What is a body?

I have a body that is apparently really mine, and it is what makes me me. I number it among my possessions and I claim to exercise full sovereignty over it. So I think I am unique and independent. But that is an illusion, because no human society believes that the body is any good on its own. All bodies are conceived, and not only by their fathers and mothers. They are not created by the person who possesses it, but by others. It’s not thought of as a thing, be it in New Guinea, Amazonia, East Africa or Europe. On the contrary, it takes on the form of its relationship with otherness and it is this relationship that constitutes the person. According to the present anthropological point of view, the Other refers respectively to: the other gender, the animal species, the dead and the divine (secularised, in the modern age, in the teleology of the living person). Yes, my body is the thing that reminds me that I find myself in a world that is peopled, for instance, by ancestors, divinities, enemies and other beings of the opposite sex. Is my body really mine? It is the very thing that determines the fact that I do not belong to myself, that I do not exist alone and that my destiny is to live in a social context.


224 pages 24 cm x 26 cm 

240 colour illustrations

1 map

price : 19 €

ISBN 2-915133-17-4

Co-edited by the musée du quai Branly/ Flammarion

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exhibition curator

Stéphane Breton, anthropologist, producer of documentary films, assistant professor at EHESS, member of the laboratory for social anthropology (EHESS/CNRS/Collège de  France). He has published several books, including: "Télévision", Grasset, 2005, "La mascarade des sexes", Calmann-Lévy, 1994, "Les fleuves immobiles", Calmann-Lévy, 1994. He has also produced three films which recounts the time spent with the people of the Highlands in New Guinea, the Wodani, and the Kirghiz people. These films have been shown on Arte TV and include: "Eux et moi", Les  films d'ici & Arte, 2001; "Ciel dans un jardin", Les  films d'ici & Arte, 2003, "Un été silencieux," 2006.


Michèle Coquet, anthropologist, head of research at the CNRS, member of the laboratory ‘Thought Systems in Black Africa’ (EPHE/CNRS)

Michael Houseman, anthropologist, director of studies at École pratique des Hautes Etudes, laboratory director‘ for ‘Thought Systems in Black Africa’  (EPHE/CNRS)

Jean-Marie Schaeffer, philosopher, director of research at CNRS, director of the Centre for research into the arts and language (CNRS/EHESS)

Anne-Christine Taylor, anthropologist, director of research at CNRS, member of the Amerindian ethnology research team.

Eduardo Viveiros de Castro, anthropologist, professor of anthropology at the Museu Nacional do Brasil, Rio de  Janeiro, director of research associated with the  Amerindian ethnology research team (CNRS).

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