This is a list of the research projects by the ERC BodyCapital researchers:
Short description of the BodyCapital project
The healthy self as body capital: Individuals, market-based societies, body politics and visual media twentieth century Europe (1 Sept 2016-28 Feb 2022)
Do you know how much rapid eye movement (REM) sleep you need to work efficiently, look at food labels to ensure that you are getting all the required vitamins and minerals or know someone who uses a step counter to know if they are getting enough physical activity? These are just a few examples of the perceptions of health and individual practices in twentieth century Europe. This century may be characterized by an expansion of products and techniques for the body and its health. These are not only witnessed by, but contributed to and were affected by, a flood of visuals that circulated transnationally and the advent of a media society. Bodily health has evolved as a new form of capital (Bourdieu 1979): a form of symbolic capital that can be transformed into economic capital.
The ERC funded research group “The healthy self as body capital: individuals, market-based societies and body politics in visual twentieth century Europe” led by Christian Bonah (Université de Strasbourg) and Anja Laukötter (MPIHD, Berlin) will research this understanding of body capital, and its history, by focusing on the history of visual mass media (film, TV, Internet) and inédits (amateur, family and private visuals) throughout the twentieth century in Europe and beyond.
The research project begins with the premise that visuals are not conceived merely as a mirror or expression of what is observed; visuals are regarded as a distinct, interactive performative power of mass media societies. We consider them essential and novel firstly because their distribution is considerably extensive, secondly because they transcend professional and social groups, thirdly because of their utilitarian character and fourthly they echo economic market principles in terms of promotion/communication. Herein, we suggest visuals have heuristic and analytic meanings.
Our objective is to understand the role that modern visual mass media have played in what may be cast as the transition from a national bio-political public health paradigm at the beginning of the nineteenth century to societal forms of the late twentieth century where better and healthier life is increasingly shaped by market forces/fundamentalism. Herein, the beginning of the nineteenth century is characterized by collective bodies, a work force and labour society, as well as state interests in being able to mobilize large cohorts of able-bodied workers, soldiers and colonial subjects and the late twentieth century is characterized by individuals, body capital in a consumer society, and market incentives – leading to what may be defined as commoditized or commodified bodies. We aim to study these developments through the lenses of the visuals in the histories of three European countries that are central to the economy and visual production, yet differ in their visual culture and their embrace of neo-liberal market policies during the twentieth century: France, Germany and Great Britain. Moreover the developments in and influences of the United States and Canada, as well as Russia/USSR, will be included as complementary references and as analytical counterpoints. Within this spatial historical framework the project focuses on four main fields of health interests in the twentieth century:
- history of food/nutrition
- history of movement/exercise/sports
- history of sexuality/reproduction/infants
- history of dependency/addiction/overconsumption.
Healthy Excesses? Dancing Bodies and the Creation of Body Economies in Visual 20th century Germany. by Sandra Schnädelbach
From ancient times up to contemporary anthropology dance has been described as ‘original’, ‘innate’, most ‘natural’ form of human expression, conveying the joy of live and the energy of a ‘healthy’ body. At the same time, dancing bodies since centuries have been labeled as dangerous and connected with obsession, addiction and excess (- be it phenomena of ‘dancing mania’ in the middle ages, scandals about expressionist dance styles on theater stages around 1900 or concerns about ‘infectious’ and ‘morally destabilizing’ dance practices like Swing and Rock ‘n’ Roll in the 1950s.) The notion of self-indulgence that often accompanies dance has historically always been ambiguous: either turned down/accused as form of wasting and risking bodily health or, on the contrary, praised as mode of setting free energy, accessing new resources and gaining health.
What theories about the body were underlying these assumptions? And how did the rise of visual mass media shape or reshape images of body and health during the 20th century? What knowledge about the body was created via dancing bodies in moving images? Following these questions, this project inquires into changing constructions of health and into a history of body knowledge. It seeks to illuminate in what ways models of ‘body economies’ – ideas on how to budget resources, how to invest and regain energy – shaped interpretations of dancing bodies and framed dance as an (un)healthy practice. Doing Health is understood here as a technique of using a certain body knowledge that – so the basic assumption – to scholars of the 20th century seemed to be condensed in images of dancing bodies.
This project addresses two of the ERC BodyCapital broader objectives: With the 20th century, film as well as dance were conceptualized as epistemological tools for gaining body knowledge and unveiling unseen facets of human nature. To unfold the interrelation between dance and film, this project asks how the moving image was used
a) as a tool of examination: to make visible and examine dancing bodies
b) as a tool for education: to communicate knowledge about the body and its capacities
c) as a tool to shape practices: producing dancing bodies.
Focusing on the German speaking countries from the 1920s through to the 1980s, including West as well as East German perspectives, this project situates the history of dancing bodies within a sociopolitical framework and illuminates how dance became a means to negotiate and navigate dynamics of social change as well as political agendas, public health as well as personal lifestyles. In doing so, it aims to contribute to a cultural history of dance that makes visible how this bodily practice gained impact for the creation of healthy bodies in the age of visual mass media.
Post-doctoral research project by Sandra Schnädelbach, 2018
Organ transplants and their media coverage, by Philippe Chavot and Anne Masseran
For more than 10 years, we have researched the television media coverage of organ transplants in France, from the late 1950s to the 2000s. In the framework of the Bodycapital project, we are concentrating our effort on the dimension of organ exchange (replacing a failing organ by a healthy organ) and its media coverage. Our intention is to understand the mechanisms at work when television tries to gain acceptance for new medical technologies. What are the roles played in televisual discourses by informational elements and more rhetorical ones (emphasis on the emotional aspects and the progress value)? How do these mechanisms evolve and take into account developments in the medical, media and societal fields ?
Recently we focused on the 1960s-1970s period, which saw the development of heart transplants in France, following the first successful transplant in Cape Town (South Africa). We have compared television production with the speech of the national and regional press: it appears that public television, much more than the print press, is a true ally of the development of transplantation in France. In this frame, it is important to address the way each actor (doctors, journalists, but also and to a certain extent patients) capitalizes on the successes and failures of the first heart transplants.
Two avenues of research are now open to us:
- First, we want to follow the televisual ‘careers’ of emblematic patients. Only some of them have the right to speak at the television, they are witnesses; the bodies of others are the subject of silent and visual media coverage demonstrating the effectiveness of the transplant. The patients of the 1960s-1970s (Father Boulogne, Emmanuel Vitria, the "little Céline") were all witnesses / testimonials staged to encourage empathy and thus acceptance of heart transplantation. In the 2000s-2010s, some iconic patients (Isabelle Dinoire, Pascal, Jérôme Hamon) have undergone a facial transplant and became in turn witnesses / testimonials that help make the unthinkable acceptable. One of the major questions is to understand how the history of these patients is re-constructed for publicization purposes and how these patients interact with television.
- Second, we will further investigate the relationship between surgeons and journalists. Do they work hand in hand, or does one of the two actors lead the staging? How both actors use televisual techniques, which have considerably evolved since 1968, to support transplantation?
The size of the corpus we have collected - and are continuing to collect - will allow us to answer these questions. Archival work and interviews will be conducted to obtain more precise answers.
‘Lifelong sex’ and ‘healthy ageing’ – The emergence of sex in old age as wellbeing paradigm in France and Britain from the 1960s to the late 2000s, by Lukas Herde
Undoubtedly, affirmative visibilities of those beyond the age of 60 as erotic beings, and their bodies as capable of sexual pleasure, remain confined to the margins of today’s Western mainstream culture. And yet, discourses and representations of ageing sexuality have undergone significant transformations in recent decades. These are brought forth by an interplay of various sociocultural phenomena: from shifting demographics to the increasing medicalization of old age and sexuality. They are borne by multifarious actors and their diverse rationales: from elderly and sexual rights advocates to health care and pharmaceutical industries. And they are negotiated on various platforms: from self-help books to television shows and online forums. Overall, long-standing cultural notions of the ‘asexual elderly’ seem to increasingly collide with new understandings of the old as sexually desiring subject and sex as ‘healthy’ practice in old age.
The project proposed here seeks to shed light on the historical dimensions of competing stories and visualizations of old age, sex and wellbeing from the 1960s to the late 2000s in Britain and France. It wants to explore the emergent visibilities of the old person as intimate subject, as sexual health campaign target and as consumer on a diversifying ‘market of desires’. The study seeks to locate these developments within the transfiguring sexual cultures and cultures of ‘healthy ageing’ of those decades. Moreover, in line with the ERC BodyCapital, the project aims to especially scrutinize the role that visuals and mass media played in shaping and/or disrupting (self-)perceptions of bodies, health and intimacy in the later years. In this vein, it suggests that television and the world wide web were crucial in the reconceptualization of the old body as sexual; the dissemination of claims to free sexual expression in late life; the circulation of (hetero-)sexual subjectivities of the elderly; and the spread of marketing narratives of the independent, ‘sexually healthy’ old person.
PhD research project by Lukas Herde, September 2019
L’enfant à table dans les films de familles. Evolution de l’alimentation des enfants en France et en Allemagne, de la fin des années 1940 au milieu des années 1970, de Amélie KRATZ
L’alimentation est un enjeu sociétal fondamental de la seconde moitié du XXe siècle car elle connaît une évolution très rapide entre la fin de la guerre et les années 1970, passant d’une situation de rareté à une abondance industrielle. Les mutations concernent particulièrement l’alimentation des enfants qui se distingue de plus en plus du régime des parents via la commercialisation de produits destinés à des tranches d’âge de plus en plus différenciées. L’attention croissante portée sur la santé de l’enfant, en lien avec l’établissement médical de la pédiatrie, amène les industriels à investir massivement le marché de la nourriture enfantine en proposant des produits propres à sa consommation : c’est notamment le début de l’ère des petits pots.
Alors que les enfants sont de plus en plus pris en charge par la société, ils deviennent également le centre des préoccupations familiales, comme en témoigne le cinéma amateur familial qui apparaît dès 1923 et se démocratise au cours des années 1960. Les films de famille sont des sources privées inestimables pour écrire l’histoire sociale et culturelle de l’enfance au XXe siècle. Ils sont en effet des indices précieux pour comprendre comment se joue l’interface famille-société car ils nous renseignent sur la manière dont les grandes tendances sociétales pénètrent la cellule familiale. Notre thèse d’histoire audiovisuelle visera donc à étudier, à travers les films de famille, l’évolution des pratiques alimentaires familiales à destination des enfants, considérées comme soumises à des politiques publiques de santé et à des incitations de marché très fortes, de la fin des années 1940 au milieu des années 1970.
Si les films de famille ne sont pas des témoins parfaits du passé, ils restent cependant très proches de la réalité de la vie familiale. Tandis que l’histoire de l’enfance a souvent été écrite à partir de sources performatives, notamment à partir des discours pédagogique et médical qui gagnent en importance à partir du XIXe siècle, les films de famille sont l’occasion de comprendre comment l’enfant agit dans son quotidien, et non comment il doit agir. Bien qu’ils véhiculent le regard des parents sur les enfants, ils représentent en quelque sorte des « contre-archives » (Amad, 2010) aux images véhiculées par la science et la pédagogie, mais aussi par l’économie via les publicités. Ces sources seront confrontées dans un deuxième temps à des sources audiovisuelles de masse (spots publicitaires, films d’enseignement, …) et à des sources non-films.
Ce travail d’histoire audiovisuelle sera mené dans une démarche comparative entre deux pays européens, la France et l’Allemagne, qui à la fois partagent une grande orientation occidentale industrielle, et se distinguent par leur rapport culturel et politique à l’enfance et à l’alimentation. Si les pratiques alimentaires à destination des enfants divergent fortement de part et d’autre du Rhin (on peut assez schématiquement opposer le sacro-saint entrée - plat - dessert français au repas froid du soir à base de pain en Allemagne), il semblerait cependant que les forces de marché transcendent les cultures nationales.
Cette thèse, qui s’inscrit dans la réflexion engagée par le groupe de recherche « Body Capital » fondé par une bourse ERC autour du concept de « capital corporel » dans les documents audiovisuels, vise donc à comprendre comment l’alimentation des enfants est devenue un « capital corporel » à la fois dans sa dimension économique européenne et dans sa conception culturelle et politique nationale, et comment l’enfance est devenue au travers de l’argument de la santé de son corps, une catégorie de plus en plus autonome et économiquement rentable. Nous nous demanderons donc dans quelle mesure les pratiques alimentaires familiales à destination des enfants incorporent les politiques publiques et les incitations de marché en matière d’alimentation, en France et en Allemagne, de la fin des années 1940 au milieu des années 1970.
When the Consumer Comes Last: Stakeholders in the British Contraceptive Screen, 1955-1995. by Jessica Borge
As with smoking, the visibility of contraceptives has long been associated with their uptake by parties concerned with unhealthy and/or immoral practices. A proposed Contraceptives Bill in the 1930s aimed to stamp out the retail presentation of contraceptives and related materials on British high streets, and to otherwise place contraceptive products into unattractive, plain packets to discourage spontaneous purchases. In the event, the Bill did not become law but its residual effects continued to be felt by both commercial and social stakeholders seeking to further the contraceptive cause over the coming decades. The visibility issue was deeply embedded in British culture, buried in concerns over the commercialisation of what some felt to be a social cause. Anxieties amplified as the new mass medium of television encroached upon everyday life, especially as contraceptive stakeholders sought to exploit this new PR channel for ideological (and sometimes commercial) gain.
This project will identify, investigate and compare stakeholders in the televisual presentation of contraceptives in post-war Britain, assessing their motivations, actions and outcomes over to three core periods, namely;
Core periods are defined by what Williams calls the “limits” and “pressures” affecting the televisual presentation of contraception, including cultural and regulatory change to the point where, by the mid-1990s, contraceptive visibility had become largely acceptable (Raymond Williams, Television: Technology and Cultural Form (London: Fontana, 1974), 10.)
A major concern of this project is to track incidences of on-screen manifestations of contraceptives in respect of the struggle between social and commercial stakeholders who sought to expose or hide contraceptives on TV, or to manipulate the degree or tone of coverage.
As such, it asks;
· How was the long-standing aversion to the visibility of commercial birth control products manifested on television, and in debates surrounding television regulation?
· What were the perceived or intended qualitative differences between the televisual exposure of contraception and that of other media?
· Who stood to gain from the televisual exposure of contraception and contraceptive practices? What techniques did stakeholders and their advocates employ to control or restrict exposure?
· What did consumers actually find distasteful or offensive, and how was the debate refreshed between the 1950s and 1990s?
· How did the visuality/non-visuality of specific contraceptive technologies affect televisual representation in Britain?
Overall, the project asks if the visuality of contraceptives (with their concomitant for-profit marketability) was at the heart of the problem of getting contraceptives on screen in the 1950s - 1980s, tracking historical continuities up to 1995. The objective is to produce an extended, culturally specific case study on post-war Britain that serves, intersects and responds to the ERC BodyCapital project and complements the broader aim of understanding the individual, healthy self as part of a market-based society. An historical-critical methodology will be used in the appraisal of source materials, which will be analysed and presented within a socio-historical framework. Research is being conducted in both Strasbourg and London.
Postdoctoral research project by Jessica Borge, March 2018-February 2020.