The Politics of the Body

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In 2014, I published my second monograph The Politics of the Body: Gender in a Neoliberal and Neoconservative Age (Polity Press). This focused on a number of contemporary controversial debates around gender and the body, in the areas of sexual violence, sex work, childbirth and breastfeeding, and gender and Islam.

Specifically, it analysed how the dominant neoconservative/neoliberal coalition has produced a problematic for feminists and other progressive groups, who often have to position themselves in relation to either neoconservative imperialist, carceral and moralistic agendas or neoliberal ideas around individual identity, empowerment and choice.

In the case of sexual violence, the book explored how the association of radical feminism with crime control agendas has produced a suspicion of ideas around victimhood amongst third wave activists and postmodern scholars, which can shore up the neoliberal politics of personal responsibility. Similarly, it examined how the rejection of ‘imperial feminisms’ and their conceptualisation of Muslim women as victims, and the opposition to carceral feminisms which construct sex workers as needing rescue, can easily slip into a politics of empowerment and personal choice which fails to appreciate structural and historical dynamics. Finally, it analysed how the feminist movement against the medicalisation of reproduction has become a normalising imperative for the ‘natural’ due to resonances with neoliberal health service principles and neoconservative gender essentialisms.

The analysis in the book also attempted to apply the principle of intersectionality in structural, as well as representational, terms – examining how debates around gender and the body are shaped by social and institutional privilege and how this impacts upon what can be said and thought (and more importantly, is at the root of what remains unsaid/unthought/unthinkable).

The book can be bought from Wiley and Amazon and you can read an excerpt here. I am also developing this material and have published several posts on this blog which introduce additional areas of analysis. In 2016 I published an academic paper intended as the first scholarly sequel: this is entitled ‘Whose Personal is More Political? Experience in Contemporary Feminist Politics’ and was recently shortlisted for the Feminist Theory 2016 Essay Prize. Another paper is forthcoming in the Journal of International Women’s Studies, and I have now begun researching my next book in this area.

In 2015 I was invited to be a guest on BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour, to discuss the book’s analysis of the contemporary politics of childbirth and breastfeeding with Jenni Murray and Cathy Warwick, General Secretary of the Royal College of Midwives.

I was very honoured when The Politics of the Body was awarded the 2015 Feminist and Women’s Studies Association book prize for outstanding scholarship in the fields of feminism, gender or women’s studies. Here are some comments from the judges:

‘Alison Phipps’ The Politics of the Body: It is a lucid, beautifully written and clear-sighted exploration of some crucial regimes of the public and political articulation of women’s bodies. Phipps pulls off the still too rare feat of exploring complex arguments in a democratic and compelling register.’

‘Alison Phipps’ The Politics of the Body covers, really well, theoretical debates in contemporary feminism and applies/illustrates them to a great effect in a way that makes feminism accessible and non-elitist. It is highly accessible, addresses intersectionality, and covers key debates in feminism in the UK.’

The book has also received some lovely reviews: a few of these are listed below.

  • Juliette Torabian in International Sociology 31(2) – ‘a well-documented and responsible must-read account of gender equality challenges in the contemporary Western world.’
  • Rachel Rosen in European Journal of Women’s Studies 23(1) – ‘a meticulously researched, evocatively written and timely intervention in a series of critical feminist debates about the body.’
  • Sylvie Allendyke in Women’s Studies International Forum 53 – ‘after reading The Politics of the Body it is no longer possible to think of practices, allegiances and agency as we might have done before.’
  • Jennifer Dawn Whitney in Assuming Gender 5(1) – ‘What I appreciate most is Phipps’s skill in breaking down the binaries intrinsic to much of feminist politics and activism. She has the ability to deconstruct oppositional thinking around some very charged topics, and redirect her readers back to what is most important: structural analysis.’
  • Jennifer Lee O’Donnell in Gender & Education 27(2) – ‘Phipps’ arguments on the whole are smart, concise and accessible, and there is no doubt the book can hold its own amongst the work of heavyweight feminist philosophers.’
  • Deborah Eade in Gender & Development 22(3) – ‘readers of this journal will benefit from a rich and provocative set of arguments.’
  • Anastasia Chamberlen in Gender & Society 29(5) – ‘Phipps’s book is thought-provoking, caustic, and self-reflexive, as its wide range of themes reflect both breadth and depth in analytic scope.’

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