Body Politics and “Clash of Civilizations”

Provocative, and thought-provoking.

Benjamen Walker’s Theory Of Everything: Modernity = Boobs

A major difference between the “Western” world dominated by Christians and those parts of the world which are “entering modernity” does have to do, in part, with attitudes toward exposed flesh.  To me, connections to Said’s Orientalism are rather obvious. (Although I’ve never read the book itself, I get the impression that it contains some insightful comments about the way Christian-Europeans constructed their own identity as “Occidentals” through an idea of “The Orient” as both exotic and sensual. Read during the Victorian era, Arabian Nights must have been quite interesting a read.)

Of course, ethnographers who know Southwest Asia have a lot to say about body politics. Yara?


Author: enkerli

French-speaking ethnographer, homeroaster, anthropologist, musician, coffee enthusiast.

4 thoughts on “Body Politics and “Clash of Civilizations””

  1. @Carl When I read this, I was mostly thinking about the “clash of civ” angle with the obvious sartorial angle. But I do agree that “modernity” is one of those concepts which «endiguent» (stems the flow of, by digging a trench under) conversation.
    At this point, I mostly have in my head a model of a “constellation of ideas.” It takes in a lot, but it’s a bit more specific than “modernity.” It’s still a “Western Civ thinkstorm,” and it may sound especially sophomoric to historians, but it helps me through…
    Euro-American identity (“Westerners”), Anglo-American Industrial Revolution, market economy (left/right, same diff), Weber’s PWE, a specific (individual) Judeo-Christian thread of achievement-drive, Appiah’s Golden Nugget, Nationalism/Patriotism (same diff), urbanization, intensification, social darwinism, Invisible Hand, “Culture of Human Rights,” mind/body dualism, formalized social politics…
    Not that these are dependent on one another. Just that they represent components of the same configuration. And that configuration, as a whole, is perceived as representative of “modernity,” “(post-)modernism,” “The West,” “Democracy,” “Civilization”… Not that everyone takes part in the fun in exactly the same way. But there are obvious connections in the way things have been happening, in certain contexts.

  2. I’m not sure about the metadiscourse here. I never am when ‘modernity’ is the topic. It seems to be a problem that Europe defines ‘modernity’. But of course, that’s only a problem if in some sense modern=good. And historically Europe did define modernity as such, for what it’s worth.

    Another way to handle things is to give modernity to Europe (without essentializing Europe, i.e. understanding that as Latour tells us, “we have never been modern”). Let ’em have it. Pheh, modernity=dead vole dead vole! Then sensible people can call what they’re doing something else, not need to think of themselves as ‘hybrid’ (in this respect) at all, but rather holistic in a different (albeit overlapping) holism, and get on with their lives.

    However, in I guess a very “Western” way I’m in favor of anything that comes down to boobs in the end.

  3. Yara,

    Thanks a lot for the comment! I do find the posturing quite funny. Pretty much an ethnocentric double-standard. “If ‘they’ become like ‘us,’ even in our flaws, they’re becoming modern.”
    Yet again, identity negotiation in its purest form.

  4. I read a wonderful editorial somewhere (can’t remember where) about how modesty has become “taboo” in Western culture, while girls as young as 5 or 6 years old are being sexualized. Think of those really creepy, in my humble opinion, child beauty pageants.

    The editorial you linked to, is for me, an expression of an extremely limited definition of modernity. In the Arab world, muslim barbies in beautiful stylish “modest” clothes are flying off the shelves. There are even dolls in the traditional black native cloth of the Gulf (I bought a few as much for myself as for my kids). No matter what one might think of the political correctness of exposing or not. I thought it was important for my girls to have different dolls in different body shapes and body-showing philosophies. One of them even sings a traditional religious song!

    While in Egypt the veil has been reappropriated by middle-class career women / moms as a symbol of a fundamentally muslim modernity. In France and the Netherlands, two countries I’ve visited lately, young muslim women have invented wonderful ways of expressing their muslim hybrid identities. Redesigning the veil and overlapping different layers of clothing. It’s so original, it’s being recuperated by the fashion industry: Notice the new trend of wearing pants and tights under short summer dresses.

    I mean since when has hooters or playboy been anything to proud of as a woman in a “liberated country”? As far as I’m concerned it’s junkfood for your body AND your brain. Just because it’s American it should be celebrated?? Please.


    PS. Speaking of Saïd. Yes he does offer some wonderful interpretations of romantic famous paintings featuring women behind the veil and in the harem under the fascinated and drooling eye of the invisible the European draeing the painting ( He speaks of De la Croix mainly).

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