Body parts are examined through a multifaceted cultural lens. Readers will explore how the parts are understood, what they mean to disparate societies, how they are managed, treated, and transformed, and how they are depicted and represented. The entries draw from many disciplines that are concerned to some degree or another with human bodies, including anthropology archeology, sociology, religion, political history, philosophy, art history, literary studies, and medicine. The encyclopedia proffers information on a number of cultures, tribes, and customs from East and West. Ancient practices to the latest fad, which in fact might continue ancient practices, are illuminated. Other considerations that arise in the essays include comparisons among cultures, the changing perceptions of the body, and issues of race, gender, religion, community and belonging, ethnicity, power structures, human rights.
"This cross-cultural encyclopedia explores the many traditions associated with body alterations. The 109 articles are arranged by 43 areas of the body. Thus entries under skin include body piercing, branding, cutting, scarification, skin lightening, stretch marks, sub-dermal implants, tattoos and a cultural history of skin. While the primary focus is on invasive alterations to the body, most areas of the body are provided with an overview of associated beliefs and practices. Each essay elaborates on various cultural traditions, religious beliefs and medical practices. The distinct surgical traditions of both the Far East and South Asia are compared with Western medical practices. Folk practices from around the world illustrate different concepts of beauty, aesthetics and nature. In addition to surgical procedures, coverage extends to weight reduction, birth control and other procedures that alter natural processes without necessarily changing appearances. The scope also includes bloodletting, breastfeeding, cosmetics, footwear, ornaments and undergarments. In terms of content, there is some overlap between this guide and the recent "Encyclopedia of Body Adornment" (Greenwood, 2007), although the latter devotes more space to hairstyles, piercing, tattoos and transgender issues. Users, however, are likely to find their differing approaches complementary, as both are useful for exploring the astounding variety of cultural practices surrounding the human body. "
--Lawrence Looks at Books, April 2009
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