The Burden of Difference: Anthropometry and the ‘Scientific’ Body

Presented by: Ronn Daniel, Vicki Daniel

>While attempts to describe the human body through idealized geometry are ancient, the “scientific” practice of precisely measuring and quantifying human anatomical diversity – anthropometry – is a product of the 19th and 20th centuries. Designers who rely on anthropometric data, which has been included in the authoritative "Architectural Graphic Standards" since 1941, and in Panero and Zelnik’s "Human Dimension and Interior Space" in 1979, typically do not consider the historical complexities from which it arises. Anthropometry is a diverse discipline, uniting the work of physical anthropologists, physicians, urban social reformers, industrial capitalists, and military planners. Over the last 150 years, human bodies have been measured to explain colonial empires, identify urban criminals, standardize office furniture, justify racial oppression, circumscribe social deviancy, tailor uniforms, amplify the labor of industrial workers, and project military power. >Using primary materials from the history of science, architectural anthropometry catalogs, industrial engineering, and cold-war era military studies, this paper will unpack the complex ideological and technical histories of anthropometry. It will demonstrate how, through the promulgation of measurements for standard, normal, and adequate bodies, other bodies were necessarily left to carry the burden of difference. It will discuss how the reliance on numerical anthropometry, in lieu of other possible discourses or descriptors, concealed political and cultural conflicts about bodies behind veneers of technocratic objectivity. The paper will argue that numerical accounts of human morphological diversity are, inescapably, ideologically constituted.


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