J Epidemiol Community Health 59:350-355 doi:10.1136/jech.2004.024562
  • Continuing professional education

Embodiment: a conceptual glossary for epidemiology

  1. Nancy Krieger
  1. Correspondence to:
 Professor N Krieger
 Department of Society, Human Development and Health, Harvard School of Public Health, Kresge 717, 677 Huntington Avenue, Boston, MA 02115, USA;
  • Accepted 5 July 2004


Embodiment. This construct and process are central to ecosocial theory and epidemiological inquiry. Recognising that we, as humans, are simultaneously social beings and biological organisms, the notion of “embodiment” advances three critical claims: (1) bodies tell stories about—and cannot be studied divorced from—the conditions of our existence; (2) bodies tell stories that often—but not always—match people’s stated accounts; and (3) bodies tell stories that people cannot or will not tell, either because they are unable, forbidden, or choose not to tell. Just as the proverbial “dead man’s bones” do in fact tell tales, via forensic pathology and historical anthropometry, so too do our living bodies tell stories about our lives, whether or not these are ever consciously expressed. This glossary sketches some key concepts, definitions, and hypotheses relevant for using the construct of “embodiment” in epidemiological research, so as to promote not only rigorous science but also social equity in health.