Walter Leimgruber

Bilder vom Körper – Bilder vom Menschen
Kultur und Ausgrenzung um 1900 und heute


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The history of modern sciences and of modern medical imaging is just as well a history of social differentiation by images of the body. Within the picture of the body also the image of human being, of personhood as cultural conception and as idea is always negotiated. In the second half of the 19th century the belief in an unambiguous visual identifiableness of the evil, the ill, the alien developed. The human body and the images that were made of this body, served as means of exclusion of certain social groups, whose body was perceived as mirror of their personality and their social position. Humans, whose picture was taken without their consent, became objects of knowledge and power on photos. Their bodies were visually fragmented and anatomised, their components reassembled into de-individualised types. However, around 1900 science did not possess the necessary tools to realise the dream of perfect humans in a perfect body.
Nowadays, body cult is again on the agenda. Fitness, wellness, cosmetics, dietetics, medicine, plastic surgery and gene technology work on the optimisation of the body, promise health, beauty, youth and extended life. Media and advertisement exert coercion on the public to conform to the images and to aim at perfect model bodies. Primarily by the example of gene technology the change of images of body and humans is pointed out and – as for the time around 1900 – it is asked, which role natural science and cultural studies play with regard to these changes.