Working through the body : women, pain and the embodiment of work




Shumka, Leah

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Building on theoretical frameworks that conceptualize the body as a material and symbolic entity, this thesis examines how women use their bodies to mediate the conditions of their social and cultural environment. Canadian women who occupy social locations marked by their involvement in one of three socially and economically marginalized service occupations (hairdressing, sex trade and restaurant work) were interviewed using a body-mapping methodology. The purpose was to reveal how quotidian experiences such as feeling inadequate, incompetent, lonely, disenfranchised or dissatisfied are embodied as physical pain and illness. The research shows that women give meanings to these experiences by acting on and reflecting cultural beliefs about health, work, the body and the flexibility and potential for recreating the self. In particular, the Canadian women in the study are influenced by discursive ideas that they have the option (and indeed the personal responsibility) to `transform,' `change,' `control,' and `reshape' themselves.



body image, chronic pain, women