Pulling Together: Making Meaning of Extreme Flesh Practices

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Horton, Alicia
Social Constructionism , Body Modification , Ethnography
This thesis puts forth an ethnographic, contextual social constructionist account of the non-mainstream body manipulations practiced at the annual Body & Soul body modification event in Western Canada. The radical practices at this event include sewing limes and other items to one’s body, flesh hook pulling, and/or receiving “third eye” piercings and cheek skewers; thus, it constitutes an example of extreme deviance subject to negative reactions from outsiders. This research assumes that meaning is discursively and symbolically constituted by people via an active process of claimsmaking wherein competition for definitional control of reality ensues. From a qualitative stance, data were derived from a combination of participant observation fieldwork at Body & Soul and subsequent in-depth interviews with participants. The results demonstrate a trend in the (counter)claimsmaking activity of practitioners of this extreme form of body modification wherein paradoxically the nature of their deviance is reconstructed and aligned with conformist goals via discursive, corporal, and symbolic claims that simultaneously offer an implicit critique of mainstream Western culture. The results are interpreted as part of a discursive competition for definitional control of extreme body modification, strategy in the negotiation and management of a stigmatized identity, means of implicit social criticism, and an unconventional expression of conventional values.
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