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Embodiment and Feminist Theory

Lecturer: Francesca Ferrer-Best

Originally Taught: Summer School 2024

The question of how the gendered body takes up and inhabits space is a longstanding feminist preoccupation, spanning decades-long discussions across disciplines from phenomenology, to geography, to affect studies. This course will explore feminist thought on this question from Simone de Beauvoir to Stacy Alaimo, encouraging students to think critically about the ways in which we inhabit and move through the world. Each week’s lecture will be based predominantly on one reading, either a book chapter or a journal article. Throughout the lecture there will be opportunities for discussion and engagement.   

Lecture One – The Second Sex by Simone de Beauvoir 

Women’s inhabitation of both object and subject positions are central to de Beauvoir’s work. We will explore the implications of this tension and consider the terms “transcendence” and “immanence”, and what they might mean for the gendered body.


  • de Beauvoir, Simone. “Chapter 12: The Woman in Love”, The Second Sex. Vintage Arrow, 2015 (originally published 1949).

Lecture Two – “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality” by Iris Marion Young 

Young builds on de Beauvoir’s engagement with the gendered body as an object of phenomenological (and existential) concern. Young develops an analysis of women’s comportment and motility that accounts for the impact of their being watched and policed from a young age, while boys are encouraged to “roam and explore” (44). Like de Beauvoir, Young theorises that women conceive of themselves as “object as well as subject”, which leads to a process of interrupted action in their constant awareness that “one will be gazed upon as mere body, as shape and flesh that presents itself as the potential object of another subject’s intentions and manipulations, rather than as a living manifestation of action and intention” (44).


  • Young, Iris Marion. “Throwing Like a Girl: A Phenomenology of Feminine Body Comportment, Motility, and Spatiality”, On Female Body Experience: “Throwing Like a Girl” and Other Essays. Oxford University Press, 2005 (originally published 1980), pp. 27-45.

Week Three – “Situated Knowledges” by Donna Haraway

Following from Young, Haraway offers a different avenue for challenging the notion of an objective subject position. We will also focus on what Haraway’s understanding of “prosthesis” has to offer a feminist philosophy of embodiment. 


  • Haraway, Donna. “Situated Knowledges: The Science Question in Feminism and the Privilege of Partial Perspective”, Feminist Studies, vol. 14, no. 3, 1988, pp. 575-599. 

Week Four - “Volatile Bodies” by Elizabeth Grosz 

Elizabeth Grosz takes the feminist question of the gendered body in space further still. She provides an overview of psychoanalytic and phenomenological investigations of the body via Freud and Merleau-Ponty, through to the “inscriptive and productive functioning” of social bodies from Nietzsche, Foucault, Lingis, and Deleuze and Guattari. In doing so, she constructs a framework that acknowledges what all of these theorists might have to offer, but concentrates on sexual difference, as opposed to proclaiming a position that would exist outside of it. Grosz’s hypothesis is that “women’s corporeality is inscribed as a mode of seepage” (203). She describes this “inscribed” feminine corporeality as that which leaks beyond containment, simultaneously permeable and encroaching.


  • Grosz, Elizabeth. “Sexed Bodies”, Volatile Bodies. Taylor & Francis, 1994, pp. 187-210.

Lecture Five – “Trans-Corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature” by Stacy Alaimo 

Contemporary feminisms have carried out their theoretical critique of the body through developing a richer understanding of space itself, where space is understood to be neither inert or empty. In this lecture, we examine how Stacey Alaimo takes up “toxic bodies”—pollutants and chemicals—as vivid examples of the trans-corporeal nature of being human, and of materiality itself.


  • Alaimo, Stacy. “Trans-corporeal Feminisms and the Ethical Space of Nature”, in Material Feminisms, (eds) Stacy Alaimo and Susan Heckman. Indiana University Press, 2008, pp. 237-264.