Troubling the Body: A Feminist Critique of Corporeal Politics
Neill, Emily Rider
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CitationNeill, Emily Rider. 2019. Troubling the Body: A Feminist Critique of Corporeal Politics. Doctoral dissertation, Harvard Divinity School.
AbstractIn the last 30 years, the category of the body has been an area of intense interest for critical inquiry, particularly for feminist theoretical approaches across the disciplines. Through the adoption of a variety of critical frameworks, feminist debates centering on the body have produced a spectrum of theoretical elaborations proposed as interventions and/or political programs to resist and dismantle oppressive structures and hegemonic thought. Taking seriously the feminist critical mandate that theories of domination are generated for the purpose of struggling against oppression, this thesis challenges the presumption that the body is a productive starting point for articulating feminist liberative goals. Attention to the theory of difference and the theory of power at work in every feminist project that centers the body is central to analyzing the capacity of its proposals to challenge structures of oppression. Through a close examination and critique of representative feminist theoretical and theological body projects and the critical frameworks they employ, I show how a concern for marginalized bodies and developing effective political strategies for redressing the mechanisms of that marginalization, is better accomplished by specifically NOT using the body as the rubric or source for one’s theoretical and political endeavors. After taking account of the political capacities of different critical frameworks for this endeavor, I propose the structural rhetorical framework as best suited to and capable of exposing the operations of structural power and naming the dynamics of othering that produce, regulate, and enforce the content of categories of difference and their hierarchical valuations. I argue against an understanding of critical theory as perpetually ‘advancing’ and advocate instead for the continued use of categories and modes of analysis that are best suited for addressing structural inequality. Finally, I propose that following the critical arc of body studies reveals a move away from the political in academia which is particularly evident in the trend towards ‘new materialism’, a critical framework which evidences no political commitment to the marginalized, and make a special appeal to feminist theologians to hold their and other feminist work accountable to stated political goals on behalf of marginalized persons.
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