Embodiment is the process in which people “literally incorporate biologically, the social and material world in which we live."[1] From a medical anthropology perspective, the concept of embodiment focuses on how social influences impact the physical body. Since human beings are biological and social beings, embodiment is a useful analytical tool in assessing health disparities because it explores biosocial relationships.[2]

Key Figures and Uses

Understanding embodiment requires an understanding of anthropologist's discussions on the body. Lock and Scheper-Hughes,[3] for example, describe the body in three perspectives: the individual body, the social body, and the body politic. The individual body is understood through the “lived experiences of the body-self”; the social body is representative of “a natural symbol with which to think about nature, society, and culture”; the body politic refers to the “regulation, surveillance, and control of bodies (individual and collective) in reproduction and sexuality, in work and leisure, in sickness and other forms of deviance and human difference.” Lock and Scheper-Hughes highlight that bodies are more than biological entities, but carry social meaning as well. Just as bodies can incorporate social meaning, they can show signs of suffering and social marginalization. Horton and Barker[4] demonstrate that bodies are signs of social inequality by describing how limited access to dental care for some populations led to unhealthy teeth, which resulting in damaging biological and social consequences. Bodies are also indicators of social inequality because of different grooming techniques which suggest extra time or money available to be put towards grooming. Moreover, a phenomenological understanding of suffering may begin with examining the body. Maria Tapias[5] argues, the “understanding of culture should begin with an examination of the lived-in body, because one knows, feels, and thinks about the social world through the body… [embodiment involves] a scrutiny of how people experience and carry out their daily activities from within their bodies and an examination of how one’s body relates to other bodies.” In her article, “Emotions and the Intergenerational Embodiment of Social Suffering in Rural Bolivia,” Tapias discusses the ways in which political and economic instabilities in Bolivia during its political restructuring affects the health of both market- and working-class women as well as their infants.The emotions that result from economic hardship, domestic violence, and other social conflicts have been embodied and internalized by these women. Because of this, as Tapias writes, “mothers’ bodies and emotions are seen as vectors through which gestating babies and breastfeeding infants develop transient and enduring ailments and debility."[6]

Embodiment and Inequality

In 2012, Dr. Daniel H. Lende proposed in the article published in Annals of Anthropological Practice, since there is a consistent linkage of children living in poverty and negative brain development, a framework for thinking about how social factors of class, race, etc. can affect individuals’ cognitive and physical abilities is needed. The concept of “poverty poisons the brain” has been an increasingly used metaphor to argue for more and less services depending on your political persuasions, to address inequality and poverty in the United States. Lende’s article first presents the research behind this metaphor, which includes the impact of socioeconomic status on human development, how living in poverty affects children, and the core causal model of social factors and brain mechanisms to show how experience gets under our skins or embodied.[7] Additionally, Lende offers a critical approach to the paradigm of poverty poisoning the brain. The systemic effects and politics of inequality, in other words, what is causing the poverty in the first place is not in view and the model is open to “blaming the victim.” [8] The same model lends itself to support pharmaceutical approaches to “fix” “treat” or “enhance” the victim.

To move away from favoring forms of social control and pharmaceutical management of “poisoned brains” Lende recommends three ways to reform this approach: study the social embodiment of inequality; 2) research to show the links between the dynamics of stress and inequality; and 3) produce social facts of the causality in the basic “poverty poisons the brain”, how the brain can play a role in the social production of class and patterns of social inequality and health disparity. These three steps are a neuroanthropological approach that can incorporate social embodiment, the influences of stress to transform the research on poverty and children.[9]

"This Is Your Brain On Poverty"

This report was about a recent study where researchers found some groundbreaking findings which were published in the journal, Science. Researchers have concluded that poverty imposes such a massive cognitive load on the poor that they have little bandwidth left over to do many of the things that might lift them out of poverty -- like go to night school, or search for a new job, or even remember to pay bills on time. In a series of experiments run by researchers at Princeton, Harvard, and the University of Warwick, low-income people who were primed to think about financial problems performed poorly on a series of cognition tests, saddled with a mental load that was the equivalent of losing an entire night's sleep. Put another way, the condition of poverty imposed a mental burden akin to losing 13 IQ points, or comparable to the cognitive difference that's been observed between chronic alcoholics and normal adults. *Read more here from Emily Badger / The Atlantic: http://www.theatlanticcities.com/jobs...

The Young Turks: Ana Kasparian, John Iadarola (TYT University and Common Room), Dave Rubin (The Rubin Report), and Desi Doyen (Green News Report) are the moderators and break it down on The Young Turks report.TYT Network is a Multi-Channel Network of online video talk shows, consisting mostly of TYT owned-and-operated shows and a select group of outside partners.The network generates over 50 million views per month and has over a billion lifetime views. The flagship program in the network is The Young Turks, hosted by Cenk Uygur and Ana Kasparian.

Poverty and Brain Development

Chaya Kulkarni, Director, Infant Mental Health Promotion, Hospital for Sick Children explains how poverty affects a child's brain development and what parents can do to mitigate.
This video talks about toxic stress and the impact it has on the child’s brain development, especially from 0 to 2 years, the number of synaptic connections occurring (over 700 per second) never matched at any other age in our life span. Current research is revealing that the parent/caregiver relationship with the child doesn’t just affect supporting the growing brain development but in addition can kill existing brain cells if the relationship is not a nurturing loving one.
For TVOParents.com:http://tvoparents.tvo.org/
Published on Oct 19, 2012


  1. ^ Horton, Sarah B. and Judith C. Barker 2010 (forthcoming) Stigmatized Biologies: Examining Oral Health Disparities for Mexican American Farmworker Children and their Cumulative Effects. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 24 (2).
  2. ^ Krieger, Nancy. 2005 Embodiment: A Conceptual Glossary for Epidemiology. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health 59: 350-355.
  3. ^ Scheper-Hughes, Nancy and Margaret M. Lock 1987 The mindful body: A prolegomenon to future work in medical anthropology. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 1(1): 6-14.
  4. ^ Horton, Sarah B. and Judith C. Barker 2010 (forthcoming) Stigmatized Biologies: Examining Oral Health Disparities for Mexican American Farmworker Children and their Cumulative Effects. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 24 (2).
  5. ^ Tapias, Maria. 2006 Emotions and the intergenerational embodiment of social suffering in rural Bolivia. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 20(3): 399-415.
  6. ^ Tapias, Maria 2006 Emotions and the intergenerational embodiment of social suffering in rural Bolivia. Medical Anthropology Quarterly 20(3): 399-415.
  7. ^ Hackman, Daniel A., Martha J. Farah, and Michael J. Meaney
    2010 Socioeconomic Status and the Brain: Mechanistic Insights from Human and Animal Research.Nature Reviews Neuroscience 11(9):651–659.
  8. ^ Hackman, Daniel A., and Martha J. Farah
    2009 Socioeconomic Status and the Developing Brain. Trends in Cognitive Science 13(2):65–73.
  9. ^ Lende, Daniel H. "Poverty poisons the brain." Annals of Anthropological Practice 36.1 (2012): 183-201.