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The care of the visible self

Marian Hawkesworth, University of Manchester


One of the things noticeably lacking in disability studies is any sense of how the disfigured body and/or the face, and of facial acne is to be theorised. Within the context of the sociology of impairment, disability or health, the surface characteristics of the face, skin and visual scars as well as injury are given scant consideration and not adequately problematised (see Ablon, 1986; Hahn, 1988; Jobling, 1988; Hughes, 1992). This is surprising when countless people I have met tell me there is nothing you can do to hide a face, it is always there "warts and all" for the world to see. People who experience facial acne are not popularly associated with disability, even though their identities are associated with medical categorisation, disease and pejorative descriptions.

With the issue of facial skin appearance in mind, this paper focuses on the care of the visible self through Foucault's work on 'technologies of the self'. I discuss the idea of the embodied self and its cultivation. The research evidence is presented and analysed to address the question, - what does the care of the visible self involve for those living with facial acne? I present the case of a young British Asian woman called Kirti and seek to show how spatialities differ (e.g. neither 'home' nor 'public'), and how this can impact on the management of appearances. Her testimony is the bedrock to show that the care of the visible self involves disciplinary techniques and transformation rituals linked to the micro-geographies of disablement in society.

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