Accepted paper:

Reconceptualizing appetite as a fractional object: insights gained from an interdisciplinary study of obesity surgery


Bodil Just Christensen (SCIENCE Faculty, University of Copenhagen)

Paper short abstract:

This paper describes and critically examines the productive challenges within an interdisciplinary collaboration where anthropological and biomedical data were integrated on equal terms in the analysis. This allowed creative exploration of concepts, knowledge production and disciplinary standards.

Paper long abstract:

This paper is a discussion of the productive tensions occurring in an interdisciplinary research project on weight loss after obesity surgery. The study was a bio-medical/anthropological collaboration and explored to what extent eating patterns, subjectively experienced hunger and physiological mechanisms involved in appetite regulation determine good or poor response to gastric bypass surgery. Contrasting bio-medical and anthropological categories and definitions of central concepts turned out to be a major challenge in the collaborative analysis. Notably, the conception of what constitutes appetite was a central concern as each discipline has its particular definition and operationalization of appetite. A material-semiotic approach allowed for a reconceptualization of appetite as a 'fractional object'. A fractional object engaged in multiple relations and enacted differently in each relation. This conception of appetite combined with a focus on how weight loss bodies were produced and enacted by patients and medical staff, agencies were distributed and surgery was understood and practiced challenged fundamental contrasts between conventional domains of sociality, e.g. eating practices and bodily norms, and physiology, e.g. the surgically altered gastrointestinal anatomy and endocrine changes in appetite hormones. This produced creative contracts and made way for alternative explorations of knowledge production and anthropological practices. This paper thus attends to the challenges and openings that followed from destabilising the presumably fixed and well-defined concept of appetite, and explores the interfaces between anthropology and medical science.

panel P17
Repositioning health, illness and the body: the challenge of new theoretical approaches to medical anthropology