Bodies, battlefields and biographies: scars and the construction of the body as heritage

Kathryn A. Burnett, Mary Holmes

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingChapter


There is a sense in which the body is considered as an historical entity with an ‘age’ and a ‘past’. If it can be considered in historical terms why can it not also be reflected upon in heritage terms, as a site of interpretation and re-representation which is not necessarily ‘true’ nor ‘accurate’, but may be considered as ‘meaningful’ and/or ‘authentic’ (Walsh 1992; McCrone et al. 1995; Urry 1996)? Relating heritage to history is, according to Brett (1996: 155), a struggle between two kinds of time: one is the real, concrete time and the other mythic time. It is our suggestion that scars of the body are sites of the struggle between making sense of what is real or mythic in one’s past and indeed one’s present. To remember a scar, and the process by which it was gained, is to interpret selectively one’s actions, relationships and emotions. The retelling of the scarring process allows individuals to recount what was meaningful about the event concerned and presents an opportunity to display or reveal to others what has been acquired by the engagement. The physical manifestation of a scar is bound in with mythic qualities as to its symbolic significance. In this sense we argue that the scar is akin to battlefields, castles, old ships or railway lines – the object is imbued with both real and mythic aspects which, through interpretation and sharing with others, constitute meaningful qualities of existence.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationExploring the Body
EditorsSarah Cunningham- Burley, Kathryn Backett-Milburn
Place of PublicationLondon
PublisherPalgrave Macmillan UK
Number of pages16
ISBN (Print)0333775953, 9780333775950
Publication statusPublished - 2001
Externally publishedYes

Publication series

Name Explorations in sociology ; 61
PublisherPalgrave MacMillan


  • Sociology of the body
  • Scarring Incident
  • Narrative
  • Heritage Site
  • Myths
  • Embodied Methodologies
  • Storytelling
  • Memory
  • Biography Method


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