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Gender, embodiment and cultural practice: towards a relational feminist approach

Pedwell, Carolyn (2007) Gender, embodiment and cultural practice: towards a relational feminist approach. PhD thesis, London School of Economics and Political Science.

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Establishing similarities between embodied practices typically posed as fundamentally distinct (such as 'African' female genital cutting and 'Western' cosmetic surgery) has become increasingly common within feminist literatures. Cross-cultural comparisons can reveal the instability of essentialist binaries constructed to distinguish various groups as culturally, ethnically and morally 'different'. These strategies, however, are also problematic. In their emphasis on cross-cultural commonalities between practices, they often efface historical, social and embodied particularities, while reifying problematic notions of 'culture'. When employed by privileged 'Western' feminist theorists, such strategies can involve appropriations which affirm, rather than challenge, dominant discursive hierarchies. Consequently, the crucial links between violent histories of embodied differentiation and contemporary relations of power are not effectively interrogated and problematic binaries remain intact. This thesis thus seeks to develop a more historically-grounded, relational and politically accountable feminist approach to addressing essentialist constructions of embodied 'cultural practice'. Mapping feminist and other critical literatures, I identify three main approaches to linking embodied practices: the 'continuum', 'analogue' and 'subset' models. Through three case study chapters, I conduct a comprehensive analysis of these models,,and their potential discursive-material effects. Each case study focuses on a different set of practices which have been linked: 'African' female genital cutting and.-`Western' body modifications; Muslim veiling and anorexia; and 'passing' practices associated with the categories of race, gender and sexuality. I argue that rather than illustrating how particular practices or their imagined subjects are fundamentally similar, we should examine how they are constructed relationally in and through one another. This is possible through genealogically tracing how their historical trajectories of production intersect and inform one another. As an alternative to commonality-based comparative approaches, I advocate a 'relational web model' which traces multiple constitutive connections within a network of differently situated embodied practices or figures.

Item Type: Thesis (PhD)
Additional Information: © 2007 Carolyn Pedwell
Library of Congress subject classification: H Social Sciences > H Social Sciences (General)
H Social Sciences > HM Sociology
Sets: Departments > Gender Institute
Collections > LSE History of Thought theses
Supervisor: Phillips, Anne and Hemmings, Clare

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