Performing Identity and Revealing Structures of Violence Through Purposeful Pain

Part of the Bioarchaeology and Social Theory book series (BST)


This chapter draws out larger themes of the volume, demonstrating that one mechanism for constructing identity is through the experience, performance, and/or witnessing of pain. Gender identity, social status, power, and dedication to a principle can be expressed by the willing acceptance of pain as a marker of commitment. Indeed, many pain-inflicting practices are public, indicating the shared nature of the ordeal. These include the use of pain to express ideals of beauty and success, painful rituals associated with group membership, and the use of pain for social control. Self-improvement at the cost of considerable pain is examined in the early chapters, used by participants in the pursuit of increased intelligence, beauty, and status. The chapters that follow explore rituals of pain and practice to demonstrate religious devotion and piety, group inclusion, a marker of transition, and as a means of escape. The final chapters look at the politics of pain, with the desire to maintain status and exercise social control using the performance of self-inflicted pain and/or forced witnessing of said suffering. Throughout the volume, bioarchaeological, ethnographic, ethnohistoric, and paleopathological data in combination with synthetic social theories are used to address the biocultural and social costs and benefits of purposeful pain.


Performance Beauty Structural violence Identity Community Agency 

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of AnthropologyVanderbilt UniversityNashvilleUSA

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