In Feminist Phenomenology Futures we find a multiplicity of approaches, experiences, and points of view of intellectuals working on feminist phenomenology. But, which is the guiding thread that unites them all? On the one hand, we may say that this is a book about current approaches to feminist phenomenology united solely by that, by providing accounts that fit into the framework of this discipline. And, although the multiplicity of points of view is central not only to this book but to this endeavour, we need to focus on something else. What matters is not only the currency of these approaches, but the future that is latent in them. This, of course, is made explicit in the title of the compilation. However, this might be difficult to grasp. So, I believe it is worth pausing here to clarify exactly what this means because this is not only the most relevant feature of this compilation, but its greater contribution.
As I said, this book is concerned with the future of feminist phenomenology. At this point we should note that we are not asking for the expected outcome of a research programme and the methodology that will lead us to it. It is neither a book that seeks to unify a discipline and mark the path for its future development. This book is, rather, traversed by a question regarding the destiny of feminist phenomenology. Or, in other words, feminist phenomenology considered as a project. The future, in this context, is not something that belongs to a chain of events, nor an “empty zone”, as Dorothea E. Olkowski and Helen A. Fielding state in the introduction. It is rather the future of experience. In her article “Open Future, Regaining Possibility”, to which I will later return, Fielding claims that our experience is characterised by simultaneity in that it is a “gathering of the past and future in the present experienced from a point of view by someone who perceives, feels, thinks, and acts” (94). The future is already sketched in us, embodied and situated beings. This allows us to comprehend the relevance of populating feminist phenomenology with multiple voices. As Fielding emphasizes at the beginning, in “A Feminist Phenomenology Manifesto”, the future in this context should not be understood as a unifying force, but as the opening of possibilities in our experiences and these, we must add, are never uniform but multiple. The future belongs to this discipline because it recognizes such multiplicity. In this manifesto, Fielding claims that at the core of feminist phenomenology is a “decentered subject” that is “multiple rather than singular” (viii). Feminist phenomenology becomes, thus, the methodology of the future because it emphasizes as its guiding task the opening of possibilities. In this line, Fielding claims that at the core of this understanding of feminist phenomenology lies “the recognition that there are multiple ways of approaching living experience” (vii). Furthermore, there lies a compromise of accounting for the experiences of embodied and situated agents and their worlds: “we need robust accounts of embodied subjects that are interrelated within the world or worlds they inhabit” (viii). This compromise is what turns feminist phenomenology into an emancipatory endeavour.
Part 1. The Future Is Now
As Olkowski and Fielding notice in the introduction (pxxiii – xxiv), the phrase “the future is now” is commonly used but hardly explained. So, how are they interpreting this phrase? The authors draw on Merleau-Ponty’s interpretation of Feuerbach. According to Merleau-Ponty, Feuerbach is claiming that being should not be taken to be an abstraction, but as something embodied, involved in the senses, attached to life. Philosophy thus becomes a new happiness, the joyful expectation of a project to come that involves us all, embracing the forces traversing our current experiences. The future in this sense is the future that is sketched in us. The papers in this section address this outline, that is, the future as it appears in us.
The paper that inaugurates this section is Dorothea E. Olkowski’s “Using Our Intuition: Creating the Future Phenomenological Plane of Thought”. Throughout this paper, she advances the thesis that intuition should be considered the structure for the methodology of feminist phenomenology. Olkowski starts from the situated woman, someone whose situation is identified with her body, and which is shaped by culture, history, and society. In that sense, her being is temporal. However, Olkowski sees a problem in the way her body has been considered because instead of being recognized as “her freedom, her transcendence”, she has been taken to be “embedded in her embodiment” (4). This is what Olkowski wishes to challenge: the idea that feminist phenomenology is particularly concerned with embodiment because the body represents the opposition to traditional notions of reason and knowledge. The problem, then, is that this notion became more relevant in the context of feminist phenomenology than in other areas of philosophy. In order to tackle this issue, Olkowski explores the plane of thought that underlies this phenomenon, that is, its “milieu of concepts and methods” (6).
Olkowski defends, drawing on Merleau-Ponty, de Beauvoir, and Bergson, that the plane of thought that is adequate to account for embodiment, without stripping it away from the freedom that constitutes it, is the vital form or the plane of the virtual which brings together the realm of language with that of nature (10). Between language and nature lies a structure of significance where the perceptible acquires meaning. Consciousness is not apart from the body, rather in the present, consciousness exists as the body where past and future meet (12). It is in the temporal structure of the embodiment that intuition can be considered once again as the structure that guarantees that action is creative instead of being just a repetition of previous patterns (13).
In “Just Throw Like a Bleeding Philosopher: Menstrual Pauses and Poses, Betwixt Hypatia and Bhubaneswari, Half Visible, Almost Illegible”, Kyoo Lee is concerned with the way feminist phenomenology can face the complexity of embodiment (25). In particular, she is interested in an analysis of menstruation. To do so, she focuses on the double structure that constitutes menstruation: “The menstruator enters and exits the cycle of life simultaneously while bleeding herself into a revolving door she herself becomes, beginning to exist and exit at once in syncopation that seems to have a will, a script, of its own” (30). On the one hand, it is an overcharged phenomenon that marks the entrance of women into existence; while, on the other, it is an overlooked phenomenon in that it hides women in plain sight.
Lee puts forward two cases where this phenomenon is brought into view. Firstly, the case of Hypatia: when a student declared his love to her, she threw her menstrual handkerchief to his face, to show that she who was the object of his Platonic love was also this embodied being. This way, she was not only affirming herself as female, but also bringing to light this double structure. Lee claims that she is throwing it “back at the smug face of philosophy that says one thing and does another or the other” (p. 34). Lee also goes through the case of Bhubaneswari Bahduri, a young woman from North Calcutta sixteen or seventeen years old, who committed suicide specifically on the time of her menstruation. Bhubaneswari had joined a terrorist group but then escaped the entrusted task of assassinating a political figure through her suicide (p. 37). Her action challenges the “patriarchal violence, the class system, and the colonial rule” (p. 38) precisely because every single one of her actions was a liberating act. Both Hypatia and Bhubaneswari throw back the situation to which they are thrown to, opening in this way alternative futures for women.
The third paper in this section is “Transformative Lines of Flight: From Deleuze to Masoch” by Lyat Friedman. Drawing on a text by Deleuze and Guattari called Kafka: Toward a Minor Literature, Friedman seeks to disentangle the opposition men-women by providing a “line of flight” or a way out. For her, this method offers alternative interpretations that do not contest an opposition, rather they complicate it (49). Friedman starts by providing an account of the opposition men-women. Following de Beauvoir, she argues that this opposition does not resemble that of two opposing poles. While women are the negative, the Other, men are not only the positive but the neutral as well.
Friedman draws on Deleuze’s interpretation of Sade and Masoch, and the women from their texts. As de Beauvoir notes, one of the features of these texts is that they present the male perspective of different types of women (56). Sade depicts his male protagonists as figures of power whose opposite is a victim or prey. Masoch, on the other hand, offers a male protagonist who thrives on humiliation. His opposite is a woman who “refuses to act from her position of power” (56). As Friedman notes, these structures are incompatible. The author finally returns to de Beauvoir’s position as it appears in an article called “Must We Burn Sade?” There de Beauvoir intends to provide a charitable understanding of Sade’s expression of hatred towards women, offering thus an interpretation of his texts that breaks with binary oppositions. She claims that: “We must learn to avoid reiterating oppositions even as we disagree with them. We must find lines of flight, identify intersections, and leave given paths, if only to produce alternative futures for women and men” (62).
The last paper of this section, “Crafting Contingency” by Rachel McCann, offers an exploration into the creation of alternative social paths. For McCann, architectural design provides, firstly, a field for understanding the complex interactions between a system and its environment, the organisation of a system that reiterates a pattern, and the way this pattern transforms and transmits information. For her, patterns are reiterative, complex, and, at times, flexible structures. The exploration of these concepts allows her to posit a model for effecting social change. Drawing on bell hooks, McCann claims that “in order to effect social change we must position ourselves at once on society’s margins and at its center” (73). Social change will come from creatively reconfiguring the boundaries that cannot be crossed. Effecting change in these structures will lead to an eventual restructuring of the world (81).
Part 2. Negotiating Futures
A different notion of future is at play in the second section. In the introduction (xxv-xxvi), Olkowski and Fielding note that the opening of emancipatory possibilities requires the commitment of bringing about these projects. Ultimately, it requires erasing the boundaries between reason and passion: these emancipatory possibilities are not only sketched in us, but they are also something that is affirmed through passionate action. Bringing about these possibilities involves audacity in that there is always a risk of failure. Now, this notion of project has a retrospective character because the future is not something that breaks with the past, that is, built from scratch. As Olkowski and Fielding note, when others look back into these projects the future appears not as a possibility but as something that was inevitable, something that was bound to happen (xxvi).
The first paper in this section, “Open Future, Regaining Possibility” by Helen A. Fielding explores situations where personal time, that is, time as it appears in our experience, breaks down. To do so, she draws on Merleau-Ponty’s distinction between impersonal time, personal time, and objective time. Fielding describes personal time in terms of simultaneity. As mentioned earlier, she considers this to be a gathering of present, past, and future (94). Fielding describes temporal break down as the closure of possibilities, as the loss of “the phenomenal experience whereby each moment is full of the living possibilities with which we ‘reckon,’ possibilities that are actualized as possibilities…” (95). She explores this phenomenon in light of a couple of cases in which online bullying resulted in the suicide of its victims. In these cases, Fielding argues, these teenagers suffered from a depression that involved the break down of personal time. An important factor in these cases is the temporality that is involved online: “on the internet temporality is collapsed into space” (96).
In the second paper of this section, “Of Women and Slaves”, Debra Bergoffen discusses de Beauvoir’s notion of an original Mitsein. Bergoffen starts from the idea that de Beauvoir’s position allows a movement from women considered as an oppressed Other to the “dignity of difference” (110). De Beauvoir is troubled by the fact that, despite being oppressed, women do not rebel. Bergoffen explains that for the French philosopher this is rooted in an original bond between men and women: an original Mitsein. Rebellion makes sense when the other is not absolute but relative, but this is not the case of women for de Beauvoir. For this reason, Bergoffen develops an exploration into de Beauvoir’s original Mitsein. For her, this concept “identifies the couple as the site where… desire is fulfilled” (115). Unlike slavery, oppression in the case of women does not aim towards destruction but domestication. The author explores this notion in connection with de Beauvoir’s claim that women are slaves to their husbands. Furthermore, she offers an analysis that takes into account the intersectionality of subjects, the crossroads between race and gender, and the vulnerability of women who are not privileged.
In the final article of this section, “Unhappy Speech and Hearing Well. Contributions of Feminist Speech Act Theory to Feminist Phenomenology”, Beata Stawarska addresses the phenomenon of speaking as a woman. Drawing on Austin’s theory on language performativity, she proposes to think of the failure of woman being heard as a failure in the illocutionary force of the speech. According to Stawarska, when a speech is performed by a socially dominant speaker, it enjoys a force that gets lost when it is spoken by a non-dominant speaker. For her, this failure is one that is socially modulated. To address this phenomenon, she complements Austin’s theory with a phenomenological perspective. The gender-power imbalance results in an infelicitous enactment of a speech act. Stawarska shows that the success or failure of a speech act depends not only on the speaker, but on the listener as well: “The hearer’s uptake is both the effect of what is being said and the condition of the saying acquiring the force of a speech act” (132). Addressing the silencing of women requires, then, to cultivate not only the speakers but, importantly, the listeners: it is essential to cultivate an attentive listener.
Part 3. The Ontological Future
In the third section of this compilation, the authors offer an ontological perspective on the future as it appears in experience. Olkowski and Fielding draw on Husserl’s notion of internal temporality (xxvii). For him, what appears to consciousness does so in continuing phases and enjoys a unity that is synthetic: this flowing away belongs to the way objects appear to consciousness. In other words, the objects of consciousness get their unity and identity from this “flowing subjective process” (xxvii). Taking this into account is essential for the task of feminist phenomenology as an ontological endeavour. The authors complement Husserl’s take on internal time with Henri Bergson’s ontological memory: “even our most minute sensations form an ontological memory, images created by the imperceptible influences of states in the world on our sensibility” (xxvii). In this sense, in experience our present coexists and interacts with the past: new experiences alter the past and create new possibilities. For the authors, this is essential to understand that we are projected beings.
The first paper in this section, “Adventures in the Hyperdialectic” by Eva-Maria Simms, develops Merleau-Ponty’s method of the hyperdialectic. To do so, Simms starts by exploring Merleau-Ponty’s notion of the gestalt principle. For Merleau-Ponty, a gestalt is a consideration of a new dimension of order. This refers to “a system that is more than the sum of its parts” (144) and that stands as the transcendental field of the objects that appear to consciousness. According to Simms, the hyperdialectic is a method that allows the formulation of a set of principles that accounts for being understood not as an absolute, but as a gestalt. In this sense, Merleau-Ponty’s hyperdialectic opposes the dialectic method that loses touch with the concrete (143). Simms is interested in providing an account of gender through the method of the hyperdialectic. At the end of this paper, she provides a short outline of this account.
In “The Murmuration of Birds. An Anishinaabe Ontology of Mnidoo-Worlding” by Dolleen Tisawii’ashii Manning, the author advances an outline of the ontology of the Algonquian language family from North America. She is particularly interested in the notion of mnidoo, a concept that among other things, means spirit, substance, nature, essence, mystery, potential. Manning is interested in showing that mnidoo-worlding, that is, mnidoo dwelling in the world is an unconscious “conceding” that is “embedded over generations” (156). To explore this ontology, the author draws on the phenomenology of Husserl and Merleau-Ponty, particularly on the latter’s notion of chiasm. Manning advances a notion of consciousness that surpasses animal or human sentience and locates in the world (p.162). This opens a dimension or center that connects and goes through the bodies (animate and inanimate) that constitute this center. This entails that, in mnidoo-worlding, these bodies fuse to become an indistinguishable whole. The relation between the bodies that constitute the whole is, for her, “an ownmost immediate knowing”, a familiarity that exceeds the subjective: “Nii kina ganaa – All my relations/All my relatives/My all/My everything” (165).
Christine Daigle’s “Trans-Subjectivity/Trans-Objectivity” is situated within the framework of the ethics of flourishing. Discussing with (and drawing on) several philosophers, such as Nietzsche, Deleuze, Heidegger, and Foucault, she wishes to provide an account of the human being as trans-subjective and trans-objective. Hers is a weak ontology in that it provides a deep reconsideration of the relation between human beings and their worlds. Daigle begins with the idea that our body is the anchor to the world. However, the boundaries of the body are not fixated, rather they are on the making. Not only that, for her, human beings are transformed in their engagements not only with others but with the world as well. These transformations have an ontological dimension: they transform our being. Daigle uses the trans((subj)(obj))ective structure to account for trauma and its everlasting effects. She claims that: “What a trans((subj)(obj))ective being does to another is not circumscribed in time and space, but it is an everlasting deed. It is constitutive of one’s being as both trans-subjective and trans-objective…” (195).
Part 4. Our Future Body Images
As mentioned earlier, the future is already sketched in us and part of that outline is our body image. As Olkowski and Fielding state in the introduction: “The body image is a vital prereflective sketch of the body’s practical possibilities for engagement with the world” (xxix). This turns out to be essential to the understanding of an agent. The authors draw on Gail Weiss’ notion of the body image, which claims that this is “an active agency that has its own memory, habits, and horizons of significance” (Weiss, Body Images, p. 3, as it appears in p. xxix). The texts in this section reflect precisely on the idea that the body image is our embodied experience in the world, an image that makes sense in the intertwining of our interactions with the world and with other agents, and that emerges from these interactions. The body image in that sense is both individual and social. It is individual in that it tracks my specific engagements and point of view. However, it also tracks the norms and the structures of our interactions with others, our social practices. Paying attention to our image is essential to the project of feminist phenomenology and its emancipatory character. As Olkowski and Fielding claim: “Since corporeal schemas reflect the ways we take up the world, shifting these practical possibilities or embodied norms is pivotal to shifting practical possibilities, and, similarly, bringing concrete change to our world can also shift the ways we move and hence our bodily schemas” (xxix).
Gail Weiss, in the paper “The ‘Normal Abnormalities’ of Disability and Aging. Merleau-Ponty and Beauvoir”, addresses the ambivalent attitudes towards people who do not conform to the normative standards of beauty in a society. Weiss follows Julia Kristeva in claiming that human beings avoid confronting their vulnerabilities by projecting onto others “the status of abject other” (204). The author claims that avoiding someone with what she calls a non-normative body is a strategy to avoid thinking about our own possibilities. Weiss emphasizes the paradox of the abnormalcy of age. Although it is considered non-normative, or an abnormal body, the thing is that we will all age. In consequence, Weiss argues, it is impossible to distance ourselves fully from this image.The author explores de Beauvoir’s perspective on this phenomenon. Weiss argues that ageing involves an alienating experience. The problem is that vilifying ageing “is clearly against the self-interest of each of us to the extent that we aspire to live a long life” (209). To explore the phenomenon of disability, Weiss draws on Merleau-Ponty. Merleau-Ponty argues that this phenomenon allows us to understand better our perceptual engagements. Weiss takes Merleau-Ponty’s discussion about the Alzheimer patient who, despite her cognitive impairments, inhabits her world meaningfully. For Weiss, it is Merleau-Ponty’s position that allows the normalisation of the abnormal (212) and, in consequence, it allows us to challenge the oppressive considerations of the non-normal body.
The next paper, “The Transhuman Paradigm and the Meaning of Life” by Christina Schües addresses the way biotechnology impacts our experiences and, in consequence, the meaning of life. Bio-phenomenology is able to provide an account of the way meaning is transformed through the introduction of new technologies and its intertwining in our biographies. She claims that: “Bio-phenomenology provides an appropriate approach to investigating the underlying dimensions of meaning and the structures of experiences, which concern the biotechnological, medical, and reprogenetic practices in the transhuman paradigm” (225).
In “The Second-Person Perspective in Narrative Phenomenology” Aneemie Halsema and Jenny Slatman offer a phenomenological consideration of the second-person perspective and its relevance in sense-making. They focus specifically in research interviewing in cases of breast cancer diagnosis. The authors explore the role of the interviewer in the way the respondent articulates her experience. For them: “Sense-making is not the work of an individual, but takes place in joint narrative work” (243). They show that language co-creates experiences drawing on the work of Paul Ricoeur.
In the final paper of this section, “Hannah Arendt and Pregnancy in the Public Sphere”, Katy Fulfer challenges Arendt’s idea that pregnancy cannot be considered a public activity. Interestingly, she does so from Arendt’s own distinction between the private, the social, and the public. Fulfer is specifically concerned with issues regarding reproductive justice in cases of contract pregnancy. Fulfer argues that Arendt’s notion of the social allows her to show that pregnancy surpasses the private realm. The social realm is defined as that in which the necessities of life take the place of the public or the political. This is the case of contract pregnancy when considered as a biopolitical phenomenon. Fulfer defines the biopolitics as that which “offers governing bodies the ability to control bodies and populations under the guise of promoting the health of individuals” (260). Given that gestational workers are controlled and disciplined through contracts and political rhetoric, Fulfer claims that they are no longer considered as political agents but as workers whose job is to preserve a life, entering thus the social realm. The author argues as well that there is also an aspect in which gestational workers enter the public realm through political discourse, a discourse that takes place when they discuss their own situation, and that in some case impacts their contracts.
Part 5. Present and Future Selves
In the final section of this compilation, we find papers that address the world as it has been configured by the actions and speeches of “our past selves”, as Olkowski and Fielding advance in the introduction (xxxi). These papers scrutinize and evaluate the possibilities that were configurated before us. This is the retrospective character of the future that was mentioned in part 2.
The first paper of this section, “Is Direct Perception Arrogant Perception? Toward a Critical, Playful Intercorporeity” by April N. Flakne argues against analogical theories of the perception of others. For her, these theories eliminate difference, something that is essential in our considerations of the other, by modelling the other “on oneself” (278). To make her case, Flakne joins the defenders of direct perception, a theory according to which our perception of others is not mediated by either a theory of the mind of others or by a re-enactment of others’ mental states (i.e. the simulation theory). The idea behind direct perception is that we encounter others “because they comport themselves toward the world” (281).
Flakne argues that in order to avoid arguments that model the other after oneself, it is necessary to focus on the spaces where the other demands a response or an interaction: “an occasion for uptake and response that we cannot present ourselves” (289). The author draws on Maria Lugones who claims that individuals are not discrete, rather they are constructed by a world that is shared. She takes Lugones’ notion of world-travelling according to which we approach the other by being affected by other worlds. Our identity is, for Flakne, constituted by the playful corporeal interaction with others. Through the notion of this playful interaction, Flakne wishes to give new directions to direct perception.
“Leadership in the World Through an Arendtian Lens” by Rita A. Gardiner challenges contemporary accounts of authentic leadership, an enquiry that began as an ethical evaluation of leadership positions and practices, and that evolved into a prescriptive discipline that accounts for the features a leader should have. The problem of these accounts is that, from a phenomenological perspective they fail to account for lived experience. Furthermore, they equate authentic leadership with moral goodness (302). Drawing on Arendt, Gardiner wishes to advance a notion of leadership that emphasizes collaboration as an essential element of leadership. She claims that “freedom and power are impossible without the ability to act in concert with others” (304).
In “Identity-in-Difference to Avoid Indifference”, Emily S. Lee proposes to recognize the relevance of identity or commonality in the philosophy of race. She does so by proposing a phenomenological analysis of the notion of identity-in-difference. Lee starts from the process of ontologizing of racial differences,the process in which social differences that are marked racially are no longer recognized as social constructs, they are rather naturalized. Lewis Gordon claims that “naturalizing what is socially constructed makes an ontological difference” (314). This emphasis on difference within philosophy of race, Lee holds, can also be seen in Gareth Williams. For him, colonized subjects have difficulties finding a history that does not narrate the lives of those who benefitted from development. Lee’s concern is that these positions might threaten the “possibility of racially distinct subjects sharing a social horizon” (315). This follows from the idea that, according to work in phenomenology and cognitive science, “embodiment influences our cognitive development” (315). The influence of embodiment in our cognitive development might lead to the sedimentation of difference. Lee wishes to show that differences are not relevant enough to disconnect us from one another. To do so, she defends Merleau-Ponty’s notion of identity-in-difference.
The paper that closes this compilation is “What is Feminist Phenomenology? Looking Backward and into the Future” by Silvia Stoller. In this paper, Stoller goes through the history of feminist phenomenology to offer, as well, an account of its future horizons. She begins with an account of the two phases that constituted feminist phenomenology. The publication of de Beauvoir’s The Second Sex in 1949 was followed by the post-structuralist phase of feminism in the 1980’s. In the 1990’s a phase of institutionalisation followed this first stage. Stoller recognizes Edith Stein, Gerda Walther, and Hannah Arendt as early feminist phenomenologists. For her, historical research into these figures is an important part of feminist phenomenology, however, it does not exhaust the framework. Feminist phenomenology is, in addition, interested in an understanding of experience that recognizes its situated, embodied, historical character. In other words, an understanding of experience as multiple. Feminist phenomenology also involves the dialogue with other important figures within phenomenology such as Merleau-Ponty, Lévinas, Husserl, and Heidegger. Finally, this discipline also called for the dialogue with post-structuralism and its criticisms of phenomenology. Nowadays, Stoller claims, these two approaches do not seem to oppose each other. Rather, the two can complement each other in a meaningful way (336). The author takes this to be an open movement. She claims that: “the future of feminist phenomenology can be sustained only by continuing to preserve its heterogeneity and cultivating its diverse orientations. It was never – as is the case with phenomenology itself – a fully developed theory” (343).
The constant turning back to the past from the authors of this compilation, and the way they build from this reflection new possibilities confirms the methodology of feminist phenomenology that is advanced in this volume. This discipline involves the recognition of new alternatives in our current situation, alternatives that stem from past reflections, commitments, and actions. In the way the editors knit the guiding thread of this volume, as well as in the introductory chapters, they advance an extremely interesting reflection on the methodology of feminist phenomenology and its future path, exemplified and enriched in each of the papers. The authors of this compilation offer a phenomenological analysis that engages not only with previous works on feminist phenomenology, but also with works that have been challenged before by the feminist tradition, and with works that belong to other frameworks and disciplines. Anyone working on feminist theory, in general, will be greatly benefitted by exploring these works, and discussing their contributions. Furthermore, they offer important contributions to discussions within philosophy of mind, philosophy of race, linguistics, leadership research, bioethics, anthropology, narrative medicine, among others, thus showing the reach of the project of feminist phenomenology.