What is a body?

I’ve a body that’s apparently really mine, and it’s what makes me me. I number it among my possessions and I claim to exercise full sovereignty over it. So I think I’m unique and independent. But that’s an illusion, because there is no human society in which one thinks that the body is any good on its own. All bodies are engendered, and not only by their fathers and mothers. It’s not made by the one that has it, but by others. It’s not thought of as a thing, not in New Guinea, any more than in Amazonia, East Africa or Europe. On the contrary, it has the particular form of its connection with otherness that constitutes the person.  According to the anthropological point of view that is adopted here, this Other is, respectively, 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, with ancestors, divinities, enemies and other being of the opposite sex. Is my body really mine? It’s it that determines that I don’t belong to myself, that I don’t exist alone and that my destiny is to live in a social context.


224 pages in 24 cm x 26 cm format

240 colour illustrations

1 map

price : 19 €

isbn 2-915133-17-4

A co-publication by the musée du quai Branly/ Flammarion

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exhibition curator

Stéphane Breton, anthropologist, producer of documentary films, assist. 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, chronicles of time spent with the people of the Highlands in New Guinea, the Wodani, and among the Kirghiz people, that have been shown on Arte TV  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 CNRS, member of the laboratory ‘Thought Systems in Black Africa’ (EPHE/CNRS)

Michael Houseman, anthropologist, director of studies at École pratique des Hautes Etudes, director of laboratory ‘‘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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