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Marking Power: Embodied Dependencies, Haptic Regimes and Body Modification

Research Group Leader: Dr. Sinah Kloß

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Photo by Sinah Kloß

The Research Group "Marking Power: Embodied Dependencies, Haptic Regimes and Body Modification" focuses on the history of touch and different forms of body modification from a historical and anthropological perspective. It analyzes body marks and practices of marking that represent and have actively (re)created asymmetrical and embodied dependencies. Combining theories and methodologies of Social and Cultural Anthropology, Material Culture Studies, Oral History, Postcolonial Theory and Gender Studies, it discusses (historical) practices of body modification as well as the bodies and material objects involved in these practices.

Investigating the entangled histories of tactility and body markings, it examines the dynamic relations between social actors in the Americas during the nineteenth and early twentieth centuries and also takes the various (forced) migratory movements into account, for example from Asia to the Caribbean.

The research group considers bodies not as fixed and stable, but as being in a constant process of transformation and change. Practices of body modification such as tattooing, piercing, scarification, branding, etc. engage in these processes in various ways; they may influence both individual and communal processes of body construction, and they may create, maintain or transform social relations. They have always actively influenced understandings and definitions of, for example, femininity and masculinity, social age, race, sacredness or purity. As embodied practices they create specific experiences, which social actors perceive with and through their bodies.

While taking the tools and material objects that are used to modify bodies as one focus of investigation, the group further takes on a performative approach; body marks always imply practices of body marking. As embodied and gendered practices they visualize and performatively (re)create power relations by negotiating asymmetrical dependencies between social actors, who may be human or non-human, individual or communal. Marking practices may attribute specific social actors with marking power, and may actively (re)create or challenge dominant and subalternized positionalities in social hierarchies and networks.

Individual projects of the research group examine and compare how practices of body modification have visualized, materialized and performatively (re)created power relations, asymmetrical dependencies and embodied experiences of dependency. They discuss how marking practices have defined and negotiated boundaries of humans and non-humans, subjects and objects, culture and nature, and how discourses about and silences on these practices have influenced the (im-)possibility of specific historical narratives. They analyze the multiple and interacting forms of oppression and empowerment that form the basis for networks and systems of asymmetrical dependencies.

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