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Annu Rev Anthropol. 2000;29:287-328.

The commodification of the body and its parts.

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Department of Anthropology, Barnard College, New York, NY 10027, USA.


The human body--and its parts--has long been a target for commodification within myriad cultural settings. A discussion of commodification requires that one consider, first, the significance of the body within anthropology and, second, what defines a body "part." After exploring these initial questions, this article outlines dominant theoretical approaches to commodification within anthropology, with Mauss and Marx figuring prominently. The discussion then turns to historically well-documented forms of body commodification: These include slavery and other oppressive labor practices; female reproduction; and the realms of sorcery and endocannibalism. An analysis here uncovers dominant established approaches that continue to drive current studies. The remainder of this article concerns emergent biotechnologies, whose application in clinical and other related scientific arenas marks a paradigmatic shift in anthropological understandings of the commodified, fragmented body. The following contexts are explored with care: reproductive technologies; organ transplantation; cosmetic and transsexual surgeries; genetics and immunology; and, finally, the category of the cyborg. The article concludes with suggestions for an integrated theoretical vision, advocating greater cross-fertilization of analytical approaches and the inclusion of an ethics of body commodification within anthropology.

[Indexed for MEDLINE]

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