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Representations and Techniques of the Body among the Mongols

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The article provides an analysis of techniques of the body in childhood, adulthood and old age among a range of Mongolian cultures. Using Marcel Mauss's well-known observations on techniques of the body as a starting point, the paper develops his ideas (along lines suggested by the work of Roberte Hamayon) to include issues of classification, spatiality and symbolisation. In the context of Buddhist and shamanist cultures, Mongolian concepts of ‘soul’ and ‘vital energy’ are central for an understanding of techniques of the body. Analysing the life-cycle and indigenous notions of cyclicity, it is argued that the process of humanisation during the training of the child is for the Mongols the opposite of the process of dehumanisation of the elders. In both situations, a certain distance from full social presence is evident. Adulthood, on the other hand, is a period of social integration marked by a mode of mastery of the body and restraint in physical behaviour. Using both synchronic and diachronic modes of analysis, Lacaze concludes that while collective public pressures to conform to conventional norms are strong, there also exist a variety of more natural (‘wild’) behaviours that are allowed to certain social categories, this being related to concepts of animality.


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