Bodies, Nations, and Knowledge. Political Epistemologies in Germany, Poland, and Sweden in Historical Perspective


FORTE: Swedish Research Council for Health, Working Life and Welfare

Research objectives

An intensified interest in the body’s cultural and political significance has generated a fast expanding international research field. Two developments have contributed to this bodily turn. Since the 1970s, the women’s movement has politicised issues around bodily integrity and reproductive rights. About the same time, life scientists began to challenge the accepted view of the body as a given and contained entity. The arrival of new terms such as ‘bodily’ and ‘biological’ citizenship indicates that the issue surrounding the body is of central importance in the ongoing transformation of society and democracy. The monograph will contribute to the multifaceted research field on the body by transcending boundaries in several ways: between disciplines, countries and ages. It synthesises research that I have conducted in several projects in recent years. The work consolidates empirical case studies on the body’s politics in three countries (Poland, Sweden and Germany) during two periods: the inter-war and contemporary periods. The comparison between these countries and the development over time disclose an unexpected pattern, which unsettles previously accepted notions.

The book answers two questions

  1. How is it that Germany and Poland, which are now classified as ‘conservative’ regarding reproductive rights and restrictive in the application of biomedicine, can be perceived as the pioneering countries concerning the right to bodily integrity, while Sweden, which from a contemporary perspective is considered ‘liberal’, has historically prioritised society’s right to intervene in individual rights?
  2. How have women’s movements challenged the dominating discourse in these countries and how can their mutually different ways of prioritising and politicising issues of the female body be accounted for?

In contrast to other policy areas comparative studies in this field are in their infancy. The double comparison - between countries and time periods – will offer an innovative contribution and bring more systematic insights into the inter-relationship between the body, science, democracy, and gender relations. The book combines cultural and social science research approaches. It deploys the analytical concept of national ‘political epistemologies’ and advances it through the temporal perspective. It explores how argumentative and political strategies are rooted in national histories and styles of thought. It argues that bodily policies can be understood as an interaction of a ‘triple body’ - individual, collective and imaginary. The monograph unfolds the argument that ‘big’ debates on body issues are intrinsic to phases of the fundamental transformations, and a major terrain where the formative boundaries between private/public, citizenship and national belonging are renegotiated.

Outline of the book

  1. Situating bodies in politics
  2. Navigating through times and spaces: A Comparative political epistemology The rationalization of bodily and social organisms
  3. Germany: Reproduction first
  4. Sweden: The primacy of the social
  5. Poland: Reluctant reforms Governing leaky bodies in network societies
  6. Germany: Resistance
  7. Sweden: Acceptance
  8. Poland: Antagonism
  9. Conclusion: Landscapes of Body Politics

Research area / geographic area

Culture and Education Gender Studies Historical Studies Critical and Cultural Theory Politics, Economy and the Organisation of Society Social sciences Europe

Contract ID


Project time

2016 — 2017


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