Body Language, the Romans and Gender Politics – University of Copenhagen

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19 November 2012

Body Language, the Romans and Gender Politics


Body language plays an important part in modern everyday life, especially as an expression of dominance and subordination, but can we really study the body language of past societies? And would it have been recognisably the same as our own? The sources that can be used as evidence for Roman body language include written texts and the visual arts, such as Quintilian writing on the body language used in oratory and portrait statues of Roman men and women. The theoretical approaches of Pierre Bourdieu to the study of societies (especially the concepts of habitus and bodily hexis) may be relevant here. Gendered differences in body language in modern Western societies have implications for contemporary gender politics: the (patriarchal) nature of Roman society and Roman views on gendered power relations would lead us to expect this to be even more obvious in Roman society than our own, given our and the Roman (male) view of the position and role of women in Roman society. Gendered differences in body language registered in Roman art (especially portrait statues) can be read as expressions of (male) dominance and (female) subordination – but not always. Roman women’s body language may be aligned with that of barbarians as Other – but also with that of elite men as Same.

Date: Wednesday December 5
Time: 3.15 pm - 4.30 pm
Room: 23.0.49, New KUA
Arranged by the SAXO-Institute