Uncommon Sense Part- 6: Bodies

The Sociological Review

Alexis Hieu Truong: Hi, and welcome back to Uncommon Sense from The Sociological Review. I’m Alexis Hieu Truong, in Ottawa, Canada. Rosie Hancock: And I’m Rosie Hancock, in Sydney, Australia. As ever, we’re all about seeing our world afresh through the eyes of sociologists, and showing that you really don’t have to be a sociologist to think like one. Alexis Hieu Truong: Each month, we take a theme that seems straightforward and take a sideways look at it. Today, “bodies” – start talking about that and you end up going pretty far pretty fast, into questions of law and ethics, geography and space, property and power, art, representation. And then there’s that use of the word “body” for things like “body politic”, or a “body of work”, or “bodies of water”, which we’ll be talking about in a moment, actually. Rosie Hancock: That’s so interesting, Alexis, because suddenly, we’re talking about bodies and it’s not humans. I thought only humans had bodies, or maybe animals … What actually are the limits of a body? I have to say, when I first heard that we were recording on bodies, I thought about the fact that, as I’ve mentioned before, I’ve recently had a child. And I’ve really grappled with this idea that, if you give birth, you carry your child within and then without you – in both senses of that word. There’s sort of part of your body, but existing outside of it, too, as well. It’s very bizarre. Alexis Hieu Truong: Yeah, the limits of the body are something that I’ve thought about a lot over the years. Not necessarily because of rising talk of transhumanism – people seeking immortality and so on – but simply because I’m diabetic and, since 2018, have an insulin pump and a glucose sensor that are plugged into me like some kind of cyborg. And, I’ve gone through different stages of seeing it as equipment that’s distinct from me, or something that’s really become a part of me, given that it’s giving me vital information and taking actually decisions about the medicine it’s giving me – the insulin it’s giving me – so, I get, like, this question of, like, this body and it’s techno-extensions, like, is it mine or is it me? And I mean, that really speaks to the question of whether we have or we are bodies too, right? Rosie Hancock: Yeah, well, I mean, all kinds of thinkers have tried to define and discuss the body and its limits. You could [look] way back to Descartes on the mind-body split, Foucault on discipline, Sylvia Federici on the body and capitalism, Donna Haraway’s cyborg manifesto, bell hooks’ critique of the video for Beyoncé’s Lemonade … I could kind of keep rattling people off, but I won’t. Alexis Hieu Truong: Indeed. And actually, today we’re talking to a sociologist whose work centres on the body. She’s researched swimming bodies, unwell bodies, walking bodies, and more. She’s Charlotte Bates, based at Cardiff University in Wales. Hi, Charlotte. Charlotte Bates: Hi, it’s really lovely to be here with you. Rosie Hancock: Hi, Charlotte. And I also have to say thanks so much for bearing with us because, very aptly for the episode on bodies, we have had to postpone recording this episode twice, because of illness. And I mean, we’re gonna go on and talk about illness later on in the episode. But before we get there, I actually wanted to start out by pointing out that you started in philosophy, and then I also started in philosophy, before we both turned to sociology later on – and I really liked that commonality that we have in our kind of academic background. And I’m curious, what did you notice about how those two different fields – sociology and philosophy – think about the body? And what was it that caught your imagination? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, that’s a really nice connection, Rosie. And there’s a line that I kept encountering in philosophy and sociology and in literature, too, that we don’t notice our bodies until they break. And I found this really interesting, but also quite puzzling. Because throughout my own life, I’ve had quite an acute awareness of my body and its limitations. The philosopher Havi Carel describes this as “bodily doubt”. And that really, really resonated with me. I’ve never taken my body for granted in the way that some people supposedly do. But everyday embodied experiences – characterised by a sense of bodily certainty in philosophy and in sociology – and things like illness really disrupt it. Alexis Hieu Truong: Can you elaborate a bit on that word – embodiment? I mean, typically, if you say someone embodies something, it often means that they kind of carry or capture the essence of something. And in my own work on cosplay – aka costume play – in Tokyo, I’ve seen people dress up to embody not just different characters, but also embody ideas of something like a train company, or a country, or a convenience store – something that’s known as gijinka. But this might be pretty far from the way that we’re using the term “embodiment” here, or in sociology, right? Could you explain that a bit for us? Charlotte Bates: It’s a little bit different, but it’s not all that far away. Because you’re talking about dressing up your body, aren’t you? And these are things that we do to our body to embody personas or characters, or to kind of sculpt ourselves in different ways. But the word “embodiment” is a really long word that just recognises the importance of the body. So, we’re all embodied, and like the body this often gets forgotten. But it invites us, I think, to think and feel with our bodies, to consider how we do things to our bodies, like dress them up or do cosmetic surgery. But it also invites us to think about how we can do things with our bodies, like play different sports. But also how our bodies do things to us – how they act back on us – like when we become ill, or when we give birth. Rosie Hancock: You’re right. It’s so interesting that you mentioned when you give birth. Like we talked about in the intro, I’ve just had a child, and this sense that, like, your body is doing something to you, that you’ve completely … like, the act of becoming pregnant and carrying a child is just such this strange experience of completely losing control over your own body. Yeah, so I find it really interesting that you bring that up. And I mean, there’s this flawed distinction between the mind versus the body. And I kind of want to talk about that and see whether, like, whether you think that it’s not just a distinction, but also a hierarchy – like “mind over matter” and this idea that the mind is “superior” to the body, and that matters of the body are somehow “base”? So, I studied religion, and I think that, certainly in Christianity, that idea that the spirit is exalted in the body is, you know, something, yeah, base – is really strong in some kind of historic Christian traditions. And as an academic, I know I’ve been told more than once that I live the “life of the mind”. And I’m not sure anyone would ever say you live the “life of the body”, right? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, it’s just so ingrained in our society through Western philosophy, through religion, you know – you mentioned the Cartesian mind-body divide. When we talk about the senses, there is a kind of “order” of the senses – even that sight is better than other senses, which just isn’t true. But it’s just there, in all the ways we think. Alexis Hieu Truong: I wonder, can you tell us more about how sociologists in particular started thinking about the body towards the end of the last century? What was the kind of turn or what were they reacting to at that moment? Charlotte Bates: Yes, so there was a kind of turn or rise of the body in the late 20th century, which was really informed by some of the theoretical work that Rosie mentioned in the introduction to this podcast. But, I think, that was the kind of that breakthrough moment that we’ve been talking about a little bit, where people recognised that bodies aren’t simply biological and that this hierarchy maybe isn’t right. So, we’re not always white, we’re not always male, we’re not always heterosexual, we’re not always able. And sociologists began to explore these more diverse bodies through the lenses of gender, class, race, sexuality, age, and disability. And a lot of this work began to really focus on how people live, and their lived, embodied and felt experiences. Alexis Hieu Truong: Actually, you and Rosie both talked about, like, pregnancy, for example – like, the body doing something to us, right? And the cosplay kind of link that I made earlier was quite different, in the sense that we’re doing something to the body, like costuming it or changing it in some way. And I feel a bit like that with insulin, right? So, my body can’t go on without insulin, so I’m doing something and giving it a medication, right? So, can you elaborate a bit more on kind of the things that the body does to us? Or are there things that we do to the body? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, I think that’s a really important distinction within the sociology of the body. There are people that think about what we do to our bodies, which is one set of questions – so, you know, I talked earlier or mentioned cosmetic surgery. But there’s also the way our bodies do things to us. So, we can think about the body as a commodity, as something that we can dress up and shape and make pretty in ways that we want to. But we can also think about the power that our bodies have over us to control our lives in different way, to make demands on us know, to need insulin. And I think those two are very different. Rosie Hancock: I mean, it’s interesting, I guess, you could go that step further and talk about the people that are trying to transcend the “confines” of the body as well. So, transhumanism, which is, you know … let’s actually not talk about them because those guys get enough attention. So, we’ve just been, you know, touching a little bit on Alexis and diabetes, and some of your earlier work was on illness, and that became your book, Vital Bodies. Could you tell me a bit more about your project? And, like, your methods? What you wanted to explore? So, I think you were following … was it 12 people with various illnesses for a year? Am I on the right track here? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, that’s right. And it’s really a story about 12 people just living their everyday lives. But these people were all living with a long-term condition, so, things like arthritis, asthma, diabetes, depression, chronic pain. And working with them over the course of this year, and kind of dipping in and out of their lives, and sharing moments that you don’t normally get to see with them – through journals and diaries and video diaries, as well as just talking to them – I kind of learned a lot about how the routines and the rhythms of everyday life, and the significance of the things we usually just take for granted are so disrupted. So, whether it’s just, you know, a simple having a cup of coffee in the morning, or how much time you were able to sleep that night – these things become really, really significant. And it kind of highlighted for me how it’s really hard to live a modern life with illness, and just how illness disrupts our bodies and our lives in different ways. Rosie Hancock: That’s interesting, because so often when we talk about illness we’re talking about older age or the end of life, yeah? And that seems to be a really different thing from where you went in this project. Charlotte Bates: Yeah, that was part of my frustration with a lot of what I was reading. It was that it was about older people who you kind of expect, your maybe going to get ill and very lucky if you grow old. Or it was about really particular kind of medical kind of ways of thinking about illness. So, only people with depression or only people with diabetes. So, what I wanted to do was kind of cut through some of those ways in which we divide our experiences, and think about how people, so many people – and it’s so hidden and so unspoken – but so many people do just live their lives with illness. And so, a lot of the people that I was working with were in their 20s or 30s, or some of them were in their 40s. Some of them had been looking for a diagnosis for a long time, and some of them had been diagnosed as children. So, this was really a part of living. If you’ve grown up with something, or if you’re in your 20s and you’re living your life with an illness, I think, it can be dark and it can be depressing, and there can be some really bleak black moments. But a lot of what people shared with me was the ways in which they were caught by kind of finding health and happiness within their illness, how they were managing to do things by listening to their bodies in different ways, how they could take care of themselves in ways that medicine couldn’t kind of cure them. So, it’s, it’s … I mean, Alexis, you could talk about this too. You know, it’s living with illness. Alexis Hieu Truong: Well, sticking with that word, “illness”, for now, in Virginia Woolf’s essay On Being Ill, she says, “considering how common illness is, how astonishing when the lights of health go down, the undiscovered countries that are then disclosed, it becomes strange that illness has not taken its place with love, battle, and jealousy among the prime themes of literature”. That’s from almost a century ago. But would you agree with her now in 2022? I mean, why don’t we talk more about illness? Charlotte Bates: Such a beautiful quote, and I think it’s really sadly still true. We live in a society that just doesn’t recognise the body in so many ways, unless it’s a thing that we can do things to. We shy away from the power it has over us and over our lives. We like not to notice our bodies until they break. There’s lots of attention to the power that we have over our bodies to shape them in socially desired ways, to train them, to run marathons, to climb mountains. But people just don’t think about the power our bodies have over us. And it’s much easier, I think, to feel “immortal” if you haven’t been touched by illness. Rosie Hancock: How do you think the pandemic affects all of this? The pandemic that, you know, the COVID-19 ongoing … Charlotte Bates: The current pandemic. Rosie Hancock: The current pandemic, yeah. Charlotte Bates: I mean, you would think that such a global crisis would really wake everyone up to the vulnerability of our bodies, but I think I’m not sure it has and that makes me really sad. I think it has divided people who do feel vulnerable and people who don’t, even more. And I think we’ve got to a point now where everyone wants to forget about it and pretend that it’s gone away. Rosie Hancock: Yeah, I mean, like, going back to that Virginia Woolf quote, I think it’s kind of important to add that she was, you know, an affluent white upper-class woman. And, you know, I wonder, you know, the effect that has on whether people feel vulnerable or not, of course. So, you know, throwing intersectionality in there, right? The way that class, gender, race interact and overlap to shape a person’s experience, and it kind of becomes even more important, I’d think, to talk about illness and mortality sometimes in that context. And you can look at things like the stats on the disproportionate mortality rates of women of colour in childbirth in places like the UK. According to a recent BBC report, I’m quoting here, “black women are more than four times more likely to die in pregnancy or childbirth than white women, while women from Asian backgrounds face almost twice the risk”. And we can think about how campaigns like Black Lives Matter highlight how air pollution often affects the poorest communities. I don’t know. Do you have any reflections on intersectionality and how that might approach the vulnerability of different types of bodies? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, I think those are really, really shocking statistics, Rosie. And I think it’s a little bit different to what we’ve been talking about so far, you know. In a way, we’ve been talking about illness as an individual experience, and what that kind of intersectionality and those kinds of statistics show us is that bodies … In a very different way, you know, you’re talking about kind of social determinism, rather than biological determinism – it’s not because those bodies are more vulnerable, it’s because of the social structures, the fact that class and money and access to health services and where you can live have effects on our bodies, too. Alexis Hieu Truong: I think this is a good moment to talk about ableism. So, that’s discrimination and bias towards so-called “able-bodied” people, against people who are or who are seen to be so-called “disabled”. Rosie Hancock: Thanks for that, Alexis, because we’ve actually got a couple of really great pieces in The Sociological Review magazine, written by academics with experience of chronic condition themselves – so, Anna Ruddock in 2017 and Moya Bailey that same year – that point to how ableism is just so deeply embedded and how it can be hard to shake off its demands. Charlotte, did you find that this was a problem for the people who you worked with in your book? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, yeah, I really did. So, ableism is just so entrenched in our society, isn’t it? There’s so much pressure to be productive and resilient and to hide our vulnerabilities. And Anna Ruddock, whom you just mentioned, writes beautifully about the way we try to render our illnesses and therefore large parts of ourselves invisible. And sharing those vulnerabilities can make us feel even more vulnerable, precisely because of ableism. And many of the people I worked with in Vital Bodies kept their conditions hidden from their employers, even to some degree from their families, their partners and their friends. People, I think, can be really cruel, they can be ignorant and oblivious. Rebecca Solnit recently wrote in The Guardian that obliviousness is our great social failing. But they can also be kind. And I do have some nice moments of kindness that people shared with me too. Rosie Hancock: And kind of on that, I should actually mention an essay that our producer Alice shared with us, it’s by Jameisha Prescod, called “Believing Your Pain as Radical Self-Care”. In it, she writes, how she’s, and I’m quoting here, “noticed a commonality in those of us living with chronic illnesses … We share a desperate need to be believed … It is quintessential to our survival … To believe yourself, your body, and that your pain is real, is a radical act of self-care.” And that’s the end of the quote there. But I think it’s an important point, again, speaking to ableism and those things that really work against a person being able to live as they are. Alexis Hieu Truong: Yeah, and we’ll put those in the Episode Notes. But just going back a bit, Charlotte, you mentioned experiences of kindness. And I was just wondering if you could elaborate or give us a few examples of that? Charlotte Bates: Yeah. So, examples of obliviousness, as well as maybe examples of kindness? Really simple things that can really, really hurt, like leaving the post on the floor, which becomes a hazard for a neighbour who can’t pick it up or easily step over it because they use a walking stick. And you know this about them and yet still, you know, nothing is done. Or honking a car horn at a zebra crossing when the person crossing the road is moving “too slowly”, but that is the speed at which they need to move. But small acts of care can be things like helping that stranger up from the pavement if they fall, or just setting up the coffee machine for a flatmate in the morning. Alexis Hieu Truong: That’s really interesting, because it’s the example that you have, like sometimes, even if they seem like small things, they end up feeling very, like, strong emotions. Like, they can feel, like, super violent or super kind, I guess. Anyway, we’ve spoken a bit already about how the unwell body can highlight things we might otherwise take for granted. It’s essentially disruptive. For example, in your book, you talk about how the unwell body that needs to sleep can really clash with social expectations, with the rhythms of work and social life. It got us thinking about how, whether sleeping or otherwise, you could say that the unwell body is actually, in some way, counter-capitalist; or at least reveals the absurdity, the unlivability of capitalism. So, not only can neoliberalism make you ill, but illness also reveals that, well, capitalism has its pathologies too? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, I completely agree. And I think that was really highlighted by the fact that the people that I was working with were in their 20s and 30s. So, you know, their friends were going out and partying all night, they were working long hours living in the city. But when you’re ill, life really can quite quickly unravel. And it really just brings everything into question, from eating and sleeping to work and relationships. And I do think that that kind of also reveals the absurdity of the speed that we try to live on, and our ingrained ideas about productivity and the 24/7 society that we are living in. Rosie Hancock: Thanks, Charlotte. We’ll be back in a moment to talk more about the vulnerable body when we talk about your work on what’s come to be called, in some circles at least, “wild swimming”. But first a word from our producer, Alice. Alice Bloch: Hi, and thanks for listening to Uncommon Sense from The Sociological Review, where every month we invite an expert guest to join us and mull over an everyday concept in everyday language that we all think we kind of understand. And over the course of about 40 minutes, or so, we move along together and try to see it a bit differently, and yet more sociologically. And if you’re enjoying this episode on “bodies”, why not go back through our archive and listen to episodes on “intimacy” and “care” among others. You can find those at the podcast page at thesociologicalreview.org, where you can also see details on our guests alongside reading tips to share. And do take a moment to tap follow and whatever app you’re using to listen to this right now. It really genuinely does help us to keep making this podcast for everyone. Thanks for listening! Alexis Hieu Truong: Okay, Charlotte, time to turn to your work on wild swimming, that you’ve done with sociologist Kate Moles. So, why study wild swimming? And how did you and Kate set out to study it? I guess, I’m asking what were your aims or approaches, your methods? Charlotte Bates: I think it was one of those “accidental” projects that just happened, and it’s really kept me afloat during the pandemic in so many ways – working with Kate, swimming, trying something new. Kate is a swimmer. She has swam all her life. She swims long distances, and it was something that she had been wanting to research, I think, for a long time. It’s one of those moments where your kind of personal passions cross over into your work. And then, with my interest in working with video and my interest in bodies, we just ended up doing it together. The project kind of changed. It started pre-pandemic when we were going swimming with GoPros and meeting people in the water, and then it kind of became more restricted. But actually, that opened up a lot of things that we wouldn’t have thought about before. So, through the kind of pandemic restrictions and lockdowns we were working remotely with a group of about 30 women who live all around the UK, and it gave us a chance to form friendships and share thoughts – very occasionally swim together. But for them, to share how swimming was keeping them afloat as well, and what it meant to them and why they were doing it. Rosie Hancock: Charlotte, what were you trying to find out here? Like, what do you think is, like, sociologically interesting about wild swimming? Charlotte Bates: I think, you know, we talked earlier about how you can think about the body in different ways – like what we do to it and what it does to us – and, on the face of it, a project about swimming is a really kind of sociology of sport – it’s the way in which we go do stuff, we get in the water, we swim, we train ourselves. But it wasn’t really about that for me at all. It was about the women that get in freezing cold seas in winter, who don’t really swim at all, they just kind of bob in the water. And it was about those vulnerabilities and those friendships, the ways in which swimming kind of turns our ways of thinking about the body around, and about what it can do in very different ways. So, it’s not about swimming 4 kilometres, it’s about getting in 4°C degree water. Those are two very different things. And the kind of effects that that has on people’s relationships with their own bodies as well as with other people. Rosie Hancock: This term – “wild swimming” – that you use is curious to me, because, here in Australia, I’m not sure if we really use it, or at least perhaps I’m not cool enough to know of this, if we do use it or not. But there is this really famous club in Bondi, called Icebergs, and to become an Iceberg, you have to do a certain number of outdoor – this is, you know, they’ve got one of these outdoor ocean pools – and you have to do a certain number of swims between, I think, April and October. But here, I mean, I just call that “swimming in winter” rather than “wild swimming”. Alexis, is it a term you guys have in Ottawa? I imagine, swimming outdoors is maybe automatically a bit more wild, if by wild we’re meaning cold? Alexis Hieu Truong: Ah, that’s right. I mean, like, during the summer, I feel like people go swimming in nature. Like, that definitely happens, like, just finding a spot and swim in. And many people will know … will either have a cottage or know someone who knows someone that has a cottage, and it has a lake and then they can swim in. I’m not sure if that’s the “wild” – semi-wild? In nature, definitely. I haven’t heard the expression “wild swimming”. But, for example, this brings me to a memory of my friend saying “oh, I found this place of water, an then we started swimming, and it was at night, and we saw a tree really far, and then we swam …” So, there is this aspect of wild swimming, for sure, but maybe not spoken about in the same words. Charlotte Bates: I think you’ve both really hit on something there. And it is, it’s a kind of contentious label – “wild swimming”. It’s become a really big thing in the UK, and I think there are different cultures around it in different countries. And it’s something that I’m trying to unpick a little bit at the moment too. You know, it’s not just about conquering nature. And there’s many different ways and different terms – “open-water swimming” is another one that’s used in the UK. But I’m interested in what work that word “wild” is doing. And our relationships with nature, and how we think about whether water is wild or not, or how it feels wild. And how that brings people in into contact and in touch with nature in different ways. Rosie Hancock: Do you think that, like, in a way, wild swimming has become a bit commodified, perhaps? Like, I’ve heard that Dryrobes are a really big thing in certain types of swimming. Did the swimmers that you met have anything to say about wild swimming as, like, an underground movement of sorts or like the cool new thing to be doing? Charlotte Bates: Yeah, so, it has had quite a boom in the UK. And with that have come things like Dryrobes, which are kind of these oversized fleece-lined robes that help people – swimmers – get changed and keep warm after a swin, because it is pretty cold outside here all year round. And they kind of represent a level of economic commitment. So, it does become classed. I think, you know, we were talking before about the wild, and a lot of the older swimmers that I’ve spoken to don’t call it “wild swimming”; they just call it swimming, because that’s what we all used to do. But with this kind of swell of swimmers, and a lot more swimming venues opening up around the UK and people really getting into it, there’s been a kind of a bit of a culture clash, I think. There was a great incident in Dublin, where signs were put up saying “no Dryrobe swimmers welcome here”. So, it is … there are these tensions. Alexis Hieu Truong: That’s really interesting. It’s like, so, it opens up the question of, like, how practices become commodified, I guess, right? But, at the same time, there definitely seems to be subversive elements to this – this notion of wild swimming that you talk about. Charlotte Bates: Yeah, I think it is subversive in different ways. It’s subversive just because it’s not in a swimming pool. We’ve kind of got to that point where, you know, everything is sanitised and ordered and we go to the swimming pool to swim. Why can’t we just go and swim in the river? But actually, we can’t just go and swim in the river because it’s really polluted. So, it’s kind of challenging our kind of typical ways of thinking and acting, and where we do things and how we do things. Whether it’s swimming outdoors or getting changed in a public park and kind of stripping down in a place where you just normally wouldn’t do that. Alexis Hieu Truong: So, Charlotte, would you say that it’s … that this wild swimming is a form of self-care? And why does it seem that mainly women tend to do it from your experience? Charlotte Bates: I think that that word “self-care” is really problematic, as Bev Skeggs highlighted in the first podcast, but I do think it is an act of care. Many swimmers find comfort in the cold water, as well as in their friendships and the community that swimming sustains. People have recounted to us, through the project, how swimming has helped them through grief, recovery, mental illness. I don’t think it’s something that can be prescribed or bottled as a cure. But it’s definitely kept people afloat during incredibly hard times. Rosie Hancock: Thanks, Charlotte. I mean, I really love the way in which it sounds like a community of women coming together and like offering support to each other as well. And I’m also really appreciating your use of the word “afloat” when we’re talking about swimming. So, Charlotte, we’re gonna stick with that notion of comfort and care, actually, because this is the part of the programme where we tend to take on a word or concept, a supposedly common sense thing that deserves challenging. And today we are going to talk about wellness and the wellness industry. Alexis Hieu Truong: So, how would you define “wellness”? And how has it appeared in your work, or in how people talk to you about wellness? Charlotte Bates: I mean, you talked about the wellness industry already there. And that’s something very different to how I would use “wellness”. So, the wellness industry, the happiness industry, self-care – those things offer solutions to suffering, but they’re also a way of commodifying and individualising responsibility for health and happiness. And I don’t think health is a lifestyle choice. You know, you can’t simply go swimming and feel better. But, I think, we’re all still looking for some kind of feeling of wellness. I think there is a kind of search for wellness. And Havi Carel writes about finding health and happiness within illness, but it requires changing ideas about time, about wellbeing, about mortality, about the society that we live in. Rosie Hancock: It’s so interesting that you say, you know, that you don’t think health is a lifestyle choice, because there’s this piece that was written in the HuffPost by Lucy Pasha-Robinson called “Wellness Culture is Ableism in Sheep’s Clothing”. And she talks about having a chronic condition, which is endometriosis. And she writes literally about this, right? She says, and I’m quoting, “the wellness industry sermon of constantly striving to ‘fix’ something, and asking you to part with money in order to do so is inherently ableist. It sells the idea that if we are ill we are broken, and that health is a lifestyle choice.” And I think your perspective on that, as it relates to people who have illnesses, is really interesting, particularly around your work with people who have illness, and how they talk about pretty basic, but really vital, things like sleep, food and exercise, as opposed to this big industry. Charlotte Bates: That’s a beautiful quote. I think, for me, it’s about finding comfort, not cure; it’s about being vulnerable, about making space for that vulnerability – keeping afloat. Rosie Hancock: So, on the theme of kind of taking care of ourselves, I wanted to turn now to this idea of the “nature cure”. And that’s an idea that suggests that we can feel better when we’re out – let’s, you know, go with swimming here – in nature, whatever that is. But – and you kind of have mentioned this in some of what you’ve been saying, Charlotte – that actually sometimes that nature is actually pretty damaged; and I’d like to add here, maybe, in part because of our consumption and wellbeing practices themselves, you know – microplastics in beauty products, let’s say. You know. Does this mean that maybe we need a more holistic notion of wellness – like, human wellness? If we want to get the benefits of swimming, then we want our bodies of water to be well, also. Charlotte Bates: Yeah, our own wellbeing is intimately entangled with the wellbeing of our planet. Wild swimming is a really good example for this, I think, because it’s not just going for a swim in a nice blue sea. It’s just not that at all. Wild swimming is restorative, but it’s also really risky. The waters in the UK are cold. They’re also really polluted. But that doesn’t stop people swimming in them and trying to find some comfort rather than cure. Samantha Walton writes really beautifully about immersing her vulnerable body in the vulnerable water, keeping her head above the water because she doesn’t want to swallow it and get sick. And Clifton Evers has written about the idea of “polluted leisure”, describing surfing in polluted waters as wellbeing with pollution. I hope that the realities of the waters that we swim in will make us more vulnerable, but also show us how we’re entwined and entangled, and teach us to be more caring and have more ethical relations with the natural world. No, it’s not something that we can just take from. Rosie Hancock: Charlotte, I think you wanted to draw our attention to a project called Moving Oceans, which is based over where I am, in Australia. Charlotte Bates: Yeah, Moving Oceans is a really great podcast project by Rebecca Olive. And she has conversations with different people who are working with oceans in different ways, really drawing our attention to those more-than-human encounters that we have and our relationships with planetary health, and that kind of question of scale, and about the other forms of life that we share the water with. Alexis Hieu Truong: Thanks for that information, Charlotte. We’ll definitely put that in the Episode Notes. So, before we go, let’s jump to the part of the show where we share our tips for things out there in the so-called “real world” that we can read, watch, see, listen or whatever, to stretch our ideas about bodies even further. Charlotte, do you have something to suggest? Charlotte Bates: I have so many things to suggest, but I’m going to choose one. I want to recommend a book by Nina Mingya Powles called “Small Bodies of Water”. She weaves together memoir and nature-writing to explore a girlhood spent growing up between two cultures, pain, racism, what it means to belong, and finding home in bodies of water from the wild coastline of New Zealand to the Hampstead Heath swimming ponds in London. Rosie Hancock: Oh, that sounds really cool. I have enjoyed swimming in both New Zealand and Hampstead Heath. So, that sounds right up my alley. Can I go next, Alexis? I want to recommend a poem by an Australian poet, actually, called Andy Jackson called “The Change Room”. And it’s about a man with Marfan’s and the experience of walking through a swimming pool and being recognised as someone with a really different body, but then also the experience of being in the water and how liberating that can be. And I just want to kind of quote really quickly from the poem. He says, “I become that man again, unsettling – shape to be explained.” And I love how that poem just really seems to tie together really nicely all of the things that we’ve spoken about today. Alexis Hieu Truong: It’s really interesting. For me, my suggestion would be to look into the artist Viktoria Modesta, who performed at the closing ceremony for the 2012 London Paralympics. She has referred to her work, I believe, as a bionic artist, often displaying tech-fashion with her diverse array of prosthetic legs. And she has new music out, but I was really intrigued by her first video, a number of years back, for her song “Prototype” – with lyrics like, “we’re limitless, we’re not confined” – where she opened a bunch of questions, I feel, about how we live with or as bodies, and also as societies. It also makes me think about the work of a friend of mine, Alexandre Baril, who has worked on things like becoming an amputee by choice, extreme transformations and, more generally, the idea of wilfully acquiring what would be otherwise understood as an impairment or disability. Rosie Hancock: Wow, that sounds wild, Alexis. It kind of makes me think about how, you know, upset my parents were when I just got tattoos, and I can’t … It’s like, I guess for everyone there’s always one step further that you can go. Thanks so much, Charlotte. That was so great to speak to you. I know that it’s, you know – we’ve had a very disembodied experience here, all three of us in different parts of the world. But I think we’ve still managed to have a really lovely intimate conversation. Charlotte Bates: Thanks, Rosie. It was really lovely to be here with you. Alexis Hieu Truong: And that’s it for this month. You can catch this reading list including those recommendations, and one from our producer Alice, by clicking on our podcasts page at The Sociological Review website; or have a scroll through our Episode Notes in the app you’re using to hear this. Rosie, what I’ll take away from today’s episode I think is Charlotte’s discussion on her research, it really made me kind of look back at my own experiences of asthma and diabetes, and see it through a different lens. Maybe not as things that were necessarily, well, on one side, things that were happening to my body, but also how I – as my own body – was changing over time in the way that I was experiencing that subjectively. What about you? Rosie Hancock: Yeah, I mean, I think I am going to think about how prioritising health, instead of thinking about wellness, is actually or can be counter-capitalist. I really, I really liked that idea. Alexis Hieu Truong: So, next month we’re talking about “cities”, or I guess you could say the body in urban space. Rosie Hancock: If you’ve enjoyed listening to Uncommon Sense, do tap “follow” and rate or review us in whatever app you’re using, and share us with your friends and family. Alexis Hieu Truong: Our executive producer was Alice Bloch. Our sound engineer was Dave Crackles. Thanks for listening. Bye. Rosie Hancock: Bye!


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