Feminist Theory: Bodies, Science and Technology
The social studies of the body owe a considerable debt to feminist theory. Yet, feminist theorists have not always taken science and technology as a central concern in their treatment of the body. When they have, it often is with a good deal of anxiety about science and technology. Pointing to what they take to be the increasingly tight joining of the aims of science and technology with the aims of capitalism, feminist theorists have focused their treatments of science and technology on a detrimental displacement and devaluation of the human body, especially the female body. While there is reason for concern, there also is good reason to examine in order to critically engage what is presently occurring in science and technology. In what follows, I will present the work of a few of the feminist theorists who have participated in recent turns in critical theory, the turn to aﬀect and the ontological turn, both of which are engaged with current developments in science and technology. Each of these turns has followed the philosophical thread articulated in the last decades of the twentieth century which has led beyond the deconstruction of the subject to post-humanism, profoundly troubling the feminist conceptualization of gender and sexuality as only a matter of human subjects and human bodies. The feminist theorists I will be presenting, Elizabeth Grosz, Karen Barad, Tiziana Terranova and Luciana Parisi, have engaged in rethinking gender, sexuality and bodies, while taking up a number of thinkers who have informed, indeed, have been central to the ontological turn and the turn to aﬀect, thinkers such as Gilles Deleuze and Felix Guattari, Michel Foucault, Alfred North Whitehead, Charles Darwin, Neils Bohr, Baruch Spinoza, Henri Bergson and more recent thinkers, such as Brian Massumi, Keith Ansell Pearson and Steven Shaviro. In taking up these thinkers, Grosz, Barad, Terranova, and Parisi have contributed to moving feminist
theory from epistemological concerns to addressing ontological ones including the ontology of a subjective, nonconscious aﬀectivity and thereby have opened the study of bodies to bodies other than the human body. They have instituted within feminist theory a deconstruction of the opposition of organic and non-organic life, the living and the inert, nature and culture, a deconstruction that already has become central to new media studies, science and technology studies and most recently philosophy. While it is hard not to think immediately of Donna Haraway’s work, especially her work on the cyborg (Haraway, 1997), the feminist theorists whose works I instead will be engaging present a certain trajectory of thought leading to the ontological turn and the turn to aﬀect, while showing the challenges to feminist theory posed by these recent turns in contemporary critical theory. Perhaps the most formidable of these challenges that these feminist theorists faced was moving beyond
the limitation of the social construction of gender or the constructionist approach to the body generally. In
meeting this challenge these feminist theorists often have drawn on Judith Butler, whose work has been foundational in making the body an object of study in a way that would shift feminist theory from its founding assumptions about gender and sexuality. The publication of Butler’s Bodies that Matter: On the Discursive Limits of ‘Sex’ (Butler, 1993), two years after her Gender Trouble: Feminism and the Subversion of Identity (Butler, 1991) together produced a stunning critique of the social constructionist approach to gender. In just a few years, Butler’s works not only would contribute to the establishment of queer theory, but a question about the nature of matter would be raised, inciting a turn to ontology and a rethinking of technology, bodies and matter.