Centre for Cultures of Reproduction, Technologies and Health

Reflections on Body Mapping

CORTH Seminar, 23rd June 2015

In this seminar, hosted by the CORTH Doctoral Forum, Dr Beth Mills (Institute of Development Studies) and Nondumiso Hwelele (University of Cape Town) shared reflections on their use of body mapping to explore women’s embodied experiences of AIDS biomedicine in South Africa.

Beth and Nondumiso have worked together closely for over ten years, and Nondumiso (joining us over the phone from South Africa) offered fascinating insights into her work with the Bambanani Women’s Group. Through this group, Nondumiso pioneered the use of body maps to help women come to terms with their HIV positive status, and once anti-retroviral medicines became available in South Africa, the group also used body maps to express their new sense of hope for the future. Nondumiso also talked us through her own body maps, and explained how they represented her embodied experiences over the course of her diagnosis and treatment.

Beth and Nondumiso introduced us to the process used to develop body maps, and also discussed the ways in which body mapping can be used to capture and articulate embodied personal experiences and change over time. Beth explained that this could be change on an individual level, but also on the level of political and national change – reflected, for example, in South Africa’s journey to becoming the country with one of the largest anti-retroviral programmes in the world.

There was also plenty of time for discussion and reflections from the seminar participants. Beth and Nondumiso encouraged us to think about whether we would create our own body maps, whether we would be comfortable sharing them, and whether creating body maps might present particular challenges. This led to fascinating reflections from the participants, and the audience was enthusiastic about exploring body mapping on both personal and research-related levels. Discussion points centred around the intimate nature of creating a body map and the ethical implications of sharing these intimate physical representations; there were also questions and comments on how we might incorporate body maps into our own research work in future.