Cressida Heyes Phd

Research Statement

In general my past and current research can be organised and understood along four axes, which mesh through specific projects:

1. Themes
I am fascinated by the metaphysics of categories (how things are defined as belonging or not belonging to a category; how boundaries are drawn and justified around categories; how members of a category might be related to each other; how exceptions are treated, etc.); norms (in the sense of social conventions, standards that define conformity and deviance, or practices of definition, etc.); identity (the persistence of subjectivity through time and place; the inner and the outer; the ways in which particular subjectivities are ascribed to or experienced by persons; the constitution of social collectivities that enable political mobilisation and vice versa, etc.); and transition or transformation (how one thing becomes another, or when it’s only pretending to be something else; how the intersubjective negotiation of identity constitutes or can change it; how categories, norms, and identities can change, etc.).

2. Subject matter
These metaphysical themes always get worked out, in my research, through social, political, and ethical examples. I am especially interested in identity political formations and their challengers, the politics of self-formation and self-transformation, contemporary feminist discourse around sex and gender, sexuality studies, and philosophy of the body.

3. Method
My work is feminist not only in theme but also in method–that is, I maintain a self-critical and reflexive perspective on (my) philosophy, I aim to be acutely aware of the history that generates my own conditions of possibility, and I work with gender as a symbolic and material formation offering insight into many areas of social life. In this context, I sometimes use the tropes of poststructuralism, phenomenology, and Foucauldian scholarship, although not in a consistent or orthodox way. In more recent work, I have been trying to think genealogy–a historical perspective on the contingencies of subject-formation–together with phenomenology–an investigation of the structures of consciousness starting from the first-personal. In my view philosophy is central to an art of living, so I’m also interested in the philosophical author, the art of philosophical writing, rhetoric, and the role of personal experience in philosophy. I have both undertaken and written about various forms of self-transformation and political activism, and so I see my research as having a strong connection to other practices, which may be somatic as well as intellectual, extra-academic, therapeutic, or even spiritual. My work is highly interdisciplinary, and aims to bridge gaps between social scientific, health scientific, and creative research.

4. Thinkers
I tend to get interested in those philosophical thinkers who develop the themes above, albeit often in different contexts. I have worked extensively on Ludwig Wittgenstein–with an emphasis on his philosophical biography and the implications of his later philosophy for politics. I have also written a book that is “Foucauldian”–although it’s not about Michel Foucault so much as it takes his account of normalization (and his conception of ethics) and tries to understand some contemporary somatic practices through this lens. I have also been tremendously influenced by contemporary feminist philosophers who write on similar themes: Sandra Bartky, Susan Bordo, Judith Butler, and Ladelle McWhorter were key to my earlier work, and I’ve lately been reading and rereading Linda Alcoff, Lisa Guenther, Johanna Oksala, and Gayle Salamon, as well as a variety of classic and contemporary scholars from Indigenous studies and postcolonial studies, including Alia Al-Saji, Glen Coulthard, Frantz Fanon, and Audra Simpson.