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Substance, embodiment and domination in an orgasmic community

Reynolds, EF; (2013) Substance, embodiment and domination in an orgasmic community. Doctoral thesis , UCL (University College London).

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This thesis untangles and examines the myriad of social relationships, as they exist in a residential community in San Francisco. The community has a central meditative practice referred to as Orgasmic Meditation, which involves the ritualised stroking of a woman’s clitoris by a male partner in a group setting. Using ethnographic fieldwork and theoretical analysis, the thesis considers issues of embodiment, substance, and domination. The ethnographic evidence supports the argument that understanding the role of the body and embodiment is fundamental to understanding processes of self construction, and of power and domination in a social context. The community examined in this thesis is a so-called ‘transformational’ community; one where individuals can ‘work on themselves’ in order to better fulfil what they understand as their potential. This transformation is facilitated by the ‘movement of energy’ brought about by Orgasmic Meditation. By undertaking this mindful physical practice, the way practitioners understand the constitution of their bodies, and subsequently their social relationships, is transformed. The embodiment and visceral experience of ‘Orgasmic energy’ impacts on the social structuring of the community. Émile Durkheim’s work on religious ‘force’ is used to suggest that in this community, society is Orgasm, and Orgasm is society. The thesis analyses the residential experience of living within the community, practicing Orgasmic Meditation, and being involved with the running of the organisation. Deep immersion in the field site has allowed for a deeper understanding of the phenomenological and visceral experience of the embodied transformation afforded through Orgasmic Meditation and the relationship between a new embodied subjectivity and the hierarchical organisation of the community. The thesis examines the transformation of the organisation over a period of time and how this impacted on the residents. It uses Durkheim, Bourdieu, Douglas, Csordas, and Deleuze and Guattari to examine the relationship between the body and society, and how this is affected by social change. It employs the work of Bataille, and ethnographers who have worked in Melanesia such as Marilyn Strathern, to examine the role of an embodied substance in the constitution of self and other, and in social relationships. Finally, the thesis examines the relationship between the organisation and wider, ‘mainstream’ society, arguing that although there is an attempt at separation and distinction, particularly within new forms of subjectivity encouraged by Orgasmic Meditation, the oscillation, movement and tension between the utopian ideals of the organisation and the established institutions of mainstream society becomes too much to manage for many of the residents, some of whom leave feeling disillusioned. As a contribution to the anthropological literature, this thesis reflects on the role of the body in contexts of power, and how understandings of self and substance influence social form.

Type: Thesis (Doctoral)
Title: Substance, embodiment and domination in an orgasmic community
Language: English
Additional information: Permission for digitisation not received.
UCL classification: UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH
UCL > Provost and Vice Provost Offices > UCL SLASH > Faculty of S&HS > Dept of Anthropology
URI: https://discovery.ucl.ac.uk/id/eprint/1393498
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