The goal of this study is to describe a new embodied possibility for the relationships between touch, intimacy, love, and sexuality in US culture through the practice of massage and bodywork. Drawing on and contributing to the burgeoning field of sociology of the body, I develop a theoretical explanation of how individual biological bodies are socialized, their anatomies and physiologies literally shaped from the inside out, by the cultures that they inhabit and incorporate. Using data gathered from participant observation in a Swedish massage classroom and semi-structured interviews with 22 massage therapists and bodyworkers, I examine the problematic embodiment of mainstream US touch culture and how massage therapy and bodywork can serve as potent agents of resocialization and healing. I argue that the US is a "no touch" culture in which touch is both extremely limited and strongly associated with sexuality. Because of the sexualization of touch, bodyworkers must do a great deal of emotion work to distinguish their therapeutic touch from sexuality. This serves as background to the emotion work of healing: bodyworkers generate and share genuine love, trust, and intimacy with their clients, transforming cultural meanings of intimacy and sexuality in the process.
I argue that body resocialization through loving touch has implications for healing social problems at both the individual and collective levels, specifically focusing on how massage and bodywork can help to heal social issues related to gender and sexuality, including sexual violence and trauma, body image disturbances, and homophobia. Massage relieves pain and is medically useful for treating soft tissue injuries and a variety of physical complaints. However, holistic massage therapy and bodywork also contribute to healing psychosocial problems by interrupting the processes through which social experiences are structured into individual bodies and socializing bodies with new, positive experiences of touch. By developing a clearer understanding of the interconnections between individual biological bodies and the collective social body, we can see how massage and bodywork might catalyze broad cultural healing and social change, particularly in the areas of touch and sexuality.
|School:||University of California, Santa Barbara|
|School Location:||United States -- California|
|Source:||DAI-A 72/01, Dissertation Abstracts International|
|Subjects:||American studies, Alternative Medicine, Social structure, Gender studies|
|Keywords:||Embodiment, Emotion work, Massage, Sexuality, Socialization, Touch, United States|
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