleason’s study, everything is embodied; we encounter “embodied sexuality,”"embodied gender regulation,” the harvest as a time of “embodied redemption” for boys who could work alongside men, “the spatial management of gendered embodiment,” and “the embodiment of racial difference.” I like this insistence on embodiment because it (re)inserts the body into historical writing; it re-embodies history. Gender and sexuality are obviously embodied processes, yet we rarely encounter “gendered embodiment” in the works of gender historians or “embodied sexuality” in histories of sexuality.
I also feel a certain unease with how Gleason deploys “embodiment” and “the level of the body,” however. My unease in the former case comes from a desire to reserve embodiment as a theoretical concept that allows historians to examine the becoming, the production, and the making of bodies. While Gleason certainly uses it in this way, at times there is a slippage in her work whereby “embodiment” comes to describe almost any experience. My uncertainty about “the level of the body” comes from the fact that Gleason does not define this concept. Does she mean the material body? Evidently not, as she herself demonstrates clearly that the body is always a negotiation between materiality and discourse. Is her claim that “for children of visible minorities, the body acted as a stigmatizing text: inferiority was written onto their bodies” an example of the “level of the body” (1999, 122)? To return to Spinoza and Deleuze, if the body is not a fixed or stable unit, but a “dynamic relationship,” a combinatory entity, a becoming, then we cannot speak of the level of the body. The body has no one level; it has many levels at once. In the case of “children of visible minorities,” to locate inferiority “on their bodies” functions only at the level of the skin and eclipses a variety of elements: the dominant discourses that racialize bodies, children’s negotiated location within these discourses, fears of being different, identification with a particular racialized group, and disdain for “mainstream white” society. To examine all of these levels of the body can help scholars to study the body as a dynamic relationship and to examine historically the continual making and unmaking of bodies.
Mary-Ellen Kelm’s Colonizing Bodies: Aboriginal Health and Healing in British Columbia, 1900-50 is explicitly concerned with the making of bodies. Drawing on both historian Roy Porter, who leans towards a material analysis of bodies in history, and Foucault, KeIm asserts that “arguing that the body is a social construction is not to say that the body is unreal but simply that it is unfinished, always under construction by the forces of society and culture” (2001, xvii). She maintains that “these forces are changing so that the body is never static; through its permutation the body becomes a subject of history itself” (xvii). Arguing that Aboriginal bodies were partly made “by the colonizing governance of the Canadian state and its allies, the medical profession, the churches, and the provincial government,” she seeks to “plot the patterns of [this] making” (xvii). The “reshaping and ‘re- formation’” of Aboriginal bodies, she posits, were “central to the processes of colonization in British Columbia” (177), and thus she investigates government policy and practice, the imposition of Euro- Canadian medicine, and the ongoing presence of First Nations healers and belief systems in/on/through the bodies of First Nations people. Kelm’s book pushes Canadian historiography in new directions by showing that doing Canadian body history is no simple recipe of “add the body and stir.” Not only do we learn about how First Nations people’s bodies were colonized, but also about previously shadowy elements of colonialism in BC. Kelm’s work illustrates-perhaps in as revolutionary a way as gender history-that taking the body seriously as a site of historical investigation requires a more general rethinking of the types of questions historians are able to ask and answer, the methodologies and sources we use, and the kinds of historical analyses that are possible.
Kelm understands Indigenous bodies as the principal sites of colonization, but she also illustrates how it is both possible and necessary to investigate colonization as process of embodied negotiation.8 In chapter two, she examines the impact of colonization on First Nations diet and nutrition, making important links between traditional land use and the spiritual and cultural survival of First Nations people, and analyzing the direct relationship between land and bodies. Using published First Nations sources and other secondary sources, she dissects a pre-Contact diet, examining food gather\ing and preparation, and the caloric, vitamin, and nutrient composition of key food sources.9 She suggests that although “the Aboriginal diet was not perfect, it was sufficient to support a relatively dense population exhibiting a rich and complex social organization, both on the coast and in the interior” (2001, 25). According to Kelm, in the initial Contact period, this diet was altered, but in the short term not necessarily with negative results. The establishment of reserves, however, profoundly impacted First Nations people’s diets by allocating to them the worst land, restricting their access to traditional hunting and fishing grounds, and necessitating their participation in the waged economy. Furthermore, Kelm explores the missionaries’ and health officials’ disdain for traditional foods and their efforts to encourage the consumption of non-Aboriginal foods like milk. As she puts it, “Euro-Canadian culinary imperialism … simply did not sit well in Aboriginal stomachs” (36-37). While the contents of this chapter might sound familiar to Canadian historians-the settlement of First Nations people on reserves, their increasing participation in a waged economy, missionary agendas and consequences-what is both unprecedented and critical is that Kelm reads all of these activities and practices as shaping First Nations people’s bodies in particular ways: “Take away a people’s access to adequate quantities of nutritious food,” she argues, “and soon you have a population of weakened bodies who must struggle just to survive, who cannot band together to make change, to fight back” (37). Clearly, KeIm is not solely concerned with First Nations bodies in and of themselves, but situates the weakening of First Nations people who could not “fight back” as necessary to the process of colonization in British Columbia.
First Nations people’s experiences of residential schools is another widely researched topic. Kelm’s chapter on this subject argues that “the goal of residential schooling was to ‘re-form’ Aboriginal bodies, and this they did. But the results were not the strong, robust bodies of the schools’ propaganda, well trained for agricultural and domestic labour, but weakened ones, which through no fault of their own, brought disease and death to their communities” (2001, 57). To demonstrate this, she juxtaposes the views of the school administrators, who felt that First Nations children had to be saved from the bad hygiene habits and poor living conditions of their families, with the legacy of ill-health in the schools, the high rates of tuberculosis, and the return of sick children to their families so as to avoid investigations into children’s deaths. She also examines the efforts of children and parents to subvert the colonialist agenda. Children stole food, ran away, fought back, and even committed suicide as a way of asserting control over their bodies. Parents in some communities, despairing over the illness and deaths of their children, tried to withhold them from schools.
Kelm’s careful attention to the body not as something that is, in Lefebvre’s words, “real” or in her own words, “finished,” but as a something that is continually produced, allows her to analyze the “social relations and forms of those relations” (Lefebvre 1991, 81) through which First Nations people’s bodies were made in residential schools and beyond. These schools were sites where bodies were made hungry and sick, among other things, and, with the return of sick children to their communities to die, the bodies of their families were also affected. She highlights the irony that a government policy meant to save children’s bodies often destroyed or weakened them. As in her analysis of land use, Kelm’s reading of the residential schools renders these institutions as more than sites where First Nations children were forcibly inculcated with dominant Anglo-Canadian values in order to secure their cultural assimilation; they were also designed to achieve bodily re- formation. By exploring this re-formation of Aboriginal bodies through the process of colonization, Kelm decisively asserts that although those enacting these processes did make First Nations bodies in various ways, they were not able to eradicate these bodies; First Nations bodies provide the very locus of survival.
In their 1994 article “‘Beyond the Measure of the Golden Rule’: The Contribution of the Poor to Medical Science in Nineteenth- Century Ontario,” R.D. Gidney and W.P.J. Millar are also concerned with the production of bodies. Inspired by Ruth Richardson’s 1988 landmark work, Death, Dissection and the Destitute: The Politics of the Corpse in Pre-Victorian Britain, they probe the connections between the bodies of the poor and the rise and institutionalization of modern medicine in Ontario. They depict the Anatomy Act of 1843 (and its 1885 and 1889 amendments), and the legislative and popular debates that surrounded these laws as “an aspect of class relations in Victorian Ontario which has been entirely excised from our collective memory” (1994, 219). The authors demonstrate the ways in which bodies were made through systems of power-in this case medicine and the law-and illustrate the importance of the dead bodies of the poor to both emerging medical research and practice, and the fledgling nineteenth-century state. They explain that nineteenth-century anatomy came with “heavy baggage” from the Tudor period in England when the bodies of certain criminals were dismembered or publicly dissected (220). Thus, in Upper Canada, despite the desire for well-trained physicians, “respectable citizens were not prepared to volunteer their own bodies, nor those of their own families or friends to the dissecting knife” (230). Implemented in 1843 to put an end to grave robbery by medical students, the Anatomy Act required that the body of anyone who died in a public institution and was not claimed by family or friends be handed over to medical schools or private anatomy teachers. A corresponding administrative apparatus was established, and local anatomy inspectors were appointed in communities where medical instruction took place.
Gidney and Millar outline the implications of the act and, noting that it was the poor who ended up in institutions, they conclude that “poverty and friendlessness, like crime, were to be haunted not only by the spectre of the pauper’s grave, but by dismemberment besides” (1994, 221-22). Indeed, “in the name of progress and the advancement of medical science, the Victorian friendless poor were dismembered because they were poor and friendless” (231; emphasis in original). Gidney and Millar exhibit considerable sophistication in recognizing that there is no such thing as the “real body,” but that bodies became marked (poor) through the circumstances of their death and that certain marked bodies faced consequences (dissection) in ways that other bodies did not. Furthermore, in their analysis, as in Mitchinson’s discussion of women and medicine, the bodies of the poor provided the “necessary ‘outside’ if not the necessary support” (Butler 1993, 16) for modern medicine from which the poor were perhaps least likely to benefit. Gidney and Millar’s work, however, does raise one important question: were female and male bodies put to different uses by medical science?
In “Twice Slain: Female Sex-Trade Workers and Suicide in British Columbia, 1870-1920,” Susan Johnston scrutinizes the gendered dimensions of death and the ways in which bodies were made, in part, according to how they died. Examining the deaths of 13 prostitutes, she argues that while the number who committed suicide was insignificant, the response to their deaths was not. She investigates the coroner’s inquests, probing the testimonies of the male clients, women coworkers, and acquaintances or friends “who had known and touched the body in life and in death” (1994, 149-50), as well as those of the coroner, jury, and press. To be sure, Johnston presents the body as more metaphor than material, but she sees all bodies as metaphors, not only the bodies of the dead prostitutes. She is thus able to show how the marking of certain bodies as belonging to and constituting the respectable white Anglo-Saxon communities in Vancouver and Victoria necessitated the marking of other bodies as outside of these communities.
According to Johnston, the coroner’s inquest was the critical site where the distances between bodies were reasserted and affirmed. She outlines the inquest as a function of the state concerned with securing a certain type of populace and argues that, “in fulfilling the duties of his office, the coroner actively promoted a particular vision of British Columbia as a moral Anglo- Canadian society…. He needed to possess the social status necessary to embody the state in the ritual inquisition upon the body of the deceased” (1994,149). Johnston also identifies the inquest as a process through which “the local community could define itself by identifying bodies as those of residents or strangers” (157). She examines the discursive strategies of the various witnesses, demonstrating that the men and women who knew and associated with the prostitute employed a discourse of respectability in order to distance themselves from the body of the prostitute and her act of suicide, both of which were “symbols of social disorder” (150-54). A doctor who attended the prostitute in her dying moments or performed a postmortem report, in contrast, “did not have to create a moral distance between himself and [the] deceased”; he used the narrative of the scientist and treated “the dead woman as an object, a type to be dissected” (155). Finally, Johnston maintains that the role of the press was to “translate the death” for all those not present at the inquest and, furthermore, to extol the dangers posed by racialized and/or “over-sexualized” women (161-63).
Significantly, Johnston’s \interest in how the prostitute’s body was defined and situated as outside of the domain of respectable Anglo-Canadian bodies does not lead her to ignore the male coroner’s body. There is no given, unmarked coroner’s body in her analysis; his body is a symbol of the state and the community, and it is juxtaposed with the prostitute’s body, which is then marked as the “social other.” Equally important, bodies function at the level of community. In Johnston’s conception, white Anglo-Saxon British Columbia constituted itself by clearly defining and rejecting the bodies that did not conform. In order to exclude these women, she concludes, “the press first had to control their bodies and reorder their lives” (1994, 164). While there were limits on their ability to do so, the local papers could, and according to Johnston did, declare which bodies belonged by indicating those that did not. As Mitchinson does with medicine, Kelm with colonization, and Gidney and Millar with the emerging apparatus of the nineteenth-century state, Johnston looks carefully at gender, race, community, and the state, and convincingly conceives the body as the site through which each of these was constituted.
The Body and the City: Notes on Research in Progress
My recent work investigates the relationship between the making of modern Victoria, British Columbia, in the late nineteenth century, and the regulation of bodies and public spaces. I plan to expand the site of my investigation to Vancouver, BC, and to San Francisco and Venice Beach, California, and to examine the period from the turn of the twentieth century to the turn of the twenty- first. My main question is if, when, and how the “vagrant” of the early twentieth century became the “homeless” who lay claim to the streets of all large North American cities today. In this study, the relationship between bodies and spaces remains the focal point of my analysis. Inspired by the works laid out here, I too take as a starting point the belief that bodies not only make history but are also products of history. Each of the studies, and, in particular, Kelm’s explicit focus on the “making” and “re-formation” of bodies, Mitchinson’s illustration of female bodies as the constitutive outside of modern medicine, and Gleason’s assertion that embodiment is a process of negotiation, has been helpful in my own attempts to think and practice history through the body. Equally important are the theoretical works that the historians discussed above either explicitly draw on or with which some of their work resonates.
In my work on the prison disciplinary regimes-including diet, punishment, and labour-to which those imprisoned for what I call “embodied infractions of public space” in late-nineteenth-century Victoria were subjected, I understand the bodies of the predominantly male prisoners in the Victoria Gaol as marked and made in both the Foucauldian and Lefebvrian sense, by these regimes.10 Furthermore, I argue that this ma(r)king was not contained by the prison walls but contributed to the wider project of attempting to secure the city’s public spaces from disruptive bodies.11 All prisoners in the Victoria jail were allotted a daily food intake based on whether or not they had to perform hard labour. When compared against the average daily caloric intake of “typical” workingclass men in Victoria laid out by Peter Baskerville and Eric Sager, it seems that prisoners in the Victoria jail, whether or not they were sentenced to hard labour, ate, on average, more bread, beef, potatoes, and oatmeal per day than working-class men on the “outside” (Baskerville and Sager 1998, 221-22). When we take into account the prison punishment practices, however, it becomes clear that receiving the allotted daily intake of food was not a right, but a privilege, easily and often revoked for breaking prison rules. An examination of the “Punishments Awarded for Breaches of Prison Discipline” records for all years from 1875 to 1901 reveals that by far the most common punishment was solitary confinement on bread and water, often at half rations. Almost every day between 1875 and 1901 that an inmate was punished in prison, at least one person’s punishment was a bread and water diet. A focus on the body allows me to ask: What effect did solitary confinement in the “Dark Cell” and a diet of bread and water have on the ability of prisoners to perform hard labour once released from solitary? What were the long- term impacts of this mode of punishment on the minds and bodies of people who-from want of food, lack of employment, addiction to alcohol, displacement from traditional lands, and/or want of shelter- may already have been fragile?
Prisoners’ bodies were also produced through labour, which provided the most tangible link between the making of bodies in the prison and the exclusion of these same bodies as legitimate members of the respectable public of the city. The most common form of hard labour in the Victoria jail was breaking rock in the chain gang.12 Prison rules dictated that “hard labour prisoners shall have their hair cut to one inch in length” and that “the Senior Convict Guard may refuse to allow any prisoner to go out in the Chain-gang until he is ironed to his satisfaction” (Todd 1879, 376-77). The spectacle of iron-bound, brush-cut men moving through the city streets from the jail to their rock-breaking location every day made the bodies of these men explicitly public. Through their strictly surveilled daily promenade they became marked so that, even upon release from prison, Victoria’s citizens would have come to know them as specific “chain-gang” bodies. In his first annual report in 1879, Superintendent of Provincial Police Todd made a plea for doing away with the chain gang on the grounds that “marching the prisoners through the streets in irons does not improve them morally” and that “it is a disagreeable sight to most citizens, as well as to strangers who visit” (378); yet had such a sight been truly disagreeable to citizens, surely instances of imprisonment with hard labour would have decreased rather than steadily increased between the 1870s and the rum of the twentieth century (Helps 2005,103).
We can see chain-gang labour, as well as prison diets and punishments, as an attempt to discipline, normalize, and make bodies productive. Furthermore, by breaking rock that was inevitably used to grade and level the city streets in order to make them passable- a wish articulated by city residents in countless appeals to council- prisoners provided the necessary support for the becoming modern city. Finally, marked through their labour and their potentially undernourished bodies, they also provided the necessary outside to the bodies of the respectable inhabitants of the city, the bodies that came to matter in late nineteenth-century Victoria.
There are many instances of resistance I can point to: prisoners refused to work, refused to tie their shoes when asked to, talked in their cells when told to be quiet, destroyed prison property, and swore at guards. On 24 April 1886, five male prisoners in the Victoria jail were caught “singing and making offensive noises with their mouths in their cells.” The jailer reported that “I went to the Wicket to tell Those men stop Singing and in Reply I Got a Tin of water Thrown in my face” (British Columbia 1886). This is clear evidence of resistance; yet if I engage with Deleuze and look not (only) at systems of power and how they normalize, discipline, and produce bodies, but also at the power of the body, the power to affect and be affected, to sense and be sensed, and at the motivation by desire of bodies to connect with other bodies, I can move beyond an analysis of power as it is located in the apparatus of prison. I can situate power in and through the joyful singing bodies of the men, their desire to come together in song, to become active, to create a moment of joy-a moment of song in the midst of a dreary prison night. The critical point here is that if historians locate power in the body, the body as always becoming in its connections with other bodies, then the beginning point of historical investigations of power is different. Instead of only asking about how prisoners resisted disciplinary regimes, for example, or about the characteristics of systems of power, I can also ask how, in Nietzsche’s estimation, the law is the triumph of reaction over action, how the law separates a (life)force-the power of the body-from what it can do (Deleuze 1983, 58). In short, if historians concede that power is the power of the body and that the power of the body is to connect with other bodies, we might need to reconsider the prison, the court, the law, and the state more broadly, not (only) as systems of social control or moral regulation, but also as attempts to block becoming bodies, that is, attempts to stall the motor of history.
The author wishes to thank Franca lacovetta, Annalee Lepp, Maya Gislason, and the three anonymous reviewers at the Journal of Canadian Studies, in particular the reviewer who demanded “productive scholarship.”
1. Labouring Feminism and Feminist Working-Class History in North America and Beyond, The Conference held at the University of Toronto in September 2005, is one recent example of a conference where papers on the body proliferated.
2. See also Colin Howell’s Blood, Sweat, and Cheers: Span and the Making of Modem Canada, a synthetic treatment of sport in Canada. This book covers a range of significant subjects and developments in sport history and highlights the issues of class and gender formation, capitalist transformation, and nation building. Howell demonstrates compellingly that “following Foucault we can understand sport… as a modern technology or discipline applied to shape the body and bring it into formal public display under the deliberating gaze of the audience” (2001, 107-108).
3. For moreon the body without organs, see Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari’s A Thousand Plateaus: Capitalism and Schizophrenia (1987, 149-66).
4. In Deleuze’s philosophy everything is immanent.
5. The authors of these works might not consider themselves to be “body historians” or their work to be “body history.” This categorization is mine alone.
6. In privileging sex and gender as the analytical variables by which to examine women’s experiences of medical treatment, Mitchinson downplays race and class. In Giving Birth in Canada, 1900- 1950 (2002), her analysis is much more comprehensive in this regard.
7. Mitchinson quite rightly uses “child” rather than “fetus.” Historian Barbara Duden argues that the fetus is an “invention” of medical technology and in particular of the ultrasound (1993).
8. Her investigation is similar to Mitchinson’s in the sense that these negotiations can be conceived in a Foucauldian, Butlerian, and Lefevbrian mode.
9. The quantitative historian in me finds calorie counting and the examination of diet as one very compelling way to examine bodies in the past. See Baskerville and Sager (1998, 217, 221-22) and Bittermann, MacKinnon, and Wynn (1993, 1-43).
10. “Embodied infractions” are charges such as causing a disturbance by screaming, obstructing passengers, being a vagrant, and so on, charges in which the public itself was the “victim.” I have looked at 4,256 of such charges that came before the Victoria police court in select years between 1871 and 1901. In this period, despite the fact that women made up on average 39% of the population of the city, charges against women comprised only 607, or 14%, of the total. Further, although women were imprisoned and sometimes sentenced to hard labour, the jail employment records do not reveal exactly what women’s work in the prison was, but note that they were “variously employed” either in their cells or in the jail more generally (British Columbia 1861-1914).
11. For more details see my “Bodies Public, City Spaces: Becoming Modern Victoria, British Columbia” (2005, 92-103).
12. The chain gang was the exclusive fate of male prisoners.
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