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Soc Sci Med. 1997 Feb;44(4):479-89.

The (dis)embodied self in anorexia nervosa.

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  • 1Department of Anthropology, University of California at San Diego, USA.


This paper deconstructs the debate that has been raging for over a decade between proponents of the feminist cultural model of eating disorders and supporters of the traditional medical model of illness and treatment, bringing the level of analysis one step deeper-to the question of the constructions of "the self" employed in these discourses and the implications of these constructions for the successful understanding and treatment of anorexia nervosa. The paper argues that while feminist theorizing has largely dislodged the current representations of anorexia nervosa from the clamps of myopic medical discourses devoid of detailed cultural analysis, it has in fact produced similar theoretical dichotomies and blind spots that preclude the successful theorizing of an embodied self and its particular articulation in anorexia nervosa. It is proposed here that Foucault's [(1986) The Care of the Self. The History of Sexuality, Vol. 3. Vintage, New York] notion of "technologies of the self" can provide us with a useful tool for bridging the split between the "inside" and "outside" produced and reified in both the medical model and the feminist cultural formulation of anorexia; a framework is suggested for the implementation of this interpretative position, based on a reconceptualization of the particular ritualistic behaviors associated in anorexia as articulating the core issues of the illness-a reconfiguration and repositioning of the "inside" and the "outside" as a means of tailoring the self along a particular line of "attitude". The essay is based on eight months of fieldwork counseling in an eating disorders treatment center.

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