The Sleeping Body and the Concept of Agency

Tuesday, 12 July 2016: 10:45
Location: Hörsaal 22 (Juridicum)
Oral Presentation
Eric HSU, University of South Australia, Australia
Despite being once largely overlooked, sleep in recent years has become a more widely accepted object of sociological analysis. The development of this area of study has helped to produce a more comprehensive understanding of the corporeality of everyday life. Within this field, researchers have come to recognize that sleep can serve as a valuable new prism into other sociological debates, such as those around medicalization, gender, and time. Additionally, researchers have come to view sleep as a rich sociological topic in its own right. At one level, this is because sleep can inform how key sociological concepts are theorized. The aim of this paper is to investigate how the bodily phenomenon of sleep prompts us to re-think how the sociological concept of agency is formulated and deployed. This involves analyzing Simon Williams’s assertion that sleep is not a wholly voluntary, consistent, immobile or directly auditable act. I also scrutinize the claim that sleep does more than just re-calibrate some theoretical accounts of agency, since it questions the applicability of the concept altogether. By exploring how sleep impacts upon the conceptualization of agency in a multitude of ways, I further bolster the need to engage with sleep across the discipline of sociology, instead of within the boundaries of a narrow subfield.