Modifying the Modifier: Body Modification as Social Incarnation



The notion that body modification occurs when one undertakes practices like tattooing, piercing or scarification, engenders discourses in which: (i) body modifiers endorse such practices as self-constructive, distancing their practitioners from social regulation and a deterministic biology, whereas; (ii) critics condemn their seemingly violent, corporeal interference. However, in suspecting that such analysis should be attentive to the concurrent individual and social co-constitution of behaviours, a sociological and post-structural interrogation of this characterization of body modification as a “sovereign, denaturalizing” endeavour is demanded.

An engagement with the originary violence of Derridian deconstruction will duly re-conceive body modification practice as not something which introduces violence to corporeality. Rather, violence will present as a primordial differentiating process which bodies always already condition, and by which they are conditioned/produced/modified. The second issue at stake in this article will thus develop as a contestation to the characterization of “body modification” as an exclusive category of practice. Such practices do not arrive, pre-existing, but rather manifest as the originary violence/differentiation of bodies-as-modifications-which-modify. This re-defines modification from something that agentive subjects introduce to bodies, to something that subjects-as-bodies cannot help but be. Consequently, individual agency is not divorced from behaviour, but emerges as a corporeal, social production.