Social function and formation of the body. 

Should Physical Education and Sport be considerate?


*Professor Adjunto na Pontifícia Universidade Católica do Rio Grande do Sul (PUCRS),

Faculdade de Educação Física e Ciências do Desporto (FEFID)

Pesquisador Coordenador do Grupo de Pesquisa e Estudos Sociológicos

em Educação Física e Esporte (GPES), FEFID/PUCRS

Professor Adjunto na Instituição Educacional São Judas Tadeu, Curso de Educação Física.

**Professora Adjunto na Universidade Federal de Pelotas (UFPel)

Escola Superior de Educação Física (ESEF)

Professora Pesquisadora no Grupo de Pesquisa e Estudos Sociológicos

em Educação Física e Esporte (GPES), FEFID/PUCRS

Prof. Dr. Marcelo Olivera Cavalli*

Profª. Drª. Adriana Schuler Cavalli**







          The main objective of the study is to analyze the social formation of the body and the social function it is enforced to assume. The body has embedded social premises of the demanded ‘physical body’. Time, space and activity are variables used to delimit the body as a unit of production. The body was conceived and used as a tool that acted in a certain place, consumed a certain amount of time and produced a certain product. PE and Sport have a tendency to reinforce this conception through its theoretical and practical approach toward the body. The paper concludes arguing that schools, factories, the army, asylums, prisons and Sport as well possess an appropriate environment to exert disciplinary control over the lives of individuals.

          Keywords: Social formation. Body. Physical Education and Sport.

http://www.efdeportes.com/ Revista Digital - Buenos Aires - Año 13 - Nº 130 - Marzo de 2009

1 / 1

1.     The social body

    Differentiations should be made between the social function and the social formation of the body. According to what was defined by many Physical Education (PE) and Sociology of Sports scholars, the present social order is strictly based on and informed by the sportive order. Moral values and behavior as well as physical aesthetics and behavioral patterns were created and developed to cope with the social demand of the new 'physical body' model that was socially established.

    A study by Hargreaves (1986) defines the hegemonic body model of modern society. In his research the author states, "one ritual symbol above all condenses these values – the mesomorphic image of the body – and what is connoted by this image is probably more significant than what is denoted." Hargreaves categorizes the human body into three different types:

  1. Mesomorphic body type: a muscular torso and limbs, small waist and broad shoulders, in the case of males; a less pronounced musculature, yet well-built and well-proportioned frame, with more rounded contoured shape, in the case of females;

  2. Ectomorphic body type: the thin or 'skinny' body;

  3. Endomorphic body type: the fat-body type.

    Body image does not stop short at its definition and neither does Hargreaves. He gives this social conceptualization of the body as an example to explain some of the rituals present in PE and in the "investiture of power in the body."

    The idea expressed here is that 'body language' contains a code or information that is diffused throughout society. This is not commonly professed. The body itself possesses characteristics and an image that may affect both the individual and society. We can observe this when Hargreaves (1986) affirms that the "body concept is important in the process of identity-formation in the individual and is a significant determinant of social interaction."

    The body is perceived through a dualistic image. Material parts act on thinking parts to establish individual characteristics such as self-confidence, self-esteem, self-identity, and other personality related qualities. At the same time, they establish social characteristics such as authoritative behavior, easiness of socially relating and interacting, and a propensity to have more 'friends'.

    The physical self-image and how others perceive the body make a huge difference when social interaction is taking place, since there is a hegemonic model or image of the body and it is widespread in society. This not only gives its owner certain social advantages and prestige, but also fills him with confidence, social prestige and recognition.

2.     The work shaped body

    A more historical approach can be used in order to analyze the importance that was given to the body. It shows how the practice of PE was closely linked to this appropriation and manipulation of the body and of PE and Sport. A pillar of the socio-economic and political transformations took place in Europe. Especially in England from 1760, the Industrial Revolution influenced the systematization of modern PE and was responsible for different conceptualizations of the body.

    At that time the body was delimited to the variables of time, space and activity. When these three interacted, it was the body as a result of their interaction, as a unit of production that was seen as being important. The body was conceived and used as a tool that acted in a certain place, consumed a certain amount of time and produced a certain product. Needless to say, this is still present and prevailing today. PE and Sport have a tendency to reinforce this conception through its theoretical and practical approach toward the body.

    The body conceived and used as a means to produce something, as a ‘machine’, with no doubt, made itself one of the determinants of social stratification. If a person works in a factory, uses his hands on greasy or dirty equipment, if he works hard and for long hours, then he does not have the time, desire or reason for taking good care of his finger nails. If a farmer works on the land, plowing, seeding and harvesting, or breeding cattle, sheep and other animals, he will have a sunburned face. If a fisherman, he will have both hands and face shaped by the sun and sea. However, the owner of a company as well as people who do paperwork will likewise present characteristics on their bodies that reflect the activities in which they are involved. Consequently, social discrimination and social stratification was established based on the person's professional activity, and one of the major determining factors was the body.

3.     The disciplined and punished body

    Through an analysis on discipline and punishment, as visualized by Foucault (1979), it is also possible to verify how emphasis has been given to the body to 'discipline' and punish the individual and to 'discipline' and set examples to society. In Cousins and Hussain’s work (1984), the authors discuss their own ideas as well as the ideas in Foucault's (1979) book – Discipline and Punish. Their major concern is analyzing the relation between discipline, punishment and the body.

    Punishment performed on the body and the discipline enforced and imposed on the individual, became an effective apparatus to diffuse and exercise power. Punishment is a technique of power that targets on the body. As Cousins and Hussain (1984) note, "the principal argument of Discipline and Punish is that [...] imprisonment became, nonetheless, a 'natural' method of punishment because disciplinary techniques were also used in a wide variety of institutions to organize and train individuals". These, we may observe, include the army, schools, factories, asylums, prisons and Sport-related institutions as well.

    The analysis of punishment of the body should not be conducted based only on the judicial system, but as well on the non-legal functions performed by punishment such as exercising political power to correct and reform. Once more, Foucault (1979) is cited when he sets forth "four protocols to guide his analysis of regimes of punishment". This verifies how the body was targeted and used to achieve other objectives and perform other functions:

  1. Punishment should not be analyzed in terms of its repressive effects alone. It should rather be seen as a combination of social functions that varies from one penal regime to another.

  2. Punitive methods should neither be analyzed simply as consequences of legislation as is done in the legal literature, nor as indicators of social structure as is done in sociology. Rather, punishment should be regarded as a technique with its own specificity in the more general field of other ways of exercising power.

  3. Instead of treating the history of penal law and the history of human sciences as two separate series, one should analyze them as components of a 'juridical-epistemological' formation.

  4. The shift in the target of punishment from the body of the condemned to his personality or his 'soul' should not be regarded as the elision of the body. On the contrary, the shift should be seen as the effect of new techniques of power that came to bear on the body (COUSINS and HUSSAIN, 1984, p. 174).

    What is embodied in all four of these protocols is that the hegemonic ideological system, represented by the penal regime, was performing its punitive action over the condemned, in the smaller sphere, and disciplining society, in the larger sphere. Equally as important, it was putting in motion a systematic apparatus embedded in exercising power. As Foucault (1979) defines the penal regime accurately when he states that it is "a general recipe for the exercise of power over men; the 'mind' as a surface of inscription of power, with semiology as its tool; the submission of bodies through the control of ideas."

    Extremely interesting in Foucault's (1979) work is the connections he establishes between the origin of educational, therapeutic, remedial and punitive institutions that started proliferating at the end of the eighteenth century. According to his use of the word discipline – instruction imparted to scholars and to disciples – both used similar techniques to imply a disciplinary control. For Foucault, discipline consists in the deployment of four techniques (COUSINS and HUSSAIN, 1984, p. 185):

  1. The division, distribution and arrangement of bodies. Yes, it is bodies rather than prisoners, schoolchildren, madmen or soldiers;

  2. A detailed prescription of activities;

  3. The division of time into periods, the establishment of links between them and a sketch of the path of evolution over time;

  4. The establishment of a network of links between the arranged bodies and their respective activities.

    If this is considered as present and part of the organizational programs of public and private institutions, it can be assumed that those institutions possess an appropriate environment to exert disciplinary control over the lives of individuals. We cannot deny that school also plays a significant part in the diffusion of discipline, and, subsequently, is using the body to achieve those purposes.

    Associated to other features and elements involved with the judicial system, the body is used to achieve a particular modality of power. Its characteristics differ from other modalities of power, because the deployment of its disciplinary techniques became a general formula of domination. How is sport conceived within this logic? Here is some food for thought…


  • COUSINS, M.; HUSSAIN, A. (1984). The asylum, the clinic and the prison. In: COUSINS, M.; HUSSAIN, A., eds., Michel Foucault - theoretical traditions in the Social Sciences. London: MacMillan Education Ltd.: p. 100-198.

  • FEATHERSTONE, M. (1991). The body in consumer culture. In: FEATHERSTONE, M.; HEPWORTH, M.; TURNER, B.S., eds., Social process and cultural theory. London: Sage Publications: p. 170-196.

  • FOUCAULT, M. (1979) Discipline and punish: the birth of the prison. New York: Vintage Books, 333 p.

  • FRANK, A.W. (1991). For a sociology of the body: an analytical review. In: FEATHERSTONE, M.; HEPWORTH, M.; TURNER, B.S., eds., Social process and cultural theory. London: Sage Publications: p. 36-102.

  • HARGREAVES, J. (1986). Schooling the Body. In: HARGREAVES, J., ed., Sport, power and culture: a social and historical analysis of popular sports in Britain. London: Polity Press: p. 161-183.

  • LOY. J.; ANDREWS, D.; RINEHART, R. (1993). The body in culture and sport. Sport Science Review, 2(1): p. 69-91.

  • WHITSON, D. (1984). Sport and hegemony: on the construction of the dominant Culture. In: Sociology of Sport Journal, 1: p. 64-78.

Another articles in English


revista digital · Año 13 · N° 130 | Buenos Aires, Marzo de 2009  
© 1997-2009 Derechos reservados