Call for Papers: ‘Fat Materialities: From Substance to Experience’

Edited by Christopher E. Forth, Alison Leitch, and Samantha Murray

In today’s world, where warnings of the ‘obesity epidemic’ are regular front-page news, it is impossible to escape the ways in which ‘fat’ is culturally constructed as a ‘problem’ – even a crisis. Too much of this substance is regularly cited as unhealthy and unattractive, a claim that has fired the research agendas of epidemiologists, biologists, psychologists, and other social scientists who take ‘obesity’ as their object. Other researchers have sought to understand how perceptions of ‘fat’ have evolved historically and socially to become a source of ‘disgust’ and marginalisation across multiple gendered, raced and classed subjectivities. Scholars and activists who critically engage with fat stereotypes have addressed the visual concerns of size and beauty, but accord less attention to fat as a material substance that may have implications for the lived experience of corpulence both as an identity and as a way of being in the world. By drawing attention to the complex and often ambiguous material and experiential dimensions of fat, this cross-disciplinary collection sheds new light on a subject that has, to date, been occluded by contemporary preoccupations with fatness and thinness.

In addition to functioning as an adjective used to describe corpulent bodies, ‘fat’ is also a noun denoting a substance located within bodies as well as existing outside of them. Whether in a liquid state as oil and grease or in a solid form as lard, suet, or butter, fats can be derived from plant and animal sources to play a variety of roles in human culture. While fats have numerous practical applications in everyday life, for example, in nutrition, cooking, heating, healing, sealing and preserving, fats’ protean characteristics – their ability to readily change their form and appearance – excite the human imagination, often mobilizing other, more intense, symbolic and metaphoric associations across time and space. Linked in various contexts to ideas about fertility, vitality, increase, or transformation, fats and oils participate in the ambivalence that often attends such concepts: they are thus capable of eliciting reactions of pleasure and fascination as well as fear and disgust. The editors of this volume are interested in soliciting essays that speak to these issues. Given the ambivalence that bodily fat may occasion, we are invited to investigate the ways in which the materiality of fats and oils may also inflect cultural perceptions of corpulence. In this way, viewing ‘fat’ in terms of materiality and ambiguity introduces greater complexity into the cultural study of fat and body size.

This cross-disciplinary collection welcomes the contributions of anthropologists, critical and cultural theorists and archaeologists as much as classicists, historians, and scholars studying art, literature, and religion. Relevant topics may include, but are not restricted to, the following:

  • Fats and oils in religious, medical, and/or culinary discourses and practices
  • Anointing and smearing in ritual and artistic practice
  • Symbols of fertility and decay
  • The phenomenology of fat embodiment
  • Theories of abjection and disgust
  • The material and sensuous qualities of fats and oils
  • Fat embodiment, pleasure and desire
  • Embodiment and pleasurable eating
  • Harvesting and employing human/animal fat
  • Queering dominant readings of fat (as embodiment, experience or substance)

Interested authors are invited to submit paper proposals of roughly 250 words to Christopher Forth (cforth[at] by October 1. If accepted final submissions of no more than 8,000 words each (including abstract, notes, and references) must be submitted by early March 2012.