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Bodies Under Siege: Self-mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry [Paperback]

Armando R. Favazza
5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)

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Book Description

9 May 1996 0801853001 978-0801853005 second edition

Although instances of deliberate skin-cutting are recorded as far back as the old and New Testaments of the Bible the behavior has generally been regarded as a symptom of various mental disorders. With the publication of Bodies Under Siege, a book described in the New York Times Magazine (July 17, 1997) as "the first to comprehensively explore self-mutilation," Dr. Armando Favazza has pioneered the study of the behavior as significant and meaningful unto itself. Drawing from the latest case studies from clinical psychiatry he broadens our understanding of self-mutilation and body modification and explores their surprising connections to the elemental experiences of healing, religions, salvation, and social balance.

Favazza makes sense out of seemingly senseless self-mutilative behaviors by providing both a useful classification and examination of the ways in which the behaviors provide effective but temporary relief from troublesome symptoms such as overwhelming anxiety, racing thoughts, and depersonalization. He offers important new information on the psychology and biology of self-mutilation, the link between self-mutilation and eating disorders, and advances in treatment. An epilogue by Fakir Musafar, the father of the Modern Primitive movement, describes his role in influencing a new generation to "experiment with the previously forbidden 'body side' of life" through piercing, blood rituals, scarification, and body sculpting in order to attain a state of grace.

The second edition of Bodies Under Siege is the major source of information about self-mutilation, a much misunderstood behavior that is now coming into public awareness.



Product details

  • Paperback: 400 pages
  • Publisher: The Johns Hopkins University Press; second edition edition (9 May 1996)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0801853001
  • ISBN-13: 978-0801853005
  • Product Dimensions: 2.3 x 16 x 22.6 cm
  • Average Customer Review: 5.0 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (1 customer review)
  • Amazon Bestsellers Rank: 151,617 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
  • See Complete Table of Contents

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Review

The second edition of the fascinating but gruesome Bodies Under Siege by Armando R. Favazza explores the various ways in which people mutilate their bodies. Favazza explores the historical background and offers insights into how and why people do truly appalling things to their limbs, heads, and genitals. He pleads for understanding for a group of patients who are often seen as bizarre and repellent.

(New Scientist)

Some young Americans who go in for body modifications say their motives are spiritual or arise from tribal origins... But Favazza says he thinks there are 'tremendous parallels' between body modification and self-injurious behavior.

(Chicago Tribune)

A compendium of cultural and clinical reports of self-mutilation and a summary of what is and what is not known about therapy, the book is a major contribution to both the anthropological and psychiatric literature. I know that having read it I will see my next self-mutilating patient through more insightful and compassionate eyes.

(Journal of Nervous and Mental Disorders)

A comprehensive historical, anthropological, ethnological, and clinical account of self-mutilation.

(Journal of the American Medical Association)

A successful education of the grim clinical reality of self-mutilation. We will be reading much more about self-mutilative behavior in the coming years, and this book is the place to begin.

(Psychosomatics)

About the Author

Armando R. Favazza, M.D., is a professor in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of Missouri, Columbia. He is a Fellow of both the American Psychiatric Association and the American College of Psychiatrists, and is a co-founder of the Society for the Study of Psychiatry and Culture.


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19 of 19 people found the following review helpful
By A Customer
Format:Paperback
This is the second edition of Bodies under Siege, and in it Favazza improves an excellent survey of self-mutilation by adding extensive material on classification and treatment of self-injurious behavior. The original edition was probably the first important book on this topic. Part one is a fascinating sociological overview of mutilative behavior in society and religion, placing it in context. Favazza explores the links between cannibalism, self-injury, and eating disorders in this section. You can understand SI without knowing this information, but the context is useful. In part two, he looks at specific clinical cases of self-mutilation. Having read this section, I was able to much more easily understand the distinctions between types of self-injury that Favazza draws in part three. The epilogue, combined with the information in part three, helped me to understand where the line between self-injury and ornamental body modification lies. Those who self-injure will probably be most interested in part three, where Favazza explores the types of pathological self-injury and discusses psychiatric classifications and treatment. Bodies under Siege is not meant as a self-help book. It will, however, give you insight into the origins of self-injury and into the ways in which the psychiatric profession views this behavior (and how those views are slowly changing), as well as suggesting directions for those seeking treatment.
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Amazon.com: 2.6 out of 5 stars  17 reviews
38 of 38 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Excellent information on an often misunderstood topic 18 Nov 1999
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Bodies Under Siege is the first book on self-injury that I've read, and I have to say that I am most impressed. After hearing so much about books that are critical or accusatory or simply wrong, I believe that Bodies Under Siege somehow manages to find a happy accommodation between technical explanation and useful information. It falls somewhere between an anthropology textbook and a self help/diagnostic manual, and the author takes a different and refreshing approach to this controversial subject by not focusing solely on self-injury as a symptom of a psychological disorder. Instead Favazza describes self-injurious practices from cultures all over the world, past and present, including ours. By considering the natives of New Guinea who cut off a finger as a way of mourning the death of a loved one, and modern teens with tattoos and multiple piercings, and a psychotic individual who blinded himself, Favazza clarifies the line between culturally sanctioned self-injury and its pathological counterpart.
In the first two sections of the book, the author focuses on defining culturally sanctioned self-injury, and uses various exemplary cultural and clinical case studies to illustrate his points. Both of these sections are interesting and informative, especially if you like learning about lots of very different cultures. These chapters are careful to incorporate facts about pathological self injury, which become relevant information even though not directly related to the kind of self-injury that most people are likely to see. The last section deals with pathological self-injury, self-injury that is a symptom of other disorders. Favazza here introduces his theory that symptomatic self-injury can progress and eventually become a disorder in and of itself, a theory that has many valid aspects but is still not accepted by most of the psychological community. While the first parts of the book were interesting from an academic point of view, it was the last section that I as a self-injurer found most helpful. Favazza defines and discusses the surprisingly large number of different kinds of self-injury, the circumstances under which each is most likely to occur, and the various techniques that he uses to help people overcome this little-known problem.
The entire book is very graphic and detailed, and therefore has the potential to be very triggering. Even so I enjoyed this book thoroughly and I look forward to reading more by this cultural psychiatrist.
35 of 37 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A first of its kind 19 Aug 2001
By "janer-the-dutz16" - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
Many people look at this book to be designed solely for sufferers...it isn't. As it states, it discusses Self-Mutilation and Body Modification in Culture and Psychiatry. It uses case studies to illustrate this point.
Now, it can be a very graphic book, and is not for the weak-stomached. I would say that unless you're interested in some of the stuff in it, skip the sections that don't apply to you.
It's an extremely informative book. It is not meant to be a personal book, like A Bright Red Scream, Cutting, or Skin Game. It's more to explain why self-mutilators do what they do.
If you want explanations, read this book.
26 of 29 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Favazza is cheaper than therapy... 6 Dec 2000
By AKasabian - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
While this book may not work quite as well as therapy, it is helpful as a resource for sufferers and their friends and family. A very good friend of mine is a self mutilator, and we scour the markets looking for good books on the subject. Favazza's book tend to be more for professionals in the fields of medicine, but a little knowledge can go a long way. The extensive research is a bit wordy, but fascinating. Skimming can pick out the best parts. It gives a good basis for comparison, while not locking a sufferer into a concrete explanation that could alienate someone looking for help. The body modification chapter was added for later editions, and is not quite as together as the rest of the book, but still interesting. Bodies Under Siege is more useful than many of its contemporaries that package self mutilation as a phase for young people. It provides an enormous range of research and information and reasons that make it so different from Cutting, which alienates readers from outside it's circle. The mass of cases help a sufferer identify and ease their alienation from others. Overall, one of the best books on cutting I've read.
13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Valuable information for understanding self-injury 2 Mar 1998
By A Customer - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
This is the second edition of Bodies under Siege, and in it Favazza improves an excellent survey of self-mutilation by adding extensive material on classification and treatment of self-injurious behavior. The original edition was probably the first important book on this topic. Part one is a fascinating sociological overview of mutilative behavior in society and religion, placing it in context. Favazza explores the links between cannibalism, self-injury, and eating disorders in this section. You can understand SI without knowing this information, but the context is useful. In part two, he looks at specific clinical cases of self-mutilation. Having read this section, I was able to much more easily understand the distinctions between types of self-injury that Favazza draws in part three. The epilogue, combined with the information in part three, helped me to understand where the line between self-injury and ornamental body modification lies. Those who self-injure will probably be most interested in part three, where Favazza explores the types of pathological self-injury and discusses psychiatric classifications and treatment. Bodies under Siege is not meant as a self-help book. It will, however, give you insight into the origins of self-injury and into the ways in which the psychiatric profession views this behavior (and how those views are slowly changing), as well as suggesting directions for those seeking treatment.
5 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Very comprehensive book (essential for those who self-injure) 20 July 2006
By TheAnonymousWay.Com - Published on Amazon.com
Format:Paperback
I've been cutting myself for many years, and have read books on the subject for a number of those years. This is by far one of the best I've read for Favazza does an extremely deep study into the history of self-injury, both cultural forms and what he terms "deviant" forms. While not as entertaining as "A Bright Red Scream," and definately more scholarly than most books on the subject, I still consider it essential for those who cut or the loved ones of those who cut. However, it isn't so much a personal or supportive book, and will mostly trigger more cutters than it will help. The only reason I give it four stars instead of five though is because of some of the misconceptions that even the author shows, such as relating self-injury to body piercing and such (which he has already gotten some heat about already.) I also don't like the terms "mentally ill," "wrist slashers," " slicers," etc. as words for those who cut. I also found the first few pages of chapter 11 very hard to read for similar reasons.
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