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Materialising bodily matter: Intra-action and the embodiment of 'Fat'

Colls, R.



In this article I describe the processes through which fat bodies are materialised. I contextualise the article within the recent call to rematerialise social and cultural geography and the wider medical, social and political discrimination that obese and overweight bodies experience in contemporary Western society. Critical engagements with normative accounts of fat bodies are becoming increasingly prevalent within the size acceptance movement and this article utilises one such account of fatness in order to demonstrate the possibility of alternative materialisations of fat. Matter is firstly contextualised in relation to Judith Butler’s (1993) [Butler, J., 1993. Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of Sex. Routledge, London] work on bodily matter and materialisation, and subsequent critical engagements with her work that challenge the implicit passivity she gives to matter. An account of matter as ‘intra-action’ [Barad, K., 2001. Re(con)figuring space, time and matter. In: Dekoven, M. (Ed.), Feminist Locations: Global and Local, Theory and Practice. Rutgers University Press, New Brunswick, New Jersey and London, pp. 75–109; Barad, K., 2003. Posthumanist performativity: toward an understanding of how matter comes to matter. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 28(3), 801–831] is then utilised which does not presuppose the prior existence of independent entities whereby matter is simply ‘acted upon’. Instead it focuses upon the ‘activity of matter’ and its participation in the process of its own materialisation. Using personal descriptions of fat bodies written by the American poet and novelist Susan Stinson and British writer Shelley Bovey, I identify two particular materialisations of fat bodies that emerge from figuring fat as intra-active. Firstly, specific fat body topographies are identified through which fat has its own internal momentums, a distinct spatial form on the body and can exist ambiguously both inside and outside the body. Secondly, fat is conceptualised in relation to its force as illustrated by the capacities fat bodies have to ‘do’ certain activities and to inhabit subject positions which normative representational accounts of fat bodies exclude. In concluding, I comment upon the potential of an intra-active account of matter for a rematerialised social and cultural geography and for geographical accounts of fat bodies.


Colls, R. (2007). Materialising bodily matter: Intra-action and the embodiment of 'Fat'. Geoforum, 38(2), 353-365.

Journal Article Type Article
Publication Date 2007-03
Deposit Date Jan 22, 2007
Journal Geoforum
Print ISSN 0016-7185
Publisher Elsevier
Peer Reviewed Peer Reviewed
Volume 38
Issue 2
Pages 353-365
Keywords Geographies of the body, Matter, Fat, Size acceptance, Intra-action.