PHIL 470/POLS 404: The Politics of the Body

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To save paper and improve access to key texts, all the documents for this course will be posted on this site.

Articles posted are for individual academic use only and must not be reproduced or distributed. Please do not give the site password to anyone not in the class. Go to posted articles.

Starter documents

1. Syllabus (January 8 iteration).

2. Reading list (with complete bibliographic references)

3. Handout on how to read philosophy.

Weekly information

Week 1: January 8

In preparation for our first meeting on January 8, please download and review the syllabus (above). In class we’ll listen to this 38 minute podcast by Anne Phillips. Phillips is a British political theorist who has worked extensively on the historically significant idea that our body is our property, which is a dominant idea from the history of political thought that this course challenges.

a. The idea that our mind and body are (or could be) separable and distinct things is often called “dualism” (or “mind-body dualism”). Dualism and the-body-as-property are connected paradigms. How so? (hint: Phillips says something about this at around 8 minutes).
b. What does she say are the pros and cons of thinking of one’s body as property?
c. In what way does this paradigm potentially neglect the significance of embodied lived experience (hint: Phillips says something about this starting around minute 11)?

In this first week our goals are to clarify the intellectual content, goals, evaluation structure, and general expectations and promise of the course, and to start our conversation about the politics of the body as a way of showing you what it will be like. I’ll review the syllabus etc. but please also look everything over after our first meeting and bring any questions about it to the second class. Drop/add deadline is January 17, after this second meeting.

Rembrandt 1632

Week 2: January 15

Anne Phillips, “It’s My Body and I’ll Do What I Like With It: Bodies as Objects and Property”
Drew Leder, “A Tale of Two Bodies: The Cartesian Corpse and the Lived Body”

The article by Phillips is a written version of many of the ideas she alludes to in her podcast.
a. What political objections or limits to the idea of the body as a piece of personal property does she raise?
b. Her examples in this article include sale of body parts or bodily services–gametes, kidneys, sex. What are your current ethical intuitions about these transactions? Which ones should be permitted or forbidden? Which would you consider or firmly reject for yourself?

We are reading the Leder article not because the course will concern the epistemology and ontology of modern medicine, but rather because Leder does a nice straightforward job of representing the difference between Körper and Leib–or the inanimate, object body (what he calls the Cartesian corpse), and the lived body (the body of our experience). So think about these questions:

a. What are the qualities and uses of Körper? What are the qualities and uses of Leib?
b. What reasons does Leder provide for why modern medicine has come to be epistemically dependent on Körper rather than Leib, and are there other contexts where this distinction seems to be operative?


Week 3: January 23

Reading guidelines, with particular focus on Leder chapter 3.

Of interest after reading Leder this far (an article I mentioned last week): Gayle Salamon, “The Phenomenology of Rheumatology: Disability, Merleau-Ponty, and the Fallacy of Maximal Grip,” Hypatia 27:2, 2012.

Handout: please bring this to class, whether as a digital file or on paper.

Jean-Paul Sartre, Being and Nothingness, pp. 235 passim. “Let us imagine that moved by jealousy, curiosity, or vice I have just glued my ear to the door and looked through a keyhole…”

Week 4: January 28

We are reading Drew Leder, The Absent Body, introduction and first two chapters (pages 1-68).

Here is a handout that includes some simple reading questions to guide you.

Powerpoint presentation: Part IPart II.


Read pp. 3-31 of Discipline and Punish (that’s “The body of the condemned” if you are using a funky edition with different pagination). Reading questions.

How many people are in prison in Canada? Short answer: 140.5 per 100,000 adults in the population in 2010/11. Compare that with a whopping 937 per 100,000 in the USA (the country that incarcerates the largest percentage of its population in the world) versus a puny 66 or so in Denmark.

Powerpoint slideshow

PS: Wonderful interview with my colleague Ann Cahill, who has done lots of great work that is influenced by many of the traditions and ideas of this course.

Week 5: February 6

Read Discipline and Punish, chapters “Docile bodies” and “The means of correct training.” pp. 135-194 in most editions.

Some reading questions to guide you. Next week the seminar will be entirely discussion-oriented so come ready with your own answers to these questions, and your own questions–whether questions of comprehension or questions to get us talking.

Don’t forget to review the assignment schedule–posted below under “Evaluation”–to make sure you know when your question assignments are due.

A handout.

The Powerpoints from this week. I had to delete the images as they made the file far too big for WordPress.

From a plan for an elementary school, 1818. This is how the planner imagined the boys would move at their writing desks.


Week 6: February 13

Read Discipline and Punish, “Panopticism,” and “The carceral.” Reading questions here. Please come to class with some questions for discussion of your own.

Powerpoints (sans images) now here.

A worksheet we’ll use in class.

Week 7: Reading week

Week 8: February 27

Reading Sarah Pemberton and Lisa Guenther on prisons (articles are posted below). Dr. Guenther will be joining us via Skype for an interview on her philosophical and activist work on prisons, so please come with questions and lively interest.

Here’s a great interview with Lisa Guenther. Read it!

Another interesting article about a progressive prison in Norway.

Week 9: March 6

Reading THREE articles: Sandra Bartky, Iris Young, and Dianne Chisholm. Reading questions here. The reading this week will take you a little more time than usual, so please allow for that.

Dr. Chisholm will be joining us in person for an interview on her article and her work on embodiment and climbing more generally, so please come (again) with your own questions and brain switched to ON.

Lynn Hill

Week 10: March 13

Reading Linda Alcoff (“Phenomenology, Post-structuralism, and Feminist Theory on the Concept of Experience” and “Dangerous Pleasures: Foucault and the Politics of Pedophilia”) and Johanna Oksala (“Sexual Experience: Foucault, Phenomenology, and Feminist Theory”). Read PPFT first, as it concludes with a discussion of Jouy that is taken up in more detail in DP: FPP. [REMEMBER: the second Alcoff appears below in TWO PARTS. The first page is at the end of part 2.] Reading questions here.

Powerpoints from this week’s lecture here.

Here is the story of Jouy from Foucault’s History of Sexuality volume 1, around which part of the debate between Alcoff and Oksala turns:


(Philosopher John Protevi discusses a further layer of this case study on the New APPS blog.)

Week 11: March 20

Reading: Gayle Salamon, “Boys of the Lex,” and Sara Ahmed, “Orientations” (both below). Reading questions here.

A handout we’ll use in class.

Giancarlo Neri’s sculpture, “The Writer” installed on London’s Hampstead Heath in 2005. It also features on the cover of Ahmed’s book, Queer Phenomenology.

Week 12: March 27

Reading: Ladelle McWhorter, “Racism and Biopower,” and Linda Alcoff, “Toward a Phenomenology of Racial Embodiment.” Reading questions here.

In-class Powerpoints now here.

This class is the deadline for running your idea for your final paper by me. You can do this over e-mail or in office hours, but I want just an indication of which question you’ll be writing on OR a brief description of your own question.

The Nuremberg Laws of Nazi Germany, defining Jews, Germans, and “mixed” individuals with reference to heredity

Week 13: April 3

Readings: Gayle Salamon, “The Place Where Life Hides Away,” and Alia Al-Saji, “The Racialization of Muslim Veils,” both posted below. Reading questions here.

How can you claim to “defend women” while excluding some women?

Also: a Skype interview with Gayle Salamon, our third and final guest, about her work!

Here are the Powerpoints.

Week 14: April 10

Closing discussion–bring your unanswered questions and problems! Also an opportunity to hear and practice revising an essay in response to feedback.

Powerpoints here.


1. Handout on participating in a class discussion.
2a. Guidelines on motivating and posing a good critical question. Three real (but anonymous) examples of the assignment done well: Example 1, Example 2, Example 3.
2b. Schedule for critical question assignments.
3. Guidelines on writing a draft of a seminar paper.
4. To be discussed in class on April 10: Guidelines on responding to review and revising your paper for final submission.

Articles: for individual academic use ONLY. Please do not reproduce or distribute.

Drew Leder
Ann Phillips
Sandra Bartky
Lisa Guenther
Iris Marion Young
Dianne Chisholm
Linda Alcoff “Dangerous Pleasures.” Page nos. are 99-136. Page 112 is a little cockeyed.
Part2 (the very first page is AT THE END of this file. Don’t miss it.)
Linda Alcoff “Phenomenology, Poststructuralism, and Feminist Theory”
Johanna Oksala
Sara Ahmed
Gayle Salamon “Boys of the Lex”
Ladelle McWhorter
Linda Alcoff “Toward a Phenomenology”
Gayle Salamon “The Place Where Life Hides Away”
Alia Al-Saji
Frantz Fanon

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