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© Borgis - New Medicine 2/2010, s. 54-62
*Sándor Bollók1, Zsuzsa Menczel2, István Vingender2
Representations of the Social Body and Drug Use
1Semmelweis University, Faculty of Physical Education and Sport Sciences (TF), Budapest
Head of Faculty: Prof. Dr. József Tihanyi
2Semmelweis University, Faculty of Health Sciences, Budapest
Head of Faculty: Prof. Dr. Judit Mészáros
Aim. In our research we studied the connections between the body culture and drug using behaviour.
Material and Method. An empirical, survey-kind of analysis was carried out; the questionnaire contains a list of questions concerning the use of the body, the habits of body training, the sport career and drug use. A 600-person sample was surveyed. The ages of the students were 17-19 years.
Results. There is a relationship between the importance of appearance and substance use. Smoking and the appearance mean basically the same; it 'assists' the young in social-cultural integration and attachment. The regularity of alcohol consumption habits and the importance of appearance follow the same construction. The use of illegal drugs has an even stronger relation to them. Physical appearance is organized into sharply different models. Smoking is significantly linked to the external and the hygienic models, but negatively. Alcohol consumption is also related to the model of the external gathered factors and drug use does not significantly relate to any of the models, but the correlation with the two mentioned models is also stronger.
Conclusions. Nowadays the social representations of the physical body are strongly linked to drug use habits. Psychoactive drugs have already become part of young people's present general culture of body use and body image. These drugs become in themselves part of the models of the body and body use. Drug consumption is part of the representation of the body.

The structure of the body problems
While the body appears in questions related to the soul, the different forms of consciousness – such as thinking, faith, values, attitudes, etc. – also in the quality of interpersonal relationships and the different behavioural forms, in fact the body plays a main role in all that, the topic remains basically unknown for the social sciences. However, the human body, like all human manifestations and attributes, has not only natural/biological but also socio-cultural characteristics. The problem related to the body is strongly connected to other phenomena, first of all social gender, sexuality, sport, physical activity, aesthetic body reconstruction and also questions of health. The problem of the body is also related to basically all forms of human behaviour, so most probably also to drug use.
Based on the anthropological fundamentals of body problems the social culture plays a decisive role in the body use of people (1). The culture of society defines all forms of manifestation of the body. Social organization as the system of human relations defines the way the human body appears to society. This latter fact plays an important role in the construction of the ways of behaviour (2). Drug use is a fundamental cultural factor and organizing element of the way of life of numerous social groups, mainly that of youngsters. So, the obvious question is: Can any causal connection be found between the representations of the body and drug use?
Contemporary anthropology examines body problems in the context of modern social transformations. The role of the body and its social status is examined and analysed from the angle of the fight between the social genders, in social success and the processes of integration and also in the light of the development of multiculturalism. From this aspect the body is on one hand the symbolism of social phenomena and mechanisms, social and cultural representation, and on the other hand the body appears as symbolic capital and a tool in the processes connected with the former ones. Similar roles can also be found in the scenes of drug use. This parallelism suggests there could be similarities between the two phenomena and certain cross-influences also.
The turning point in scientific attention to the body was the 18th century. Firstly, at that time those social institutions were formed which "intruded on the human body” (3), opening up the isolated world closed down by the external borders of the body, making it public for common knowledge. These new institutions not only allow us a look into the inner world of the body but also fundamentally define its limits. They define the basic values of the body culture, form the most important ways of use of the body and frame the dominant directions of the body consciousness. From the end of the 18th century the way we deal with the body and how we think about it turned into the form of fulfilling the cultural norms.
Since that time bodily behaviour has had two, well-identified but still related dimensions: the visible and the invisible bodily functions (4). In the opinion of Elias this twofold approach has definitely changed the connection of people and their bodies, as the inner and outer bodily manifestations are considered on different levels of importance in different cultures. Certain cultures consider important only the inner world of the body. Others – the majority – put the emphasis on the importance of the outer characteristics of the body. The fundamental question is which traumas the change from the inner to the outer world of the body can cause to people and also which requirements are to be fulfilled by them in this new context. Surely, the inner and the outer world of the body are sharply segregated from each other. The inner dimensions of the body represent the individual, the individuality; the outer surface is rather trying to fulfil the cultural norms. This way the outer surface of the body turns into some kind of demarcation line, incarnating the duality of the individuality and the environment and moreover that of the cultural world. This duality results in colourful cultural models of bodily behaviours. The values of social integration, the references and the adequacy and autonomy, the freedom and the independence define the way how the representatives of certain cultures and subcultures dissolve the contradictions of this duality in their behaviour and bodily manifestations. In our opinion in this dissolution drug use, as a specific way of behaviour, has a decisive role.
The thinkers of social sciences in their empirical observations concerning body-related problems focus on the fact that human beings are strangers in nature due to the conflict between nature and culture, so humans seek asylum in culture (5, 6, 7). One of the contemporary forms of escape might be the culture of the use of the body. However, based on our previous research it was found that drug use might also play a similar role in certain subcultures (8).
The human body in itself does not possess any tendency to define or to transmit any meaning. The body, in its „pure” form, is a certain kind of biological manifestation; at the most it is the manifestation of the personality. Considering the body as represented above, it is the message of society to show which strategy is to be used to raise the social position, to improve the social chances (9). All this means the biological body and the social body are significantly independent from each other. The meaning and the condition of one cannot tell anything about the other. The two kinds of bodily dimensions can be in harmony but can also be in insoluble conflict with each other (10). As a result, the relationship between the bodily biological and social temperament is also a human-specific social, social-psychological characteristic. In the case of a harmonic relationship, when the individual lives a balanced, stable and coherent social life, his/ /her body image is in equilibrium. However, when the original and the recognized body image is significantly different, then this leads to embarrassment in body and soul. This latter can finally influence the social behaviour of the individual. Drug using behaviour can easily enter this field of conflict.
The connection between drug use and the body
The basic problem of our research is how to reconcile a material entity (the body) and a mainly spiritual but otherwise somatic-based behaviour. The logical discrepancy of these two factors leads to methodical problems also: How is it possible to find causal relationships and connections between these two phenomena so different in nature?
We may consider the following, not all but numerous, connections between the body culture (not in the meaning of sport, physical activity) and drug using behaviour:
1. The social representation of the body, and also its way of use, target and all experiences forming it and images, beliefs and symbols deriving from all this, and also the motivations of drug use, the ways of the use, the experience lived and the "joys” of the effects all allow solutions which are rooted in modern society and culture, to social integration and participation.
2. Both phenomena, at least in their relevant forms, are specific characteristics of the postmodern society. The emphasized manifestation and role of bodily representations are as much the products of our times as the scenario of mass young drug use.
3. Both phenomena are primarily related to adolescence. The socio-cultural role and relevance of bodily manifestations and also drug use (its illegal form) are also characteristic of the subculture of the young. Both phenomena can basically be derived from the social rank, status and roles of the young.
4. The contemporary views of bodily representations and drug use are specific tools of identity constructions of the young. They do not only take part in the latter but are also a generating factor and in some way the purpose and idol, too (11, 12, 13).
5. Both phenomena strongly participate in the construction of the social relationships of the young. In the world of the network communities bodily representations and drug use are important and constructive elements.
6. In a special way both elements are important status signs in the subculture of the young. They mark and define the occupied place in society and in the narrow environment. They are status symbols.
7. They not only mark the occupied positions/status but they also help to acquire them. The bodily markers allow the privileges in the above detailed way or deprive their owners of them. Drugs, due to their performance increasing, energizing and other effects, can assist one to acquire new social status (14).
8. Both factors are symbolic representations of the young generation. This way they have a (sub)cultural mission and interpersonal roles. These organize communities, reinforce their cohesion and at the same time they express the dimensions of connections, belonging, the "us” feeling.
9. Both factors include a significant opportunity of compensation so it can function as a technique like this. Deprivations occurring in other fields can be compensated or annulled by the overvaluation of the bodily representations and drug use in the (sub)culture.
10. Both factors have a performance improving effect. The above-mentioned social participation, its effectiveness and success can also be reinforced by physical capacities (inborn and acquired) and by drug use.
To sum up, the two phenomena, even being in two different socio-cultural fields, has several common characteristics. Therefore it is reasonable to suppose that there might be connections between them. Our research focused on this supposition.
The topic and the relevant questions of the research:
1. What kind of parallelisms and synergies can be shown between body representations and drug use?
2. Which bodily representations derive from the different ways of drug use?
3. What kinds of habits, attitudes and motivations are caused by drug use?
4. Are there any partial elements in the network system of the two phenomena and if there are, what are they?
5. Could the specific bodily representations be connected to scenarios of drug use?
6. Could physical education (not in the meaning of physical activity but socialization of the body culture) be an adequate tool or method of drug use prevention?
We are carrying out all parts of the research in the above-mentioned horizontal segments. The vertical dimensions would analyse the individual components, characteristics, attributes of bodily representations and drug use and analyse their "behaviour” in the context of the other part.
Methods and material
Our research was an empirical, survey-kind of analysis whose data were obtained from the answers to questionnaires filled in individually. The questionnaire contains a list of questions concerning the use of the body, the habits of body training, the sport career and drug use. There were altogether 63 questions. In this present analysis we obviously examine only a minor part of the data. The data were gained in 2008, by the help of interrogation agents. The data were analysed in 2009 in the final stage, using SPSS statistical program.
For our research we used a 600-person sample composed of 17 to 19-year-old secondary school students out of which 57.8% were males and 42.2% were females, so in the sample the males were overrepresented compared to the real proportions. But as far as the residence distribution is concerned our sample is closer to representing the real situation. 21.5% of the respondents were living in the capital, 38.8% in some other city, 39.5% in villages and 0.2% in farms. The secondary schools used in the sample to fill in the questionnaires were chosen randomly from the register of schools.
1. The social representations of the body are the main characters of the post-modern society, so these are essential questions for young people. This is considered in their minds as a significantly important method and tool in gaining social success and prosperity.
2. We suppose that society, culture and fashion set clear and very specific norms about the parameters of the ideal, "useful” body, able to reach success, and these prescriptions are followed by the young.
3. We suppose the contradictions among the above-mentioned social/cultural expectations, their fulfilment and acceptance, can cause social, cognitive and mental pressure that may often lead to drug use.
The interviewed group emphasizes the importance of the appearance. For 9 out of 10 young persons the appearance is significantly important, although hardly 10% approach this side of their personality neutrally. The proportion of those who do not even care about how they appear to the social world is basically insignificant. The preferences of external characteristics show a highly homogeneous image. It can be seen that the primacy of these external characteristics are not derived from the personality but norms and requirements regulated from outside worlds which the teenagers try to fulfil.
Table 1. How important is the appearance for you?
FrequencyPercentCumulative Percent
1 Very important22938.238.2
2 Important enough31552.590.7
3 Neutral54999.7
4 I do not care about my outlook at all20.3100
The general value of the appearance appears in its segmented judgment as definitely articulated. The two most important factors are related to personal hygiene (well-cared-for appearance, fresh breath). The average value of these two factors also approaches the highest value of the scale. The variety of the answers is even smaller. The judgment about other bodily values and about factors in the representation of the body are harder to place in any groups. Among those ranked important enough are some related to body structure and body use (proportionate body, movement), as well as some related to decoration or representation of the body (perfume, clothing). The same can be said about the group of least preferred characteristics, in which height or eye colour and even the use of jewellery and piercing can also be found. If we do not consider hygienic parameters to be priority ones (it is possible based on reasons explained below) it can be declared that the different dimensions of the bodily appearance have no organized, well-built system; the young do not take their bodily advantages or inconveniences in a structure, but only randomly. For us this means that even if towards the external characteristics of the body there is a kind of uniform attitude, the structure of the appearance shows definitely individual solutions. This is basically in harmony with the theory of the plural society, so with the fact that there are some entities playing a cardinal role, their structure, inner emphasis and the ways leading to them are differentiated. The question, to be analysed later but not examined in this sub-group, of which aims and idols are followed by the bodily manifestations also plays an important role. The bodily conditions, as tools in self-realization and in capital conversion, obviously gain their importance depending on who has and what kind of specific vision, plan, idol about this and what he/she wants/supposes to use this for: in increasing the probability of success in human relationships, in the potential of realizing his/her needs, in one's future position in the field of employment. The heterogeneity of the judgments about the bodily manifestations is also proved by the fact that the less important one or another factor is considered to be based on the replies of the respondents, the higher is the differentiation level of the judgments about them.
Table 2. How important do you consider the following things in the personal appearance?
NMin.Max.MeanStd. Deviation
Well-cared appearance600176.680.855
Fresh breath600176.570.968
Proportional body600175.651.416
Ideal female body600175.571.611
Perfumes 600175.351.343
Body moves600175.251.366
Weight of body600175.091.561
Ideal male body600175.051.750
Mimics of face600175.001.464
Built-up body600174.311.670
Height of body600174.241.545
Colour of the eyes600173.551.927
Jewellery, piercing600173.521.852
(1: not important at all, 7: very important)
The role of the external characteristics of the body is considered in a very different way, as was supposed before, in the meaning that they ascribe a different level of importance to "good appearance” in different fields of life. But from another point of view they share the same opinion about the fact that they accord very similar importance to the appearance in the different spheres of life. This all shows that the social-cultural environment "describes” in a very homogeneous way the conditions of appearance in the different spheres of life. The only difference the young show is in the ranking of these spheres based on preference level in their own lives.
Table 3. Do you think the better your appearance is, the more chances you have in the following fields? (1=always, 2=occasionally, 3=no).
NMin.Max.MeanStd. Deviation
At a party600131.330.553
Becoming famous600131.360.616
Success at others600131.430.568
Family relations600132.380.683
The respondents consider definitely very important the appearance, in building intimate relationships and in the employment/work-related field. However, in the field of friendly-family kind of relationships, or in study-sport dimensions they consider external factors less important. It must be added though that this "less important” ranking is closer to the "occasional” ranking, too. So, to summarize it can be said that the respondents consider the bodily appearance relevant in all walks of life. For instance: 98.7% of the young consider at least "occasionally” important the appearance in "dating”; 96.7% in love; 66.7% in sport and 72.3% in friendship. In the opinion of 50.3% even the quality of family relationships is influenced by appearance. So the significance of the appearance is not placed in the important–not important scale but in the definitely important–very important one.
Table 4. Standing in front of a mirror reflecting your entire body, are you content with the image you see?
FrequencyPercentValid PercentCumulative Percent
Yes, absolutely8313.813.813.8
More or less yes 45075.075.088.8
No, as I do not like some part of my body6711.211.2100.0
Apart from the general judgments on external characteristics and their importance for us, the young's self-image remained the most important question.
Table 5. What would you do to change your body? (%).
New haircut35.2
Dental cure32.5
Different style in clothing21.2
Hair colouring19.5
Nail colouring11.7
New types of cosmetics11.2
Plastic surgery11.0
Change from glasses to lenses9.8
Coloured lenses7.8
Not wearing glasses any longer5.5

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otrzymano: 2010-03-30
zaakceptowano do druku: 2010-04-12

Adres do korespondencji:
*Sándor Bollók
Táborhegyi út 16 D-24, 1037 Budapest
phone: 00 36 30 9428 946
e-mail: bollok.sandor@gmail.com

New Medicine 2/2010
Strona internetowa czasopisma New Medicine