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Sociol Health Illn. 2004 May;26(4):464-88.

Body Worlds: clinical detachment and anatomical awe.

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Department of Sociology, University of Reading, Reading RG6 6AA.


If studying anatomy in medical school promotes clinical detachment, how do lay people respond to the crash course in anatomy they receive on visiting the Körperwelten / Body Worlds exhibition? If late modernity's celebration of the living body makes the dead body problematic, how do visitors respond to the aestheticised dead bodies on display? Through examining the written comments of visitors, the article identifies a number of responses. The chief is an elementary scientific gaze in which obvious interest is shown in anatomical details. But because the exhibits are dry, odourless and anonymous, this does not generate the defence of emotional detachment; indeed, among several emotional responses, are fascination and, for some, awe. Body Worlds is less a popularised anatomy lab than a shrine to the human body, a shrine in which medically untrained people can look at the body in new ways.

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