CFP, Boundaries of the Body Politic

15 Nov 2017 4:18 AM | Kristin Bourassa
CFP for a panel at the International Society of Intellectual History Conference, June 2018, University of St Andrews The body politic and its boundaries in late medieval and early modern political literature The metaphor of the “body politic” is probably one of the most common and widespread metaphors in political literature (Struve 1978; Briguglia 2006; Archambault 1967). It allowed political theorists to strike the imagination of their contemporaries with the most vivid of images: that of the human body as an exemplary model of proportion and harmony (Nederman 2000, 2005; Le Goff 1989; Shogimen 2007, 2008; Rigby 2013). The body supposedly displays the right configuration of disparate components and organs, exhibits the necessary hierarchy between its parts, as well as opens the possibility of a regulated collaboration and solidarity between the plurality of its members within the unity of the body. When the human body is posited as God's creation, it makes it an even more authoritative paradigm of the just regime. The vast array of pathologies and diseases is a platform for an exciting interchange between political ideas and medical views. Diseases are always a powerful means to decry a lack of order and reflect upon corruption. The literature on the broken or monstrous body, the illness of society or various healing devices and practices are therefore illustrative of the fruitfulness of the metaphor of the body politic and its ability to think about a just society in terms of health and illness (Harris 1998). But the political body is also a great imaginary device to think about boundaries, liminality and passage with the exterior world as well as within itself. The crucial value for the medieval and the early modern polity is unity – there was no bigger threat to a state than external threat and internal dissension, which in both cases sowed the seeds for decay and destruction (Blumenfeld-Kosinski 1999). Each society defines itself through the inclusion of its members, that is the exclusion of all undesirables immediately turned into social and political outcasts. Concord and dissent are therefore great producers of boundaries. The polluted “other” has to be cast out of the “body politic”; the member contaminated had to be removed or treated. In the metaphor of the body politic, both the external boundaries as well as the internal ones are at stake. The external or internal boundaries, such as the skin itself, are more porous than it seems, and occasionally, they are often crossed, transgressed or “liquefied” (Hochner 2012). The proposed panel intends to address the place and significance of boundaries of the “body politic” in late medieval and early modern political literature. By examining a series of case studies, we hope to scrutinize issues of inclusion and exclusion, harmony and chaos, order and fluidity, closure and passage and how the prevalent metaphor of the body politic facilitated a set of certain values, solidarity, loyalty, social justice, purity or charity while making others either odd or impossible. Please contact Nicole Hochner at

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