Unruly Bodies: Culture, Biology, and Power

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Fall 2018, Winter 2019, and Spring 2019 quarters

Taught by

sociology, gender studies
health science, public health, bioethics
media studies, gender & women's studies, sexuality and queer studies
cultural anthropology
square yu
marine science

Bodies—especially human bodies—defy efforts to classify, contain, and control them. Sex and death, anatomy and physiology, archives and criminology, gender and reproductive health: these are only a few of the lenses through which we will study the human body in this yearlong foundational program. We’ll ask basic questions about human bodies, and challenge our assumptions. What is the human body? What are its limits? Is it stable or shifting? How do we know our bodies?

The faculty will introduce students to concepts in physiology, public health, ecology, sociology, anthropology, and media studies. Our focus will shift to different aspects of bodies each quarter. In fall our theme is Bodies Without Borders and our focus will be sex, death, and our problematic schemes for classifying bodies. We will examine the range of biological reproduction; introduce students to queer and gender theory; and interrogate representations of sex in relation to race, gender, and disability. We will delve into the political, social, and epidemiological (population-based) dimensions of sexual and reproductive health, using a public health lens to understand what shapes the health of bodies who share social and political identities. We will end the quarter looking into the physiological processes and cultural significance surrounding disease, death, and the undead.

In winter our theme is Bodies of Knowledge. We will focus on epistemological questions (how do we know what we know?) in relation to archives, criminology, and health. We will investigate how techniques and discourses for producing knowledge about bodies have been shaped culturally and historically, within a field of power relationships. Students will begin to learn about the physiologic functioning and anatomic structure of the human body and have the option to observe and carry out dissections. We will also visit physical archives and explore how archival practices translate to the digital realm.

In Bodies at Play, our spring theme, we will consider themes of resistance and transformation as we examine how to realign ourselves and our communities toward greater authenticity and equity. We will continue our study of the body’s function and structure (anatomy and physiology) and nutrition and nutritionally related diseases. Understanding ourselves includes learning about the connections between our mind, body, and spirit. To facilitate this self-awareness, we will participate in movement and consciousness activities each week. Students may set out to conduct place-based ethnographic research or sociological analysis, leading to a significant independent writing project.

Throughout the year students will engage in weekly seminars, lectures, film screenings, and labs, plus occasional field trips and observational activities outside the classroom. A moderate amount of reading will be targeted toward developing the capacity to understand, synthesize, annotate, discuss, and write about challenging texts. Students should also expect to do collaborative work, introductory science assignments and exams, and regular writing assignments based on textual analysis and research. We will focus on building foundational skills in academic writing, close reading, annotation, research, collaboration, and interdisciplinary critical thinking to offer strong preparation for a broad range of liberal arts studies.

Credit equivalencies include anthropology, sociology, biology, anatomy and physiology, writing and research, and related fields (depending on quarter and individual project focus).


Fall Open Winter Conditional Spring Conditional

Location and Schedule

Campus Location


Time Offered


Online Learning

Enhanced Online Learning


$120 in fall and spring for overnight field trips. $20 in winter for museum entrance fees.