Corporeal Vulnerability and the New Humanism

Hypatia 26 (3):575-590 (2011)
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“Humanism” is a term that has designated a remarkably disparate set of ideologies. Nonetheless, strains of religious, secular, existential, and Marxist humanism have tended to circumscribe the category of the human with reference to the themes of reason, autonomy, judgment, and freedom. This essay examines the emergence of a new humanistic discourse in feminist theory, one that instead finds its provocation in the unwilled passivity and vulnerability of the human body, and in the vulnerability of the human body to suffering and violence. Grounded in a descriptive ontology that privileges figures such as exposure, dispossession, vulnerability, and “precariousness,” this new humanism is a corporeal humanism. This essay probes both the promise and the limitations of this emergent humanism with particular reference to recent work by feminist philosophers Judith Butler and Adriana Cavarero



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