Corporeal knowledges and Deviant bodies: Perceiving the fat body

Samantha Murray*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

49 Citations (Scopus)


The empiricist logic of humanism insists that we can know the essence of something through observation. However, it is my aim in this paper to challenge this notion by asserting that empirical observation is never neutral, but always laden with cultural meanings, specificities and prejudices. I argue that medical science is founded in a humanist empiricism in order to make bodies intelligible as "normal" or "pathological", depending on a range of bodily markers. In designating a body as "normal", the clinician uses measures of "sameness" that are underpinned by a deeper concern for normalisation. In upholding the norm/ pathology binary in medical discourse, what is effected is a neglect of a recognition of the socio-cultural function of the categories of "normal" and "pathological", and medical participation in the way these terms come to "mean" in lay society, and their sedimentation in pre-conscious practices of perception. The central task of this paper is to examine the "clinical gaze", and moreover the consultation between the paternalistic and rational figure of the doctor and the patient/subject, understood simply as a malfunctioning machine in need of restoration to normality. Drawing on the work of Linda Alcoff, I argue that what is ignored in medical discourse is the persistence and irrevocability of tacit bodily knowledges that construct us within every context, not least the privileged "objective" space of medical consultation and diagnostics.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)361-373
Number of pages13
JournalSocial Semiotics
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - Sept 2007


  • Embodiment
  • Medicine
  • Normalisation
  • Obesity
  • Pathologisation


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