Perfection: a technical and scientific goal?

What can the human body do for science and technology? Healthy bodies, sick bodies and dead bodies are all tested on in research and development, for example in pharmaceuticals, vaccines and cybertechnologies. Whilst in many cases tests are voluntary, in others, a substantial payment is offered. Some could say that bodies are sold to science. For example, FluCamp pays volunteers up to £3750 to take part in medical trials which can last up to two weeks. Astronauts are often described as selling their bodies to Space where their bodies are drastically and permanently altered during and after long-term space flights. Scientists ‘need to alter humans, in some way, to accommodate Space’ (Parkhurst 2012:69).This video describes how space may have changed NASA astronaut Scott Kelly’s body:


But what can science and technology do to repair and enhance the human body? The rapid development of cyborgs, which Parkhurst describes as an opaque relationship ‘between the cybernetic and the organic’, has created a debate concerning therapy versus ‘enhancement’ or ‘upgrade’ which is ‘potentially dangerous’ (Parkhurst 2012:68-9, 70). Discourse on enhancing the human body often leads to ideas of transhumanism or the superhuman. Professor Warwick or, ‘Captain Cyborg’, has stated that those who do not embrace a post-human world, will get left behind (Warwick 2003). It is true that we are becoming more and more intimate with technologies but, in returning to the core theme of this blog, how will these advanced technologies be funded and available to everyone? Are cyborg technologies which ‘enhance’ only for the rich who can afford ‘superhuman’ bodies? The example of implanted chips for members to private clubs emphasises how pairing individuals with intelligent technology can create exclusivity and widen socio-economic gaps. Even if these technologies are provided for everyone, surely they cannot all be to the same advanced standard?

Cerqui voices her concerns on how natural and artificial hybridization can disrupt human social relations and analyses its ethical implications (Cerqui 2002).  She explores the human quest for perfection arguing that ‘human beings have taken control of their bodies in order to free themselves from them…the body is…only the container for our mind’ (Cerqui 2002:103). Cerqui interviewed engineers who believed that rationality was of most value whilst emotions were irrelevant to humankind (Cerqui 2002:104). I am not so convinced. This move to rationalization links to Weber’s disenchantment of society where ‘there are in principle no mysterious, incalculable powers at work, but rather that one could in principle master everything through calculation’ (Weber 1989:13). Traditional and organic human values and emotions are arguably being replaced by the ‘magic’ of technology. Technology has become a social value in itself whilst encapsulating other social values. For example,  fitness and wellbeing smart technologies reflect how we value healthy lifestyles.

Are fitness technologies cyborgian?

Cerqui argues that humans have become objects malleable to change and that desires for perfection could alienate us from our ‘natural and social dimensions’ (Cerqui 2002:106-7). This Marxist perspective views the body as partly commodified and alienated from social relations. It projects a fear of human replacement. I have already mentioned the ‘ideal body’ in my previous post, but what if the ‘ideal’ is not ‘perfect’? What of humans require technological aid to achieve it? And should they?

Many technologically focussed groups share the view that the human body is naturally imperfect and can always be improved, enhanced or upgraded. This very much correlates with everyday body ideals. However, rather than focussing on aesthetics, there is a focus on the unbreakable and invincible. The reflexive project of the self, mirrors the reflexivity of society where societies transform and progress as they examine themselves, in this case, technologically (Giddens 1991) (Beck 1992). Yet how does this affect how we value the body and the self? Pairing ourselves with advanced and expensive technologies may affect our concepts of self-worth. It contradicts the common view presented in my introduction blog post that the human body is ‘a social, organic and virtuous symbol of humanity’. Do cyborgs deauthenticate the human body? Or, is a new form of authenticity created with mind, body, soul and technology?


Beck, U. (1992). Risk Society: towards a new modernity, Trans. M. Ritter, Sage Publications, London, UK.

Cerqui, D. (2002). ‘‘The Future of Humankind in the Era of Human and Computer Hybridization: An Anthropological Analysis’’, p.101-108, Vol.4(2), Ethics and Information Technology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self- Identity, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Parkhurst, A. (2012). Becoming Cyborgian: Procrastinating the Singularity, p.68-80, Vol. 18(1), The New Bioethics, Taylor and Francis, UK.

Warwick, K. (2003). ‘‘Cyborg Morals, Cyborg Values, Cyborg Ethics’’, p.131-137, Vol.5(3), Ethics and Information Technology, Ethics and Information Technology, Kluwer Academic Publishers, Netherlands.

Weber, M. (1989). ‘Science as a Vocation’ in P. Lassman, I. Velody and  Herminio Martins (eds.) Science as a Vocation, p.13, Unwin Hyman Limited, London, UK.


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The Commercialized Body

“People don’t buy products—they buy people. It’s called slavery. I mean networking. It’s called networking.”

-Jarod Kintz from ‘This Book is Not FOR SALE’

In previous blog posts, I have explored the body bought and sold through more controversial and ethically debated subjects. But what about the everyday? We are constantly exposed to an array of media subliminally presenting the ideal and normative body. TV adverts, billboards, print and social media all impact our visions of bodies. Bodies are the ultimate forms of material culture and are also pasted onto many other objectified forms.

The commercialized body represents and shapes our consumption desires. Large corporations participate in the buying and selling of individual bodies- professional sports, modelling and even scientific and technological research (which I shall explore further in my next blog post). In professional sports, the physical body of the elite athlete is bought rather than his or her mental capabilities. The professional is bound to a strict contract which disciplines, monitors and governs their practices. We can link this to Foucault’s ‘docile bodies’ which ‘may be subjected, used, transformed and improved’ by institutions (Foucault 1975:136). Discipline increases the forces of the body in economic terms of utility and reduces these same forces in political terms of obedience dissociating power from the body (Foucault 1975:138). When star footballers transfer to different teams there is often a huge uproar as well as a financial cost of millions of pounds. Last year Raheem Sterling transferred from Liverpool to Manchester City for £ 49 million and received the title of English football’s £100 million man. In this lucrative sport, players are bought and sold whilst their injuries also prove to be extremely costly.

Raheem Sterling ‘English football’s £100 million man’

Similarly, commercial models are paid solely based on how much their body is valued. They are also bound to contracts which dictate how they can use their bodies to a certain degree. In this buying and selling of bodies, what exactly is being bought and sold? The individual body is bought by the company, it is invested in and nurtured by the large corporation and then re-emitted to the mass audience. We then buy the image of the body through buying branded products which can influence how we shape our bodies and to what standards. The company wishes to sell their product but is selling much more-the ideal unattainable body, self and lifestyle. Miller and Rose describe how advertisers adopt a psychoanalytical approach to guide campaigns of persuasion- an interpersonal process (Miller & Rose 1997). The consumer is often described as a passive being acted upon by advertisers who creates false desires and needs (Miller & Rose 1997:6). We can link this to Foucault’s ‘docile bodies’ where individuals lack agency and are manipulated by commercial agents.

Additionally, the branding of oneself can act as the ultimate form of commodification (Maguire 2015). We can view the individual body acting as a canvas for the marketed brand. Clothes items, perfumes and even Kimojis, (Kim Kardashian’s emoji IPhone app) are examples of a body or individual becoming materialised.

Kim Kardashian’s Kimojis

The commercialized body represents the normative body, the accepted body of society, the body as citizenship. Here we can see the body as socially constructed, a mirror for society (Douglas 1966). The ideal body type changes over time as well as cross culturally however many countries look to the Western North Americanized body for beauty inspiration. In Brazil, beauty correlates with success where ‘References to work and the wider social world punctuate …the decision to have plastic surgery’ (Edmonds 2007:369). One woman states that no one will ‘hire someone who will ruin the image of the product’ (Edmonds 2007:369). Hodden compares commercialized bodies in America and Japan by analysing various TV adverts (Hodden 1996). Whilst most of the societal values and desires are the same in both countries, Hodden  argues that in America, the body is presented as an ideal whilst in Japan, it is ‘average’ and attainable (Hodden 1996:209). In recent years, this ideal commercialized body has been challenged with plus size models, disabled models, and even models wearing the hijab.

Women challenge Victoria Secret’s ‘Perfect Body’ Campaign which was changed after

How does the normative body affect our self-construction? We could argue that preserving a unique and individual body means resisting the norm. But what is the norm? The commercialized body is unavoidable and shapes our desires, values and intentions. Although we can get frustrated and resist the idea that worth is placed on aesthetics, we often inevitably take on this mentality ourselves particularly when younger, more malleable and susceptible to social pressures. Lifestyles to aim for are represented in and sold to us through the commercialized body. Giddens argues that lifestyles ‘give material form to a particular narrative of self-identity’ (Giddens 1991:81). Furthermore, the ‘ideal self’ becomes part of our self-identity as an aspiration to aim for which influences how the self develops (Giddens 1991:68). Through analysing the commercialized body, we can observe how advertised lifestyles mirror our desires and influence our constructions of the self and body.


Edmonds, A. (2007). ‘The poor have a right to be beautiful’: cosmetic surgery in neoliberal Brazil, p.363-381, Vol. 13(2), Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, Wiley- Blackwell, UK.

Foucault, M. (1995). Discipline and Punish: the birth of the prison, p.136-8, 2nd Vintage Books ed., Vintage Books, New York.

Giddens, A. (1991). Modernity and Self- Identity, Polity Press, Cambridge, UK.

Hodden, T.J.M. (1996). The Commercialized Body: A Comparative Study of Culture and Values, p.199-215, Vol. 2(2), Interdisciplinary Information Sciences, Graduate School of Information Sciences, Tohoku Daigaku, Japan.

Miller, P and Rose, N.  (1997). Mobilizing the Consumer: Assembling the Subject of Consumption, p.1-36, Vol. 14(1), Theory, Culture and Society, Sage Publications, USA.


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Fragmenting the Body- Part 2- The Human Hair Industry in India

India is one of the key global players in the human hair industry. Indian hair is valued as it is perceived as strong and healthy where ‘virgin hair’, which has not been chemically altered, is in abundance.  Companies export hair to the West where it is used for wigs and hair extensions whilst shorter hair is mainly sold to Chinese firms who extract amino acids from it used to make baking goods.

The Venkateshwara temple in southern India is home to many pilgrims who shave their hair for the God of Vishnu. Over 18 million visit every year to pay their respects to an incarnation of Vishnu whilst hundreds of barbers work to cut their hair.  In Hindu tradition, hair is considered a more valuable donation to God than money. As visitors leave, their hair is gathered and sold. More than 75 tonnes of hair is sold annually raising nearly £4 million for the temple. Money funds accommodation and other facilities for the pilgrims as well as other charities which help the area. The temple sees it as a ‘win win’ situation where both businesses and temples benefit. However businesses who export hair benefit much more where hair prices increase ten times over. David Gold, head of hair extension company, Great Lengths, believes that hair is as valuable as gold, silver and platinum because the demand is far greater than the supply. When asked about not compensating the women giving their hair, he argues that they would not want money as they would give up their hair regardless to collectors who go through villages.

Similar to the organ trade, the commodification of the body defies its ‘sacredness’ particularly in the ritualistic act of pilgrimage. Religion and business fuse together through the medium of body fragmentation. Values of religious purity and sacrifice are exploited through body commodification. The video below explores the industry in more detail:

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Fragmenting the Body- Part 1-The Organ Trade

The body commodified makes many feel uncomfortable. However, in some cases fragmentation can be perceived as a  positive process where part of the body is given up in a selfless and altruistic act of generosity. In organ donation, individuals arguably demonstrate responsible citizenship through ‘giving back’ to society. We can analyse organ donation using Mauss’ gift theory where we observe a reciprocal relationship with an expectation of return (Mauss 1925). In this act of giving, a social relationship is formed in reciprocity. However, this relationship is ambiguous in the global regulated sale of organs. Here, we can argue that the social relationship is removed where the gift is transformed into a commodity.

Organ trade is illegal in almost every country yet every year millions of products derived from human tissue are sold. The scarcity of healthy organs causes many to resort to illicit means. This culturally normalises the replaceable body. Furthermore, linking to blog post two on reproductive technologies, this trade is benefited by the affluent. They are perhaps more likely to abuse their health with the increased chance of paying for any organs. Altruism and gift giving diminishes whilst health is monetized and the body commodified.

The illegal trade of organs exacerbates social, economic and racial inequalities where the body becomes a political site. Using inspiration from Mintz’ Sweetness and Power, Scheper- Hughes explores the 20th century global organ trade (Scheper-Hughes 2000). Like the slave trade, organ transplants occur in a transnational space and follow ‘new paths of capital and technology in the global economy’ (Scheper-Hughes 2000:191). The flow of organs follows modern routes of capital:  ‘from South to North, from Third to First World, from poor to rich, from black and brown to white, and from female to male’ (Scheper Hughes 2000:193). Here, the fragmented body is identified by the age, gender, race and nationality. Body parts surpass borders their original ‘owners’ cannot.

Map of the Organ Trade

Cohen’s ethnography on organ transplantation in India describes the impoverished buying and selling their kidneys to pay off existing debts (Cohen 2003). Many donors do not know what kidneys are and are persuaded to have operations by doctors wishing to make a profit. Sadly, these individuals are back in debt soon after selling their kidneys. The scars of operations represent a debt rather than a gift. Contrary to the Tiv who have scars as signs of beautification, these scars represent sacrifice and even shame (Bohannan 1956). Due to men carrying out more laborious work, women donate more. Some women are called ‘kidney sellers’ and likened to prostitutes. We can link this to Day’s study where the internal body transitions to the external, transcending socially normalised boundaries. It is immersed in the market and disconnected from the private self. Through the commodification of the fragmented body, we can observe the transformation of the ‘natural’ body to the‘cultural’ where the body becomes a site of alienation.

In part two, I shall develop the fragmentation of the body further in relation to the lucrative hair trade industry.


Bohannan, P. (1956). Beauty and Scarification Amongst the Tiv, p.117-121, Vol. 56, Royal Anthropological Institute of Great Britain and Ireland, UK.

Cohen, L. (2003). Where it Hurts: Indian Material for an Ethics of Organ Transplantation, p. 663-688, Vol. 38(3), Zygon, Wiley- Blackwell, USA.

Mauss, M. (1925). The Gift: forms and functions of exchange in archaic societies (1966 version), Routledge, London.

Scheper-Hughes, N. (2000). The Global Traffic in Human Organs, p.191-224, Vol.41(2), Current Anthropology, University of Chicago Press, USA.


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