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Skin: In Theory and Praxis (IL922)

Week 1:The Structure of Skin

Guest Lecturer from Chemistry: Dr. Rebecca Notman or other (TBC)

The molecular structure of the skin will be introduced with reference to transdermal drug delivery systems. The initial scientific approach to the skin provides a platform to begin to interrogate the structure of the skin for the properties which inform cultural representations of the skin and the skin as a surface that we might “think through”.


Reading TBC

Week 2: Skin and Psychoanalysis

Students will consider the skin as an intersubjective surface, as well as definitions of “skin”, in psychoanalytic theory. With recourse to excerpts from Jay Prosser and John Mowitt, students will also explore Anzieu’s theory of the ‘skin-ego’ – the role of skin in the development of identity in the infant and how this determines later psychic experience. They will also look at how Anzieu has been developed and challenged – particularly for the ways in which skin colour and gender are redacted from Anzieu’s account. Students will be encouraged to consider the implications of such omissions and how critical theory has addressed this. The way in which critical theory addresses the redaction of skin colour or, indeed, conceives of ways in which to reconceptualise racialized corporeality will be returned to when considering the work of Anne Anlin Cheng.


Chapter 1 of Didier Anzieu’s The Skin Ego trans. Naomi Segal

Excerpts from:

Jay Prosser Second Skins: The Body Narratives of Transsexuality

John Mowitt Percussion: Drumming, Beating, Striking.

Suggested Further Reading:

Naomi Segal Consensuality: Didier Anzieu, Gender and the Sense of Touch (2009), Jorge Ulnik “Didier Anzieu’s Ego-skin” (44-72); “Skin Memories” Thinking Through the Skin : Transformations: Thinking Through Feminism (52-69), Nicola Diamond Between Skins: The Body in Psychoanalysis – Contemporary Developments (2013).

Week 3: Skin and Electro Dermal Activity

Professor Derrick Watson (Psychology)

In this seminar, a guest from Psychology (Behavioural Sciences) will speak to students about Electro Dermal Activity (EDA) equipment and how this can be used to track responses to stimulus. This will be workshopped for students to test EDA equipment in the Psychology Department's Driving Simulator. The practical ways in which such technology can be used will be considered and students will learn to analyse data collected.


Stephen Di Benedetto, Chapter 3: “Attendant to Touch: Cutaneous Stimulation and Its Expressive Capabilities” (69-93) The Provocation of the Senses in Contemporary Theatre; Josephine Machon “(Syn)aesthetics and Immersive Theatre: Embodied Beholding in Lundahl & Seitl’s Rotating in a Room of Images”. Affective Performance and Cognitive Science: Body, Brain and Being. (199-216)

Week 4: (Skin)Aesthetics

Freya Verlander

The seminar will introduce students to “(skin)Aesthetics” as a method of performance analysis. By this point, the underpinning concepts of the method should be familiar to students from ideas discussed in Weeks 2 and 3. Teaching activities during this seminar may include playing with glue and peeling it off fingers as an illustration of “(skin)aesthetics” at its most basic level. Students will consider selected case studies (materials to be distributed or shown during seminar) to illustrate what is meant by “(skin)aesthetics”. This workshop might involve, for example, recreating the tarpaulin sheet, with head-holes for spectators to stand through, from Lucy Bailey’s Macbeth as an experiential learning experience of “(skin)aesthetics” in action (participation would, of course, be voluntary). Feedback on the experience should help contextualise the method and students will be able to synthesise themes covered throughout the module.


Antonin Artaud “Theatre of Cruelty (First Manifesto)” The Theater and Its Double. Trans. Mary Caroline Richards.

“How to Use (Skin)Aesthetics as a Method of Analysis”

Further Reading:

Michelle Ann Stephens, Skin Acts: Race, Psychoanalysis, and the Black Male Performer.

Week 5: Skin and Race

Guest Speakers Dr Kathryn Woods (History)

This week’s seminar would consider skin through historical and socio-political frameworks in the early modern period (Woods) and today (Jones). The history and sociology of skin colour and race will be approached as a way into thinking about its social, political and cultural place in our society today.


Kathryn Wood The “Fair” Sex’: Skin Colour, Gender and Narratives of Embodied Identity in Eighteenth-Century British Non-Fiction’, The Journal of Eighteenth-Century Studies, 39:1 (March, 2017), pp. 49-66; additional reading (TBC)

Further Reading:

Nina G. Jablonski Living Color: The Biological and Social Meaning of Skin Color, Skin: A Natural History.

Week 6: Skin and Gender

Freya Verlander

In Week 3 we problematized Anzieu’s theory for omitting gender and race, this week we will critically consider a number of different conceptualisations of the skin as a gendered and/or raced site. We will consider historical conceptualisations of the female skin as surface and as container (as well as fears of the skinless woman). With recourse to Anne Anlin Cheng, we will consider racialised fetishism and the different materials which relate to the commodification of female skin. Finally, we will consider different cultures’ understanding of skin as gendered in relation to aspects of the environment.


Excerpts from: Claudia Benthien Skin: On the Cultural Border Between Self and the World (pp. 87-94); Anne Anlin Cheng Second Skin: Josephine Baker and the Modern Surface; Cheng “Shine: On Race, Glamour, and the Modern” PMLA. 126.4. 2011. Pp. 1022-1041; David Howes “Skinscapes: embodiment, culture and environment” The Book of Touch.

Further Reading:  

Sara Ahmed and Jackie Stacey “Introduction: Dermographies”, Thinking Through the Skin: Transformations: Thinking Through Feminism (1-15)

Barbara Duden The Woman Beneath the Skin.

Ashley Montagu “Culture and Contact”. Touching the Human Significance of the Skin.

Jennifer Biddle “Skin as country in the Central Desert” Thinking Through the Skin.

Week 7: Aging Skin

Dr Liz Barry (English and Comparative Literature)

This session will think about the role of skin in the subjective experience of ageing and different cultural representations of the process. It will consider the ‘second mirror stage’ (Lacan; Kathleen Woodward) of ageing, when characters in literature and life writing confront their changing appearance, crystallized by the appearance of their skin, and the implications for their social and personal identity. It will think about the different value accorded to older age in different cultures (British, White North American, Jewish Israeli, African American) as these are reflected in and refracted through their approaches to ageing skin.


Poetry: Sylvia Plath, ‘Face Lift’; Philip Larkin, ‘Skin’, Yehuda Amichai, ‘Old Man’

Excerpts: Virginia Woolf, The Years

Toni Morrison, Tar Baby

Further Reading:

Kathleen Woodward, Ageing and Its Discontent: Freud and Other Fictions (Indiana UP, 1991)

Chris Gilleard and Paul Higgs, Cultures of Ageing: Self, Citizen and the Body (Routledge, 2014)

Week 8: Skin and "Skindustry"

Having considered Sylvia Plath’s ‘Face Lift’ in Week 7, students will be familiar with the idea of skin as textile as well as the textile qualities of skin and the skin-like quality of fabrics. This week introduces the term “skindustry” which refers to practices in which human skin is used to produce commodities. With recourse to A Modest Proposal, students will revisit questions of whose skins are most vulnerable to exploitation. Students will also consider serial skinners Ed Gein, “Bloody Face” in American Horror Story: Asylum, and “Buffalo Bill” from The Silence of the Lambs and the items each makes using human skin. Around the skin-based commodities and practices, students will consider questions of identity formation and suggest appropriate theoretical approaches to the skin. This seminar will touch on more visceral responses to film with recourse to Bouchard and Marks’ writing on haptic visuality and the haptic encounter.


Jonathan Swift A Modest Proposal (1720)

Jonathan Demme’s The Silence of the Lambs (1991)

American Horror Story: Asylum

Excerpts from: Catherine Spooner’s Fashioning Gothic Bodies; Judith Halberstam Skin Shows: Gothic Horror and the Technology of Monsters; Thomas Harris’ The Silence of the Lambs; Gianna Bouchard “Haptic Visuality: The Dissective View in Performance” Modes of Spectating (163-173); Laura U. Marks The Skin of the Film: Intercultural Cinema, Embodiment and the Senses. Introduction.

Further Reading:

Rachel Alpha Johnston Hurst “The Skin-Textile in Cosmetic Surgery” Skin Culture and Psychoanalysis; Freya Verlander “‘You’re certainly Edward Sexton with that needle and thread’: Fantasies of sharing, tearing and wearing the ‘Common Skin’ in American Horror Story”. European Journal of American Culture.

Week 9: Skin, Surface and Self: Medicine and Body Modification

Guest Lecturer: Emma Barnard, RA (Artist-in-Residence, King’s College Hospital)

A practical activity led by artist Emma Barnard (RA) using collage and the doctoring of images of skin will allow students to think about skin as surface and display in art and medicine.


Roald Dahl “Skin” Skin and Other Stories (1-21)

Further Reading:

Franz Kafka “In the Penal Colony”; Introduction to Kathy O’Dell’s Contract with the Skin; Dr. Robert Norman The Blue Man and Other Stories of the Skin.

Week 10: Skinposium

Freya Verlander and Dr. Liz Barry

Week 10 is an interactive showcase of student devised presentations on any aspect of skin theory covered (or that they have uncovered) during the course of the module. Students are free to decide what form this mode of assessment will take – be that performative (experiential or experimental) or more conventional (case studies, talks, etc.).

Module Convenor

Freya Verlander


Term 2 (Spring) - 2019-20
Wednesday 10.00 am - 12.00 pm


Room OC1.03
The Oculus Building


For 15 CATS

Academic writing piece or scientific article: 2500 words (70%)

For 20 CATS

Academic writing piece or scientific article: 3000 words (70%)

For 30 CATS

Academic writing piece or scientific article: 4000 words (70%)

For All

Assessed presentation (30%)