Sweaty motions: materiality, meaning and the emerging workout ethic in Mozambique

Published in American Ethnologist, 2022
Volume 49 Issue 3 August 2022

Alongside the perhaps more obvious ways in which it engages with fat, “fitness” as an aspirational pursuit driven by a combination of health and beauty concerns also encourages new forms of engagement with sweat. In Mozambique where class and gender have produced sweating bodies entangled in hierarchies of care and labor, the growing popularity of fitness is complicating the cultural politics of bodily substances. Transgressive of ideals of feminine propriety, new ways of sweating are fostering health-conscious subjectivities and encouraging alternative ways of becoming and relating. As a bodily “thing”, sweat sits somewhat uncomfortably within post-humanist and neo-materialist efforts at decentering the human. I argue, however, that an ethnography of sweat, which I apprehend as a material-semiotic thing that operates simultaneously as matter and index of transformation—can help refine our understanding of the potentiality of matter.

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