Bodies That Don't Matter: Death and Dereliction in Chicago

Klinenberg, E.
Body & Society, Vol. 7, no. 2-3 (Sep 2001), pp. 121-136. doi: 10.1177/1357034X0100700207

Through a case study of the scientific, political and journalistic treatment of dead bodies in the 1995 Chicago heat wave, this article questions what kinds of truths are written on or contained within the body and what happens to the study of society once the body is not simply brought in, but made a core object of analysis. I focus on the kinds of social information bodies convey and conceal when they are made to stand in for the social in scientific and journalistic inquiries. During the heat wave, the dead bodies served as a double distraction from the sociological issues that the disaster might have made visible: first as commodified spectacles, in the media representation of the crisis; second, as scientifically defined objects, in the narrowly medical attribution of the deaths. In Chicago, the dead bodies were so visible that almost no one could see what had happened to them. This suggests that bodies can either lose their capacity to substantiate truth claims or turn into evidence for false claims when they turn into the subjects of spectacle or fetish.

Wagner Faculty