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Abject Relations

Everyday Worlds of Anorexia, Revised and Expanded Edition

Megan Warin

Publication Year: 2010

Abject Relations presents an alternative approach to anorexia, long considered the epitome of a Western obsession with individualism, beauty, self-control, and autonomy. Through detailed ethnographic investigations, Megan Warin looks at the heart of what it means to live with anorexia on a daily basis. Participants describe difficulties with social relatedness, not being at home in their body, and feeling disgusting and worthless. For them, anorexia becomes a seductive and empowering practice that cleanses bodies of shame and guilt, becomes a friend and support, and allows them to forge new social relations.

Published by: Rutgers University Press


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p. vii

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pp. ix-x

When I started the research for this book, a colleague suggested that “anorexia has been done to death.” Indeed, there is much written about anorexia and it has a very firm hold in the public imagination. As a social anthropologist, however, I was dissatisfied with what I had read about anorexia. There is a strong biomedical contour to much of the literature, in...

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pp. xi-xiii

This book is indebted to the participants who so generously shared their time and experiences with me. It is their incredible generosity that created and sustained this project and I sincerely thank them for allowing me to share a part of their worlds....

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1. Introduction

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pp. 1-20

The air of anticipation among the young women in this suburban Vancouver community house had been building all week, simmering in summer conversations on the veranda, then spilling over into therapy sessions with staff. As a group, the women told me about the nameless “underweight woman” who was coming to stay with them for a brief period. Her emaciated state was their...

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2. Steering a Course between Fields

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pp. 21-50

In the edited volume Critical Anthropology Now, Marcus discusses the distinctiveness and juxtaposition of the included essays in ways that parallel the position I have adopted in my fieldwork. The distinctiveness of this volume, Marcus suggests, “lies in the strangeness of the positions in which a number of the writers found themselves in the field. This is not the traditional, exotic...

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3. Knowing through the Body

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pp. 51-69

This chapter explores my experience with what Rabinow calls the central conundrum of ethnography: how ethnographers negotiate fieldwork relationships among people with whom they do not share a common set of assumptions, experiences, or traditions (1977, 155). These negotiations were complex for me, for they operated simultaneously on a number of levels and were constantly...

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4. The Complexities of Being Anorexic

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pp. 70-98

In this chapter I explore the ways in which people with anorexia understood and experienced relatedness in their everyday lives, that is, with how they continually transformed connections by truncating, creating, sustaining, and abandoning them. My understanding of relatedness stems from recent approaches to kinship that have been critical of the traditional divide...

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5. Abject Relations with Food

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pp. 99-127

A different field of relatedness—that between participants and food—now becomes my focus. The relationships that those diagnosed as anorexic have with food are often assumed to be an extension of taken-for-granted concepts around nutrition, concepts that are transformed into idiosyncratic routines aimed at weight loss. My research challenges this common assumption,...

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6. “Me and My Disgusting Body”

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pp. 128-151

Despite being referred to me while she was an inpatient on an eating disorder ward, Julia disagreed with her diagnosis of anorexia. “It’s not anorexia,” she told me, “it’s an ambivalence to food.” Ambivalence was a recurring theme throughout her narrative and the dominant motif on which her relationships pivoted. Thirty-eight years of age, Julia was the fourth child...

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7. Be-coming Clean

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pp. 152-178

Purging through self-induced vomiting and taking laxatives was only one of a range of practices participants cited for cleansing the bodies they experienced as dirty and disgusting. Other techniques included washing and scrubbing parts of one’s body with water or antiseptic cleansers, or sucking antibacterial lozenges to cleanse one’s “contaminated” mouth. The goal was a body that was...

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8. Reimagining Anorexia

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pp. 179-190

The aim of this book has been to provide a new approach to the phenomenon of anorexia. In my discussion of anorexia there is one player that I have consciously relegated to the background: the media. As I argued in the introduction, I did not wish to reproduce the discursive explanation of anorexia as a “reading disorder” and tried to steer away from media representations of...


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pp. 191-208


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pp. 209-226


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pp. 227-229

E-ISBN-13: 9780813548210
E-ISBN-10: 0813548217
Print-ISBN-13: 9780813546896
Print-ISBN-10: 0813546893

Page Count: 248
Publication Year: 2010

OCLC Number: 781635125
MUSE Marc Record: Download for Abject Relations

Research Areas


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Subject Headings

  • Anorexia nervosa -- Social aspects.
  • Anorexia nervosa.
  • Anorexia nervosa -- Patients -- Psychology.
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